A sermon preached on Trinity Sunday, May 27, 2018 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY. Click here to read today’s scripture.
The Sunday after Pentecost is also known as Trinity Sunday – a feast in honor of the Holy Trinity.
Most of Christianity states a belief in the Triune God – the Trinity. We recite the Nicene Creed each week. We baptize in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Or, in more contemporary parlance, God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer. We offer prayers and give blessings in the name of the Triune God. We say that God is three-in-one.
There have been many different ways of imagining this throughout the centuries: as a hierarchy, with God the Father/Creator at the top. Another is as a set of interlocking circles, complete in themselves but interlocked, all of whom have equal importance. We’ve also used a three-cornered Celtic knot, a symbol of life. We gave this out last fall as a charm to the kids when we blessed their backpacks. Some theologians have used the metaphor of a movement of Life or a community of Love.
Meanwhile, there is no statement in the entirety of scripture that tells us God is a trinity. There are lots of ways in which God is described throughout scripture. But the formula, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit” is not one of them.
The Doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t developed until the fourth century, after Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire. And attempting to understand the exact nature of the Trinity has proven to be problematic. It has actually gotten people into trouble before with words like “heresy” thrown around. The Trinity is hard to pin down. Because God is hard to pin down.
Rather than get lost in the theories about the specific nature of the Trinity, I’d like to focus, instead, on the activity of the Trinity – which is, the action of God, the action of Love.
Last week, we basked in the glow the fire that was Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon during our Feast of Pentecost.
He has had the world enraptured all week long with his message of God’s self-sacrificial love in and for the world – being on several morning talk shows and then helping to lead a silent march on Washington. And this Love that Bp Michael talks about is present in the world in many ways. The Trinity helps us wrap our minds around what it means to experience the God of Love alive in the world.
I’d like us to spend some time this morning considering the question, “How have you experienced God’s Love this past week?”
Perhaps it was in a kind word or gesture, not necessarily directed at you, but something that you witnessed. Or something that flowed through you to another person. I think kindness is most often how we experience God’s Love. It’s immediate and intimate. But, if we’re honest, it has us at the center, not God. Still, kindness is incarnate love. How has kindness been a part of your world this week?
Perhaps it was an epiphany, a moment of enlightenment in which you came to a new understanding about something or someone that opened your heart in some way, stopped you from sitting on a throne of judgment. How has compassion been a part of your world this week?
Perhaps it was delight or joy, an experience of beauty – not like the covers of fashion magazines or Hollywood – but something that takes your breath away when you see it or hear it or smell it or taste it or touch it. How has beauty been a part of your world this week?
In work or ministry, perhaps? The generosity of someone’s effort and the satisfaction of doing something and in the appreciation of watching someone else do something with skill. Or simply stepping up to do something that needs to be done. How has work or ministry been a part of your week?
In silence. When all the other noise calms down – the busyness of the world and your smart phone and your own thoughts – when there is a moment of complete silence or serenity, it’s as if it’s just you and God and God is at the center. How has silence been a part of your week?
In the rhythm of Creation… mourning doves and turtles as they make nests and lay their eggs and flowers appear and trees bloom with sweetness. The tides roll in and then out again and rain follows hot humid weather to clear the air. How has Creation been a part of your week?
These are all wonderful, generative experiences of God’s love. But contrary to what we might think, God’s love is not always full of warm fuzzies. Sometimes God’s love shines forth as truth telling or clarity.
This week, we learned about horrific new policies that separate children from their parents at detention centers along the border and how nearly 1500 children have been lost so far. This is not easy to hear. It’s not sweet or kind.
But the hearing of it was God’s love.
Not the fact that it’s happening – no, that is truly and literally demonic.
But that we have learned about it and can make a choice to do something about it… that is God’s love reaching out to us. In his dream, Isaiah has given to us a deeper understanding. Isaiah sees a vision of the incarnate reality of the Love of God – angels, messengers of God are telling him that the whole earth is filled with God’s glory.
And Isaiah’s response is, a confession of his willful ignorance. “Woe is me! [I have not understood this until now.] I am lost, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Isaiah became willing.
And so too can we become willing.
Willing to take action. Willing to be sent.
When we learn of unloving action in this world, it’s God’s Love – the voice of the Lord – that is reaching out to us and asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
And we say, “Here am I; send me!”
When we finally see how the whole earth is filled with God’s glory…
we can no longer deny God’s glory in the immigrant family trying to escape horrific circumstances in their homeland. The loving response is to act, to change what’s happening here so that people are treated with dignity and respect. We say, “Here am I; send me!”
When we finally see that the whole earth is filled with God’s glory…
we can no longer deny God’s glory in the school children who have to participate in “active shooter drills.” The loving response is to act to change so that children can be children and not live in fear of being gunned down in their school. We say, “Here am I; send me!”
When we can no longer deny God’s glory in the poor, the farmworkers, the families living on minimum wage who can’t afford a two-bedroom apartment and could easily be bankrupted by a hospital bill. We act in Love to change policies that keep all people locked in poverty.
When we can no longer tolerate the racism that still infects our culture.
We respond and we say, “Here am I; send me!”
The love of God is reaching out to us, enabling us to see differently and this, I believe is the action of the Trinitarian God. The Trinity is not just some construct made up by theologians. The Trinity is a very real experience of God’s presence as the center of the universe:
God’s love as the foundation of our very being. God’s love in the beating heart of the person we are called to serve. God’s love in the desire to act on behalf of our reconciling messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
God’s love connects us to one another in the very fact of our flesh, every one of us made of the same elements of the earth, in the sharing of breath as fellow creatures of God, and in our acts and responses of care for one another.
Irish poet and theologian, John O’Donohue, says “We are children of the clay, who have been released so that the earth may dance in the light.”
Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
And our messiah, Jesus of Nazareth tells us, “Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
What Jesus talks about in his secret, nighttime conversation with Nicodemus isn’t some brainteaser or theological puzzle when he says, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” Jesus is telling Nicodemus about a rebirth that moves us beyond a life that focuses on our self as the needed recipient of God’s love and into a new life where God’s Love is at the center and we are conduits of it.
This is what changes the world. When we are moved, not by what we can get for ourselves, but by what we are called to do for one another. This is God’s redemptive, self-emptying, reconciling Love made manifest through God’s holy Creation, which is us.
We are God’s holy Creation. We are God’s love incarnate for one another.
May we dance in the light. May we remember we belong to one another. And may we truly come to love one another as we love our self.
This is what changes the world.