2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
For many years I considered Trinity Sunday a blip on the church calendar radar.
I made a mental note to make sure I had my white stole at the ready between the rare red of Pentecost and the ubiquitous green of Ordinary Time. Trinity Sunday is the day that forces the preacher and teacher to wrestle with the mystery of what it means to speak of the Triune God, three in one. Trinity Sunday, a liturgical occasion we could – with no protest from the congregation – skip entirely. Heck, who would notice, really? And yet, I find myself this year believing that Trinity Sunday is as important a Sunday as the one that comes before it: Pentecost. I am convicted that at least this year, Trinity Sunday may well be as important a Lord’s Day as Christmas or Easter. I am certain that, at least this year, we need to not tell it slant, as Emily Dickinson and Eugene Peterson instruct, but tell it straight and with prophetic boldness and clarity.
This Trinity Sunday, proclaim the truth that the God we worship is, in fact, the Triune God, three in one, a God of reciprocity and relationship, expansiveness and welcome, very much at work in the world creating, redeeming, sustaining and still speaking. Every year I come back to William C. Placher’s book, “The Triune God,” and every year it offers a new nugget pointing to the importance of the triune nature of our God. This time around I came across this, “In the incarnation, the three show that there is always within God a space large enough for the whole world, and even all its sin: the Word’s distance from the one he calls Father is so great that no one falls outside it, and the Spirit fills that space with love. The Spirit maintains … the space that Christ opens up ‘at our disposal, as a new, open space.’” This year, we need that new, open, love-filled space as much as at any time I have ever known.
As I write this, hundreds have been killed as a result of a bomb blast in Afghanistan. As I write this, headlines about Kathy Griffin’s gory photo of the president’s mock beheading fill my newsfeed. As I write this, the headlines about Texas legislators coming to blows on the floor of the state house are in the rearview mirror. (One elected official threatened to shoot another in the head.) In recent days, a candidate in Montana (now duly elected) was charged with assaulting a reporter. A noose was found at the African American History Museum in Washington, D.C. LeBron James’ home was vandalized with a racial slur. Ricky John Best and Taliesen Myrddin Namkai Meche are dead, stabbed to death because they stood up to a man yelling anti-Muslim slurs to two young women on a Portland, Oregon, train. A third man was injured. It is reported that Namkai Meche’s last words were, “Tell everyone on this train I love them.”
This year we desperately need to proclaim the truth of our Triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We need the world to know and feel and see and hear and experience the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Our sanctuaries need to be the new, open, love-filled spaces that create space for others within the embrace of the Trinity. We are called to bear the new, open, love-filled space of welcome to the world. Placher shares Daniel Migliores’s description of the Trinity, writing, “they ‘are incomparably hospitable to each other.’” Now is the time for us to be incomparably hospitable to each other as we emulate our God.
The two New Testament texts appointed for today are last words of love, too. They are benedictions, instructions and blessings – Paul’s and Jesus Christ’s. In 2 Corinthians Paul tells his brothers and sisters to put things in order and to agree with one another. Followers of Jesus Christ are to listen to Paul’s appeal and live in peace. Then comes the Triune blessing of grace, love and communion. I can’t help but wonder if the instructions and the blessing aren’t intimately related. Is grace made known to us through our ordered life together, a life of agreement in basic values, behaviors and truths? (For example: everyone is created in God’s image, forgive as we have been forgiven, love God and neighbor.) Does the love of God come to and through us as we live in peace, even within the conflicts, uncertainties and acrimony, committed to compassion and covenant relationship no matter our differences? Do we experience the communion of the Holy Spirit when we stop pounding the table and instead gather around it together to be nourished and nurtured by Word and Sacrament? I don’t know, but I do know our world desperately needs a witness counter to the one we are seeing over and over and over again all around us.
The Risen Christ tells the 11 to go to all nations; the instruction is expansive, unlimited, not bounded by any earthly category we may construct to divide. Go to all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teaching, too, all that Jesus has commanded. There is that expansive “all” again. No one and nothing are left out. Remembering that Jesus is with us always and to the end of the age – more expansion, more new, open, love-filled space within which to do the work of the Triune God, space big enough to include and embrace the world and all its sin, too.
Trinity Sunday provides the liturgical portal to enter into the mystery of our God. The theological heft of this week is unmistakable. The ink spilled on “economic” and “immanent” and “social” and “modal” and “filioque” is also expansive, and not unimportant. Read all about those nuances. Study them throughout the year. Read Placher’s book or, if you want to dig even deeper, tackle “After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity” by Miroslav Volf. (I may be finished with it by Trinity Sunday 2018.) Do some due diligence before you preach or teach on this most challenging of doctrines, but don’t get so far down the rabbit hole of creedal correctness that you forget to proclaim the Good News inherent in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
This year of all years be prophetic and clear, teaching all that Jesus commands those who’ve been baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Proclaim the new, open, love-filled space of our Triune God, the space where we are to love God with all we’ve got and our neighbors, all our neighbors, like ourselves. The world needs this Word, now. So, speak it, live it, wherever you are and wherever you go and however you are able. In those places of hate and violence, destruction and division, be the new, open, love-filled space that exists within the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the space “so great that no one falls outside of it.” No one.
- How can you create spaces that are new and open and love filled? Where in your congregation or community are these spaces most needed?
- Placher writes about perichoresis: “Where chora means space or room, the verb chorein means (among other things) to make room for. The Trinitarian theology, the three persons, in what the tradition has come to call their perichoresis, make room for each other.” How do we emulate our God and make room for one another?
- Take each instruction from 2 Corinthians and try to practice one instruction with intention every day this week. For example, take “agree with one another” and see how you can apply it in your daily living.
- What images of the Trinity do you find most helpful? Challenging?
- Compare Jesus’ instruction in the last verses of Matthew to those he gives his disciples earlier in Matthew’s Gospel. Take a look at Matthew 10:5 and 24:14, for example. What differences and similarities do you notice? What do you make of those differences?
- Look in the index of whichever hymnal you use under “Trinity.” Read through those hymns and notice the theology contained in them. What themes do you notice? Any important themes missing?
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