Jun. 11, 2017: Trinity Sunday A (sermon)

Posted by on Sun, Jun 11, 2017 in Sermons, Trinity Sunday

Jun. 11, 2017: Trinity Sunday A (sermon)

Trinity Sunday
Year A

June 11, 2017

Did you ever watch Jeopardy!? It’s a game show where contestants are given ‘the answer’ and they have to supply the question. The game board might say, “Saint Michael’s Episcopal Church” and of course the correct response would be, “Who is the most wonderful faith community in Western Washington?” Note that the contestant does not get credit for a correct answer if they fail to phrase it in the form of a question. Today’s answer is “The Holy Trinity” – so what’s the question we as contestants would give? “What is the beautiful and multi-faceted experience of the eternal divine, alive in the people of St. Michael’s?” My point is that for centuries we preachers have had it backwards—we don’t need to explain the Trinity; The Trinity is the explanation. Whether we know God as Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, or in the Greek as Sophia, Logos and Spiritus –we experience God fully already, and the concept of Trinity just answers how that can possibly be.

The creation story you just heard from Genesis tells in beautiful depth and breadth that nothing is beyond God – every detail seen to, every creature, plant and person is within the scope of God’s creative power. Imagine the Israelites telling this to their children; ‘You will know this story, you will know you are God’s children, and it will make you strong of heart.’ Notice at the end of this whole creation project is the creation of humankind, made in God’s image. It is only then that God rests, and God marks it by bestowing blessing. To create humankind in God’s image implications that we don’t always recognize, since when we create images of someone, say as a statue, it’s usually to remember or honor them for some past action.

German theologian Gerhard von Rad reminded us that “just as ancient kings erected images of themselves in portions of their reign where they did not actually appear, so man is placed upon the earth in God’s image as God’s sovereign emblem.” As such, both male and female human beings, serve as “God’s representative.” In the ancient Near East “images were viewed as representatives of the entity they designated.” An image of the Assyrian king could thus remind people who had conquered their land and was now the authority they served, and even evoke the idea of his watching for his subjects to slip up, and then punishing them. The image was not merely symbolic portrayal of the king either, but was thought to be “in a spiritual union with him,” his very presence in a sense. Imagine this as cultural background for the Genesis creation story, with humankind created as an ‘image’ of God; a God who is creative and generative, God who says of the world and of humankind, “it is good.” This is the likeness which God creates and places on earth, the image of whom we are said to be made in. (Genesis – A Commentary, John Knox Press., rev. 1973)

Then we have Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians today. It sounds so beautifully poetic, yet in reality it’s more like the eye of a storm. The church in Corinth has been at odds with him, and fallen under the sway of missionaries claiming to be greater than Paul and what he stands for. It is to his credit he speaks of their getting along so that they can get on with the mission of the church, and not cataloging the struggle between them. When he speaks of this peace, of exchanging a kiss of peace, he’s reminding them that they must act to resolve differences so that they can genuinely exchange the kiss of peace, and receive communion with the saints, and also that “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit” is with of them. Things between Paul and this community have been bad, and he’s urging them to lay down anger, hostility and grievances so that they may meet each other in the communion of Christ. They are the living expression of Christ’s love in the world, and Paul is reminding them to act like it!

In Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples have received the Spirit, they’ve followed and learned from Jesus, and now we hear they saw and worshiped him at the mountain where Jesus told them to be, and “some doubted.” Then they are told, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Ignoring their doubt – or perhaps assuaging it — he tells them to do this, and does so with a different sense of authority, though not just because he claims it. Throughout Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is always approached by others; for healing, teaching, feeding people, about where to go, what to do and why. The only other time he comes to them is on the mountain at his transfiguration when in their fear after they see him glorified, he comes and touches them. Every other time in Matthew’s gospel people always go to him. Here, in their doubt he approaches them, and he commissions them and sends them out. In doing this he is creating something new in them; he is making them more than just emissaries, he is using his authority to confer on them his presence, imbuing them with the authority he has had. They now are to go and baptize, not just ‘in his name,’ but in the “name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Isn’t this what we do too? What we are called to be? They are sent to go and teach and make disciples of all nations! They now stand in for him, become his presence in the world, and as his disciples we are sent to be that presence too. Like them, we too will remember his promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Theologians say these last lines of Matthew’s gospel are a summary of the whole. I agree, even though we over-interpret these lines as early evidence of a Trinitarian theology. We do much the same with the lines from Paul’s letter we heard today, and even so their beauty and promise is balm to the praying soul; “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” Our psalm today began and ended invoking the glory of God: “O Lord our Governor, how exalted is your Name in all the world!” or  “Oh Lord, your name is glorious in all the earth!” God’s authority is beyond measure, praised in the mouths of infants, quelling enemies, setting the moon and stars, adorning the son of man, and attending to the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, how exalted is his name in all the world! The entirety of God’s realm is laid out in those few lines, complete and without need for explanation or doctrine. God is too great for such confines!

Writer Dorothy Sayers expressed her understanding of Trinity beginning from Genesis; saying that God creating humankind “in our image” refers to the creativity existing in this God-in-three; idea, energy and power — a creativity she sees as given to humanity. She uses the analogy of creating a book; the writer has an idea for it, but if it stays in the mind it has no reality. In writing it, the idea becomes en-fleshed and thus becomes energy. Then when the book is read by others, it has power. God the Creator or Father and Mother of all is the Idea, Christ is the Energy or Action, and the Holy Spirit is Power. (The Mind of the Maker, Methuen & Co., 1942)

While the Trinity is a later concept based in the early Christian faith, in Hebrew and Christian scriptures, and a growing church seeking words and ways to share its faith, it has both riches and limits. Remember the Jeopardy! comparison; the question often comes after the answer in things like doctrines. Rather than look for their justification or fit scripture into them, open this gift from the other end. Each revelation of God’s love has a character that flows beyond itself, whether we call it Trinitarian or not; God is with us as creator and cause, initiator of life and love. God is also with us in the Word, as revealed in Jesus the Christ showing us God with us in life and love. God is with us in the Spirit or Sophia the divine wisdom, alighting God’s grace upon us in baptism and occasions of divine mystery. Beyond words, this Spirit is presence, connectedness, shared spirit in God and at times with each other, in love and life alive. Each of today’s lessons ends similarly–either with God’s blessing, God’s grace glorified, or God’s promise to be with us. Each reveals God’s trusting us, and placing us, right where we are to be that blessing, that grace, and that promise—ourselves. Amen.

© 2017 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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