June 15, 2014
- Trinity Sunday,
- Donna G. Joy
GENESIS 1:1-2:4A; PSALM 8; 2 CORINTHIANS 13:11-13; MATTHEW 28:16-20
Many of you have heard me say in years past, and you will likely hear me say again sometime in the future, that Trinity Sunday is – for me (and, I’m told, many preachers) the most difficult Sunday of the year to preach. Over the years I have tried different approaches in talking about, and reflecting upon the doctrine of the Trinity. And I’ve learned from experience that this is not exactly the most effective way to grab hold of peoples’ attention. People were not sitting on the edge of their seats when I took this approach. Often I’ve dug holes for myself that were next to impossible to escape.
In acknowledging the complexity of the Trinity, Marva Dawn says, “Who the Trinity is in God’s self is an enigma so impenetrable and sublime, a truth infinitely beyond our ability to comprehend, a love so embracing and empowering, we do better to esteem than to explain.” She goes on to say, “I find myself adoring instead of analyzing.”
As the church father Augustine (who spent ten years of his life exploring and writing about the Trinity) remarked, “anyone who denies the Trinity is in danger of losing her salvation, but anyone who tries to understand the Trinity is in danger of losing her mind.”
As I have shared previously with this congregation, Rublev’s icon ‘The Holy Trinity’ informs much of what takes me deeper and deeper into this mysterious way of envisioning this seemingly complex Triune God. The front of our bulletin offers a black and white sketch of this iconic piece of art. Through the creation of this icon, Rublev identifies the Trinity itself as God’s House of Love – One God – Three Persons – inextricably bound together with a band of inexpressible love. For a more in depth exploration into this work of art you can go onto St. Peter’s web site, click onto worship which displays sermons from the past and there you will find last year’s Holy Trinity sermon, along with an image of the icon itself.
Today, however, I wish to take this reflection in a slightly different direction. Rather than try to explain any further ‘one God in three persons’ I plan to reflect on what Trinitarian congregations look like.
David Lose says a Trinitarian congregation is one that sees itself, “as called and sent by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed for the sake of the world God created and loves so much.” This essentially defines a Trinitarian congregation because we believe that God the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to recognize and believe the good news of God the Son who, in turn, reveals to us the loving heart and mission of God the Father/Mother/Parent. So a Trinitarian congregation is, in essence, one that sees itself called into mission by the Trinitarian God we confess.
Approached this way, Trinity Sunday provides an opportunity to describe our sense of why we exist as a community of faith and to articulate a vision for moving forward in the mission and ministry entrusted to us by the triune God. So, once again, a Trinitarian congregation is one that sees itself as, “called and sent by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed for the sake of the world God created and loves so much.”
1. The Trinitarian church is called, empowered, sustained and sent by the Holy Spirit.
In Paul’s second letter to the early church in Corinth he writes: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” For Paul, everything we are and everything we do is empowered, informed and sustained through the gift (the communion) of the Holy Spirit. That church in Corinth is a community torn by factions, and he is urging them to, “agree with one another and live in peace.”
For Paul, agreeing with one another, or more literally, thinking the same way should not be read as an appeal to uniformity. Earlier in his writings the apostle has recognized and applauded the diversity of his congregation.So, instead of any notion of uniformity, this appeal to think the same way is an appeal to think “according to Christ Jesus” or to have the same mind as Christ when he voluntarily humbled himself and died for the sake of the world. Having that kind of love for one another will facilitate living at peace and mending the factions that have torn this first century church. But that kind of love is not possible without the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work – in and among the congregation. The presence of joy and peace are the indicators of the Spirit’s transformative work to reveal God’s kingdom.
Once again, Paul’s final appeal, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you…” – this final appeal for the empowering strength of the Holy Spirit has created and sustained the Corinthian church and the church throughout the past 2,000 years. God’s Holy Spirit is the very source of our life in Christ Jesus, and in Christ we are a new creation. The Trinitarian congregation is called, empowered, sustained and sent by the Holy Spirit.
2. The Trinitarian church is called, empowered, sustained and sent by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed
…to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed. To this end, our Gospel reading from Matthew this morning has a lot to offer. This text is commonly called ‘the great commission’. Each of the Gospels ends in a distinctive way… Each making their own particular point… Each offering an additional piece to the overall puzzle that offers a picture of God’s purpose in and through Jesus. As Matthew ends his Gospel he has the resurrected Jesus commissioning the disciples for mission…”to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed.”
For Matthew, all the fractures in heaven and earth have been repaired through Jesus’ death and resurrection. For Matthew, Jesus has been given ‘all authority in heaven and earth’, and now his followers are channels through which that healing is to be made known to the church and to the world. The good news of Jesus is that it is only with his defeat of death that the breach between heaven and earth is mended. Jesus sends the disciples into the world so that they (we) may bear witness to the end of a broken creation.
So, Jesus’ words at the Great Commission are not merely the fitting end of Matthew’s story of Jesus, but a vision of the end of a broken world and the beginning of a new creation. In Jesus hanging on the cross and rising from the grave of death, the world has seen one brief moment of perfection; one brief moment when heaven and earth joined together as one, perfect, harmonious event…. Giving Jesus authority over it all. Authority mind you; not power. This is an authority that calls for the same brand of servanthood as is embodied in Christ himself. Jesus’ great commission as recorded in Matthew’s gospel articulates an expectation that followers of Jesus (through word and example) will be channels through which that moment of perfection will be continued; channels through which God’s world will continue to mend and heal through ministries of service to a broken church and a broken world.
This sense of authority is also articulated in our Psalm for this morning where we heard, “You have made humanity but little lower than the angels; you adorn him with glory and honour; You give him mastery over the works of your hands; you put all things under his feet….” But the Psalm begins and ends with ultimate authority, power and praise – glorifying God whose name is exalted throughout the world.
In our bulletin Psalm reflection this morning, Lissa Wray Beal writes: “Despite the high position granted humans in this psalm, the opening and closing refrain provide a context: God’s greater glory and majesty. Though exalted, God condescends to notice and care for humans and commits to them the care of creation! A theologically-grounded creation-care acknowledges that God’s majesty is displayed through the work of his hands, and we are places as its caretakers.”
I think one of the best responses to this Great Commission is found in the Anglican Church of Canada’s Five Marks of Mission:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
The Trinitarian church is called to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and in deed.
3. The Trinitarian church is called, empowered, sustained and sent by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed for the sake of the world God created and loves so much.”
…for the sake of the world God created and loves so much. It is very fitting that our lectionary for this morning includes a story of creation. All those thousands of years ago when the creation stories of Genesis were first formed, they were done so as a way to differentiate between the monotheistic (one) God of Israel and the multiple deities of surrounding regions such as Mesopotamia. At that time there were lots of creation stories surfacing from the various surrounding regions which tended to speak of multiple Gods who each had different and changing roles and functions. Within these stories there were different gods associated with gifts such as water, vegetation, magic, etc. And these various Gods quarreled among themselves, and were also fickle within their role of creation; they could not be depended upon; they were unreliable and unpredictable.
Within these multiple creation narratives, the creation accounts in Genesis present a completely different account of the world’s origins and God’s character and place within. Genesis speaks of One God creating the whole vast cosmos and everything within it. And, even more significant is the relationship between humanity and this One, sovereign God – this is a relationship that is trustworthy and true, because God has chosen to make us humans “in our image, according to our likeness.”
Notice the word ‘our’. Instead of multiple gods quarreling among themselves; this is One Triune God (identified in the plural) working harmoniously and cooperatively so that the world may be born out of love. Getting back to Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity which he describes as the ultimate Household of Love… It is this Household of Love into and out of which we are born, so this harmonious cooperation is to set the tone for who we are and how we live. From this, we can recognize that humans are not created out of the capricious whim of certain deities, but rather, we stand as the pinnacle of the creation event. After the creation of humans, God, in his powerful word, blesses them and declares them (declares us) as good.
Indeed the Trinitarian church is:
- called, empowered, sustained and sent by the Holy Spirit
- to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed
- for the sake of the world God created and loves so much.”
St. Peter’s is currently in the process of redefining our reason for being – our vision – our purpose. Perhaps David Lose has provided some important food for thought in this succinct and profound description of the Trinitarian church.