Sunday, June 11, 2017

Holy Trinity

June 11, 2017

Matthew 28.16-20

+ This morning is a red-letter day. Not, mind you, because I have been a priest for 13 years (though, that’s kind of cool for me). Now I’m a teenage priest. And you thought my terrible twos were bad!

No, it’s a red-letter day because you are going to hear me quote someone I never thought I would quote in a sermon. This person I am about to quote is a person with whom I have had a love/dislike relationship with for many years. I have rebelled against him for so long, I have difficulty even admitting to the fact that I am quoting him today. This person is none other than…

Martin Luther.

Now, to be clear, Martin Luther has been an important personage in my life for some time.  I am, after all, a former Lutheran. In seminary, I wrote a paper about his “Theology of the Cross” when I was in seminary that won some rave reviews (and his “theology of the Cross” has influenced me greatly). So, it’s good for me to share this quote that I think speaks very clearly to us on this Holy Trinity Sunday.

Luther wrote,

“To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; to try to explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”

I love that quote!  And it speaks very loudly to me today.  There are, no doubt, a few anxious preachers out there in the world. There is probably more than one who is going into the pulpits of churches quaking a bit over the sermon they have to preach today.

For some reason—a reason I never understood—there are a lot of preachers who just don’t even want to wrestle with the subject of the Trinity.

Not me. I LOVE to preach about the Trinity.  

Now, I don’t claim to know anything more about the Trinity than any other preacher.  I am no more profound than anyone else on trying to describe what the Trinity is or how it works.  

For me, as for everyone here this morning, it is a mystery. In fact, God as Trinity is the ultimate mystery of mysteries.  

Of course, I see it as the paramount belief we Christians have.  The Holy Trinity. God as Three-in-One—God as Father or Parent or Creator, God as Son or  Redeemer and God as Spirit or Sanctifier.

When we really think about it, it is difficult to wrap our minds around this concept of God.  The questions I regularly get is: how can God be three and yet one?  How can we, in all honesty, say that we believe in one God when we worship God as three?  Aren’t we simply talking about three gods? (No, we are not talking about three Gods)

Whole Church councils have debated the issue of the Trinity throughout history.  The Church actually has split at times over its interpretation of what exactly this Trinity is.

For me, none of these are deal breakers.  The Trinity is not a stumbling block for me.  Yes, I know the word “Trinity” never appears in scripture.  But I do enjoy exploring the different aspects of how God as Trinity is made known to us.  And…I very unashamedly believe that God does manifest God’s self in Trinitarian terms.

But that doesn’t mean I am not confused by this mystery some times.  And it doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally doubt it all sometimes.

In our Gospel reading for today, we find that some worshipped Jesus when they saw him resurrected.  And we find that “some doubted.”  I think that was a normal reaction for those people, who were still struggling to understand who Jesus was, especially this resurrected Jesus—this second person of the Trinity

And the fact that we too doubt things like the Trinity is normal as well. It IS difficult to wrap our minds around such a thing.  It’s complicated and it’s complex. And, speaking for myself, and to echo Luther,  sometimes the more I think about it, the more complicated it seems to get. Especially when we try to think in the so-called correct (or orthodox) way about it all.

But the doubts, the complications and intricacies of the concept of the Trinity are all part of belief.  Belief is not meant to be easy.  It is meant to be something we struggle with and carry around with us.  And doubt isn’t always a bad thing.

We all doubt at times.  Without doubt we would be nothing but mindless robots of God.

There are moments when the Trinity does confuse me and I am filled with doubts.  Sometimes my most common prayer when I start pondering it is, “Seriously, Lord? Really?”

I am one of those people who occasionally just wants something simple in my faith life.  I just want to believe in God—the mystery of God, the fact that God is God and any complexity about God is more than I can fathom.  

I sometimes don’t want to solve the mystery of God. I don’t want God defined for me.  I sometimes don’t want theology.  I sometimes just want spirituality.  I sometimes just want God.

But, as a Christian, I can’t get around the Trinity.  And none of us can either.  And so I struggle on, just like the rest of us.

Yes, I have my doubts.  Yes, my rational, intellectual mind prevents me from fully understanding what this Trinity could possibly be and, as a result, doubts creep in.

Every year, on Holy Trinity Sunday, I place the Andrei Rubelev’s famous icon of the Trinity on the votive stand in the Narthex.  Be sure to take a  look at it and see how truly beautiful it is.  In it you’ll find three angels seated at a table.

According to some theological interpretations, these three Angels represent the three Persons of the Trinity. In the icon we can see that all three Angels are shown as equals to each other.  In a sense, this icon is able to show in a very clear and straightforward way what all our weighty, intellectual theologies do not.

What I especially love about the image is that, in showing the three angels seated around the table, you’ll notice that there is one space at the table left open.  That is the space for you.  In a sense, we are, in this icon, being invited to the table to join with the Trinity.  We are being invited to join into the work of the Trinity.  And I think that is why this icon is so important to me.

It simply allows me to come to the table and BE with God as Trinity.  It allows me to sit there with them and be one with them. No need to wrestle with them, or debate them, or doubt them.  And we realize, certainly in our own life here at St. Stephen’s, that God as Trinity is still calling to us to be at the table with God.

Here, at this altar, we find the Trinity, inviting us forward.  And from this table, at which we feast with God as Trinity, we go out to do the ministries we are all called to do.

We go out to do the work of God as Trinity.  We don’t need to rationalize everything out about our faith in God.  We don’t need to sit around and despair over it.  We don’t need to risk our sanity. Or our salvation.  

No matter how much we might doubt the Trinity, the fact is: the Trinity exists.  God as Trinity goes on, in that eternal, wonderful relationship.  And no matter how much we might doubt in our rational minds, we are still being called to the table to sit and to serve with the Trinity.

So, let us do just that.  Let us sit down at that table.  Let us bring our doubts and uncertainties with us.  And let us leave them there at the table.  Let us let God be God.  And let us go out from this table to do the work each of us has been called by God to do.

Jesus today, in our Gospel reading, commands us to go and make disciples of all the nations.  By doing so, we are joining in that communion of the Trinity.  And by doing so, we know, despite our doubts, despite our uncertainties, that the Trinity will be with us always.


Even to the end of the age.

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