We switched to a 9 a.m. worship time for the summer – I wasn’t sure how I would like it at first, but oh man I lovvvvvvve it! Church was done by 9:45 (no children’s sermon + no choir anthem + all around less hustle & bustle = shorter service) and I was home by 10:30! I ate brunch, blogged, weeded the garden, spray painted a stool (well, started to anyway) and it’s only 1:30!
Summer worship rocks. Just sayin’ …
I made a batch of Sweet Whole Wheat Pancakes last night while I was writing my sermon (don’t ask) so I heated up a few of those and made two fluffy scrambled eggs on the side. I cook scrambled eggs on medium-medium-high (between medium and medium-high!) to get them so fluffy. It takes longer, but it’s totally worth it.
+ lots of water because it’s hot and sunny out.
And did I mention I was home by 10:30 and out working in my yard shortly thereafter?
Here is today’s sermon. The audio is available here, although I apologize for the bizarre “wooshing” noise that is in it. I’m not sure what happened? I wasn’t wearing a lapel mic today, but I doubt that had anything to do with it. Oh well!
It’s A Mystery
Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …”
I thought about starting off my sermon this week with a really bad joke about the trinity that my systematic theology professor told my class in seminary, but I was reminded by sweet and well-meaning husband when I mentioned it to him that no one else besides theologians think that theology jokes are funny.
So I’ll save it.
Today is Trinity Sunday. It is a Sunday where we celebrate the dogma – or the doctrine, the belief – of the Holy Trinity.
Last week – in addition to it being Children’s Sunday – was Pentecost, the birthday of the Christian church. The Holy Spirit descended upon the Disciples and they were filled with power and with faith. That story in the bible is the grand finale of the fireworks display – speaking in tongues, fire and rain, etc. etc. etc – and the church, a living, breathing entity, was born.
Today – Trinity Sunday – we celebrate the fact that this church – this living, breathing entity – has one God that exists in three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some describe the Holy Trinity as one God in three persons, the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
Here is the thing about The Trinity that no one ever wants to say – it doesn’t make any sense. At all.
In fact – and I hope I don’t get struck by lightning for what I am about to say – if you think about The Trinity on a LITERAL level, “three persons, one God” …
… three, one … three, one … three equals one … three is equal to one …
(There was also this running joke when I was in seminary that went something like, “Theology students, what do we know about math? Three equals one, remember?!”)
… it doesn’t make sense! How can one God be equal to three persons?
It is the curious case of the one triune God. We are of a monotheistic faith and yet we believe that our God exists in three persons. It’s a mystery.
There are many problems with The Trinity. Other than the “three equals one math abomination,” here is another problem – it is a confusing concept, but because it is found in the Gospel – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – we think we have to figure it out.
We learn so much from the Gospels that we can understand on a literal level – baptism, communion, mission, service, healing – that when we read this passage that refers directly to The Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – we (as a church, as Christians, as scholars, as faith-journers) think we need to understand it on a literal level as well. This is not some made up theological concept. This is something that Jesus said, something that Jesus commissioned his disciples – and us – to do.
Here is the last problem that I am going to bring up – today anyway – with The Trinity. With so many former Catholics in the room right now, it is hard for me to say, “Do you believe in the one triune God?” or “You are supposed to believe in the one triune God.” Protestant Christianity, Congregational Christianity and Christianity within the United Church of Christ is rooted in the foundation of individual faith. Me standing behind this pulpit and telling you to believe in three persons, one God would go against everything that this church stands for.
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
There is a lot in this passage. There is a lot to the mystery of The Trinity. And the thought crossed my mind yesterday afternoon to just get up and say, “The Trinity: Just take my word for it,” and sit down.
My own thoughts on The Trinity continue to evolve. But here are my thoughts right now on this particular passage and on The Trinity.
Number One – It is okay to doubt.
The Gospel says, “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.”
Have you ever had doubts in your faith journey? I have.
And do you know what? Jesus said that it was okay. In fact – even when 11 of his disciples were standing in front of him and some of them were expressing their doubts he still said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …”
Even when his disciples expressed doubt, Jesus still commissioned them to be in ministry.
It is okay to doubt. It is okay to be confused. It is okay to wonder how something could really be possible. It is okay to not completely be sure of something – whether it be The Trinity today or some other theological concept. It is okay to think that something is not adding up right. Jesus commissioned that as part of our ministry.
It is okay to doubt.
Number Two – Think outside the triangle.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not trying to bring down 2,000 years of Trinitarian Theology, but I am here to say that maybe we do not need to take the parameters of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (or Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer) and the three persons, one God so literally. Maybe when Jesus introduced us to The Trinity, he wanted us to simply know that there was more than one way to experience God.
Jesus knew that people were different from one another. He wanted people to be different from one another, that is what the Body of Christ is all about. But he also knew that if people were different from one another that they would experience God and express their faith different from one another as well. In the same way that people communicate differently, exercise differently, relax differently, cook differently and learn differently, people experience God differently.
I think The Trinity is more than just three persons, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I think that The Trinity gives us an opportunity to see the different ways that God is present in our lives. I think that The Trinity gives us the opportunities as Christians to discern how and where we are called to serve God and to be followers of Christ. I think that The Trinity pushes us past the notion that God is an elderly man with a great white beard to a place where God can be and do so much more for us and for the people that we serve.
I wonder if when Jesus commissioned the disciples to baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit he was really commissioning each generation to seek out and find different ways that God is present and alive? I wonder if when Jesus commissioned the disciples to baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit he was really commissioning each generation to seek out and find different ways that God is still speaking in their lives? I wonder if Jesus did this to ensure the fact that the church would constantly change as the world changed so that the church would remain a living, breathing entity?
I am not saying that we need to throw The Trinity out the window. But what I am saying is that maybe we need to stop thinking about what The Trinity is and start thinking about what it represents. Expressing belief in The Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Ghost – will not constrict you in your beliefs, rather it will free you to experience God in more than one way.
Think outside the triangle.
Third – and finally – remember that Jesus is always with you.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
What a powerful statement.
“Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”
You are never alone. Not in life, faith, ministry, discernment, joy or sadness.
I have mixed thoughts on creeds like the Apostles Creed (I believe in God, the Father Almighty …) and the Nicene Creed (We believe in God, the Father Almighty) and statements of faith (The UCC Statement of Faith starts off, “We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit, who is made known to us in Jesus our brother, and to whose deeds we testify …”. Like I said before, standing up and reciting a creed or a statement of faith that someone else has written seems to go against the notion of an individual faith. But I think creeds and statements of faith are more than that. I think they are another reminder – through the joining of voices here and in heaven – that Jesus is following through on his promise to never leave us alone.
Remember that Jesus is always with you.
This is hard stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you walked out of the sanctuary today, stopped and said, “Huh?” It’s a mystery! But at the same time I think it is an important time in the life of the Christian Church. It is important to honor and celebrate The Trinity, because it is something that Jesus us called us to live according to.
The Trinity is a mystery. But I think it is an important one to constantly be thinking about and struggling with. Think about it – every time we ask “how” or “why” we are spending time learning and growing in our faith.
And so I encourage you – as we finish our service of worship and celebration of The Trinity today and go forth into another week – to think about The Trinity. Think about the times that you have doubted and the lessons that you learned from those times. Think about how you experience God and how The Trinity opens up new ways to experience and communicate with God. And take comfort in the fact that you will never be alone in your journey.
The Trinity: It’s a mystery. It is an enigma. It is confusing at times. It does not always add up.
But it is beautiful. It is freeing. It brings us comfort and safety. And today we rejoice in the good news that Christ gave to us all that day.
My prayer for you today is that you all feel the overwhelming presence of the one Triune God.