So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
It’s been said by many a preacher, theologian, and seminary professor, that it’s practically impossible to preach on the subject of the Trinity without veering somehow into either irrelevance or heresy. The danger of heresy is present because the Trinity is such a holy mystery that human language cannot possibly begin do it justice. We end up resorting to these rather mundane analogies— such as the Trinity is like water, one element that takes three forms— analogies that end up belittling God and doing little to aid our understanding of what the Trinity actually is. The danger of irrelevance is present, on the other hand, because so many attempts to explain the Trinity lead inevitably to the “so what” question— so whatdoes this actually have to do with me or my relationship with God? Why does it matter that God is three persons in one in the midst of family conflict or a cancer diagnosis? How does the doctrine of the Trinity have anything to do with the plight of refugee children, or the oppression of women, or the neglect of black and brown and trans bodies, or the degradation of our earth. So what?
Well to be honest, I’m not terribly concerned about sounding heretical— because quite frankly, that train left the station quite a long time ago. But I do have some thoughts about why the Trinity might actually matter— both to our individual faith journeys as well as for our weary and broken world.
Many contemporary theologians have made the argument that the Trinity matters because it implies that God’s nature— in its purest, most profound form— is a relationship. The book of Proverbs tells of the Spirit of Wisdom that was with God during the very creation of the world. In the opening verses of the Gospel of John we read that “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.” The Word, in this instance, referring to Jesus. Even in the creation story itself there is the rather curious use of pronouns when God decides to create humanity. In Genesis 1:26, God says, “let usmake humankind in ourimage, according to our likeness.” The implication of all of this being that God is relational, that God has always existed in relationship with Christ and the Holy Spirit, and that in fact, there is no existence of God outside of relationship. God is not a solitary being. God is a divine relationship. Richard Rohr, in his book on the Trinity, explains it this way— he says “the energy in the universe is not in the planets, or in the protons and neutrons themselves, but in the relationship between them.” Likewise, he says, the power of the Trinity lies “not in any precise definition of the three persons of the Trinity, but in the relationship between the three!" That relationship, of course, being one of ultimate, divine love— divine love that is constantly moving from Creator, to incarnate son, to Spirit, and back again in a constant flow that Rohr calls “the divine dance.”
Now I happen to think that’s all rather interesting, but it probably doesn’t quite get us to the heart of why the Trinity matters in our everyday lives. For that, I want to take a closer look at this morning’s text from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. I think the key to understanding what Paul is talking about here lies is verses 15-16, in which he says, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption…it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”Now Paul is talking here about Pentecost, when the Spirit descended upon all who were gathered, empowering them to bear witness to God’s power and to share the gospel of God’s love and grace with the world. But apparently, something had happened to the early church in Rome since that glorious Pentecostal moment. Something had happened that caused them to revert back to their pre-Pentecostal selves, once again becoming slaves to fear and anxiety, closing themselves off from the source of divine power. But Paul reminds the early Roman church of the awesome consequence of Pentecost— that through the Spirit we have been adopted into the divine relationship that is God. Once we were no people, but now we are God’s people— God’s children— and we have been invited to participate in the divine dance of love. The divine dance is not something that happens apart from us. We have been invited to participate in it—to be nurtured and strengthened by it— and to bring others into it as well.
The Trinity is all about relationship, and that’s why it really matters. But it’s not just any kind of relationship— it’s relationship grounded in love— what many might call ‘right-relationship.’ And this is where the rubber really meets the road. Because when you take a look at some of the most pressing problems in our world today, so many of them can be understood as the breakdown of right-relationship— the severing of connection and commonality, and the rejection of mutuality and interconnectedness. So when, for instance, entire groups of people are dehumanized and degraded— called animals and treated as such— that’s a breakdown of right-relationship and out of step with the divine dance. When the poor among us are ignored or made to feel invisible so that the privileged among us can continue to enjoy the status quo, that’s a breakdown of right-relationship and out of step with the divine dance. When women or children are objectified, when refugees are treated as a threat, when black and brown bodies are criminalized, and when trans bodies are delegitimized, that’s a breakdown of right-relationship and out of step with the divine dance. The Trinity matters in all of this, because it shows us a glimpse of what could be if loving, interconnected relationship, rather than fear or mistrust, was at the heart of who we are and what we do. The Trinity matters in all of this because it models for us another way of being. God never stands alone. God is always in relationship, and the heart of that relationship is always love— the kind of love that casts out fear. The heart of God, the source of our being, is always seeking to connect, always seeking to draw others in rather than keep people out, always seeking to dissolve boundaries rather than build walls. That is the divine dance.
Jesus himself was a master of this dance. Like that time when he was on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter and a woman reached out to touch his cloak. He could have ignored her, he could have scolded or shamed her. But not only did he not shame her, he adopted her into his family— he called her “daughter”-- and drew her into the divine dance. Or there was the time when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, ignoring cultural taboos and consorting with the enemy, all for the purpose of inviting more people into the dance. Or there was that time when Jesus wandered outside the boundaries of what was safe in order to heal some lepers who had been cast out, bringing them back into community and inviting them back into the dance. And why did Jesus do all these things? Because he was the incarnation of divine love— the physical manifestation of a divine love that is always seeking out relationship, creating community, building bridges, and reconciling people to God and one another.
I suspect that this may actually be the key to truly understanding what it means to say that through Christ, we are saved from sin. For a long time now, my working definition of sin has been something pretty basic. I would define as sin as ‘anything that separates us from the love of God and one another.” Richard Rohr has a similar definition. He writes that “by a hardened heart or a cold spirit, by holding another person apart in hatred, you’ve thus cut yourself off from the dance. Sin is always a refusal of mutuality and a closing down into separateness.” Salvation, on the other hand, he says, is simply “the readiness, the capacity, and the willingness to stay in relationship.”
I think this has extraordinary implications for our world. For example, what if, instead of constantly breaking off into separate factions and tribes, we were willing to stay in relationship with one another despite differences or disagreements? What if, rather than the constant power struggles and political one-up-man-ship, we could somehow recognize that we are all interconnected, and that as Dr. King put it, “we are caught in that inescapablenetwork of mutuality, tied in that single garment of destiny.” What if, rather than always trying to make sure we come out on top, we saw all of creation as part of this divine circle dance— where there is actually no first and no last, no top or bottom, no rich or poor. No one is more important or more precious than anyone else— it’s just all of us together, in relationship, sharing mutual love and respect.
Of course it’s all very well and good to talk about the difference this kind of perspective could make in our world, and it’s always easy to point out the ways in which other people are out of step with the dance. But you know, you can’t invite someone to dance if you only want to sit on the sidelines and critique their moves. I mean, I guess you could, but you would end up pretty unpopular after a while. No— we have to join the dance as well. We have to be willing to let go of our ego— our need to stand alone or above, our desire for status, our need to be right, our craving for control— in order to find ourselves in step with the dance. And that’s the hard part. I suspect that for the early Christians in Rome, their fear and anxiety was making it hard for them to give up power and control in what was undoubtedly a very uncertain time for them. In our own lives, it is often when we are feeling afraid or anxious that we double down on wanting to control things, wanting to hold on tight to what little power we may have, asserting our ego wherever we can because we are desperately afraid of being rejected or ignored— we are desperately afraid that we will be useless or irrelevant. But Paul reminds us— it doesn’t really matter if we are irrelevant, because we are something so much more than relevant— we are precious. We are children of God. We have been adopted into the divine dance, we are one with the divine relationship— creator, Christ, and holy spirit. We are connected to the source of divine love, which in turn connects us to all creation, and within that love, ALL are precious. ALL are beloved. ALL are made in the image of God. To step into that divine dance, to participate in it, is to let God’s perfect love cast out all our fear.
And so children of God, in the words of the apostle, “you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. It is that very Spirit, bearing witness with our spirit, that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” May we know these words to be true in the very heart of our being. May we join in the dance of divine love, may our hearts beat in rhythm with the heart of God, and may we know God as the Holy Relationship— Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit— forever and ever, Amen.