May 20, 2016

The Doxology of Trinity

            We seem to sing it better than we conceptualize it.  We can muster a hearty rendering of “Holy, Holy, Holy,” probably pondering more about the “early in the morning” wording than the theological verities.  I am speaking of the blessed Triune God, of course, whose threefold cadence shapes Christian identity.

Strater, Louis Joseph. Trinity, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            Once a year in the liturgical calendar we celebrate Trinity Sunday.  It falls the Sunday after Pentecost, the day when we rejoice in the outpouring of the Spirit.  The Spirit has been active in creation and redemption since the beginning, however; Pentecost is not the first introduction of the Spirit into God’s great saving project. Rather, Pentecost connects the Spirit with the work of the Risen Christ, and the Spirit empowers the church to complete the works of Jesus in service to the Reign of God.
            As Christian doctrine developed in early Christianity, it is understandable that the church had to make clear both the divinity and personal nature of the Spirit in order to construct a fully trinitarian understanding of God.  Teaching (dogma) about the Spirit and the Trinity were intertwined from the beginning, and they remain so.  Early theologians strained language and conceptual frameworks to speak of the relational God who, while not literally three persons, makes known the divine presence in three distinctive ways.

Masaccio, 1401-1428?. Holy Trinity, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            This mystery unfolds throughout the texts of Scripture.  From the evocation of creation, to the elusive messengers from God who visited Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18, to the conception and ministry of Jesus, to the early proclamation of the resurrection, to the vision of the Apocalypse, we see a growing perception of God as Trinity.
            Many Christians think it is a dispensable doctrine, something of negligible concern akin to angels dancing on the head of a pin.  Far from it!  Trinitarian theology is the key to understanding how God can be both transcendent and immanent, with us yet beyond us, made after our likeness in the incarnation, and source of vitality not only in the church, but in all of creation.  The triune God draws humanity into the deep communion enjoyed, the perichoretic movement of God’s self-giving and communication.

Unidentified stonemason. Trinity, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            The ecstasy of God’s inner life—freely shared with the world—is the model for human community.  The capacity to stand outside of self (ek-stasis) in the service of another construes new identity and possibility.  Each member of the Trinity pours out life into the others, and these relationships are mutually empowering.
            The Trinity shapes Christian prayer, also.  We pray to God in the name of Jesus through the presence and power of the Spirit.  The Spirit prompts prayer in accordance with the will of God; Jesus promised that the Abba would be responsive to intercessions offered in his name; and the merciful Father/Mother delights in “giving good gifts” to those who ask (Matthew 7:11).
            So as we sing our praise to the Trinity this Sunday, let’s remember that some theology is easier to sing than to analyze.  And we join with all the saints and angels in adoring our God, blessed Trinity.

Molly T. Marshall

May 17, 2016

You Call From Tomorrow

Pentecost is ever more prominent in Baptist churches, for which I give thanks.  With flaming colors and simulations of wind, sanctuaries pronounce the coming of the Spirit in power—not only fifty days after the resurrection—but continuously.

            Yesterday our congregation sang one of my favorite songs of the Spirit, composed by James K. Manley.  The fourth verse has these words:
            You call from tomorrow, you break ancient schemes, 
                        from the bondage of sorrow the captives dream dreams;  
           Our women see visions, our men clear their eyes.  
           With bold new decisions your people arise.
And the refrain offers this perspective on the gentle, yet powerful presence of God:
            Spirit, spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness, calling and free.
            Spirit, spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness, wind, wind on the sea.

            I am particularly moved by the description of the Spirit “calling from tomorrow.”  The Spirit is always ahead of the people of God and calls us into the future God purposes.

This past Saturday Central celebrated its largest graduation in history.  It was Pentecost in action as we witnessed students from Korea, Africa, Myanmar, and North America decked out in their regalia.  We heard languages other than English; some students bowed before receiving their degrees; some celebrated afterwards with big bouquets or extravagant leis around their necks.  The future is on display as global Christians come together in Central’s student body.

            Our commencement speaker, Judge Wendell Griffen, exhorted the students to be about the work of breaking down barriers so that the oneness, the unity of which Jesus preached, would become reality.  The mission from God is to enact the Reign even now.  As among the best trained theological minds in the world, he observed, God expects these graduates to be transformative agents.

            The Spirit does not let things stay put, be static and then moribund.  The Spirit of restlessness keeps calling from tomorrow, nudging the followers of Jesus to “put the world to rights, “ as N. T.  Wright writes in Simply Christian.  God has poured the Spirit into the church for this very work.
            As we live into this season after Pentecost, we live in the assurance that God continues to call ministers who carry tomorrow in their hearts.  With earnest fervor, they believe that being faithful to their calling can relieve suffering, strengthen justice, and transform systems.  They carry the power of the Spirit, albeit in earthen vessels; this “momentary affliction” does not hinder Gospel work, but only serves to remind them of the source of their spiritual vitality.  They go forth from Central well-equipped, especially with the supply of the Spirit.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central is Baptist in heritage and ecumenical in practice.