These first Followers of the Way kept telling the story. They seemed to know that the story was important. That the story was what they were to share.
Story, Trinity, and living our theology
Trinity Sunday | John 16: 12-15
I recently remarked that there are two days I don’t like preaching: Christ the King and Trinity Sunday. Which is funny since I kind of think there should be a third.
I struggle with these two Sundays because, unlike all the rest, they don’t begin with the story. They aren’t rooted in narrative or the gospel at all. They are, at best, reflections on our theology and speak to how we have come to understand GOD and what is going on in the world; as we better know the Missio Dei, mission of GOD, and seek to realize it.
Stories are what we do. Christian theology has hurt people and destroyed communities. The certainty of our belief in objective and doctrinal statements have caused deep division and broken communities. But stories change lives.And we're shown throughout that it all starts with story. Click To Tweet
This week, as we’ve been going through the book of Acts for our Bible study and reflected on it for our worship, I’ve noticed something I never gave much attention to before. I noticed how Peter and Philip, Stephen and Saul proclaim the good news in Acts. It is a lot like the road to Emmaus story at the end of Luke.
Each time they don’t just talk about Jesus and GOD, and they certainly don’t use some trinitarian formula they learned in school. They each tell a story. Really, they tell either the big story or the shorter story.
The Big story is GOD’s work in the world: the creation and calling of Abraham and the Patriarchs, the rise of David and the faithlessness of Solomon, then the redeeming of Jesus in the Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension.
The shorter version simply focuses on Jesus–specifically the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
These first Followers of the Way kept telling the story. They seemed to know that the story was important. That the story was what they were to share. So why is it that all some of them share about Jesus is the death and resurrection?
Growing Up with Faith
I can’t remember when I learned anything about our faith. It was always there. We went to church every Sunday, of course. And I was the kind of kid who often read comics in the back, on the left side. Or we sat in the balcony and would fold paper airplanes which would launch after everyone was gone. I even took a couple of excursions to the front because you know it is always open.
I remember church potlucks on Wednesday nights in Lent and our Rogation and blessing of the animals day. I remember being both fawned over at coffee hour and scolded – neither of which ever felt earned. And as I got older, I remember the hostility of church meetings, the pessimism of a church without any kids (because apparently I didn’t count) and all the people who would come to our front door looking for help.
Sometimes I’d even accompany my Dad to the hospital for visits and I would have this strange sense that I shouldn’t be there – that these people are so vulnerable – and yet they were always happy to see me or would pretend I wasn’t even there.
All of this I learned about us – about church – and somewhere I picked up the Passion, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. That was omnipresent. And yet all of the rest of the story was a blur: an unknown sequence of events which clearly paled in comparison to these more important elements, I assumed.
As a teenager, I felt ignorant. I knew the big stuff, I suppose. I certainly could’ve said these things Peter and Philip preach in Acts. But I knew that wasn’t everything. Because I was already asking my Dad
If Jesus’s birth and death are so important, why is he important? Couldn’t we just as easily be worshipping a Brian or a Biff? Why wasn’t the baby Jesus crucified if those events are what matter? And why don’t we ever celebrate what he did in life?
It Starts With Story
Our stories, how we share the good news, are full of milestones and life events, but we don’t have a feast day for the Feeding of the 5000 or the healing of the Demoniac. We don’t celebrate feasts for the most iconic teachings of Jesus, like the Parables of the Good Samaritan and Prodigal Sons or the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer. And we certainly haven’t solemnized his most troubling teaching: that we sell our stuff, give the money to the poor, and share all things in common.
Rules, doctrine, even the traditional theology we espouse, all of that is debatable and difficult. It is far more divisive and far from telling the whole truth of the Missio Dei than the telling of a story, like Jesus told, like those first Followers of the Way told, like we tell one another.
So they told these stories. They started with Jesus, the miracles, the wonders, the teachings, and in the days after the resurrection, they found themselves telling stories of this prophet, this messiah who was tried and killed and yet GOD raised him from the dead.
Then the story began to change again.
In Acts, we have a story of a new gospel, a post-Christ gospel, a new form of revelation gospel. We discover that the real protagonist of the good news is not Jesus, but these people: the people who hear his voice and follow him. So in this new gospel, the 2nd Act, we get a new Event.
We should not see this as a supplement or subordinate event to the primary Event of Jesus. This is a truly new Event in the coming of the Spirit. Because the story isn’t about these two, as persons in a relationship with GOD. The story is about the people. It is about how they (and we) receive GOD into our midst and how we share that grace with one another.
And we’re shown throughout our history, in our Scripture, both Hebrew and Greek, and in our communities, that it all starts with story.
A Lived Theology
My story is full of faith moments which are not captured in conversations about the Trinity. Stories of a gift of cereal on my doorstep and presents throughout Advent. My story involves being raised by a church full of grandmothers rather than youth group fueled by dcTalk or TobyMac.
Our story, like the story of the faithful throughout history, is formed through lives of faith. Lives which give us limitless opportunities to spy the possible and inspire hope in others. Lives of vibrant living and connected by faith, living and dancing in new understanding and ever-changing and evolving relationship. We are all dancing in this world, and you and I can choose to only dance when we’re alone in private dance parties of course. Or we can dance together, learning to be each other’s dance partners, breaking in with each other for our jams where we dance together and feel alive!
We are offered this opportunity to live and breathe and move together as partners and co-conspirators in the Missio Dei and our dance together can change the world in a new Event – a new revelation and a new game change.
Of course, to many that is the vision of the Trinity: of GOD in three, dancing together, loving and serving with mutuality and without hierarchy. A vision of the metaphysics of the world which matches the vision GOD has for us in the world: what the Greeks call Perichoresis.
Ultimately we are challenged by our faith to match how we encounter our world with what we believe about it – not as necessarily through rules or in light of some hierarchical vision of purity – but so that we may do on earth as GOD is in heaven. That our relationships and church structures and all the opportunities of the faith are embodied and whole. That we are one with GOD and all of creation.
Alone and together, may we remember, may we praise, and may we dance!