Sunday, May 31, 2015

Trinity Sunday: Reconciled to the Trinity in Unity

Lectionary: Isaiah 6:1-8; Canticle 13; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

We were told in seminary that Trinity Sunday would be the hardest day on the church calendar to preach. Word is… many rectors pawn this day off on alternative preachers – the deacon, a licensed lay reader, a guest preacher … Well, it’s my turn to preach according to our annual preaching ROTA, so that’s what I’m gonna do.

The truth is, I don’t find this the hardest day to preach. I find every Sunday hard to preach. For me, it isn’t the topic, it’s the process. It’s always a challenge to get out of the way, to surrender my thoughts, open my heart and receive the message God wants to speak.

The temptation is to give “good” sermons that comfort and inspire when sometimes God calls for faithful sermons that may be unsettling or disturbing. Anyway, preachers don’t get to choose – if we’re being faithful to our ministry. As the saying goes, sometimes we’re called to comfort the disturbed, and sometimes to disturb the comfortable.

The fear, on Trinity Sunday, is heresy. We all have them – and preachers are likely to reveal ours during our attempts to discuss the mystery of God.

I don’t worry about that because I’m quite certain that I can’t think my way through the mystery of God who is Trinity in Unity, and I’m not really motivated to try. The Quiqunque Vult, also known as the creed of St. Athanasius (on page 864 in our BCP), does that better than I could ever hope to do and I’m satisfied with his attempt.

What I enjoy is reading that creed - out loud – and letting the words “happen” to me. At some point, my brain surrenders and my heart opens to the truth being revealed. If you haven’t done so lately, I recommend reading the Athanasian creed – out loud – as a spiritual meditation.

The online discussions about Trinity Sunday have been hysterical – everything from preaching Trinity through interpretive dance to a YouTube video called “St. Patrick’s bad analogies” ( which does a really good job of explaining some of our most beloved and still held heresies. It is a production of the Lutheran Church and well worth the watch.

I said earlier that we all have heresies and I could practically feel some of you bristle (…‘No, I don’t’). But unless you can recite the Quiquncque Vult, it’s nearly impossible to avoid heresy when trying to talk about God who is Trinity in Unity. Human concepts and words are simply inadequate to the task. As Brother Robert L’Esperance from the SSJE says: “The Trinity is useful as a way of keeping us silent before the mystery of God.”

My heresy? Patripassianism, a Sabellian heresey which says that God the Father suffered as the Son. I can go there… though I can’t go as far as Sabellian went with the rest of his theology which, I agree, strayed too far from the truth, which makes it heresy.

Even our beloved St. Patrick of Ireland couldn’t do it. His discussion of the Trinity using the analogy of a shamrock actually fails as the heresy of Modalism (the church councils never condemned the heresy of “partialism” as the video calls it). The shamrock analogy fails because it denies the distinctiveness of the three persons of the Trinity.

Then, there’s the Bible Belt’s favorite heresy, often called “Jesus-olatry” which is a modern form of Tritheism combined with Modalism and a hint of Appolonaarianism. Right? Here’s what I mean: Jesus-alotry overemphasizes the distinction of the persons of the Trinity, prioritizing one (Jesus) over the other two because of what he did, and rendering the Unity of the Trinity little more than an intellectual abstraction.

The thing is, heresies are simply teachings that either don’t get close enough to the truth or go too far and dash right past the truth. They are an inevitable outcome when trying to faithfully nail down mystery using human concepts and words.

Imperfect teachings about God can be helpful, however, as in St. Patrick’s shamrock. It’s still a helpful way to begin.

And since heresies can’t undo our Baptism or our salvation, we can relax, remembering Jesus’ words from our gospel reading: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Can anyone tell me the citation for this? It follows what I call “the football citation” most everyone knows… Right – it’s John 3:17. Always know John 3:17 because here is the comfort we have when we feel like Isaiah did in the presence of God: “Woe is me! I am… a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.”

The background for this story is that Isaiah has been doing what a prophet does – denouncing the people of Judah for their sin and warning them of judgement. Then Isaiah has a mystical experience, finding himself in the presence of God, and he is confronted with his own sinfulness, his own inadequacy. They are not the only ones sinning, i.e., separating themselves from God.

So God acts to free Isaiah from that which separates him from God, sending a seraph (a 6-winged being) to ritually cleanse him. And this is the theme that carries through our lectionary readings on this Trinity Sunday: God acts to reconcile us – to make us one with God who is Trinity in Unity.

In the reading from Romans, Paul reminds us God’s Spirit is one with our spirit making us one with God. In the last line in this reading Paul says: “…in fact, we suffer with [Christ, Paul says,] so that we may be glorified with him.” This actually translates from the Greek as “so that we may be glorified together” and it implies a union, a co-existence.

God acts to reconcile us – to make us one with God who is Trinity in Unity.

And in our gospel reading, Jesus is visited by the Pharisee, Nicodemus, who comes to him at night (Bible-talk for darkness of mind, or ignorance). Nicodemus opens the conversation with a complimentary statement: “…we know you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Jesus replies with what seems like a non sequitur: “No one can see the kingdom without being born from above.” Huh?

Then Jesus launches into a discussion of flesh (Bible-talk for matter) and spirit, leaving Nicodemus, who is a faithful Pharisee, but spiritually ignorant, exasperated: “How can these things be?” he asks.

Jesus sounds a little frustrated too as he responds to Nicodemus, until he reconnects with a story from their Scripture: Moses lifting up the bronze serpent so that God can heal the people who are dying in the wilderness (Bible-talk for their lost-ness, their separated-ness).

Now, God is acting again, Jesus says, only when the Son of Man is lifted up, “…whoever believes in him [will] have eternal life…” that is, life in the eternal presence of God. Jesus then offers this powerful conclusion about God who acts as God has always acted - to reconcile us – to make us one with God who is Trinity in Unity: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? And it’s our Good News. God desires that the world might be protected, healed, and made whole (which is what that Greek “saved” translates as) through the Son.

Speaking of Good News, did you share your story of the mighty deed God has done in your life with someone outside the church last week? (This is the deadline, you know) I’d love for us to share with each other about how that went, because sharing the Good News is how we participate with Christ in the ministry of reconciliation.

We may not be able, or even motivated, to think our way through the mystery of God, so we can just relax, surrender our minds, and open our hearts to God, and be eternally one with the Trinity who is Unity. Amen.

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