Featured Sermon: Trinity Sunday – Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett
Trinity Sunday 2017
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. (Matthew 28:19-20a)
Along with all the things happening in our nation and the world and all the things happening closer to our parish and our own families this week — and goodness knows there was a lot to take in — something important was happening in the wider Episcopal Church that is worth our noting this Sunday.
Friday the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church began a three day meeting. Executive Council meets quarterly to carry out the programs and policies developed in our General Convention and to oversee the ministry and mission of the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal News Service yesterday reported on the opening remarks by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings. (http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/…/presiding-bishop-foll…/)
Bishop Curry spoke plainly about the moment in history in which we find ourselves. He said that such a time as this is a “strange national, cultural and global moment – when things are being turned upside down, when old patterns don’t work anymore, when the old rules don’t even seem to apply anymore, truth doesn’t seem to be what the truth used to be, and all of a sudden what’s wrong is right. All of a sudden, even Christianity is co-opted by injustice, by lack of compassion, by inhumanity, by indecency.”
We have spoken often here at Church of the Resurrection in recent months about what is happening: the apparent acceptance of hateful speech and actions in our national political arena, our failure to address the urgent climate crisis, the violence exhibited by gun deaths right here in Omaha and acts of terrorism around the world, the wide divide between the very rich and the working poor. Bishop Curry is right to name the truth that even people who might consider themselves Christians have been lured into supporting injustice, lack of compassion, inhumanity, and indecency. Too many Christian churches, and even some parishes in the Episcopal branch of Christianity, gather on Sunday mornings without ever speaking of these things. Some are afraid of offending major donors; some are afraid of upsetting people who don’t want to acknowledge or think about what is happening; some are simply too tired to offer up anything new, anything that speaks to a particular moment or a particular place. And too many self-identified Christians go through the week saying and doing things that are the opposite of what Jesus would have us say and do, making choices dictated by fear and selfishness rather than choices dictated by faith and compassion.
I’m so grateful for parishes like this one and for Christians like most of our sisters and brothers in this community, and I’m also grateful to have leaders in this time both in our diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church who have the energy and courage to speak the truth and name the moment.
We know how important it is to see the world as it is in all its wonder and all its woes. We know how important it is to see and remember the marginalized people in our society who are so easily not seen by others. And we know how important it is to have a living faith that points to the kingdom of God and helps us find the strength and wisdom and love to live into God’s kingdom in all aspects of our daily lives.
Today is Trinity Sunday, a day that reminds us that just as it’s important to see and name the world as it is, it’s important to understand and name God in all of God’s fullness.
In the words of the ancient Athanasian Creed [that you can find in the section of Historical Documents in the back of The Book of Common Prayer], the church teaches:
That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance.
That is: we worship one God that is somehow three Persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and those three Persons are somehow One. We don’t confound or mix up those three Persons but are clear about their separate identities, and yet we also don’t say that they are substantially — in the true meaning of the word, in their Substance — divided from one another.
What does any of this matter? At this point in human history, it matters very much that we not tempt people — others or ourselves — to dismiss God and faith because the only God they’ve heard anyone talk about is a lesser god that would be no great loss. If we forget that all three Persons of the Trinity are essential, our understanding of God can easily become an understanding of a small god.
If we forget Jesus and the Holy Spirit, it’s easy to slip into seeing God as distant and unconcerned with us (except perhaps to judge us severely from time to time); if we forget God the Father and the Spirit, it’s easy to slip into seeing Jesus as a great teacher but nothing more, or as a pal who asks little in the way of discipleship; and if we forget God the Father and Jesus and focus solely on the Spirit, it’s easy to become unmoored from our tradition and have only our own experience as a spiritual guide. In all cases, God becomes smaller. Instead of a Living God whose fullness exceeds our powers of language and comprehension, we would instead find a lesser god that is more easily comprehended and also much more easily dismissed.
In his recent book The Divine Dance, Franciscan author Fr. Richard Rohr suggests that we look not so much at the traditional question of how one God can be three Persons, but at the complementary question asked by some Christian mystics and the tradition of the Eastern Church: How can the Three be One? He writes “Don’t start with the One and try to make it into Three, but start with he Three and see that this is the deepest nature of the One.” (p. 43, The Divine Dance)
What we find when we begin with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and ask how they can be One is that God is not a single object to be grasped by our minds, but that the essence of God is relationship, a “flow” of divine energy. “God is love” said the apostle John in his First Epistle, and that may be about as good a summary of the Living Trinitarian God as any other.
God is love. My sisters and brothers, the church now faces a moment unlike any other moment in human history. Along with all the challenges that have been with us a long, long time — violence, Illness, poverty, heartbreak, warfare, political and cultural oppression — we have unleashed the destructive forces of nuclear weapons and of rapidly accelerating climate change.
Pray that the church will meet this moment with theological integrity and truth, because the only way we are going to get through this is by sticking closely to the true God and going out into the world as bearers of God’s truth. We are disciples not of some tame god who sits above a bland world, but of the Living God who does not hesitate to step into our disorder and despair and work powerfully through us in ways we cannot imagine on our own.
Our Gospel passage for today is the passage assigned for Trinity Sunday because it makes the Trinitarian formula — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit — explicit, but the context of that trinitarian formula is what makes this a powerful message for us here today. “Go therefore” says Jesus “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.” Jesus is telling his followers to bear Christian witness — to go out and tell the truth.
Just about every day brings some new piece of news that makes our world look less stable and less secure than ever. The world needs authentic Christian witness more than ever, and we need to be truthful to ourselves and others about what is happening in the world in order to bear that witness. We also need to be truthful about God. In the short term, it may be easier to ignore what is happening and pretend none of it matters. In the short term, it may be easier to tell ourselves that God is something “less than”, to pretend that God is small enough for us to understand and utilize as needed. The powers that be tempt us to be numb to the needs of others and numb to God’s love. But in the long term, to serve in the world as faithful disciples and to teach others about the God of love, and to have a chance at restoring the stability and security we are lacking, we must open our eyes to see clearly the realities of the world and open our hearts and minds to God through prayer and study. Then we can shake off the temptation to numbness and be honest both about what the world is like and about who God is.
God is love — a “fountain fullness of love” in the words of St. Bonaventure. (Rohr, The Divine Dance, p. 430 How do we respond to a fountain fullness of love? Jesus said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22: 37b-39) We respond to God’s love by sharing love.
Our job in these difficult days is the same as the job of Christians in every age: to bear witness to the fullness of God’s love in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Preached by Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett at Church of the Resurrection, Omaha, Nebraska June 11, 2017