See this sermon preached above or read it below. (The sermon begins at approx. the 14th minute.)
Trinity Sunday Sermon
Lectionary Readings are Genesis 1 and Matthew 28:16-20
I’m sure many of you have come to this service today to have the mystery of the Trinity finally, revealed to you—others of you I suspect might just be happy to hear explaining Trinitarian doctrine catch me emitting some heresy, so that we may have a debate later. hoping that in hearing me explain the doctrine of the Trinity, you’d just be that we Christians.
I hope I won’t disappoint you. Someone said to me this week, I feel for you clergy, having to walk a thin line…this person’s comment was not in reference to Trinitarianism and Monotheism, but in a discussion about all the unrest going on in our world right now. His statement has stuck with me all week as I pondered today’s gospel.
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
Our gospel today is chosen on this Trinity Sunday because it is the only time, the only gospel in which Jesus says the words, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” These three names a few centuries later in the early church came together known as the Trinity—not so simple as that, though, the concepts used to describe God were argued, protested, and fought over. Still, the basic formula for the Trinity, are in Jesus words at the end of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus, now as the risen Christ, commissions the 11 disciples. Go, make disciples of all nations, baptize them (FSHS), teach them to obey everything that I commanded you.
We focus so much on Jesus’ unique reference to the three persons of God in these verses that we rarely hear the other words. What strikes me today in this passage is the beginning: The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
All were commissioned, even those who doubted. I wonder, What was their doubt? Matthew doesn’t elaborate. Did they doubt that Jesus has authority in heaven and on earth? That Jesus would be with them always, to the end of the age? Did they doubt that they should be the ones to carry forward Jesus’ ministry? Was their doubt a question of courage? Were they wondering if they really wanted this call where they’d surely be shunned by others for teaching Jesus’ universal message of love? Did they not want to risk being stoned/killed? We don’t know.
What we do know is that Some doubted; All were commissioned.
The obvious message here is: Our doubts don’t inhibit God. Knowing their doubts, Jesus was not phased, all were commissioned, doubts and all.
I can tell you that many of us would not be called, if our doubts were a stumbling block to God. The Trinity is number one case in point as all the arguments over centuries to explain one god in three persons has given way to lots of uncertainty among believers.
It wouldn’t be Trinity Sunday unless we named a few ideas…
the Trinity is often described in terms of functionality—God is creator, redeemer, sustainer, sanctifier, yet this tends to favor God as One over God in three persons, just expressing self differently at different times, and leaves out the distinctiveness or individuality of the other persons, Jesus and the Advocate. It would be like you seeing me as I function: daughter, mother, and wife, just one me—but it limits me, who am I when I am no longer functioning as a daughter or if I lose my place as wife. Naming these things also limits me, ignoring the rest of me, and how I grow and respond to the world around me.
There’s another explanation, a more scientific one, we could see the Trinity as we see water—H2O, which comes in three forms, solid, liquid, or gas…ice, water, steam, but is still H2O. Not perfect here though either, as it leads us to think each are distinct, not indwelling the other. Can’t be one at the same time. Careful here—polytheism. We don’t need to go through all the explanations.
Very simply said, theologians tend to lean one way or the other in their understanding
God as One in Three persons—stressing monotheism and authority
God as Three persons in One—stressing the interrelatedness of Father, Son, and HS
I’m not asking you to choose.
I’m not saying that our faith depends upon an intellectual assent to either of these or to any one explanation.
I do believe, however, that the way we see and think about God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shapes the way we live and interact with our fellow humans.
Best to start that thinking from the very beginning—Which is why Don read today from Genesis. As our scripture begins, we learn that in creating the heavens and the earth, the spirit moved over the waters and that the word of God spoke all things into being. And On the sixth day, God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” Yes, OUR image, OUR likeness—you’d be right to think there’s been LOTS of thought and study put into why the plural words are used for God and what they mean to the Trinity. This passage is Fascinating. The familiar passage also slows down here, at the creation of humankind, the sentences repeat themselves.
Let us make humankind in our image, According to our likeness…..So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them;
When God is creating humans, God uses poetry, speaking in verse, practically singing us into being. This scene is the most intimate one of all creation. These words affirm the special relationship between us and the very creator of all things…a relationship that God distinctly ordains with a blessing. All of creation is called good, but no other creature gets a blessing. For humankind, the scripture says, “God blessed them.”
What does it mean to share God’s likeness? It means we are bound together with God and with one another in our substance, our worth, our makeup, our very being. Pretty tricky of God to make us all out of the same substance and yet see to it that each of us have our own personhood. Perhaps this is the key to the mystery of the Trinity: the substance of God’s likeness is one and yet distinctly multifaceted, but don’t quote me on that.
On this, however, you can quote me, when we fail to recognize the mutual substance of which we are made; when we neglect to see every single person’s likeness as a part of one humanity made into being by our creative and loving God, we fall short of God’s purpose for us. Of this I have no doubt.
As our country is reeling once again with civil unrest and protest, in the middle of a pandemic no less, it might seem as if we’ve forgotten that purpose, that we’ve ignored God’s dream for us. The violence right now in our cities is heartbreaking, as lives and livelihoods are broken apart… the old and familiar enemy of racism that led us here is even more painful.
Before the protests over the killing of George Floyd people were calling this The Great Pause, a time out to think about how we live and how we actually want to live; I don’t know what history will eventually call this time, but how we come together to mend that which is broken will be telling. Even now in the midst of this confusing mess, I’ve heard more and more people remark that they now can see the disparity of life’s experiences among us that had escaped them before, and more people are willing to acknowledge the frustration and fear of our brown and black brothers and sisters. When we reflect upon this time, I believe we’ll see this clarity as the movement of the spirit recalling us to our primal relationship with God and with one another.
In seminary I faithfully drew in my notebooks all the symbols of the Trinity, noting what each arc, circle, and line meant—from St Patrick’s clover to Augustine’s triangle circumscribing a circle with little paths connecting them. The visual learners in my class loved these—I doubted that they’d help me. I’m a word person. I liked the descriptions of the Trinity, it’s Perichoresis, which means reciprocity. We believe God is communal even within God’s self—his interworkings. Some call this the dance God does within God’s self—this is a wonderful way to describe a moving, working, connected divine presence here with us. As to the diagrams we learned, I really just struggled to draw them correctly. While the depictions are pretty distinct from one another and their theological explanations differ, what did help me is to see how they are similar—every one of them show the interconnectedness of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
At its essence the Trinity speaks to a relational God—it tells us of our constantly creating, ever present holy God, who in creation crossed the line between heaven and earth to make us like him, who in Jesus did not walk a fine line but stood up to oppression, who in the Holy Spirit nudges us to look at the lines that divide us and calls us to be courageous. Go, Jesus tells his disciples, to ALL nations. Take your doubts—they make you real, take your experiences of the holy they make you genuine, take what you’ve been taught of the love of God and be courageous sharing it with the world. Jesus last words to his disciples are not about belief or doubt. He says Go, live into your baptism, the world needs you.