Sunday, June 19, 2011

Talking Trinity: A Sermon for Trinity Sunday

Icon of the Trinity by Rublev

A Sermon for Trinity Sunday
Preached at Christ the King Chapel, Ralston, AB, CFB Suffield 19 June 2011
Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a, Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” 2 Corinthians 13:13

Those words, my text for today, are from our second lesson, the last words of Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. These words end the letter, they are Paul’s farewell as the Apostle wraps up his instruction to this fledging church and commends it to God’s care. Even if this is the first time you’ve heard of Second Corinthians, you’ve heard those words twice today. Remember the first time you heard them today? Right. You heard them at the start of our communion service this morning. In fact, these words are used to open the communion service in many Christian denominations. In liturgical terms, these words are often called “The Apostolic Greeting”. Some Christians, as they do in the Anglican tradition, echo Paul’s parting blessing by saying these words together at end of a meeting, bible study, etc. Beginnings and ends, farewells and greetings, these words have a way of looping together and uniting us across the centuries with those first Christians long ago and far away, uniting us in the names of the three-person God who calls us, loves us, and sends us forth into the world he created and gave to us. So they are ancient words, powerful words, and they are worth the effort to unpack and think about what it means to be a people who gather in the strange name of this threefold God.

Today is called Trinity Sunday by many denominations. Traditionally the preacher’s task on this day is to try and say something about the mysterious Christian doctrine of the Trinity, and while I have used some Trinitarian language already (“the three person God”), I’m not going to try to explain it to you. For one thing, it’s, well, it’s a mystery that has taxed the best theologians for centuries. For another thing, I can’t do better than Paul does in our text today. He names the three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he says something important about each of them, and he ends by saying something about us that’s just as important.

Grace, love, communion. Paul uses three words to say something about the three persons of the Trinity. He says “the grace” of Jesus Christ. “Grace” means something profound that is freely given when it is underserved, and the best example of it is Jesus’ self-giving on the cross. Another grace moment is seen in today’s gospel, when Jesus gathers all the disciples, including the ones who doubted, and promises to be with them. I like the fact that I don’t have to be perfectly good, or perfectly faithful, to be a follower of Jesus.

Paul says “the love of God”. Love, like grace, is unearned, a profound gift. The creation story from Genesis is a good example of God’s love. The world that God loved enough to send his son to (John 3:16) is the same world that God created, and filled with light and life and good things. Into this world God places humans, so that we might now God and have the gift of life and the vocation of caring for the world God made. Much theological ink has been spilled over the phrase “God created humankind in his image Gen 1:26) but if the nature of God is the relationship of God’s three persons, then we are made to be in relationship with God and with one another, and that’s a great gift.

Paul says “the communion” of the Holy Spirit. Communion, from which we derive our words “community” and “union”, speak to the idea of relationship. We see this in practice from the other things Paul says in his farewell to the Christians in Corinth: lead an ordered life, live in peace with one another, and to the basics of the faith. We follow these instructions in such things as saying the creed together (“agree with one another”) and share the peace together (“greet one another with a holy kiss”). The communion of the Spirit makes the church possible, because we know from our Christian lives that we can’t believe and live on our own. We need the teaching, the example, the encouragement and the help of our fellow Christians.
Finally Paul says something about us. He ends his farewell with the prayer that God and these qualities of God “be with you all”. Those words apply to all of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, whatever denomination or flavour we may be. They remind us that God’s love and God’s gifts are freely given to all who want them, and it’s only when we fall into disunity and prejudice that we go astray. To underscore this point, we remind ourselves of this fact in the greeting that begins our worship, when the leader says these words and the congregation answers “and also with you”. That may seem strange when you think about it, since one would think that the worship leader already has some privileged relationship with God, but in fact the congregation’s response is necessary, a concrete and verbal reminder that all are included within the community of God. A community that is trained to say “(may God be) also with you” is a community that is open to sharing the faith with anyone who wants to join.

Grace, love, communion. It’s worth that communion is a syntactical relative of another word, communication. The words of St. Paul have their context in communication, as a farewell in a letter to people he obviously cares deeply about. In our worship today we’ve used them as a greeting, priest and people, one with another as the people of God. There’s a graciousness about these words and about the intentions behind them that transcend mere politeness, which is itself a rarer and rarer thing these days. The next time you go to a Tim Hortons, listen to how the people in line place their orders – “Gimme a ….” rather than “May I please have …”. Christians are often perceived by the world as scolding, moralistic and hypocritical, but we’re not, or at least we shouldn’t be. Our words and our actions should be something more than polite. In our relationships with one another, God has designed us to model the relationships within the persons of God – grace, love, and communion. So the words and greetings we exchange in our worship are training for the words and greetings we use in life. May we be people of the Trinity, filled with grace, love and communion in all we say and do.

No comments:

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


Blog Archive