+In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit+
Today is a Sunday unlike any other Sunday. Today is a Sunday when we celebrate and commemorate a doctrine…the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. When our 1979 Book of Common Prayer was being formulated, there were some who felt strongly that we should drop Trinity Sunday because we shouldn’t have feasts of doctrine. That party lost, and here we are today.
Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending my Saturday attending a workshop on preaching at, coincidentally, Trinity Church, in Lawrence, KS. There were probably 35 people there. I sat at a table with eight of my brother and sister deacons from West Missouri. During one of the breaks my friend Bryan England, from the cathedral, asked our table, “How many of you have to preach on Trinity Sunday?” Every hand went up.
Those hands went up because Trinity Sunday is one of those days that priests like to pass off to the deacon. When Father David and I did the preaching schedule for May he was more than happy to let me preach today. When I looked at the lessons I said, “Wait a minute, David…you’ve got me preaching on Trinity Sunday.” His usually furrowed brow relaxed and he smiled as he said, “Oh, you’ll do fine…just remember that more heretical sermons are delivered on Trinity Sunday than at any other time in the church year!” Be that the case, I’d like to remind Father David that it’s no coincidence when you look at the Calendar of Saints in the Prayer Book, that most of the deacons are described as ‘deacon and martyr’.
Trying to preach the Trinity is like herding cats. It’s a tough subject. Winston Churchill once described America as ‘a mystery wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in an enigma’. He could have very well been talking about the Trinity. We live in a world of threes…there are three outs in a half-inning of baseball, three bases, three strikes in an out, three outfielders. There’s nothing as rare as a triple play. There’s the trifecta in horse racing. Three races to win the Triple Crown. We grow up with threes…three little pigs. Three blind mice. The three billy goats gruff. The Three Stooges. In the Bible there’s Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo…Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. Jesus’ ministry lasted for three years, he rose from the dead after three days and we all know that he is the way, the truth and the life.
So…what of the trinity? How does one explain it? A fine example is water. Water is an element called hydrogen dioxide. It exists in three forms: liquid, solid and gas. Three forms, one essence. Time is another example. Past, present and future. Three forms, one essence. I like to joke with my son, who lives in Alaska, that he lives in the future. He’s on his way home now. When he arrived in Minneapolis last Sunday, and called me to let me know he’d arrived safely, I said, “Welcome to the present.”
So again…what of the trinity? In order to answer that question I have to ask another question: How do you explain a mystery? Author Frederick Buechner provides an answer that comes awfully close for me. He writes that this teaching affirms the Christian conviction that there is only One God. “Father, Son and Holy Spirit mean that the mystery beyond us, and the mystery among us and the mystery within us are all the same mystery. Thus, the Trinity is a way of saying something about us and the way we experience God.” So the trinity is about the experience of God the same way water and time are about the way we experience water and time.
Now, back to the workshop on preaching that I attended in Lawrence a few weeks ago. One of my fellow deacons remarked, “I preach on Trinity Sunday every year…don’t preach the trinity, preach the Gospel…” Our Gospel today is one of those succinct, simple stories, with an important, timeless lesson. It’s the so called Great Commission…go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This lesson, in fact, this Gospel of Matthew ends with the comforting words, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
My friends in Christ, right now a man lies in his own filth in a nursing home, abandoned by his family and friends. Jesus says to him: I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Right now a child is having a seizure in an incubator, an innocent victim of a mother addicted to crack. Jesus says to her: I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Right now a young couple is waking up in a loving embrace, sharing their first morning of married life. Jesus says to them: I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Right now a man is sitting alone in his car, a gun in his mouth, contemplating mistakes made and a life out of control. Jesus says to him: I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Right now someone is starting to mow their lawn. Jesus says to him: I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Right now a woman has just given birth. She and her husband and children weep with joy. Jesus says to them: I am with you always, until the end of the age.
Right now, somewhere, people sleep. Some of them sleep soundly and dream while some of them wake and pace with worry. Jesus says to them: I am with you always, until the end of the age.
Right now a man sitting in his car has just pulled the trigger. Jesus says to him: I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Right now a suicide bomber has blown up a bus in Tel Aviv. Jesus says to those people: I am with you always, until the end of the age.
Right now a little boy has just learned to ride his bike without training wheels. He laughs as he rides down the block, getting further and further from his house. He makes a big, clumsy turn and pedals back toward his dad. Jesus says to him: I am with you always, until the end of the age.
Right now a woman is getting dressed for church and she’s crying. She buried her husband last Thursday and this is the first Sunday in 38 years that she’s gone to church alone. Jesus says to her: I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Right now in this church, and thousands of other churches, people worship God. They sit with their friends and families. They sing, or try to sing. They pray and listen. Jesus says: I am with you always, to the end of the age.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus is asking each of us to go into the world to tell everyone what it means to discover oneself as a person, an individual, and how our personality and individualism is celebrated most forcefully when we live in unity with each other…the way God wants us to…my friend Tony Clavier describes it as being “possessed by the God who is unity in community and community in unity.”
My friends in Christ, may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you now and forever. AMEN