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The Trinity and a Girl Named Alice

A homily preached June 19, 2011, Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, at the Church of the Good Shepherd

Do you remember that famous moment in The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader said to Luke Skywalker: “I am your father”?

Talk about a shock. Now that’s a really bad surprise. Discovering your father is the most evil person in the universe is not going to be your best day ever. Imagine what Fathers Day was like for Luke after that. Awkward!

Now some have not had the best fathers, even some here in this church. And that complicates things today, not just because it’s Fathers Day, but because we as a global church are celebrating the Holy Trinity, and the idea of a Father is important in connecting to this mystery.

If your father is Darth Vader, you probably don’t celebrate Fathers Day, and understandably you’d have difficulty connecting with the idea of God as Father.

Our parish had an early celebration of Fathers Day a couple of weekends ago when we sponsored four buses to take children to visit their fathers in prison.

Dozens of parishioners showed up at 4 a.m. to see these kids off with breakfast before the long bus ride to the prison, where they spent a few hours with their fathers. Some of them had not seen their fathers for years. You can imagine how overwhelming it was for these men to see their children after so many years, bigger and older yet still somehow the same.

Those fathers, longing to see their children, in some ways remind us of the image of God longing for a relationship with us. It is powerfully expressed in the story of the Prophet Hosea, where God’s love for us is compared to a husband’s love for an unfaithful wife who continually humiliates him. And still he loves her.

The depth of the Father’s yearning and love for us, despite our wanderings, despite our hesitation at his embrace, despite our flirtation with other gods — such as money, power, influence, possessions, social propriety and so forth — is, quite simply, inexplicable.

We cannot rationally explain the love that God has for us. It makes no sense.

We can’t explain it, we can only accept it with awe.

This is the ideal loving Father. Some of us have a vague experience of this in our own fathers, some of us do not. And yet here is what experience teaches us about God the Father: That he is always there for us. He created us out of love and has always been there for us all throughout history and for each of us before we were born.

There is another aspect of God that comforts us, because God can say to us: “I understand what you are going through, because I have been one of you. I was born human. I have been lonely. I have had parents. I have been a two-year-old, a teenager. I have wondered what my role was in life. I have been abandoned by my friends. I have suffered. I have died.”

And to the God of the past and the God of the present we add the God of the future. This is that aspect of God that give us hope, that enables us to get up and face each day, that makes us look forward to a better world. This is when God tells us, “Do not be afraid. I am here to guide you. I will take your hand and walk with you through the uncertainty and help you not only to learn but also to teach.”

Part of the mystery of the Trinity is that each of these three aspects of God — the one who is always with us, the one who is one of us, and the one who guides us — are all three co-eternal. There was never a time when God was not our past, our present and our future.

You’ve heard about the Trinity as a community, about how Augustine explained this community as the Lover, the Beloved and the Love they share. But to me that seems a bit static, if my brother Augustine will forgive me. It’s not just about passive being, it is also about doing.

This weekend I heard an interview on NPR with the author Alice Ozma. Her book, The Reading Promise, tells the story of how in a time of great family trouble — her parents separated and her father in financial crisis — her librarian father promised to help her through the crisis by reading a bedtime story to her every night for 100 days. He kept his promise, and on the 100th day they decided to continue. He read to her every night after that, year after year, until the night before she left for college.

If we recall that Jesus is the Word of the Father, expressed in Holy Scripture through the power of the Holy Spirit, then this image of the faithful Father reading to his daughter in the face of adversity can become a beautiful analogy of how the Trinity has accompanied us as a community throughout history and as individuals throughout our own lives. God proclaims to her an eternal story that is his only Son. He fulfills his promise and then some, ever-giving, and as he sends us into the world his Spirit guides us, just as the spirit of Alice’s father guided her when she went off to college.

God who has been with us from the beginning, creating and comforting, promising and protecting. The Father.

God who has been one of us, hungry and hopeful, tired and triumphant. The Son.

God who guides us, teaching and trustworthy, mentor and minder, the Spirit.

It is the Trinity that envelops us in love — past, present and future; above, beyond, within; fulfilling all our needs.

An old hymn by Isaac Watts I think helps us to understand the dynamic role the Trinity plays in our lives. It was written in 1738 and popularized by John Wesley:

Oh God our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

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