Sermon for Sunday, June 19th, 2011 || 1st Sunday After Pentecost, Trinity Sunday || Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a; 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13; Matthew 28: 16-20 || The Rev. Margot D Critchfield
In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What you just heard was a Trinitarian invocation of the Triune God on this Trinity Sunday. Now you may not have noticed that it was any different from what I pray every time I get up here to preach—but it was. I usually begin my sermon with an invocation in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. But today my invocation was in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
This may seem like a small matter, but to a newcomer to the faith it may not be. Trying to explain that God is “One God in Three Persons” is tough enough without throwing in verbal shortcuts that muddy the waters even further. So no longer will I invoke the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as if I’m referring to three independent entities like Tom, Dick and Harry to whom I’m making an appeal. Instead, I hope to remind you- and my self– of God’s inherently relational and interdependent nature by articulating a more theologically explicit prayer to “God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.” At least this way it’s a bit more clear that only God is being invoked—although it hardly explains how God can be a Father, a Son and a Spirit all at once—three equally divine, equally loving persons in perfect relationship—perfect communion—with one another.
That being said, you’ll be especially glad to know now that I’m not going to launch into a long, theological explication of the Holy Trinity. My mentor once wryly warned that there’s no way to talk about the Trinity without committing a heresy; I suspect that’s at least part of the reason why so many rectors invite their seminarians or assistants to preach on Trinity Sunday. Adam’s getting off easy this year!
It’s impossible to define the mystery of the Trinity. Heretical or not, every attempt falls short. After all, as Sister Sandra Schneiders once quipped, “God is more than two men and a bird.” Indeed! God is more than two men and a bird, more than anything our finest poetry can articulate, more than even our greatest minds can begin to fathom. God is more, period. We might as well end the sentence there.
And yet…and yet the Christian understanding of God is not the same as that of our brothers and sisters at the Unitarian Church, or at the synagogue, or at the mosque. So at the risk of committing a heresy–or even worse, of muddying the theological waters even further by doing so—I’m going to talk to you for just a few minutes about this “Triune” God that we can’t possibly define but who we worship, and follow, and experience, in both our individual lives and in our life together as a Christian community. Because despite the fact that the church had no doctrine of the Trinity until at least 350 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, and although the term “trinity” can’t be found anywhere in the Bible—the Holy Trinity is a fundamental tenet of our faith.
You see, even the earliest Christians experienced God in three distinct ways. They struggled to talk about this as a monotheistic people—a people of the One God. In the letter to the Corinthians that we read this morning, Paul writes of the grace of Jesus, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. In our gospel reading, the Risen Christ instructs his disciples to baptize converts “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Theologian Elizabeth Johnson affirms that “the New Testament is filled with narratives, liturgical formulas and short rules of faith that all refer to God in a threefold cadence.” As Johnson explains, “the first Christians experienced…God in a threefold way: as beyond them, with them, and within them.” For these early Jewish Christians “God was utterly transcendent;” but they also experienced God “historically in Jesus Christ” and “continuously…through the Spirit– all encounters with the one God.”
It’s really no different for Christians today. A Trinitarian God is by definition a God of relationship, and at any given time in our individual lives we may relate to God in one of these relationships more or less than another. Perhaps we pray to the Father, follow Christ in our daily lives, and depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance: The One we call Father (or Mother, or Grandfather, or Grandmother for that matter) is God; the one we call Christ, is God; the one we call the Holy Spirit, is God.
A magnificent piece of music or a seemingly endless horizon might awaken us to the awesome power of an utterly transcendent God—God the Father, God the Creator, God the Source -of- All- That- Is, who “saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” Reading gospel stories about the Good Shepherd, meditating on the Cross, serving—or being served– by others, we might meet God the Son, the Risen Christ, the Healer and Reconciler. And with every breath we take, every intuitive gleaning to which we are attentive, and in the lively vibrancy that dances in the air whenever two or more people authentically connect, we might experience God the Holy Spirit. There’s no right or wrong here, just an open invitation from the One God to be in relationship with the Divine Love!
Sometimes I relate to God as my Creator, to Jesus as God showing me what I was created for, and to the Holy Spirit as the power and the inspiration that makes it possible for me to live into my Creator’s purpose. Sometimes I pray to the Father, sometimes to Jesus, sometimes to the Holy Spirit. And it comforts me to know that whether I’m praying to God as father or mother—or even as grandfather or grandmother—I am always praying to the One God.
Now, if all this Trinitarian talk is too troublesome for you: take heart! Remember that in this morning’s gospel the disciples worshipped Jesus, “but some doubted.” Some doubted, and it was okay! Jesus didn’t punish them for doubting, he didn’t fire them, he didn’t frighten them with threats of doom. In fact, Jesus not only commissioned these doubting, imperfect disciples to go into the world and make more disciples, he promised them that he would be with them always even to the end of the age. Jesus–God the Son– is with us always, even to the end of the age…and that means God is with us always, even to the end of the age!
God is with us always, even when we doubt. God is with us always, even when we fall short. God is with us always, even when we break God’s heart. God’s divinely loving presence is with us always–as magnificent as all of creation, as humble and self-giving as a man named Jesus, as gentle as the breeze, as wild as the wind, and as life-giving as our very breath.
We may not be able to explain the mystery of the Trinity, but surely we were created to be in relationship with it, to depend on it, and to share it with others. So go: make disciples of all sorts of people by sharing the Good News of the One Divine Love made known in three persons. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all as we do! Amen.