First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Neil H. Wilson, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720
231-547-9122


The Challenge of the Trinity

~ Sermon ~ Sunday, June 11th, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

The Challenge of the Trinity

Matthew 28:16-20

Trinity Sunday, along with Transfiguration Sunday, is one of the trickier dates on which to preach.  It may require as much spiritual and intellectual bending and contortions as Hugh Hansen’s Tai Chi from last Sunday. (Thanks you Hugh!)  While there has been much ink spilled over the doctrine of the Trinity, much of what has been written is beyond comprehension and therefore doesn’t lend itself well to preaching! 

Gregory of Nazianzus (4th century) would say of the Trinity, “No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Three than I am carried back into the One. When I think of any of the Three, I think of Him as the Whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that One so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.”

Yet this magnificent and mystical relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that cohesive yet distinct community of faith, has much to say about the way in which the different “persons” (to employ the traditional anthropomorphic terms) of the Godhead relate to each other and to the created order. 

What are the purposes and point of the Creator,  of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit? 

How are we to understand them and learn from them?

To say nothing of the challenges of thinking of God as in human terms Parent (the Father/Mother discussion),

– the nature of Jesus (fully human and fully divine),

 – and the role and place of the Holy Spirit (the most mystical and the one often approached with great suspicion of the Trinitarian  trifecta). 

With a topic where mystery abounds, the challenge is to say something that speaks to the people today about Who God is, and what God is for, as much as to say anything about the ‘Why’ of God.  Mystery and majesty, attempting to know the unknowable, leading worship on Trinity Sunday deals with doubt and question, as much as it deals with any certainty and answers.

First, and this may negate the rest of what I have to say for some of you, the “doctrine” of the Trinity is a theological formula the church took several decades to develop. It may be hinted at in scripture but it is nowhere is a Trinitarian relationship spelled out with any clarity, nor is the term Trinity found in the Bible. 

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is about synergy.  We are meant to think of how things interact with each other, and what that interaction propels us to do.  The end of Matthew’s gospel is fraught with significance for the Church and Christians everywhere. Matthew’s gospel, from the beginning, has told the story of Jesus and His life and ministry, now the Church and the Christians who incarnate the Church are called to make their response to Jesus. We are to reflect inwardly and look at the transformation our faith continues to make upon our lives.  We act outwardly and move in ways that demonstrate our faith put into action.  Faith’s inward reflection is evidenced in an outward response.

Note, however, the context of these verses.  After the resurrection events and the fear and wonder surrounding them, we are told the surviving eleven disciples went to the mountain in Galilee (where they had been told to go by Jesus.) There they worshiped Jesus, though “some doubted.”  Faith is rarely one steadily progressive sunny upwards path of assurance, belief and commitment.  We would not be human if we did not admit to some doubt and darkness and falling away.  As one commentator notes, disciples waver between adoration and indecision, between prayer and puzzlement.

What we might also note from this passage is that in some ways the conclusion mirrors the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. The promise of Jesus, embodied in His name Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23-24) is God with us.  Here in the closing verses of the gospel, God in Jesus promises to be with us always.  The underlying purpose of the Trinity is unity and community, and it is underlined again.

This triune community in which we are engaged is one that compels us to reach out.  First with the gift of baptism: where we are named in the community of God’s presence. The gift of baptism in the name of the Trinity marks our formal entry into the community of faith, and confirms publicly the loving approval in which God already holds us.  With Matthew’s invocation of the Trinity it would not be helpful to assume that he is referencing the complex doctrines worked out in the controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries C. E..  His inspiration is to link together the three names of Godhead and the community of love from which all life emanates.

It is known that ‘naming’ was of great significance in the Hebrew world: it denoted both power and presence.  Baptism is therefore no empty ritual – it is an emblem of entrance into the lively gathering of worshipers who commit to the love of God.

After baptism, the Trinitarian community that is the Church is to teach and follow.  We discover and share what we believe, and remain open to the further promptings of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the practice of faith evolves.  We are commanded to go out ‘to all nations’.  The community of the Trinity is not exclusive: it is inclusive.  Our authority is not our own but God’s, we achieve nothing on our own, but all becomes possible when God is involved.

The Parent, Creator is still creating, still imagining, still calling life into existence.

The Son, Emmanuel is still with us redeeming and saving.

The Sustainer is still moving and emboldening.

The Church, scarred but healing, broken but repairing, shattered but gathering,

 continues with faith in God.  A Godhead known to us, experienced by us, in a triad of ways accessing presence and power that does not coerce but serves and persuades and welcomes.

To follow, to serve and to welcome a Trinity of action!

This more than anything else, more than trying to comprehend it’s mystery, the challenge of the Trinity is to live into this way of community and communion with one another!

****   ****   ****

PRAYERS OF THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION

Holy God, Father/Mother, Son and Holy Spirit,

Creator, Redeemer and Comforter,

Here in this place and at this time, we offer our thanks.

The words of our mouths, the thoughts in our minds,

   the feelings of our hearts.

In awe we thank You for all that You have given to us,

And all that you accomplish through us and even despite us.

For the blessing of gathering and community we thank You.

Hear our prayers for those still on the outside and living in isolation.

 

For the blessing of imagination and inspiration we thank You.

Hear our prayers for those whose minds are closed down

 and whose lives are listless.

 

For the blessing of joy and good health we thank You.

Hear our prayers for those living with sadness,

  and struggling with pain and frailty.

 

Threefold God, we pray that You will continue to bless

Our world,

Our nation,

And our Church.

Distinct yet united;  . . . Diverse yet interwoven;

Call Your people, all Your people into the communion of Your love,

Where each is named and known,

And this we pray

In the love of the Father,

The healing of the Son,

And the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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