Rev. Jim Ryan, PhD — firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-pastor of Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community
Holy Trinity Sunday, June 7, 2020
The Holy Trinity became interesting to me when I stopped thinking about doctrines and dogmas and instead began to appreciate the experience of God in my life. Because, when do you really know that what you are experiencing is an “irruption” (as the spiritual writers like to call it) of the divine? Why isn’t this thing I’m experiencing only just a coincidence?
Have you heard the one about the actress, Diane Lane? Her father was a New York cab driver. The number on his taxi was 5F99 – or some such number. She tells the story that one day while riding in a cab in New York she was headed to a Network headquarters. As she rode she was thinking about her Dad and missing him greatly. He had only died a few months earlier. As she got out of the cab, still concentrating on her father his old cab, 5F99, pulled up behind the cab she had just exited. Coincidence? Of what?
Or how about this. Keith Ellison is the Attorney General of Minnesota. A few years ago while he was still a member of Congress he decided to run for the position of head of the Democratic Party. The race was between him and Tom Perez, a hotly contended one; many thought Ellison would win. But Perez came out on top. This left Ellison to make a decision to run for Minnesota Attorney General . Did I mention that Keith Ellison is African-American?
In the past 12 days the homicide of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the decision as to whether or not to arrest and charge with murder the police officers involved has become one additional thing to be contentious about in Hennepin County, Minnesota. The County Prosecutor brought charges against only one of the former officers. This caused much criticism of him and his decisions. Things quickly got heated. The Governor appointed the African American Attorney General, Keith Ellison, to take over the prosecution. Do you suppose it a coincidence on how Mr. Ellison wound up in the position he is in?
Coincidences in time and place have a tremendous history. The ancient druids of pre-Celtic religious renown called these coincidences thin times and places. Pope Francis calls them encounters with God.
One gift of theological thinking is the ability to hold two seemingly contradictory views at the same time. For example, we say we are Christ for the world while at the same time we know how much in need of salvation we are. Or also, we say we are already saved, however the fullness of salvation is not yet. These are coincidences of place, thin places of encounter with God – Creator, Savior, Holy Spirit.
There are coincidences of time also, thin times. For example, this time of massive protests around the world shows this time of coincidence to be different. Other black men and women have been killed by police officers – murdered, even, in the same manner as George Floyd. Yes, there were marches and protests. But this time a special co-incidence seems to have occurred. Maybe this time really is enough.
Co-incidences of tragic events meeting up with people who are fed up can appear to be just two different things, one thing and another. They can also be seen as the evidence of God moving among the people. Co-incidences may be simultaneous – evidence of thin times whereby people experience courage they never thought they had. Interviews on the street give us people who say, “I don’t know, this time I had to do something!”
Now mathematicians say it’s not coincidence nor is it a thin time of divine irruption. Numbers people have what they call the “Theory of Very Big Numbers.’ Apparently this is the theory that says, given enough times of an occurrence eventually any big result will be produced. Remember the Shakespeare writing monkeys? That’s the prediction that if enough monkeys are placed in front of enough typewriters (shows you how far back this goes) and allotted an unspecified amount of time then eventually those monkeys would produce the entire corpus of Shakespearean literature. That’s your theory of very big numbers. It seems a bit to me like prediction after the fact. Or, maybe it was just taken from a George Carling monologue.
I’d rather believe in thin places and thin times wherein co-incidence exists when the belief in justice and peace exists alongside the action of people making it so. At such times and in such places, I believe, God, the Holy Trinity of divine connection exists.
Today’s reading from Exodus recounts the experience of Moses in the co-incidence of his need for direction that was found on a mountain top. It was his encounter that – however it happened – became the experience which enabled Moses to live the rest of his life as a person of faith.
Here is why this experience of co-incidence matters, why believing that God is present in the everyday places and times of our lives. This experience matters because it reveals the dynamic relationship of unending energy that is the Holy Trinity. Often, in the past two weeks I have heard interviews of young people who are new to the demands of peaceful protests, new to the positive commitments they must make to unite people in common cause. These young people say they are exhausted. What a glorious thing for them to experience!
On the question of exhaustion and being in good company, they may want to read this from St. Paul’s reflection on his own exhaustion as he wrote in his 2nd letter to his beloved Corinthians (2 Cor 6:4-10)
“In all that we do we strive to present ourselves as ministers of God, acting with patient endurance amid trials, difficulties, distresses, beatings, imprisonments and riots; as people familiar with hard work, sleepless nights and fastings; conducting ourselves with innocence, knowledge, and patience, in the Holy Spirit, in sincere love; as people with the message of truth and the power of God; wielding the weapons of righteousness with right hand and left, whether honored or dishonored, spoken of well or ill. We are called imposters, yet we are truthful; nobodies who in fact are well known; dead, yet here we are, alive, punished, but not put to death; sorrowful, though we are always rejoicing; poor, yet we enrich many. We seem to have nothing, yet everything is ours!”
Exhaustion never has a better friend than truth!
This time justice could take a few steps forward. It’s a question of how wide will we open the thin space to let the power of God reveal the truth. “No Justice, No Peace”
I would like to conclude these thoughts with no formal conclusion, but with appreciation of snippets from today’s readings from Scripture.
First, from Exodus, I find it to be an example of unparalleled chutzpah, once he was secure in his experience of God, for Moses to say, in effect, “So God, how about you come with us on this journey.”
Second, from the Gospel of John – the Gospel of light and darkness. How much more timely can scripture get as today’s peaceful protesters distinguish themselves from looters and violence makers (whether protestors or police) in the night? We read today, “People who do wrong hate the light and avoid it for fear their actions will be exposed.”
Finally, I have spent the last two weeks being very angry and expressing that anger. Maybe you have been angry also? I am grateful for this reading from Ephesians (4:31f) to lead us away from this anger: “Get rid of all bitterness, all passion and anger… In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ.”
Recall that this is the same Christ who teaches: “Blest are those who hunger and thirst for justice, they shall have their fill.” (Matthew 5:6)
A Prayer (JR)
Marching, Marching. Marching.
Some of us marched in the past. Some of us march still. And some of us have marching left in us. All of us march in search of, and demand for, justice in the pursuit of peace.
Marching, Marching, Marching.
You are the God of Exodus, commanding the people to march to freedom;
God who en-Spirits us with gifts of courage and stamina to march for righteousness;
God who deepens the love of Christ in us so we keep marching
with faith in the Holy Trinity of life.
Marching, Marching, Marching, Amen!