Trinity Sunday by Matthew David Morris

Trinity Sunday Whole

Lessons:

Isaiah 6:1-8

Romans 8:12-17

John 3:1-17

Psalm 29


In the name of the Triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 
“No person ever steps in the same river twice,” the philosopher, Heraclitus,
said a long, long time ago, “for it’s not the same river and they are not the
same person.

 
As a field education student, I came to Grace Memorial with questions –
some philosophical, some practical – as well as the hope to learn something
about what it means to be a priest. In the past 9 months, the time it takes to
hatch a new human being: I have preached, right here; I have processed,
carrying the cross, the torches, the paschal candle, and the church banner; I
have carried the Gospel to be read, and I have read the Gospel aloud, in
Spanish, among a cacophony of Pentecost voices; I have dressed up like an
angel and danced with the children; I have made meals for our houseless
friends and neighbors, and I have served around this table; I have listened
to the anxieties of this community, and the hopes of this community, and
the joys of this community; and, I have had the true and unexpected
pleasure of joining a small group of pilgrims on a journey to Jesus’ own
homeland.

 
Standing here today, looking out at all of you, I can say that I am not the
same man that I was when I first walked through those red doors.

 
Now, I’ve been told that everyone just has one sermon that they preach. Lay
or clergy, no matter what Sunday that it is, it’s just one . I thought when I
came here I knew what my one sermon was. I thought I had it down. I
thought it was a sermon about justice, or about challenging systems of
domination, of proclaiming Beloved Community in the name of Jesus.
But now, I don’t think the real one sermon that is at the core of a Christian
heart is one that they choose for themself. It’s not about what aligns best
with their political views. It’s not necessarily one that they want to preach.
But it’s the sermon that they have to preach, because it is the one sermon.
Discovering how to preach that one sermon in your own voice is a process
of formation and discernment, and it begins I think – at least for me – with
an acute sense of uncertainty.

 
Nicodemus, is uncertain. Nicodemus has questions – some philosophical,
some practice. Nicodemus is attempting to situate Jesus and his teaching
into a clear, logical framework. He’s applying what seems like
straightforward and accurate science to Jesus’ metaphor.

 
       “You get born once, Jesus. Once. One time. What do you mean, ‘be
       born from above?’ How can this old body of mine – which I have
       subjected – mind you – to years of work, and stress, and the occasional
       indulgence – how can it be new again? How can this mind of mine –
       which has taken apart and inspected every precious story and belief
       and dream that was ever given to me by my mother, my grandmother,
       or my teachers – how can it see things new again?”

 
Jesus speaks poetry to Nicodemus, and Nicodemus simply doesn’t
understand how this poetry is logically coherent. Nicodemus wants it all to
make sense. And Jesus keeps pointing to the mystery.
Today is Trinity Sunday, which we might as well call “Mystery Sunday.”
This is a day that many preachers fear. And I’ll have you know, Martin – this
is the day that is notorious to give the seminarian Trinity Sunday. This is
the day. Give it to the Field Education Student. Have him explain the
greatest mystery in Christian doctrine. Sure. That’s great. And on his last
day.

 
Thank you, Martin.
That’s fine.

 
Elizabeth Johnson, in her book, Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal In
Christology, recounts this really beautiful story about St. Augustine and the
Trinity, which goes like this:

 
       So, St. Augustine was walking on the beach, trying to figure out the
       mystery of the Trinity. As he watched a little child with a pail trying to
       put the sea into a hole he had dug in the sand, Augustine said, “You
       cannot do that.” To this the child (actually an angel) replied, “Neither
       can you fit the mystery of the Trinity into your finite mind.”

 
Done. Sermon’s over. Done.

 
No. But there’s so much value in that. There’s so much value in that.
All language is symbol. Words are images meant to represent ideas, some of
which are too expansive to fully encapsulate in a series of letters are sounds.
Trinity is one such word. Triune God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This
language is symbol, which is not to say that it is not real. Rather, it is the
realest of the real — so real, in fact, that the holes we dig in the sand with
our logic-shovels and our rationality-pails cannot contain it.

 
But at the heart of this symbol of Trinity is an invitation into the mystery of
relationship.

 
God is calling us into relationship with God’s own relational nature.
We speak of God as three persons, undivided. God is at once the Creator of
all things, and the Redeemer of all things, and the Giver of Life to all things.
As Creator, God has made us. As Redeemer, God has walked with us. And
as Giver of Life, God is igniting a fire within us to speak a true word about
God’s love. Our very salvation is woven into this interconnection of
relationship.

 
God’s invitation into the mystery of relationship is not only what makes
salvation occur, but it is what makes community come to life.

 
Relationship, I have learned, is the foundation of Grace Memorial Episcopal
Church.

 
This sanctuary is made beautiful every week through relationship. The
hymns of praise and thanksgiving we sing are made majestic through
relationship. People of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds are fed, and
educated, and inspired, and challenged here every day of the week through
relationship. You might say that is what church is: it is about being in
faithful relationship with each other, so that we can be in faithful
relationship with God.

 
Nine months ago, when I accepted the call to be in relationship with this
community, I did not expect that the most important thing I would learn
during this time, both through Martin’s own example and through the
example and witness of the entire community, is the value of relationship.
But it’s undeniable. And, its trinitarian.

 
The ethic of relationship which says that my humanity is bound up in your
humanity, and our shared humanity is animated by the very God who made
all things and who suffers and celebrates with us — woo — that is an
affirmation of the Triune God. You might not think you that get the Trinity
(I don’t all the time), but I have learned that if you show up here, and if you
love one another and you love God, and if you respond to the presence of
God by sharing that love with the world, then you are living into the
Trinity. Just trust in that.

 
To be a Christian is to be in relationship with a relational God who is
eternally seeking relationship with us. To be a Christian is to follow God
into relationship with all those who are led by God’s spirit, in and outside of
the Church; all those who, by following God’s Spirit are, in Paul’s words,
“children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs
with Christ.”

 
Friends — Grace Memorial Episcopal Church — you do not need to know
with perfect certainty how to preach your one sermon in order to share the
good news that God loves you, that God has already saved you, and that
God is calling you to transform the world through the power of God’s own
loving, life-giving and liberating nature.

 
“Who will go for us?” God asks.
“Here I am,” we say.” “Send me.”

 
“Who will go for us?” God asks.
“Here I am,” we say.” “Send me.”

 
“Who will go for us?” God asks.
“Here I am,” we say.” “Send me.”

 
YES! You… you.. One more time:
“Who will go for us?” God asks.
“Here I am,” we say.” “Send me.”

 
That brought me here. And I don’t know where it’s going to lead you, I do
not know… I’m off book now…

 
I don’t know where God is leading you, but I know that God is calling you.
That is a true word.
I don’t know where God is leading you, but I know that God is calling you.

 
And I pray that you respond to call from God with courage. I pray that you
respond to God’s call with excitement, and imagination, and creativity, and
all of the talents that you have. And give them back to this community.
You’re already doing it! You are already living into that vision. I am so
excited to one day walk through those red doors again and discover how
God is continuing to move and work in this place.

 
It’s not about me being here. It’s not about Martin being here. It is about
the collective reality of this place. All of y’all.

 
The Lord will be praised.
Amen?
Amen.

Trinity Sunday by The Rev. Martin Elfert

Lessons:

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Romans 5:1-5

John 16:12-15

Psalm 8

 

If you are a veteran of Sunday school or, perhaps, a graduate of a class that sought to get you ready for baptism or confirmation, you may have had the experience of encountering that diagram that maps out the Trinity. Do you know the one? If you aren’t familiar with it – or if you can’t quite remember it – don’t worry: turn to the back of your leaflets and, there, you will find it printed.

Here is a triangle. And here in the middle of it is the word God. Orbiting God, on the three points of the triangle, are the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Running between each of these three words and the word God is a double-ended arrow or, sometimes, as in this case, simple a line or a pathway. And in the middle of those three arrows or lines we find the word is. So, the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God.

On the exterior of the triangle, there is a second set of bi-directional pathways or arrows, each arrow running between the members of the Trinity. These are arrows of negation, they are labeled is not. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and so on.

You can cross-reference whichever way you like. Let’s take the example of the Holy Spirit, that frequently neglected member of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is God. And yet She is not the Son or the Father. The same pattern holds true when you examine the other two names on the outside of the triangle.

And now you understand the Trinity.

Right?

There are times when I have looked at this diagram and wondered if it was Christianity’s answer to Hans Christian Anderson’s 19th-Century parable, The Emperor’s New Clothes, if it was a kind of test. I thought: Dare I be the one in the catechumenate or the inquirer’s class to put my hand up and say, “I don’t understand”? Do you need to have the bravery of a child to be the one to blurt out the theological equivalent of, But the Emperor is naked! and say:

But this diagram doesn’t make any sense!

Now, at one level, this diagram really doesn’t make any sense – and nor, for that matter, does the reality that it describes: the Trinity. Here’s the hard part for us living in 2016. The level at which this diagram doesn’t make sense is precisely the level at which, today, we spend most of our time, it is precisely the level which we most privilege. This diagram doesn’t work as a fact or formula or data or even as a hypothesis. There isn’t – and I’m going to go out on a limb and prognosticate that there never will be – a peer-reviewed study that gives us the answer “Trinity.”

If basic math is explained well enough to you – say, 1 + 2 or 27 ÷ 9 – you can say: Yes. Yes I understand. Yes that’s true. Yes that’s predictable. The answer in both cases is “three.” The Trinity, however, refuses to be factual, it refuses to be predictable. Is the answer to the question that the Trinity poses “three”? Well, yes. But hold on, isn’t the answer to the question that the Trinity poses “one”?

Well, yes.

Let’s back up a little. Let’s see if we can find a place of deeper meaning, a place where the Trinity makes a little more sense. A place where it is true.

Among the great stones that build the foundations of Christian faith – think of God’s creation of the earth, think of the Exodus from Egypt, think of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – the Trinity is unique in two significant ways. First, it isn’t unequivocally Biblical. Today is Trinity Sunday and, thus, our readings are focused on this holy triangle, on Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But notice that none of the readings explicitly use the term “Trinity” and nor do any of them explicitly describe the reality that we see in our diagram. And that’s because, well, there aren’t any readings like that in scripture. It’s quite possible that, if you were to learn ancient Greek and borrow a time machine, you could go to visit Paul and say, “Tell me about the Trinity.” And Paul would respond:

“What do you mean?”

The second thing that sets the Trinity apart from the rest of the foundational elements of Christianity is that it isn’t a story. Or let me amend that, because this is where I’d like to spend some time with you this morning, the Trinity isn’t a story as we conventionally understand stories. The stories of Creation, of the Exodus, of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, have a rhythm, a plot, they more or less have a beginning, middle, and an end. So:

God created, and it was good, and God rested. 

Or,

Jesus saw that the people were hungry, he shared food with them, and there was food left over.

Or,

The women came to the tomb and they saw that it was empty and they shared the news with everyone.

The Trinity doesn’t have that kind of plot. But I do want to suggest that it is a story nonetheless. It is a story that our ancestors in faith left for us about who God is. It is a story that is Christianity’s very best effort to respond scripture and, as importantly, to respond to our ongoing encounter with God.

Christians tried out some other stories first. They tried out a story in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were each God at different times in history (the Father is God in the Old Testament, Jesus is God in the Gospels, the Holy Spirit is God now). But that somehow didn’t work, it wasn’t true. And so they tried a story in which each of the three were different modes or forms of God, much as water can be a solid, a liquid, or a gas. But that story didn’t work either. And so they came up with the story that we remember and celebrate today, the story that we call the Trinity.

The Trinity is a story about paradox, about relationship, and about motion.

Paradox. The story of the Trinity is paradoxical because, as we’ve already discovered, no matter how hard you try, you cannot confine it to the realm of the intellect, you cannot make sense of it with your head alone. The Trinity is a bit like a Zen Kōan (“What is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “Without thinking of good or evil, show me the face of your mother and father before you were born”). One of the things that the Kōan which is the Trinity says is this: God is always more than we can name or measure or contain or control. The Trinity declares that, as that brilliant and difficult old Saint, Augustine, put it, “If you understand it, it’s not God.” The Kōan, the parable, the paradox, the story which is the Trinity declares that God is not a puzzle to be solved, but rather is a mystery to be encountered.

Relationship. Notice in our diagram that everything – or everyone – is pointing at or flowing towards everything and everyone else. Everyone is in relationship with everyone else. The story of the Trinity says that God is who God is because of relationship. Together, the three persons who are one combine to make this holy triangle. (Forgive me if this is awkward or incoherent: we are at or beyond the limit of what human language can express right now. As one of my mentors says, “When I speak to you, I have to use words.”) I wonder if this relationship is what 1John is getting at what it declares that “God is love.” The story of the Trinity says that God is always reaching outside and beyond Godself, God is always seeking to connect. And that brings us to:

Motion. I’ve wondered sometimes if the Trinity was what was TS Eliot was getting at when, in Four Quartets, he wrote of “the still point of the turning world” and then (speaking of paradox) he went on to add, “there the dance is.” Here at the very centre of things, at the still point, is God. And here as well is the dance of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are not frozen in the past, they are not frozen in scripture, they are dancing right now. The story of the Trinity is that God is on the move. Notice that our new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, tends to refer to our tradition as the “Episcopal Branch of the Jesus movement.

If this thing we call church is, at its core, about trying our very best to be like Jesus, then the story of the Trinity is a big deal for you and me. Because being like Jesus means participating in the story of the Trinity. It means honouring this story, it means being a part of of paradox, relationship, and motion.

The paradox of the Trinity says that, yes, we are individuals, yes we are unique, yes we are the authors of our own stories, yes we are by ourselves on the outside of the triangle. And it says that, simultaneously, we are One we are an integral part of a bigger story, a story that involves every other living thing. The relationship of the Trinity says, Yes, You and I are called to me our brother’s keeper, You and I are called to be neighbour to the one who lies wounded on the side of the road, You and I are called to visit and clothe and feed the least of these. And the motion of the Trinity says that the work of God is something that is happening right now, something that is changing and growing and getting ever more wondrous, it is something that you and I are invited to move with.

The Trinity declares that the still point of the turning world is everywhere and, therefore, that it is here. This, this is where the dance is.