SERMON TRINITY SUNDAY 2018
By Pastor Leo E. Longan
I’m sure I’ve used this story before, but I think it will bear a second hearing. Something I read in the Christian Science Monitor several years ago really caught my attention. It seems that there was a huge national kerfluffle in Iran about a music video some kids made with a song called “Happy.” All it is, apparently, is perfectly nice boys and girls in ordinary clothes jumping around to a happy song, no big production, no political message, no “death to America”; just a home video of happy children, jumping up and down. Something you might show to a friend on a cellphone, but nothing that could possibly get any sustained attention in America.
But Iran is not America: the authorities pulled the video was pulled from the internet and the kids who made it were actually arrested for “contributing to public unchastity” … presumably for showing boys and girls being together at all, and the girls without their Islamic gear. Well, that’s the official reason, but as the Monitor piece showed, this has much deeper roots, spiritual roots: there was a quote from the Ayatollah Houmeni, the mullah who founded the current theocratic regime in Iran in 1979 (now run by a different Ayatollah named KOUmeni). Anyway, the ayatollah, the spiritual father of the country announced: “God did not create man to have fun. Fun is not Islamic. There is no fun in Islam.”
Wow. Pretty radical. Now I know that there are other opinions about whether it’s OK for observant Muslims to have fun, just as there remain pockets of Christians who are suspicious of anything that looks like enjoyment. The old saying at home is that Baptists disapproved of sex because it might lead to dancing. How seriously Iranians take this idea was very apparent to us on our trip to Armenia a couple of years ago: everywhere we went, there were gangs of Iranian tourists, drinking and dancing a whooping it up because Armenia, being a Christian country, allowed people to have fun in public – and to drink alcohol; obviously a big draw for tourists from Iran.
But of course the reason the Ayatollah’s statement impressed me, is that it is so absolutely 180o dead wrong. Wrong, wrong wrong: God absolutely DID create man to have fun. God likes to have fun. God created the fun that God created human beings to have. God has a great sense of humor, which is certainly the only way God can put up with our foolishness. We have a sense of humor because God has a sense of humor and it is in God’s image and likeness that we are made.
Well , you don’t need me to tell you that fun is good on its own terms, but perhaps you do need me to show you and the ayatollah that fun is a true and reliable – perhaps the only – reliable, accurate reflection we have of the inner being of Almighty God.
Trinity Sunday is the one Sunday of the year that is dedicated – not to a person or an event, but to a theological idea: today we dare to look for moment at the Inner Being of God. The question came up early on in the life of the Christian faith: who is God? What is God revealing? How does God wish to be known?
What the church did in its first days on earth was put together the ways in which God was being revealed – in the God of Israel whom Jesus called Father, in Jesus the Messiah whom the church confesses is Son of God, and in this invisible power called Holy Spirit that brought the church to life on Pentecost and now lives in the church and in the people. The church put these three data sources of revelation together and called it the “Trinity”. It took a while for the church to settle on the word PERSONS for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (the history of that dispute will make your eyes cross) but what we ended up with was One God in Three Persons, the Holy Trinity. The Trinity sets Christians apart from every other religion in the world. Jews and Muslims are outraged; they think we Christians worship three gods. Hindus have thousands of gods; having just three seems awfully meagre. Buddhists do not worship a personal God, so even one such being is too many. Nevertheless, Christians down the millennia have confessed one God in Three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and everything we Christians do, all the worship we offer here, every prayer we make without exception, is in the name of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Father, Son and Holy Spirit is God’s name.
But I promised to show you how fun is built into the inner being of God. So I have a question for you: if you were stranded on a desert island all by yourself, how much fun do you think you would be liable to have? Not much, I’m guessing. It is not good for man to be alone. We need each other to be happy. Why do you think that is?
Because who WE are is a reflection of the inner being of the God who made us in his image and likeness. God did not make ME, God made US. God made us a community because God IS a community. I’ll show you: take a look at the icon card: (I had a new one printed up; this one has the angels, Abraham and Sarah, and a really great tree right in the middle) As you many know, this image is called the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham. This illustrates the story from Genesis 18 was our first lesson today: Abraham and Sarah are 100 years old and are still waiting for the son that God promised them. Then The Lord appeared to them under an oak tree. What they saw was the Three Angels in the picture. Abraham and Sarah offered them hospitality and made a picnic for them. The angels, speaking with one voice, tell them that by next year they will have a son. Sarah laughs at this idea: at MY age, I’m going to have fun (that’s exactly what she says: shall I have pleasure?) But the three angels who are the Lord spoke true: a son was born and gets named Isaac, which means “laughter” or “God laughs” or “God laughs last”.
Now this event in Genesis 18 is the only time in the bible when God puts in an actual appearance (as opposed to speaking from a cloud or a bush or a clap of thunder). So this, being God’s only actual appearance, is the only way the Orthodox church will picture the Trinity. Sometimes in Western art we see the old bearded guy and the young bearded guy and the bird, but that’s not a good way to draw a picture of God. Much better is this icon, that has the double advantage of illustrating the story and preserving the mystery: it shows three angels (what are angels? That’s a mystery!) sharing a joke around the table (if you look closely, you’ll see that they are sort of leaning in to one another, as one does when telling a joke). This is the best, really the only picture we have, our only snapshot … of God, and what is it? Food, drink, laughter … it looks like a party to me.
So: don’t listen to the ayatollah. Don’t let anybody tell you that God doesn’t like fun, or that having fun is wrong and bad. God created fun; God created us to have fun; not having fun is what’s wrong and bad. There’s no reason for it not to be fun, because we know how the story ends: with the redemption and transfiguration of all things by the glory and power of God. V
And there is such a thing a “serious” fun. Facing down sin, disease and death is serious business. Our best medicine in all this is our joy. Even at the grave we sing, Alleluia. I remember so well, the day we buried the last of the wonderful Frank sisters. To the end of her life, Lillian had three wonderful Caribbean caregivings, and when I said the final amen at the graveside, the end of the family and the end of their jobs, they burst into song and danced and clapped: Ain’t no Grave Gonna Hold This Body Down. That’s the Christian faith. It’s all good. It’s all joy.
So you are wrong, ayatollah, 180o wrong. Naughty, naughty ayatollah.
But let him have it his way, if he likes. Meanwhile, we are invited to a party; God’s party, the party that IS God, the party that is the Holy Trinity in whose name we gather, the party that is your future and mine. You are holding the invitation in your hand right now. It’s a party. Shall we go?
Let us pray.