The Trinity(s)

First United Methodist Church — Omaha
Rev. Dr. Jane Florence
October 29, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 22: 34-40
Sermon: “The Trinity(s)”

Wilson was just two years old when his mother died giving birth to his baby sister. Her thirteenth child died with her. They were buried together that day. Pop didn’t know what to do with a two year old – not back then. There weren’t support groups for single parents in 1920. Good thing Wilson had nine older siblings.

The oldest and only sister, married with children of her own, took him in first. Wilson must have been a handful and a bit ornery. Each of his brothers – really their wives- took Wilson in for a year or so at a time. Times were hard. An extra mouth to feed put a strain on everyone. Wilson never knew a mother’s love or tenderness. He always knew he was an unwanted burden. By the time he was eleven, he had worn out his place at family tables. Just as well, he figured he was old enough to fend for himself by then anyway. Catching that train wasn’t hard for a kid used to working hard all day. He survived then added a few years to his birthdate and headed off to the army- two years shy of legal age.

Irene was the second of four children, and she preferred to keep to herself. She had chores to do, school to tend, and plenty to keep her busy without the fuss of silly girls hanging around giggling, disturbing any quite time she may find. Irene wanted to go to college, but there was no money for that. Twelfth grade graduation meant full-time work- not that she wasn’t doing that already.

Wilson’s plane got shot down, and his body pretty broken up. A year in the hospital and he was out of the army and working in town. That’s where they met. Wilson and Irene found each other’s company satisfactory. They decided to spend the next 63 years together – till death did them part.

Wilson wanted for his family what he had never known – a home. A roof over his children’s heads and food on the table each day was his precious gift to them. Never mind that he had to work late most nights and weekends and his body was worn out by the time he got home. He didn’t know there was any other duties of a father other than provider. He and Irene had three children. Of course, she cherished them, but truth be told, they were a noisy bunch and cooking, cleaning for them took all she had to give and more. The kids had a solid roof and good food at every meal. Albeit there was no tenderness, no coddling, no affection under that roof. That’s not what their parents knew how to do.

Then came the fourth. The youngest child was a surprise- as they say. Irene thought she was too old to have a baby. Surprise. All the little girl wanted was love- someone to hold her. That was not the way it was. The older kids demanded Mother’s attention and time. The girl learned to do without. If she were quiet and still, her mother would let her be near as she ironed and cooked and cleaned. The girl learned to be quite and still and self-sufficient. Separate and remote. Independent and strong on her own. Deep inside there was a longing – she’d never admit it – but it seemed as she became a woman men could sense it. She was easy prey.

For all those who have posted #metoo, each has a backstory: a vulnerable life, or defenseless moment, an unguarded hour, a surprise encounter. For those who have been targets of sexual assault or harassment, some find coping mechanism by what psychologist call “dissociation.” That’s when we separate body from mind/emotions, so what happens to the one cannot destroy the other.

Assault survivors aren’t the only ones who learn how to detach. For those who love an alcoholic and who have learned the twelve steps, we know the only way forward comes by detaching from the unhealthy obsession we have for the addict. You have to learn to let go to get off the rollercoaster in order to live. For hose meshed in anxious systems -family, work, social groups, family system theory teaches to remain non-anxious presence. That means detach from anxious person.

To survive, assault on body, mind, or spirit, to survive isolation, neglect, rejection, anxiety, some learn to cope by detaching. Some learn to separate ourselves from others.

It is a survival skill that serves us well in the midst of trauma and violation and drama. But what happens ,I mean, where, when, how do we ever learn to connect again once we have detached?

Jesus speaks to our disconnectedness. He has words to the isolation within our soul and the separation we have from one another. This is round three of debates in our scripture for today. The religious leaders have quizzed Jesus already. The first was a true/ false question about paying taxes; the second was an essay about resurrection. Each time he has prevailed, so now they give him a multiple choice question. There are 613 laws in the Hebrew teachings. Challenge: Jesus, pick one. Which is the greatest?

Interesting question these leaders ask: are there greater and lesser laws in God’s Way?

Are there 10 commandments and 603 suggestions? Can we rank the top ten in the order we choose? We do. We deem the ones that we are most likely to break are least important. Lying and coveting or failing to keep the Sabbath just doesn’t seem to attract as much scorn as murder and adultery even though they are all on the same Big Ten list.

The Leaders ask Jesus: what’s the greatest commandment? Fill in the circle on the score sheet. Chose from the 613. Jesus picks “All of the above” by quoting not one of the ten commandments verbatim, but by quoting the most prominent prayer in the Hebrew tradition, the cornerstone of faith and practice. We might liken it to the Lord’s Prayer in Jesus tradition.
Jesus recites: “There is but one God. Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul. This is the greatest commandment.”

Love lord your God, with all your heart, soul and mind. We know what it means to love with your heart. We put red and pink hearts on our cards at Valentine’s day. We talk about hearts as the seat of our emotions, feelings, and desires of our hearts. We add red heart emojis to our text messages. I {heart} God. We get it. We know our mind as the seat of wisdom and knowledge, truth and understanding. We think that means to love God with right doctrine and thought. Then there’s the “soul.” That’s that spirit-y thing, the religious part of us, the essence of us that goes on after these bodies stop- that’s really hard to put into words. Maybe, kinda?

That thinking is our Post-Enlightenment thinking. We like to dissect and separate and compartmentalize and categorize. We act as if the three can be detached and isolated from the others. We do our heart work over here- send God a warm fuzzy when we help the poor. Then do our mind work over here and get our theology and doctrines just right. Then do our spirit work over here when we pray, meditate, and navel gaze. But the ancients knew not to divide. They were not victims of dualistic modern thinking.

Love God with Heart, Mind, and Soul. What if that’s not three things, but one? Love God with the Wholeness of who we are, with every single facet of our being and every aspect of us as a complete, connected, whole creation. It’s not three compartments of our life, but one. Three is really one sounds like how Christians talk about God as Trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God in three “persons.”

That trinity image might help us get what lies beneath Jesus’ answer. Love God, with all that you are, heart, mind, and soul as one. Jesus isn’t through with his answer just yet. He extends it and gives it another twist by adding, “and love your neighbor as yourself.” There’s another threesome: God, Self and Neighbor. Three are one. In that love, for all that is good and holy and true with our mind, heart and soul, you will find God, and in God you will find Self and in that neighbor. The lesson here is integration: heart, mind and soul, and God, self and Neighbor, not threes, but ONE.

Our commandment is to return to the wholeness in which we are made. Where the world splinters, where violence and violation and neglect and longing and anxiety teaches us to detach and withdraw, God unites. Love God and Neighbor as ONE for God is in all the ground of all being that reconnects soul, heart and mind. Live in the fullness of each day, in wholeness.

By the grace of God, surrounding by this community of faith, may we come to love ourselves, and see God in all we are. May we come to love the others, and see God in them too. Amen.