Harrowing Of Hell
May 30, 2021

Dance with the Spirit

The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia

Good morning Christians, Seekers, and Friends!

Happy Trinity Sunday! I am super excited to be here with you this morning! And I hope you all are as excited as I am. You get to hear a sermon about the Trinity today! Hooray! And I really mean it. For those of you who have glanced over the letter in the bulletin, you’ll see that this is no joke.  Zach, our Director of Music, has put his foot down on jokes about the Trinity this year. So, I am being sincere here. I only hope you are too because I gotta say that if there is one thing that I really struggle with, it is the killjoy, the Cassandra, the dog in the manger, the party poop. And I would guess that most of us here would feel the same way.

Now I don’t want to be that all-holier-than- thou person who scolds you about your as-of-yet unformed theory on the doctrine of the Trinity. I am just asking that you don’t meet my hooray with a naysay.  You know what I am talking about? It’s like when you are in a super good mood – in a Katrina and the Waves “Walking on Sunshine” kind of mood – in a Gene Kelly “Singing in the Rain” or a Pharrell “Happy” kind of mood and then you meet up with someone—maybe even a friend or loved one—and they are so grumpy or so, you-can’t-even-put-your finger- on-it, that you suddenly feel all the joy draining out of you like an untied balloon.

It is like when you come up with an idea that seems so new and fresh and fantastic that you want to tell everyone you see about it and, then you are met with forty-five minutes filled with reasons why your idea won’t work, cannot work, and is just generally a bad, terrible, and no-good idea. 

Please know I am not claiming that I would even be in the running for Little Miss Sunshine, however, it is one of my genuine life goals to avoid raining on the parades of those around me; those I love and care about. And this is, I would argue, even if it sounds a little daft, what spreading the Good News actually looks like. Because even if we don’t get all the philosophical, theological, and historical significance of the Trinity, I can tell you that living in communion within God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is supposed to bring us peace, joy, real happiness, and DANCE MUSIC! 

Bet you didn’t expect me to say that last bit, did ya? But, I couldn’t even make this up – it is true! If we want to flex some big theological Trinitarian words about community as the heart of God, we would use the word perichoresis in Greek or circuminsessio in Latin—and guess how we translate perichoresis friends? In the original Greek peri means around and chorea has to do with a type of round dance with its music!  In the same way, the later Latin translation of this word circuminsessio also refer to the same thing—circum means around AND incedere means to go, to step, to march along. So, when we think of the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (the Trinity) and ourselves—we really are talking about dance—complete with the dance music!

Now if you are having a difficulty visualizing the Trinity as a dance, I would suggest not thinking in terms of ballroom dancing or dances like the Lindy Hop and the Jitterbug. Because these dances are done in pairs – two partners—whereas the Trinity is made up of three persons. And, as Jesus tells his disciples all too clearly in last week’s gospel the dyad is not sufficient for us to fully participate or live within God’s dance of love. Jesus says, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the [Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send [them] to you.” So when the Holy Spirit came to advocate for us and to dwell within us, it allowed us to recognize within ourselves our connection to God and our rightful place out on the dance floor. Without the coming of the Spirit, we would have remained on the sidelines, feeling like mere spectators separated from God. And from this place of alienation, we could have been felt as shy and self-conscious as wallflowers at a middle school dance. With the coming of the Spirit, however, we are held within the circle of love that continuously emanates and flows from and between the Father and Son.  

So, if we want to understand the Trinity’s dance, we have to think bigger than just a couple people dancing together. Because it doesn’t stop there—we also have to think bigger than just  three persons of the Trinity too. The very essence and nature of the Holy Spirit is the circulating and ever-creating love of God and so we must also imagine all of the children—all of the living creatures—of God dancing within their constant flow of love going back and forth. We have to imagine a huge disco or club filled with dancers with the music that swells our hearts and minds and all of the dancers on the floor somehow whirling and twirling together in one great dance. And this dance is necessarily circular–no linear country line dancing or disco Hustle—but very much like the Turkish circle dancing that I first experienced while living in Northern Cyprus. Perhaps you’ve seen this at weddings or parties. Based on the traditional Turkish wedding dance, it is so much fun! In this kind of dancing one’s whole group of friends and family dances together in a big circle with each person being invited into the center to do their favorite dance moves while everyone else claps and cheers them on. In this kind of dance, everyone is included and there is no need for partners to cajole less than willing spouses or dance partners out on the dance floor… all those who wish to dance are included, involved, and encircled by the dance. I think it is fitting that I first experienced this kind of dancing with Turkish Cypriots because much of our thinking about our Triune God came from the Cappadocian Fathers (the early Christian bishops—Basil of Caesarea, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus) who hailed from the Cappadocia region, in modern-day Turkey,  which was an early site for Christian community through the evangelizing work of Paul in this region. The Cappadocians advanced the development of early Christian theology and gave voice to our doctrine of the Trinity in which we recognize that from the very beginning relationship has been the center of God’s being. And while it is difficult to put into words, as Richard Rohr might say “Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three—a circle dance of love. And God is not just a dancer; God is the dance itself.”

Christians, as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit our life lived within God’s dance is meant to be beautiful, invigorating, and delightful! In today’s gospel Jesus tells Nicodemus what this new life will look like. He says that those who wish to enter in must be born from above.  But it isn’t supposed to be hard. It isn’t supposed to be dualistic with us on one side trying very hard to follow the rules, so that God, on the other side, will judge us as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in some celestial dance-off. It is about a new and intimate relationship with God which is mystical and profound and inclusive and celebrative! Now I know it is hard to put the Trinity into terms folks can understand—that is where all the Trinitarian jokes come from because while Trinity is something we live within we only come to recognize it through our dance itself. But in an attempt to clarify it a little, I thought we might want to think about it in terms of adjectives we might use in our modern-day practice of Christianity. When we think about Born Again Christians, what Jesus might have called Born from Above Christians, what is the first adjective that comes into our mind? Well for me, the word that comes to mind is ‘earnest’—with earnest being defined as showing an intense and genuine conviction for one’s belief in God. However, for those Born from Above—that is those who are welcomed into the dance through their belief in the Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, ‘enthusiastic’ is probably a better adjective. Now I know that enthusiasm may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the practice of Christianity.  Enthusiastic? What? Look, I know what we all think of as enthusiasm today. It’s super nerdy. Be honest, when I asked at the beginning if you were excited to hear a sermon on the Trinity you were thinking I was totally geeking out, right? And I can kind of resemble that… I am the person who, even as an English major, struggles not to punctuate each and every sentence with an exclamation point! – and who doesn’t just ‘like’ posts on Facebook but has to‘ love’ all the things friends post on Facebook. But the original meaning of enthusiasm comes from the Latin enthusiasmus ‘inspiration, frenzy’ which in turn comes from the Greek enthousiasmos which means to ‘be inspired or possessed by God’ (based on theos ‘god’). And being inspired or possessed by God, well, if that doesn’t beg for dance music, I don’t know what does! Christians, in this world our commission given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ is to encourage, to support, and to love one another enthusiastically.  We are meant to bring good news to folks – shield the joyous, encourage the dreamers, join in the dance of life wholeheartedly!

As my husband Jeremy can attest, for the last six months or so, I have been listening to A LOT of dance music at home. Dance music has all but eclipsed my NPR news in the morning as I get ready for work – and as I carry the tunes in my head, I often will start playing them throughout the day with impromptu dances occurring all over the house—in the kitchen, in the living room, wherever I go. Being alive is a miraculous thing, and if I could go back and tell my middle school self anything, I would say ennui or world weariness is so outdated. There are more than enough lead balloons, party poopers, and naysayers in this world. We need more exclamation points!!!! We need more fun and play and delight. If we were to best give voice to the essence of the Trinity, it might just be: I feel like dancing!