Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Proper of the Day: Trinity Sunday

On this final Principle Feast for a while, we celebrate the Mystery of the Undivided Trinity. Ever thought about that phrase? Logically, it's an oxymoron. But that's where the mystery part comes in! It's the only one of the Seven that's based on an idea, rather than an event in the life of Jesus and the church.

Without further ado, here's what I offerred at St. Thomas' today. I do welcome your feedback and comments!

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Trinity Sunday 2008 (BCP)
Genesis 1:1 – 2:3; Psalm 150; 2 Cor 13:5-14; Matthew 28:16-20
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

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

How often we hear those words! We open our worship with them, we receive a blessing at the end with them, and nearly every prayer we utter, including the climactic Eucharistic Prayer with its Great Amen, ends with them. Many of us cross ourselves when we say them. It’s one of the most common phrases we Christians use. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Trinity means “three” and on this Principle Feast of the Church, we celebrate and especially honor the three-in-one and one-in-three, the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

But how can one God be three? How can there be three persons in one God? How is it that God the Creator can be unique from the Son our Redeemer and the Spirit who Inspires us, and the Son be unique from the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit be unique from the Father and the Son? I could just throw up my hands and say, “Well, it’s a mystery, on to the Creed!” But of course the Creed has three sections in it, each one corresponding to, you guessed it, one of the three Persons of the Trinity. So that’s not very much help at all.

At the ten o’clock service this morning I’m going to talk to the Sunday school kids about the Trinity. I probably should be approaching this with fear and trepidation, since preaching on this particular Feast is supposed to be hard. The duty has traditionally been given over to seminarians and junior curates. Bu, fool perhaps that I am, I’m going to wade right in, and I’m going to say something like this:

Here’s a cup of water with some ice in it. Pass it around, but don’t drink it because I didn’t make enough for everyone. But go ahead and stick your fingers in it. Feel how the water is wet but the ice is hard? Did you know that ice is actually water? When you go home today take an ice cube and put it in a bowl. Come back in about ten minutes or so and the ice will be gone but there will be water in the bowl. Water can actually be take three different forms. If it’s really cold we call it ice, and it’s hard, and if there’s enough of it it’s strong enough to hold up a person. Most of the time water is a liquid – it’s wet and runs all over everything if you’re not careful. Liquid water is so powerful that it made the Grand Canyon – ask you parents to show it to you on the Internet. And when water is really hot, it’s called steam and most of the time, steam is invisible. Steam is really strong too – it can push a person down, and it can move a gigantic ship through the water, and do all kinds of other very useful things.

So whether it’s a liquid, a solid, or what we call a gas like steam, it’s still water. Do you see in the cup how there’s ice and some water too? I couldn’t bring steam with me, because it’s so hot it burns. But God is kind of like water. We know God the Father, who created everything. I know it was long, but today we heard the story of creation just now, and it’s God who called everything into being, including you and me. The Bible doesn’t tell us how – we have science for that. But it does tell us who, and that’s God. God our Creater and Father is like liquid water – it’s everywhere. And you know Jesus, right? He is God too, just like God the Father. But he’s also unique from God, because he was once a human being just like you and me. You might think of Jesus as like ice – still water, but a different form of it. And have you heard of the Holy Spirit? That’s like steam – really hot and can move anything. But it’s still water too. So the Father, our Creator is God, and Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Just like ice, and liquid and steam are all water. What do you think of that?

Now, depending on what the kids say, I might talk a little but about what a mystery is. We can’t completely describe God as water, or as any other analogy either. Ultimately, of course, our thinking of God as three-in-one and one-in-three is kind of our best guess. True, we get a lot of help from Scripture, of course. Today’s first lesson is the story of creation itself. It has not only the direct action of God the Creator in it, but hints of the Holy Spirit as well. “A wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Older translations translate that word “wind” as Spirit, God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit. And in the second lesson, at the end of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he uses an explicit Trinitarian greeting. That letter was probably written no later than two generations or so after the Ascension, about AD 57 or so, and so we know that very early on, believers began to discern that there were multiple aspects to the one God they worshipped. And of course, the end of the Gospel of Matthew contains the Great Commission, where we are commanded to make disciples in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The best guess for Matthew is around AD 80 or thereabouts, maybe three generations after Jesus lived and walked among us.

No matter when all this was finally written down, it’s quite obvious that we began describing God as the Undivided Trinity early on. The most difficult controversies in the early church were held over the nature of God and what this Trinity thing is all about. All three Creeds that we say are a direct result of those battles. You know the first two, the Apostles Creed that we use at baptisms, and the Nicene Creed we recite on other Sundays. Ask me about the third creed over coffee.

Now the history of we got “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is all very nice. But what’s vitally important, what’s most important, is what Trinity says about God and about us. What it means, very simply, is that God is Love, or better yet the Lover from whom the whole universe burst forth in the force of that Love. But even before the universe began, the Lover had the Beloved, because Love, like a spoken word, must come out and be separate from that which loves. And it is Love itself that - envelops - the Lover and the Beloved and binds them together in the never ending and ever-deepening relationship of one to another. The Trinity simply is our expression of the God that is Love, the eternal Beloved who always existed, and the Spirit of Love itself. And when you think about it, you can’t really say what’s the beginning, which came first. You can’t have a Lover without Love. You can’t have Love without a Lover. And having a Beloved means there is One who Loves. It’s all about relationship, about being in relationship and wanting to be in relationship.

We – the members of St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church - are in essence enveloped by that same Lover, Beloved, and Love that binds them. Because it binds us together too. We are part of the great circle of Lover, Beloved and Love. We who are the body of Christ here in Vernon Township become one with Christ and so we too feel the power of that all-encompassing Love of the Beloved. We, you and I, are drawn into the never ending dance among the Three Persons of the undivided Trinity, the dance of life itself that existed before time and space, and will exist long after both time and space have ceased to be.

And we can take the Trinity as a model for our own lives as well. We know, because we have felt and continue to feel it, that the Three-in-One is always with each of us, loving us with that total love that forgives absolutely everything, no matter what. In our baptism we are incorporated into the network of the Trinity. That network of love will never break and we will never be cast out of it. But sometimes, the love we try to model to others isn’t always enough. We try to imitate it, but we still get angry, frustrated, upset with each other. We sin, sometimes horribly, against one another, the earth, ourselves. Although our relationship in the network of the Trinity is forever, our own relationships with one another sometimes are not. We try to love and sometimes, perhaps often, we fail. I have had personal and professional relationships bend or break, even after much struggle to work things out. I know some of you have as well. But let me tell you, throughout the pain and anxiety and struggle that I have felt in the past and perhaps you have felt as well, I’ve always known, in the depths of my mind and my heart, that God stills me and still loves all those others whom I have hurt or have hurt me. Our brokenness, too, is drawn into that network of Love that is the Three-in-One. That has been a great comfort and even joy. The Good News after all, isn’t complicated. It’s pretty straightforward. There doesn’t have to be much mystery about it. Lover. Beloved. The Love between them. And we’re part of it, permanently. That’s the Good News in a nutshell.

On this day we celebrate this great mystery of Three-in-One, the Undivided Trinity. You and I, each of us, are bound up eternally in that network of love. I invite you to think of all your relationships as also part of that same network. Not just your relationship to God, but also your relationships to your family and friend and stranger, and the physical world around you, and your own inmost secret self. How can you model that love between Creator, Word, and Spirit, in your own life? How can you show the same love that you receive from God in all your relationships? Where are the threads of your own network of love frayed, bent, or broken? Can you use the unbreakable threads of the love that holds you to God to tie back together those that aren’t so strong? You’re being here is a start, because the Body and Blood of our Eucharist repairs those bonds and makes them strong again. Not the bonds to God – those can never be broken, can never bend. I’m talking about the bond to other people, to the earth, and to your self.

Enter in again to the love of Lover, Beloved, and the Love that binds all of us to God and to each other. Feel the mystery of the Trinity in your heart and soul, and then leave this place and draw others into that same mystery. As Jesus commanded, make disciples, first of yourselves, and then each other, and then even the world is not too much! We might not be able to describe the Trinity, but each of us can certainly live it.


Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

PS - thanks to Elizabeth Kaeton who came up with the water analogy!


The Postulant said...

A very fine sermon!

RFSJ said...

Thank you! As I ask my parishioners, what in particular was pleasing?



Doorman-Priest said...

I use the water, steam and ice analogy in the classroom. What is the common denominator? They are all all H2o. Si I use H2o for God and then water, staem and ice can be F, S and H.S.

Always works a treat.

Doorman-Priest said...

I really should proof read, but you get the idea.

RFSJ said...

DP -

I thought of that, but my SS kids are in 1st-3rd grade(don't know the UK equivalents, up to age 7 or 8, I think) and so I didn't go the H2O route with them. Maybe next year though!