Today is no ordinary church day. It’s Trinity Sunday. Or "Heresy Sunday" as some call it because of all the bad sermons given to explain a Triune God. Martin Luther famously said, “To try to deny the Trinity endangers your salvation, but to try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity.”
The protestors, who are exercising their right on the streets probably don't care what liturgical day it is. They just want justice and equal rights for all people. The folks who are saying their goodbyes to someone they love because of this viral pandemic are probably not thinking about how God is 3-in-1. They just want to know where God is or what God is planning on doing to stop the pain and suffering from Covid-19.
If you have lost your job or your retirement savings because of the economic turmoil, does it really matter that scholars have spent centuries trying to make sense of one particular statement Jesus made when he gave his final blessing to the remaining 11 disciples? I doubt it.
If you’re like me then you just want to know that God knows who I am and what I need. I’m struggling daily just to answer my call to be more like Christ. I don’t need church doctrine to make it harder. And yet to live into my faith and to evolve as a follower of Christ, I have to acknowledge and figure out what Jesus meant at the end of Matthew’s gospel even if it endangers my mental wellbeing.
Our reading today comes from Matthew 28:16-20
“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.
Considered to be one of the most important teachings in Christian faith, the doctrine of the Trinity is also one of the most difficult to understand. It suggests that God is most perfectly revealed as Three parts in One substance. It’s a mathematical conundrum and divine mystery that surrounds the person or persons of God.
Over the years I’ve seen people use all kinds of creative ways to describe the Trinity. Some have used water. It’s not only a liquid but also a gas, and a solid. Three different ways God is revealed to us and yet still God. But water can be polluted and contaminated, whereas God cannot. So that one falls short for me.
Then there’s the egg analogy. It has a shell, a yoke, and that clear gooey stuff; three parts yet one egg. But if you’re making an Angel Food cake, then you know you only need the egg whites; the shell and yoke get tossed out. The problem here is it’s impossible to separate God from God.
The most famous illustration is probably the one from St. Patrick who held up a shamrock and asked the Irish pagans, "Is it one leaf or three?" They would reply "It is both one leaf and three." Patrick would conclude, "And so it is with God." But the Trinity is more complex, and the shamrock doesn’t explain exactly how each part interconnects.
My friend Dawn advised me not to over think it. She said it’s as simple as a name. “I am Ian. I am a husband, a father, and a son, but I am still Ian.” Yet I am so much more than that.
Which tells me there’s more to what Jesus is talking about in Matthew’s epilogue. You see, there’s a reason Jesus meets his disciples on some unnamed mountain in Galilee. And it’s not to give them a doctrine, but final instructions on what he expects them to do after he ascends. The time has come for them to take his gospel to all the nations – baptizing and teaching them so they can go and do the same.
Now if Jesus is giving them a doctrine, then it’s one that they will have to go and figure out on their own – in the way they care for the widows and orphans, tend to the sick and dying, bringing justice and mercy to the poor and oppressed. It will come out in their willingness to spill their own blood for the wild notion that the Holy Spirit had gathered them into the life of God who in Christ was making peace with the world.
Likewise, I don’t think Jesus sent them out to perform the ritual of baptism, at least not like it’s practiced today. I’m sure Jesus knew that racism cannot be fixed by dunking everyone in water. Saying the words, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” will not magically stop people from hating and harming others who are different from them. Although, both are worth trying.
Baptism, like what John was doing in the Jordan, was preparing people to enter into the Temple. Jesus is the new Temple, the place where we go to meet God. I believe Jesus sent his disciples out to prepare all people to be a place where God comes alive in them.
Jesus calling them to go and fill others with the same empowering Spirit of God that he gave his disciples. Likewise, we are to go be the light of love in the darkness of the world by caring for the hurt and broken, the weak and the oppressed.
Jesus invited his disciples to share the power of divine life. He sent them out to every tribe and community... so that everyone in the world would come to know God, and God’s redemptive grace given through Christ by the Holy Spirit.
Which brings us to where we are today, and where this church is headed. (refering New Church Sherman Oaks) At Bible Study last Wednesday, Rev. Bob announced that he going to be teaching about Discipleship and what it means to take Jesus as his word.
As Bob explained, a disciple is just an ancient word for student. The Christian disciple, therefore, is a student of Christ. And Jesus is our teacher. Our goal, then, is to learn from him and live out his teachings in such a way that the world can’t help but see Christ in their midst.
Like I told my daughter a couple of weeks ago, we never really graduate because we are always learning. As students of life we are constantly watching, taking notes, asking questions, making mistakes and hopefully growing from them. Discipleship is no different. You don’t have to be a priest or a saint. Or fully understand doctrine or perform rituals. You just need to show up.
As disciples, we are be both learners and practitioners of Christ, students who rely heavily on God’s mercy and grace. By living out the gospel, especially in places where it lacks, people are able to see Christ alive in you and learn how to be like him. For example, Jesus taught people the way of peace by being peace – not by beating peace into people. We don’t beat people back to God, we show them the way by practicing the way of Christ.
In a world steeped in injustice, hatred, bigotry, violence and nationalism this can be hard to do. No one knows that better than Jesus, whose life was lived under constant threat be it occupying forces or the religious elites of his own church.
Thus, he doesn’t leave us powerless but instead gives us a power that is greater than that of the world. Not the power that dominate or harms others, but a power that loves and forgives and cares for the needs of all. The power of God’s own love, mercy and grace.
In following Jesus, the Son, we can be immersed into the whole being of God, the Father, whose Divine power, the Holy Spirit, flows in us and moves through us and all around us. You can call it a doctrine. But I call it the Good News. The gospel according to Jesus the Christ.
If we want to know what the Trinity is all about, then we need to look no further than ourselves, where God has chosen to take up residency.
The doctrine and rituals are worked out when we accept Jesus’ invitation to actually follow him, and embrace this wild notion that the Holy Spirit has gathered us to God who in Christ is restoring peace to the world.
Like Jesus, we become the fullness of God’s glory – drawing people back to God by being people of God. The same God who is God for us as our God the Creator.
The same God who is God with us as our God the Incarnate Savior.
And the same God who is God in us as our God the Holy Sustainer.
This trifecta of one divine presence in one divine life is ours if we want it, now and until the end of the ages.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 44-49.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”