From the Rector
This Sunday at our 9:00 a.m. Eucharist we will celebrate another amazing Vacation Bible School. Our Director of Children’s Ministries Cindy Hauser, along with a huge team of extraordinarily dedicated volunteers, has once again created something extraordinary to stimulate the faith and discipleship of 140 participants and helpers. Stories were told, songs sung, games played, crafts made, fun had, and God’s love shared. I hope you’ll come to the Sunday celebration to hear the kids sing some of the music from their mission to “Mars and Beyond,” because you’ll catch a glimpse of what God has been up to at Transfiguration all week (which included the extra drama of power being mostly out until Wednesday night).
This weekend will also include another kind of celebration, as we will honor Trinity Sunday and celebrate the mystery of the revelation of God as three persons. There is, I think, no point of theology that causes quite so much brain-freeze as the doctrine of the Trinity. How can one God be three persons? It’s the ultimate head-scratcher. As I always do in anticipation of this feast day, I refer you to the wonderful cartoon about St. Patrick teaching the Trinity to the Irish, which does a great (and hilarious) job of illustrating the challenges of teaching the Trinity without falling into a theological quagmire.
In my sermon this weekend, I will talk about what it means that God is in relationship within God’s own self, and that to believe we’re made in the image of that God has implications for how we are to relate to others. Our relationships, both human and with all of creation, are not just the practical inevitabilities of living, but actually essential to our ability to be who God makes us to be. I’m going to try and bring this down from the theological heights with some examples from history and science, because I really want us to spend time with this fundamentally essential truth: our belief that God is three persons is not just something that makes Christianity unique among the world’s religions; it should shape how we live, move, and have our being, too.
But Trinity Sunday is a good time to ponder how we speak to and about God. When Christians pray, we often pray to the different persons of the Trinity. “Heavenly Father,” we might say to open prayer, or “Lord Jesus Christ,” or even, “Come, Holy Spirit.” The persons of the Trinity become names for God that we use in our prayer and conversation. But even as we commonly use these names in our religious language, and even though two of them seem to have a gender (“Father” and “Son”), it is so important that we remember that God is not male. God is above gender, having made both male and female in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). And yet, quite often we use male names and male pronouns for God. When we seek a pronoun for use in prayer or conversation, we turn to “he” and “him.” God is “King” and “Lord,” and the realm of God’s dominion is a “kingdom.”
The Bible is cited as support for all this gendered language for God, because Scripture often deploys male pronouns and metaphors. And yet, the Bible also has other metaphors for God that rarely, if ever, get used by Christians in their religious language, to our own spiritual impoverishment. Jesus compares himself to a hen who longs to gather her brood under her wings (Matt 23:37), and the personification of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, which Christians have long interpreted to be the Holy Spirit, is described with feminine language (see Proverbs 8).
The Episcopal Church has a growing awareness that we are too reliant on gendered language for God, and that, for the sake of growing our imaginations as well as deconstructing patriarchy, it is time to start letting go of some old ways of speaking about God. Thus, at the most recent General Convention, the Episcopal Church overwhelmingly approved what are known as “expansive language” rites for the Eucharist. These are the three most commonly used Eucharistic prayers in The Book of Common Prayer – Rite II, forms A, B, and D – modified to remove much of the gendered language for God. Care has been taken to preserve the flow and cadence of the rites, but gone are the needless uses of “he” and “him.”
I am happy to say that, beginning in mid-July, we will begin using these modified rites for all our principle services at Transfiguration. The changes are really quite modest, and many will barely notice the difference, but I also understand that, for those of us who’ve been using The Book of Common Prayer for decades, even the smallest change of wording can cause us to trip. For example, in the Nicene Creed the use of “he” for the Holy Spirit has been changed to “who”. “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.” I think this is much better, as we needn’t make the Holy Spirit male, yet I also know that it will take a few times before we get the hang of it.
But this is the point. Every time we trip over a change, we’ll notice how much male language for God there is in our tradition. Needless gendering, I believe. And by removing it, and more carefully deploying other imaginative language from Scripture and the ancient tradition that isn’t soaked in patriarchy, I am confident we will grow as Christians and people, and have a richer sense of our triune God.