Trinity Sunday, Year A
4 June 2023
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
I recently was reminiscing about the first congregation I served. And what I was reminiscing was that the relationships weren’t very healthy. Looking at it now I see how absurd some of it really was. But being inside of a closed system makes it harder to see, especially for those who have been there a long time.
I say this lovingly; I really do. Most of the people were lovely people who had been there a long time and carried deep commitment to the church and to God. But there hadn’t been much peace, ever, I think, and certainly not before I got there. I was remembering this with one of you last week.
That same night I had a strata council meeting and in an e-mail the next day our manager said that she had lost her cool and was sorry, and that she gets too personally involved in the stratas she manages. That made me think again of the first congregation I served. I sent what I deemed an encouraging reply to our manager, and what became apparent was that the reason relationships were not healthy back then was because there wasn’t much trust, and there wasn’t much trust because of the history the congregation had had. And when you step into that from the outside you cannot make people forget whatever traumas they suffered. You can only slowly and patiently try to model something different and in doing so help build trust. But it is a difficult and challenging undertaking.
I knew that the congregation had a reputation before I went there. As I had considered the call, I had thought to myself, Well, I come from a family of conflict. Conflict is nothing new to me. That was what was normal when I was growing up. But of course, that’s not a strategy, and it didn’t take into account that this would also have an effect on me.
But I held on to the thing about building trust and my co-pastor and I did our best to model it. It was like, See, we get along, we trust each other, you can all relax a bit. This was important because only when people trust each other can they live together and build something together.
Earlier in May there was an article on Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Religion & Ethics page about an app called Replika.1 The company that owns the app claims that it has more than 10 million registered users. It is apparently used by people disappointed with human relationships. The app is your digital girlfriend (I do not know if boyfriends are also available). Says someone else about this (and similar) apps, “By creating a highly customisable experience, AI-driven sexting services of the type Replika offered are potentially more addictive because they encourage the formation of parasocial relationships, with the side-effect of making a human partner seem yet more frightening and inconvenient.”2 Sexting aside, that was what I thought when I first read about it. If we customize our digital relationships, they become what we expect, and we will no longer be able to relate to real people in any meaningful way, other than as consumers.
I guess all of this is to say that all of us have suffered disappointments, with each other, with the church, and with ourselves. But withdrawing from communities because they’re so messed up isn’t going to help us because we have let ourselves down as often as others have. Disappointments are not restricted to others.
The truth is that we cannot live without each other. I mean, perhaps without this or that person, but not alone, not without community, which is also what politics is about, even though we’re often disappointed with politics, but politics are about our life as a community.
Communities need trust to be able to function. If there is no trust, there is no community. Trust can be built and it can be destroyed. Usually we talk about trust in the way that we speak about respect, it is something that needs to be earned. And that is true. But how do you get there? Even to be able to build trust you have to trust someone because they cannot prove worthy of our trust if we do not trust them first. A long time ago I realized that I would rather live in a world in which I choose to trust people and risk disappointment than to live in a world in which I do not trust. Living in this way will indeed bring disappointments yet it will also bring joy, and friendship, and neighbourliness, and collegiality. That is worth the risk of being disappointed. We cannot live without others.
The story of the Holy Trinity is the story of relationship. God created the world for relationship. Jesus came to restore relationship. And God sent the Holy Spirit for relationship.
If, unlike us, God is God and is entirely self-sufficient, why did God create the world? God created the world to be in relationship with the world, which may also suggest that the world and all that is in it is not an object but a subject. The world is not to be exploited but to be enjoyed. Another way to speak of the world would be to say that it is spirited.
When God created the world for relationship, God trusted God’s creatures. When God sent Jesus, God trusted the people among whom Jesus lived, even though we know what happened. But God chose to trust. When God sends the Holy Spirit, God trusts us and considers us worthy partners in the work of the Kingdom. This is what we call grace. God trusted us before we ever trusted God. St John writes that we love because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19) It is a choice God made and makes because of who God is, even though we have disappointed God many times over.
God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is relationship. St Augustine speaks of the Holy Trinity as love, lover, and beloved, which is not a perfect image for God because no image could be, but it shows that God is relationship.
I am not certain I would go back into my first parish. But if I did, I would again choose to trust because God chose and chooses to trust. And if I went, I would go because God went and because God continues to go and seek relationship.
Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin in the Fields, puts it this way,
“God’s means and ends are identical:
God’s identity is Trinity which is relationship.
God’s purpose for creation is for all to be (in) relationship.
God’s method to bring that about is becoming incarnate and sending the Holy Spirit which is all about relationship.”
The gift of grace is that we are invited into that relationship of the Holy Trinity and into the work of relationship-building that the Holy Trinity engages in with all of creation. And because God is all in all (1 Cor 15:28), in God’s time and by God’s grace the world will be made whole.
2Phoebe Arslanagić-Wakefield in UnHerd on 17 February 2023: https://unherd.com/thepost/replika-users-mourn-the-loss-of-their-chatbot-girlfriends/, emphasis mine.