Holy Trinity Sunday – June 7, 2020
It’s been a wild week, hasn’t it? COVID continues to linger as protests continue to grow all over the world. To think it was once Jesus who was out there demanding justice and reform. Because of what he did, we are here today.
Similarly, we’re able to exercise our right to worship because of those protesters who got fed up with paying taxes without having any representation in the new world. Filled with the Spirit of Freedom, they stormed British boats and dumped their tea into the water. and now we have the right to assemble, and worship without government interference. And so we bless those who are peacefully exercising their rights, standing up and speaking out against the ill’s and injustices in our county.
May we never forget that we all are blessed because there were those before us who gave of their lives to protect our freedoms. Yesterday was the 76th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, when 155,000 Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Northern France. Their bravery and sacrifice led to the downfall of Hitler and his Nationalistic agenda.
It wasn’t one person or one nation, but a unified force created to restore peace and freedom to all - especially the marginalized and oppressed. We must never go backwards, but continue to evolve, onward and upward. Together, as we gather today from different cities and countries, let us celebrate the blessings that God has given us through all these different ways. That’s how God works... in many different ways.
Today is no ordinary church day. It’s a day that honors God - Creator, Savior, Sustainer. That’s right, it’s Trinity Sunday. Or Heresy Sunday as some call it because of all the bad sermons given to explain a Triune God. Martin Luther famously said, “To try to deny the Trinity endangers your salvation, but to try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity.”
The protestors, who are exercising their right on the streets probably don't care what liturgical day it is. They just want justice and equal rights for all people. The folks who are saying their goodbyes to someone they love because of this viral pandemic are probably not thinking about how God is 3-in-1. They just want to know where God is or what God is planning on doing to stop the pain and suffering from Covid-19.
If you have lost your job or your retirement savings because of the economic turmoil, does it really matter that scholars have spent centuries trying to make sense of one particular statement Jesus made when he gave his final blessing to the remaining 11 disciples? I doubt it.
If you’re like me then you just want to know that God knows who I am and what I need. I’m struggling daily just to answer my call to be more like Christ. I don’t need church doctrine to make it harder. And yet to live into my faith and to evolve as a follower of Christ, I have to acknowledge and figure out what Jesus meant at the end of Matthew’s gospel even if it endangers my mental wellbeing.
Our reading today comes from Matthew 28:16-20
Considered to be one of the most important teachings in Christian faith, the doctrine of the Trinity is also one of the most difficult to understand. It suggests that God is most perfectly revealed as Three parts in One substance. It’s a mathematical conundrum and divine mystery that surrounds the person or persons of God.
Over the years I’ve seen people use all kinds of creative ways to describe the Trinity. Some have used water. It’s not only a liquid but also a gas, and a solid. Three different ways God is revealed to us and yet still God. But water can be polluted and contaminated, whereas God cannot. So that one falls short for me.
Then there’s the egg analogy. It has a shell, a yoke, and that clear gooey stuff; three parts yet one egg. But if you’re making an Angel Food cake, then you know you only need the egg whites; the shell and yoke get tossed out. The problem here is it’s impossible to separate God from God.
The most famous illustration is probably the one from St. Patrick who held up a shamrock and asked the Irish pagans, "Is it one leaf or three?" They would reply "It is both one leaf and three." Patrick would conclude, "And so it is with God." But the Trinity is more complex, and the shamrock doesn’t explain exactly how each part interconnects.
My friend Dawn advised me not to over think it. She said it’s as simple as a name. “I am Ian. I am a husband, a father, and a son, but I am still Ian.” Yet I am so much more than that.
Which tells me there’s more to what Jesus is talking about in Matthew’s epilogue. You see, there’s a reason Jesus meets his disciples on some unnamed mountain in Galilee. And it’s not to give them a doctrine, but final instructions on what he expects them to do after he ascends. The time has come for them to take his gospel to all the nations – baptizing and teaching them so they can go and do the same.
Now if Jesus is giving them a doctrine, then it’s one that they will have to go and figure out on their own – in the way they care for the widows and orphans, tend to the sick and dying, bringing justice and mercy to the poor and oppressed. It will come out in their willingness to spill their own blood for the wild notion that the Holy Spirit had gathered them into the life of God who in Christ was making peace with the world.
Likewise, I don’t think Jesus sent them out to perform the ritual of baptism, at least not like it’s practiced today. I’m sure Jesus knew that racism cannot be fixed by dunking everyone in a baptismal font. Saying the words, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” will not magically stop people from hating and harming others who are different from them. Baptism, like what John was doing in the Jordan, was preparing people to enter into the Temple. Jesus is the new Temple, the place where we go to meet God. I believe Jesus sent his disciples out to prepare all people to be a place where God comes alive in them.
Jesus calling them to go and fill others with the same empowering Spirit of God that he gave his disciples. Likewise, we are to go be the light of love in the darkness of the world by caring for the hurt and broken, the weak and the oppressed. Jesus invited his disciples to share the power of divine life. He sent them out to every tribe and community... so that everyone in the world would come to know God, and God’s redemptive grace given through Christ by the Holy Spirit.
Which brings us to where we are today, and where this church is headed. At Bible Study last Wednesday, Rev. Bob announced that he going to be teaching about Discipleship and what it means to take Jesus as his word. As Bob explained, a disciple is just an ancient word for student. The Christian disciple, therefore, is a student of Christ. And Jesus is our teacher. Our goal, then, is to learn from him and live out his teachings in such a way that the world can’t help but see Christ in their midst.
Like I told my daughter a couple of weeks ago, we never really graduate because we are always learning. As students of life we are constantly watching, taking notes, asking questions, making mistakes and hopefully growing from them. Discipleship is no different. You don’t have to be a priest or a saint. Or fully understand doctrine or perform rituals. You just need to show up.
As disciples, we are be both learners and practitioners of Christ, students who rely heavily on God’s mercy and grace. By living out the gospel, especially in places where it lacks, people are able to see Christ alive in you and learn how to be like him. For example, Jesus taught people the way of peace by being peace – not by beating peace into people. We don’t beat people back to God, we show them the way by practicing the way of Christ.
In a world steeped in injustice, hatred, bigotry, violence and nationalism this can be hard to do. No one knows that better than Jesus, whose life was lived under constant threat be it occupying forces or the religious elites of his own church. Thus, he doesn’t leave us powerless but instead gives us a power that is greater than that of the world. Not the power that dominate or harms others, but a power that loves and forgives and cares for the needs of all. The power of God’s own love, mercy and grace.
In following Jesus, the Son, we can be immersed into the whole being of God, the Father, whose Divine power, the Holy Spirit, flows in us and moves through us and all around us.
You can call it a doctrine. But I call it the Good News. The gospel according to Jesus the Christ. If we want to know what the Trinity is all about, then we need to look no further than ourselves, where God has chosen to take up residency. The doctrine and rituals are worked out when we accept Jesus’ invitation to actually follow him, and embrace this wild notion that the Holy Spirit has gathered us to God who in Christ is restoring peace to the world.
Like Jesus, we become the fullness of God’s glory – drawing people back to God by being people of God. The same God who is God for us as our God the Creator. The same God who is God with us as our God the Incarnate Savior. And the same God who is God in us as our God the Holy Sustainer. The trifecta of one divine presence in one divine life, is ours if we want it, now and until the end of the ages.
Let us pray: Wonderful Creator, Merciful Savior, Blessed Sustainer; Holy and Almighty God we thank you for the way you have given us to traverse this creation, and for the patience you show when we stray or get lost. Bless us now with your Spirit of love so that we can take what we have learned today and share it with others, so they can know Christ and honor your glorious name.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 44-49.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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