Sermon for May 18, 2008
Sermon for May 18, 2008
Genesis 1:1-2:4a, II Corinthians 13:11-13, and Matthew 28:16-20
In the Lutheran church this is Trinity Sunday. It is a Sunday set aside to reflect on the doctrine of the Trinity as we have spent the last few months sharing the story of Jesus and the coming of the spirit in the book of Acts. As the stories are now concluded, we have three views of God as creator, Jesus, and a spirit or advocate.
In the coming weeks we will have the season of the church, a time in which we focus on our response to God. So in this crease in time, between the activity of God and our response to that activity, we have a moment to reflect on God before we go more deeply into the Christian life throughout the summer and fall.
I am reasonably sure that no one came to church today because they were excited by the doctrine of the Trinity. I suspect that any Sunday devoted to a doctrine rather than to God’s activity or to human ethics will not be particularly exciting. We may frankly not even use the doctrine of the Trinity as we construct our own lives of faith.
So the day may seem irrelevant. Words about the Trinity may move us into the past rather than the present. So I spent some time this week reading old books about the Trinity. I still think the best book I have about the Trinity is Early Christian Doctrines (Harper, New York) written by an Oxford scholar, J. Kelly in 1958. I read it for the first time in 1975. And I briefly skimmed it again in preparation for this morning in my attempt to find some way to excite us about the Trinity again.
Surprisingly, Kelly was helpful. Every time I read the story of the church forming the doctrine, I am impressed with how the doctrine was born out of differences of opinion and struggling committee work. The Council of Nicea out of which the doctrine comes is a slice of church history that reminds us that Christians do not agree with each other in matters of life and faith.
Back in the fourth century and now as well, there is a time to consider, a time to disagree, a time of consolidation, a time to vote, and a time of moving on. This is the way it is in church life. Then as now, the moving on really did not settle the matter. The doctrine still winds its disagreeable way through history with various successes and failures. This is so because we still need to focus attention on God and our response to God’s activity.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three persons in one. Christ fully human and divine. These are the phrases of Nicea, the phrases of our creeds, the elements of the doctrine of the Trinity. Although we may struggle with them in some ways, Trinitarian vision may still be useful to us.
At its core, the Trinity holds that God is beyond understanding. We are unable to grasp the full extent of God. This mystery is maintained in the complexity of three in one. It is an impossible thing to understand. Its impossibility reminds us that we should act gently and humbly when we approach divine things. When we come into the presence of God, we really do not have a corner on the truth. Neither do others. God is beyond us all.
Second, the formation of the creed reminds us that in the church we struggle about things that are important, we form councils or committees, debate, consider, blend together, vote, and move to the next issue. We’ve been doing that as a church for a long time. It is not surprising that the early church which spent so much time in councils and committees debating, negotiating and developing the Trinity doctrine, ultimately described God not as one person, but as a thriving, active, engaging three-person committee. God is not a being, but a household of activity, a three person task force called for the purpose of the redemption of creation.
Third, the creative dimension of God reminds us to focus on creativity and creation. We did that in the first lesson today. Creation is a gift given to us to enjoy and to protect. We live in a time when we need to recover creation theology and ethics.
And the creative dimension of God reminds us to focus on creativity as our own gift. Let us celebrate the creativity that is part of our Madison identity. Art, music, sewing, gardening, administration, parenting (everything, it seems except accounting) requires at least some creativity. Creativity is a gift. It is delight. It accomplishes things.
Fourth, the doctrine of the Trinity reminds us to think about Jesus in a theological way. We may not be so enthused about “Son of God” language these days. But in the Biblical story, Jesus is actually Plan D in God’s recovery project. Let’s see, the Noah project did not work out as planned. The family of Abraham project did not work out as planned, either. The holy nation project did not turn out particularly well. The Trinitarian Jesus is actually God’s fourth attempt at recovery of the universe: God’s plan D. Out of love, compassion, caring, and persistence, out of the need to recover, you also may require more than a Plan B or even a Plan C. You too may need a Plan D to accomplish love and care.
Finally, one of the primary characteristics of the Holy Spirit is sustenance. The Holy Spirit is God sustaining us in our mission and lives. God continues to be with us. Sustenance is an important issue. We are having food shortages. We wonder about our planet’s capacity to sustain life. We seek to be sustainable in our efforts. Many people in places like China, Tibet, Burma, and Palestine remind us of the importance of sustaining efforts in the face of human and natural crisis. Our mission at St. Johns is to help those in need in the heart of our city as they try to find sustainable lives again. We sustain a lot of things here. In this sustenance we are sustained ourselves by the spirit of God.
Today, we Lutherans quietly note, how the church struggles with complex issues. We sense that God is beyond knowing, that creativity and creation bring joys and responsibilities, that Jesus is God trying over and over again, and that we too are sustained in our weariness and have our joy restored. Or as someone once said, “May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit bless and keep you now and forever.”