Roundabouts

Jun. 15, 2014

Gen 1.1-1.5, 25b-2.4; 2 Cor. 13.11-13; Mt 28.16-20

As you may know, my wife and I have been traveling the last few weeks. For me, it doesn't matter really where, Biloxi or Bangkok, the benefit of travel is seeing how other people live. There are amazing things to be learned from that. For example, when many Americans rent a car at London's Heathrow Airport, they frequently open the driver's side door, but find no steering wheel! Of course, it's the perversity of the English to drive on the "left side of the road" which everyone knows just isn't RIGHT. It's disconcerting and mind-bending. They also use a traffic invention, the "roundabout" just like the one outside the door of our church. I think Diamondhead has more roundabouts than any place in Mississippi. What I like about them is no matter how many roads intersect at a place, the circular drive allows one to exit in any desired direction. The genius of this is that it doesn't require a stop as long as someone is not bearing down on you from inside the circle. Statistics show that it is safer and cheaper to maintain a roundabout than traffic lights or even stop signs! The state of Arizona found that there are 75% fewer traffic accidents with roundabouts because it removes the necessary to "beat the yellow light". If you miss your turn, just go around again, get it next time! Oh, if only our lives offered such options as to go around again!

One thing that we frequently go round and round about is the character and nature of God. Today, is Trinity Sunday. It's the one Sunday in the entire church year when we think specifically about the nature of God and how that affects everything in our world. Ironically, navigating our way to God is like being on a roundabout as we try to decide which place to enter and exit the circle. God is often symbolized as a circle...because a circle has no beginning and no end. The scriptures' advise us to "seek (and we will) find" the God who is all truth... But then, many people don't worry much about such truth anyway. There's an old saying that truth is scarce, but the supply always seems to exceed the demand. That's certainly true of our discussions about the nature of God.

The scriptures today show evidence of this pursuit of truth about God. In 2nd Corinthians today, St Paul offers the blessing that "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all". That's one of the few Trinitarian references in the entire NT. Another is from Matthew's Gospel read today and it closes with the risen Christ giving disciples the Great Commission to baptize and make disciples of all nations in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But it wasn't until a hundred years after Matthew's gospel was written down, that the North African theologian Tertullian established the Trinitarian formula of the one God who is a trinity of persons, but a single being. That formula subsequently guided the church leaders to write the Nicene Creed which we say every Sunday. As with each of us, the thinking of the Church has evolved over the years and we add layer upon layer of insight into the character and nature of God. St Augustine in the 4th century cautioned that anyone who denies the Trinity is in danger of losing their salvation, but anyone how tries to understand it, is in danger of losing their mind. Beware of those who claim that they have all the truth about God. Often it's like Woody Allen said, "Confidence is what you have before you understand the problem."

That's probably why the mystery of God most often turns to models or analogies to describe the relationships between and among the persons of the Trinity. Famously, the Irish shamrock uses the three leaves to illustrate the separate, yet equal presence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The image of a circle is often used to picture God...suggesting that God is kind of a holy roundabout, that allows us to come into God's presence from many different points. We move into and through God and yet we can never exhaust or fully grasp God entire. Other illustrations picture the states of water as a solid, liquid, and gas to show three different manifestations of the same substance. Each of these images grasps some small part of God but only small parts.

In the 5th century St Jerome was once at the beach and he saw a child with a bucket carrying water from the ocean to fill a hole in sand on the beach. The child dumped the water into the hole and proudly proclaimed that he was going to put the whole ocean into that hole. Jerome realized that that was precisely what we try to do with our thinking about God. We think we can put God in a box, or into words, or in images. But our minds can never really encircle the God of eternity. Perhaps the best we can do is what St Anselm called, "faith seeking understanding". We move into the heart of God by reaching out to God in faith and God makes a way where there is no way. God draws us into the circle of love.

So, where is God to be found? God asks, according to poet Robert Bly, "Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat! My shoulder is against yours. You will not find me in (the places you expect, nor by) eating nothing but vegetables." That's the paradox that God who is always present in this place, is not excluded from being present in every place. And God is not the less present there, if God is present here. Don't lose your mind thinking about that!

All this is a roundabout way of saying that everything we can say about God really brings us no closer to capturing God, but that God is always accessible to those who seek God in love. Jesus showed us that. The light that shone in Jesus revealed a loving Father who cares for his children by empowering all of them to live by grace in the Spirit. You might say, "Well, that's not saying a whole lot!" But it really is. As the Christian scholar Erasmus said, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." And that's us. We may not know a whole lot about God, but Jesus taught us the essentials. God is love and those who love are living in God and God fills their lives. You can enter that circle of God's love at your own place and you may have to go round a few times until you find the place where you need to go, but God will get you to the right road if you seek God in faith. And that's what I have to say about the Trinity: in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Reverend Wayne Ray
St Thomas Church
Diamondhead, MS 06/15/2014