May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I speak to you today in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . this is a traditional Trinitarian opening to many sermons. So whether or not we’re used to – or even comfortable with this opening, it seems to be especially appropriate for today — Trinity Sunday. When I make this opening proclamation, I’m picking up the words from the Gospel reading – where Jesus directs his disciples to “Go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
This reference to Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Matthew is about the closest we come to Trinitarian Doctrine in the bible. The word Trinity isn’t used in the bible at all – the whole doctrine of the Trinity as we know it is an interpretation of the early church – it was argued about, twisted around, turned upside down and inside out over a period of hundreds of years. Part of the wonder of the whole ordeal is that we are left with the unified statement of our Christian faith – that’s the creed that we’ll be saying together in a few minutes –It seems somehow miraculous that this statement of faith, our creed, has kept the Christian church hanging together for over 1600 years.
Heretics and saints alike arose – or met their demise — based on their understandings of how the Trinity works. And when you look at these early church controversies, the heretics and the saints are hard to tell apart. God has a way of taking human foibles and using them for His greater good.
But aside from all this history and all the theological nitty-gritty, is it really necessary for us to try to understand the doctrine of the Trinity? Does this notion of the Trinity make any difference to who we are and how we live and how we deal with the difficulties – the fears – the doubts that life seems to throw our way?
To flesh out some kind of starting point – take a moment to reflect on what comes to mind – or to heart – when you hear the phrase “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Be honest with yourself about it – if it brings to mind stuffy, boring Trinity Sunday sermons of years gone by – that’s OK, that’s understandable – but please stay with me for just a few minutes more.
Let me throw out a couple of images or metaphors that various people over the years have used to express their experience of God as Trinity . . . Maybe one of these will resonate with you:
- · St. Augustine in the 4th century related to God as creator, redeemer, sanctifier.
- · Likewise Dame Julian of Norwich an English mystic of the 14the century knew God as her “Maker, Lover and Keeper.”
- · If you’re inspired by nature you may relate to this image – God the Father is the sun, reigning over the earth from the heavens above – Jesus Christ is the sunlight that comes down from heaven to earth reflecting and radiating the glory of God – the Holy Spirit is the heat and life-giving energy given off by the sun. We have God as the sun – light – and heat.
- · If you like working with your hands, there’s the image of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as the two arms and hands of God the Father – this image comes from the Christian interpretation of the prophet Isaiah who speaks of the arm of the Lord.
All these images are metaphors that are intended to help us get involved with God on a deeper level – help us contemplate God on a deeper level – help us relate to God more intimately. And as metaphors they only can reveal a sense of who God is — they don’t limit God – they aren’t meant to put God in a box. No matter how much we know or say about God, God is always much, much more – more than we can ever know or imagine. That’s what makes God — God. That’s what makes God a mystery – and that’s what the Trinity a mystery. . . . . a mystery that you can never totally understand but that you can live into . . . a mystery of the heart, not of the intellect. . . . a mystery of faith.
The consistent element in all these images – these metaphors of the Trinity — is relationship. And the thing that matters most to us about the doctrine of the Trinity is that it is a statement of how God relates.
When we say God is love, we’re talking about relationship – Love is how the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit relate to each other. The Love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the model for us of perfect Love – – – and most importantly the Love of the Holy Trinity draws us into itself.
Herein lies the good news of the gospel – the good news of the Trinity – we are all invited to share in the Holy relationship, the Holy Love flowing in, through and among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus prays these words on behalf of all of us in the Gospel according to John:
“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
This opens the door that leads to a way of knowing that we are Many Members, One Body.
In today’s gospel reading from Matthew, the disciples have returned to Galilee as Jesus had directed them – they have experienced the crucifixion, death and burial of their companion, their leader, their Lord – and they have heard the news about the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection. And when they see Jesus on that mountain in Galilee – they worship him – – – – – but there is also some doubt.
If we are honest – with ourselves and with God – I suspect that everyone doubts, at least from time to time. But it’s important to know that doubt and disbelief are not the same thing. Actually doubt is often a necessary element of spiritual growth – Doubt is the natural, healthy way we challenge and reexamine our beliefs. As we work our way through these questions of doubt, we are following a path by which we come to genuinely own our faith. To put it simply and directly, our doubts cause our faith to grow stronger.
Doubts often arise during periods of transition: for Jesus’ disciples on that mountain in Gallilee, they were facing a transition involving the continuation of Jesus’ work on earth without his familiar physical presence but with his promise to be with them – and us – always, to the end of the age – – – this through the power of the Holy Spirit.
A couple of weeks ago I was looking ahead to a transition – coming to join you all here at St. Mark’s for the summer. I admit to having a bit of doubt – a few butterflies in my stomach – as I anticipated the move to Marco from the distant alien lands and cultures of New York City and St. Mary’s, Bonita Springs. So I drove down on a Sunday afternoon hoping to get a feel – a sense of St. Mark’s and the island.
First impression? When I came around the bend on Collier Boulevard and got a first glimpse of your bell tower, the butterflies began to turn into a sense of joy. “That’s us – that’s the Episcopal church – that’s where I’ll be hanging my hat for awhile!”
I parked the car, got out and walked around the church grounds a bit. The gardens and the labyrinth here are so beautiful and inviting. But what really caught my attention – and lifted my Spirit – was the mat outside the Narthex door: “Many Members, One Body . . . One” . . . as the Holy Trinity is One.
I’ve been here now a little over two weeks and have gotten to know many of you – – – And as I get to know you as a community, I KNOW that Oneness is not just a nice sentiment expressed on your doormat. It’s a Christian mystery that you are vitally living into – One in Spirit – One in the Holy Trinity.
And so, my newfound brothers and sisters in Christ: May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit continue to be with you always – even to the end of the age.