It's a mess

Trinity B
John 3:1-17

In the name of God beyond our understanding and within our reach.  Amen.

Not too long ago I was chatting with a friend who isn’t a part of any particular church, but she was considering attending an Episcopal church.  She asked me why she should.

I responded with a lot of the typical things we say.  I talked about the beauty of the liturgy.  I talked about our tradition of fine music and art.  I talked about the ways that the Episcopal Church values democratic rule and the leadership of the people. 

But I also talked about gray areas.  I talked about how one of the first things that seriously drew me to the Episcopal Church is the level of comfort we tend to have with gray areas.  There are so many churches that think in binary: black and white, right and wrong, good and bad.  So many churches reduce the Christian experience to a check list for righteous living.  But in the Episcopal Church, we tend to be less comfortable with that kind of binary thinking.  We recognize that life in this world tends to be more complex than we may wish it to be.  And as a result, we often land in the gray areas of life: those places where we can see more than one side of an issue well enough to know that the truth is sometimes somewhere in the middle.

Trinity Sunday, this day when we celebrate and honor the three aspects of God that are represented in the Trinitarian Doctrine, is a day for people who are comfortable with gray areas – people who can live in a little bit of messiness without going completely crazy.  Because there’s a degree to which the doctrine of the Trinity requires that we suspend logic a little bit.  We have to be able to say that three entities are one God.  We have to be able to see that one God interacts with us in at least these three main ways.  It’s a little bit messy.

Three is one and one is three.  I’ve never been great at math, but even I know that doesn’t add up.  At least if you’re thinking like most people would think.

But it’s that messiness that I was thinking about when I chose the picture for the front of the service booklet this week.  We often see these Celtic knots representing the Trinity.  They are beloved as a Christian symbol in part because there is a sort of beauty and synchronicity in them.  Even in the unruly lines that wander where they will, there is a sort of order.  Symmetry.

But this image is different.  The lines aren’t very clearly drawn.  There’s a roughness to them.  And they sit on a bed of disordered colors and patches that don’t really make any sense at all.  But even still – even in all the messiness – there is surprising beauty.

The Trinity is sort of like that, but even more so, God is sort of like that.  To our eyes the way that God interacts with the world can seem sort of messy and unruly.  The ways we sometimes talk about God in our popular culture speak to that: “God’s got a sixth sense of humor,” “God works in mysterious ways.”

We want to think of God as the creator who brought order out of chaos, but perhaps that’s not just in the past.  Maybe the world and God’s plans don’t always make perfect sense to us, because God is still working at bringing order out of the chaos.  We want the world to be orderly and to make sense, but maybe that’s still in process.  And maybe it’s that our frame of reference is too small.  Maybe a different perspective would show us order that we’re missing.

The function of Trinity Sunday, to my mind at least, is to try to get that point across.  It’s not about trying to make illogical math make sense.  It’s not about trying to pound a square peg into a round hole because that’s where we need it to go.  It’s about encouraging us to broaden our perspectives.  It’s about settling into the messiness, because we don’t know everything.  It’s about embracing the diversity and the complexity of God’s creation, and recognizing that sometimes a metaphor that doesn’t quite capture everything there is to capture is the best we can do.  And the best we can do is better than nothing.

We Episcopalians don’t always know all the answers.  Maybe we never do.  And one of the things that I love about the way we follow Jesus is that when we’re at our best, we don’t even try to know everything.  We relax into what we don’t know and we do our best to follow Jesus even if it does feel a little messy – even if it doesn’t always make perfect sense to us.

I suspect that through most of the church today, there two main approaches to Trinity Sunday: either to try to explain it away, or to ignore it altogether.  But that’s not our calling.  Our calling is to relish in the glory of God, even when we don’t really understand all of God’s glory.  Our calling is to celebrate the complexity of God, even when we can only see a small part of that complexity.  Our calling is to have faith that order exists, or at least can exist, even if we can’t quite see it.

God creates.  Christ unites.  Spirit empowers.  And the Trinity brings it all together in the best way we know.  But we know it’s not all there is.  We know that now we see through a mirror dimly, but in time we will see face to face.  Amen.