Some of you may know that Karen and I recently attended adult summer camp in North Carolina. To be clear, think Folk School – training in arts. You need to know what an adult summer camp is. After lunch one day, a new friend and I talked about word series that contain truth, like “Ready, Aim, Shoot,” which amateur photographers confuse for “Shoot, Ready, Aim.” After a Christmas Eve service years ago, a mother told me her kindergartener was muttering aloud during the ever-popular singing of “Silent Night” as candles were being lit. Eyes wide open, staring at his flame, he is saying, “Stop, Drop, Roll! Stop, Drop, Roll!”
We grow up, and forget all we need to know we learned in kindergarten or at camp. I think of what Jesus says as he commissions his eleven disciples – and us as well. It’s the essence of the church’s mission – to go, make disciples, baptize and teach. And he is with us. We often lose sight of what is simple and basic.
Today is Trinity Sunday, by the way – so I feel obliged to say something about the Trinity. Some of you may recall that I said I got stuck preaching Trinity Sunday during my tenure as an Associate Rector. It wasn’t because I could make it simple, or that whatever I said, I said well. I kept drawing the short straw. Today is the one Sunday we focus on doctrine, not scripture. And the doctrine of the Trinity flummoxed early theologians and bishops. What sort of math is this – three is one, and one is three? Augustine spent a decade writing fifteen volumes on the Trinity. So don’t expect me to explain it to you in twelve minutes. Being the nice guy I am, I did order everyone take-out from Panera’s which will be delivered shortly. Feel free to eat during the sermon.
Today we are with the disciples on a mountain to which Jesus asks them to meet him. When he shows up, they worship him, but some doubt. I am not sure what they doubt. But if Matthew says this, it must be important. These are devout Jews who daily recite, “The Lord our God is one God.” The Ten Commandments begin with an edict, “No other god than God.” But they’ve met Jesus, who makes some rather radical claims about his relationship with the Father, like he and the father are one. And here are disciples who have come to experience a divine presence in Jesus. And Jesus, prior to his departure from this earth, has promised to send the Holy Spirit. Now as part of his commission to the disciples then, and to us now, he says, “Go, make disciples, teach and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” So you can understand they doubt and are a bit confused right now. And that has been the condition of Jesus’ disciples ever since, which ought to relieve us. The church as Jesus’ first disciples is imperfect – down one member, Peter with his denials. They doubt, and get confused constantly – that would be us. Yet Jesus promises to stay with us anyway – to the end and beyond. If Jesus can accept us as we are, could we more easily accept ourselves and each other?
You think today is fun for preachers? Open a preaching book about this Sunday. They start by saying the Trinity is impossible to explain, and baffling for the congregation if we try. What a confidence boost. As long as God is one, people were okay – until you add in a Son and Spirit to believe in, too. So Church Councils met and Bishops voted on the Nicene Creed. If you think all this is confusing, go to seminary. God is three consubstantial persons or hypostases, distinct, yet of one substance. I’m not making this up.
Here’s what I believe is at the heart of the Trinity. We first experience God – three ways – as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before we can speak of the Trinity. That was the disciples’ sequence. On this day we recall that we are made in the image of a God whose divine love overflows to everyone, everywhere, in all places and times – the creation. It’s in Genesis. All through scripture the story is of God’s continuous, generous, effusive love flowing through history – to call us, be with and claim us, in creation, incarnation and spirit. When the Trinity of divine love gets hold of us we get transformed from what we think we are into what God has made us to be.
Preaching a sermon on the Trinity is not as easy as it seems. Each sermon needs to be new and fresh – for the present moment. I don’t serve you leftovers. To write a sermon on the Trinity or anything else is an experience with the Trinity. Thoughts come to me I know I couldn’t figure out by myself. The Spirit will sometimes take what I offer and do something I never fully know. I don’t know where you are hurting or your deepest needs as I preach when you come to worship. The Spirit does, and if we connect, that’s an experience of God’s fullness. It’s rather humbling. Sometimes people tell me what they hear, I think – “Gosh, I wish I’d really said that.” If we hear what we need, it’s the Trinity again. If the Trinity doesn’t show up, you and I are both in trouble. If we are not present to God’s fullness, again, you and I are both in trouble.
The Trinity is God’s fullness coming all over us and filling us. The Trinity returns us to what matters most in life – setting our sights above the daily – returning us to the basics – giving meaning to our days so the mundane and immediate are not the only level of our existence. Some day when you need a God larger than you can imagine – remember, the Trinity, the fullness and passion of God’s love: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer – God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The divine essence is a relationship that draws us into relationship with God and each other. “I am with you always – in good times and bad.” To put the Trinity simply – a mystery beyond our comprehension – the mystery is God’s love that won’t ever lose us or let us go. Someday, remembering that might come in handy.