June 15, 2014 Trinity Sunday
II Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:19-20
The One we proclaim is Three
Roy W. Howard
On any given Sunday there is so much for us to consider in a sermon and so little time. Often it is difficult, divisive or heartbreaking. Do we focus on the toxic levels of gun violence in our country and an effective Christian response to it? Do we lament the relentless march of Jihadists in Iraq, where so many brave men and women died for people that seem determined to go backward? And, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church is meeting this week to consider important issues including those that divide the Church – the definition of marriage, and divestment from companies in Israel. Do we focus on that; and so much more?
But today is also Trinity Sunday, an day set aside for the Church to remember the core of our faith in God’s overflowing Love.
The issues of the world that divide and disturb us will remain after today. So it seems only fair, and wise, for one day to focus on the Trinitarian theology that informs our life in God whom we know as three Persons, in communion with one another, overflowing in love. Today we are going to do some theological reflection on the core of our faith, because, contrary to what Thomas Jefferson believed, we can’t fully understand the Christian gospel apart from the doctrine of the Trinity. I’m not suggesting that we approach the Trinity like solving a math problem.
Rather wonder is another way of approaching the mystery of God. In fact, I think wonder is an appropriate way of approaching all of life that is so often a vast mystery.
When curiosity informs our lives, everything becomes an adventure in learning. Barbara Kingsolver, in her book, Small Wonder, says “I am a scientist who thinks it wise to enter the doors of creation not with a lion-tamer’s whip and chair, but with the reverence humankind has traditionally summoned for entering places of worship: a temple, a mosque, or a cathedral. A sacred grove, as ancient as time.”
Similarly, what if we approach the mystery at the heart of God not with the lion-tamer’s whip prepared to reduce God into propositions and religious facts, but with wonder and faithful curiosity? Just imagine living into the richness of the Triune One who loves us, who became human for us and even now sustains us with his Spirit.When we live with adoration and wonder our life can become a joyful adventure in loving God.
Somewhere along the way, many Christians adopted the thinking that either the Trinity was impossible to understand and therefore irrelevant, or that the Trinity was irrelevant and therefore unnecessary to understand. In the process, Protestants in large numbers, inhabiting a great many congregations, became in-the-closet Unitarians, who believe in one God, but have some difficulty with Jesus – the en-fleshed Word of God – and even more trouble with the Holy Spirit – the very breath of God permeating creation. The Trinity is dismissed as slightly interesting but mostly irrelevant.
William Bryon, a Jesuit theologian, says the whole of the Trinity can be found in a poem of the 16th Anglican poet George Herbert:
Lord, who hast form’d me out of mud,
And hast redeem’d me through thy blood,
And sanctified me to do good.
Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier–the one God in three persons.
Creator: “Lord, who has’t formed me out of mud.”
Redeemer: “And who hast redeem’d me through thy blood.”
Sanctifier: “ And sanctified me to do good.”
The poem ends with this prayer:
Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charity
That I may run, rise, rest with thee.
Byron says, “Responding in a Trinitarian way to the mystery of the Trinity means first committing to serving God. It is a commitment of the whole self: heart, mouth, hands to God, in whatever state and stage of life we exist by God’s providence.”
The heart: Does God have a place in our deepest longings? Is there room for the poor and hungry whom God also loves?
The mouth: Do we speak as the followers of Christ? Does our speech support or undermine our convictions? Is speaking up for those who are poor a way of putting our mouths in proper alignment with Trinitarian convictions?
The hands: What are our believing hands doing for God? The annual Bread for the World Offering of letters today gives us an opportunity to put pen to hand, writing letters to our representatives, encouraging them to remember our hungry neighbors. The youth serving in Kentucky are doing the same.
But maybe to talk about a Trinitarian response is to put the cart in front of the horse.
First comes the conviction that God is the One known to us as the author of creation, revealed in Jesus, the son of the Father, who befriended outcasts, defended the poor, fed the hungry and healed the wounded and the Holy Spirit who is everywhere the giver and renewer of life, giving voice to the voiceless and even now praying within us with sighs that are too deep for words. As a friend who teaches theology put it most clearly and simply:
God above us
God beside us
God within us
This is how we actually experience the living God: above us, beside us, within us. He asked now which of these would you want to live without?
Once we embrace this God in wonder and faith, we are ready to respond with a Trinitarian life, that bears witness to the Trinity of love, our lives are filled with compassion for the broken, love for the lost and the fallen, and grace for the sinful. Then we may be ready as the poet says, to “run, rise, and rest” with God.
You might ask, for what purpose?
The Church exists for the world that is lost, broken and bewildered. Our purpose is to go, as Jesus says, into all the nations to make disciples, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all he has commanded.
This is our joy and our purpose: as Jesus’ disciples we go into our shattered world that God loves, living the gospel by faith and inviting others to embrace a Trinitarian life of compassion, love and mercy.
Who could ask for more?