Sunday, May 22, 2016

Rock, Paper, Scissors

A Trinity Sunday sermon
Psalm 8; Proverbs 8: 22-31; John 16: 12-15
May 22, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Today is Trinity Sunday.
It is the only Sunday on the church calendar that addresses a doctrine rather than an event.If you are familiar, which many of you are by now, with the church year, we start with Advent, move on to Christmas and Epiphany, then Lent and Easter, and fifty days later, Pentecost.

But on this Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the Trinity – a doctrine of the universal church. Not all who fall under the appellation of Christian are believers in the Trinity, and for some people, that makes them “not Christian.” Mormons, for example, believe in Father, Son and Holy Ghost, “united in purpose and separate in person.”[1] Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept the doctrine of the Trinity, nor do Christian Scientists.

But for the last several centuries –actually since the year 451, the year of the council of Chalcedon, the vast majority of Christians believe in the classic doctrine: God in three persons, without division, separation, change or confusion.

God is Christ is the Holy Spirit, all three are one.
And God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are all three separate.
The words sound simple, don’t they?

The fact remains, however, that this doctrine is not easily explained. As you review Christian history, in fact, the struggle to understand the relationship among God, Christ and Spirit has led to some of the greatest heresies. Somehow, trying to put into words the mystery of the Trinity paints theologians into a corner.

It’s like that old game: “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”
Do you know how to play that?
Let’s try it – just in case you have forgotten.

Which is greater – the rock, the paper, or the scissors?
It depends, doesn’t it?
The three elements are interconnected but separate, individual but indivisible.
Keep that in mind for the next few minutes.

This morning, as we once again encounter the Trinity, I want to approach our Scripture readings in a different way. Rather than read all three of them, then preach about them,

I want to read and then unpack each one, then see if we can step a little bit closer into that mystery we call the Trinity. Each of these scriptures is poetic, not a logical presentation of facts as much as a metaphorical telling of wonder. And, rather than the usual order of “Father, Son, Holy Spirit” we will approach the Trinity in this order: God, Spirit, Christ.”

Our first scripture, Psalm 8, invites us into the awe and wonder of God, creator, sovereign, author of love. The psalmist addresses God directly, in a song of praise:

Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

The word of the Lord.

So there’s our first element – the “rock,” if you will, of the Trinity. God, the sovereign, ruling over all of creation with power and love, creating us and every living thing, majestic, glorious, almighty – AND in relationship to humanity. God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.


Our next scripture is from Proverbs, in which we encounter another person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. In Hebrew, the Spirit is called ruach, wind or breath. In Greek, she is called Sophia – wisdom. Here is how wisdom, Sophia, speaks, in Proverbs 8: 22-31.

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills,
I was brought forth— when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

The word of the Lord.

Last week, we encountered the Holy Spirit as wind and fire, a powerful force that swept through the lives of the disciples at Pentecost. Here, we meet this playful, delight-filled Spirit, dancing into creation, swirling in the new-made water and skies, singing and rejoicing and taking delight in us. Again, the Spirit, like God, creating in love, and in relationship to humanity. The Spirit was there before the beginning, co-eternal with God,the master builder and the child at play. In the rock, paper, scissors analogy, here’s the paper.

Our third scripture comes from the gospel of John. If you recall, the other three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, are narrative stories, in chronological order, of the life of Christ.
John, however, takes a more poetic slant, starting out with that beautiful scripture,

“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.”

With a beginning like that, it only stands to reason that the Christ of John’s gospel will be almost mystical in his discourse. Let’s listen now, as Jesus speaks to the disciples in John 16:12-15

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth;
for he will not speak on his own,
but will speak whatever he hears,
and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
All that the Father has is mine.
For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus.

So in this third scripture, in this poetic language, comes Jesus, the Christ, affirmed throughout the gospels as the only begotten son of God, the one sent from God who is God; fully human and fully divine, the word made flesh. Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord, conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary. Or, as the Nicene Creed says:

“the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light, true God from true God,
begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.”

We have encountered God, and Spirit – rock and paper, in our analogy.
Here is the third person – Jesus – scissors.

Which is greater – rock, paper or scissors?
Are they separate? Yes.
But in the game, they are connected, and equal.
It’s the same truth as the Trinity.

Throughout the centuries, many a thoughtful Christian has attempted to come up with analogies for the Trinity, and all of them fail – the minute they are examined, they become apparent as heresy. Take a favorite – water: liquid, of course, but as ice, a solid and as steam, a vapor. Sounds like a good analogy, but the molecular structure of water remains the same in each of its forms. In other words, ice is still water, not a separate substance. So ice, water, and steam cannot be in relationship to one another. And the same water cannot be liquid, ice, and vapor all at the same time. See? The analogy just falls apart.

Of course, so does “rock, paper, scissors” but for different reasons.
Unless we explore the amazing world of physics and quantum theory.

Did you know that in the field of quantum theory, scientific research has been done on “rock, paper, scissors?” It’s more than any of us want to get into very deeply in the next few minutes, but suffice it to say that this simple game tells us much about complexity, interaction, and interrelatedness. The term that mathematicians and physicists use is “contextuality.” The simpler way to say that is that in a game of rock, paper, scissors, with two players, the two players are actually just one entity, two parts of one whole, and their behavior depends on one another. “Indeed,” they say, “whether one of the players wins or loses depends essentially on what the other player does.”[2]

That makes sense to us, right?

It gets even more amazing when we explore what physicists call “quantum entanglement.”
Quantum entanglement tells us that some particles are so connected that they cannot be described independently.[3] They can only be made sense of in relation to each other. So any change in one of the entangled particles produces a corresponding change in the other particles, even when they are separated by great distances.

And, even more spooky (that’s Einstein’s word!) us that the very act of measuring that change alters the action and relationship of the particles! In theological terms, we call that “inter-penetration, or the perichoretic relationship of the Trinity.

Those are just fancy ways of saying that the three persons of the Trinity are really three separate entities, but they are the same substance, and they are always entangled and connected with each other. Perichoresis is just a fifty cent word for “dancing around” and the image of the Trinity is that of Father, Son and Spirit in an eternal, connected creative dance. One theologian calls this “the entangled Trinity.”

“When we look for origins, we find Creator.
But we are not always looking for origins.
Sometimes we are looking for forgiveness and for hope.
We are looking for ‘good news’ (gospel),
and the early Christian community
found this present in Jesus as the Christ, the anointed one of God.
If the divine is entangled, that is, interrelated and interdependent…
then the same entangled divine reality
can be experienced as incarnation, not just origination. …
Finally, the community also experienced, within the community itself,
the sustaining spirit, the ‘Comforter,’ the ‘creative Spirit,’
as the ongoing presence of the divine within the midst of the community.”[4]

In all these, “the same God” was at work.
So what difference does it make that the Trinity is three in one and also one God in three persons? What’s so great about this idea that we’d devote and entire Sunday to it?

Put simply, it means that we are not alone. The entangled trinity of Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer draws us into the entanglement of love. Drawn into the dance of the creator God, we are also drawn into the dance of the grace of Christ, and the community of the Holy Spirit.

We are inseparable. Interconnected. Entangled.

The actions of one affect the actions of all others.

As partners in the eternal connection of the trinity,
we are always entangled with God and with one another.

All that we are belongs to God
and all that God has is ours.

God is for us, and with us, and in us.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

Love, Lover, Beloved.

Rock, Paper, Scissors.

You, me, the world.

Thanks be to God for this entangling truth.


[2] Diederik Aerts , Jan Broekaert, Marek Czachor, Maciej Kuna , Barry Sinervo and Sandro Sozzo.
“Quantum structure in competing lizard communities” Ecological Modeling, Volume 1, 2014, pp 38-51
[4] Simmons, Ernest L. The Entangled Trinity: Quantum Physics and Theology Fortress Press, 2014 pp. 152-3

No comments:

Post a Comment