God’s dress spilling from heaven
Remmy Remmers writes:
“One of my favorite sermons I heard on Isaiah 6 described God sitting upon her throne. She was wearing a magnificent dress that was spilling down into the church. Imagining that fills me with wonder. Invites me into the mystery. Everything I thought I knew about God might be true but it is incomplete. I need new images, poems, dances to describe God to me.” (DisruptWorshipProject.com Holy Trinity 2021)
The story about God’s dress spilling down into the church makes me think about the fabrics here at Church of the Cross. This is God’s dress and we’re just seeing a part of it. Isaiah 6 presents us with a mystical image of the divine. There are the seraphs flying around God who each have six wings. In this fantastical image perhaps all we can comprehend is the end of God’s dress dangling into the temple. Mystical images reveal to us new images of God.
It is fitting we are talking about God’s dress and mystical images on Holy Trinity Sunday. Remmers describes yearning for an image of God that includes a fuller diversity of God’s creation, including a fullness of gender expressions. God is beyond categories but is revealed through scripture in images like an overflowing dress. Remmers continues about why the ways we describe God matter so much:
“The language and imagery we use for God can center certain kinds of people and make the claim that they are closer to God. In the worst scenarios we can look at our neighbors and not notice God in them. We can perpetuate systems of oppression based on this faulty theology hurting our neighbors and God. I try to lift up different images of God to remind myself of the holy mystery that is the Trinity. I switch up the pronouns for God because it reminds me that God probably experiences gender differently than me.” One reason to describe and explore the divine in these different ways reminds us God is always more than. God as Holy Trinity continually overflows the categories we use to describe God. As Remmers notes the danger of a rigid divine imagery is that we then project it upon people and power structures. When we describe God solely using male descriptors of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it tends to constrain the ways we understand the world around us.
Theologians like Ben Myers counters that the male descriptors of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are solely relational names. They are a way we talk about the Son proceeding from the Father, and the Spirit emanating from them both. In this view it’s a bit like using x, y, and z as placeholders in a mathematical equation. However, the reality is that words matter. Centuries of mainly male pronouns for describing God have produced churches that still do not ordain women, that ostracize and do violence to queer and racialized folks, and we’re still stuck in this mess in various ways.
The point of talking about God in different ways isn’t just because it’s in vogue. Not just because we’re approaching Pride month and we want to appear hip or with it as a church. Believe me, no one looks to the church for what is hip or trending. But rather we trust and believe that the Holy Trinity, one God, includes the fullness of gender expressions within God-self. A vision of the divine as woman, trans, or non-binary enriches our images of God and of human creation. We are reminded that God blesses all these people in the midst not in spite of, but celebrating the fullness of their identities.
In a sermon we lack the time to flesh out a full Trinitarian theology. It’s a reminder for us to read theologians who are expanding the vocabulary around the Holy Trinity, and exploring how gender studies and race theory inform other disciplines including theology. What I am sharing is nothing new. This work has been happening since the 1960’s and beyond, but it doesn’t always make it to the congregation level. It’s a conversation we will continue. It’s not as though Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday we talk about Trinity. We name the Trinity and make the sign of the cross every Sunday.
Far from being some theology logic puzzle, Trinitarian theology matters at the most basic level of how as church we relate to one another. A couple days ago we learned the horrific discovery that a mass grave of 215 Indigenous children was discovered at a former residential school in Kamloops, BC. It is a school that was administered by the Roman Catholic Church. Consider the rigidity of patriarchal churches that insist upon exclusively male pronouns for the godhead and doesn’t ordain women or openly queer people. Depictions of Jesus as white also prevail in artwork in church spaces. This depicts white men in positions of power, establishing a hierarchy of women, children, racialized people, and queer people who are subservient to white cis men. It’s not a mystery that white patriarchal church structures, worshipping a white male godhead, have reproduced violence, abuse, neglect, and genocide against Indigenous people over and over. Theology is powerful because images of the divine are used to conceal evil and justify systemic racism and violence, even the murder of children.
As Lutherans we get caught up in the same mess. Even though our institutional church may not have administered residential schools due to historical accident, we also haven’t led the way taking action either. This week marks another opportunity not only to feel sad or say sorry, but to consider what meaningful action we could take collectively that would change the power imbalances around systemic racism.
The advantage of multiplicity
It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact this past week we also saw a glimmer of hope in which white people did stand up for Indigenous neighbours. It came earlier this week in response to violent arrests of Indigenous Youth at the Fairy Creek blockade near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. Over one hundred predominantly white seniors, many who belonged to a group calling themselves the Raging Grannies, went for a hike towards the blockade. Their aim was taking up space and disrupting the tension between RCMP and Indigenous youth. Eye witness accounts reported that when over a hundred seniors crested the hill, walking towards the blockade, the couple officers on hand packed up and left. It would be a PR debacle engaging with a hundred mainly white seniors. Not to take the pressure off the government and logging industry who demanded the officers show up and enforce injunctions, with whom the real blame lies.
The seniors who showed up didn’t have to do very much. The drive to the blockade was likely the most effort. They simply showed up and disrupted the tension around the standoff by being there. That one action may not have ended the conflict but it demonstrated that the bar for direct action is incredibly low. Getting in a car and walking up a hill en masse was enough. There were no big strategies, they didn’t wave signs, didn’t involve months of careful planning. They simply showed up and the novelty of the story reveals how seldom something like this happens. How rare it is for white people with power and privilege to show up at a conflict zone and say “We are here. We are watching.”
Perhaps you have creative ideas around simple things we could do as a church. Simply showing up, taking space, gathering in prayer are simple but profound acts. For the most churches have retreated into private spaces and louder churches often have bad theology. What happens when we take up space in simple even quiet ways, prepared with nothing but a gospel of love for people who are suffering.
Some of the folks we are welcoming today, thinking about Bill, Jake, and Boston, have been inspired by public witness at Church of the Cross. Public messaging on the church sign and on-line drew them to join us for worship. It is a privilege to welcome them into our midst, as they inspire us to explore new ideas and dream new dreams. As always the ripples of proclaiming the gospel extend beyond the walls of the church, stirring up new ways to witness to Jesus’ love.
Wrapping up, remember the image of God’s dress spilling into the sanctuary. The overflowing grace of love that greets us in unexpected ways.
Come Holy Spirit and enliven us with your resilience and wisdom as we live into theologies of public witness.
Feel embraced by that overflowing love. God grant us courage to listen to new ways the Holy Trinity is revealing itself to us.