A sermon for Trinity Sunday

Today is the first Sunday after Pentecost and is called Trinity Sunday.

On Trinity Sunday, we’re presented with prayers and scripture readings that accentuate our already very trinitarian worship. We opened our service with a blessing to the divine persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We prayed in thanksgiving for the gift of the revelation of the true faith in those person, and pray that we would be brought into perfect community with them. 

Then we heard readings, especially from the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Romans that emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing us into the Father and Son’s perfect relationship.

In just a moment, we’ll turn to the Eucharist where we’ll also hear Trinitarian language about how sharing in Christ’s body and blood bring us into the eternal unity of the Father and Son through the Spirit. Finally, we’ll be blessed in the name of the three divine persons at the end of the service. Our liturgy is saturated with the Trinity.

Indeed, as Anglicans we demonstrate the importance, the weight be place on the acclamation and participation in the Triune God every time we celebrate the Eucharist. 

And yet, I’m sure many of you have heard the old rector’s gag, make the associate or curate preach on Trinity Sunday. It’s a time honored mans for hazing young clergy, because, apparently, the Trinity is an undesirable topic for preaching.

Along these lines, I once heard a priest opine that we have a whole Sunday devoted to a doctrine.

So, friends, why do we have a Sunday set aside for the Trinity, and why are some priests, apparently unwilling to preach on this occasion? Why this wan and lackadaisical attitude toward the belief and affirmation of the fact that our God is three in one? 

For the record, I love preaching on Trinity Sunday.

Now, that might be unsurprising to those of you that know me. You might be expecting me to give a dense lecture on the virtues and complications of the doctrine of the holy Trinity.

But instead, I want to talk about children’s literature. Shocking, I know. In fact, I want to say something controversial about children’s literature.

Perhaps some of you recall the Percy Jackson series of books that came out in the last decade. For those that haven’t heard of them, or aren’t familiar with the premise of the series, think Clash of the Titans, but reimagined as a teen-drama set at a summer camp for demi-gods. The main character is a Demi-god, a son of the Greek god, Poseidon, and a human mother from New York City. 

I read a few of these to and with my oldest son a few years back, so that makes me an expert on the series. 

Now, anyone who’s read any geek mythology knows that what makes the Greek gods divine is not their goodness, their honesty, their virtues; rather, they are gods simply because of their relationship to other gods, which gives them essentially superhuman power. They’re superheroes, or supervillians, or sometimes super-ambivalent. But hero or villain, the moral character of these gods is unclear at best, and downright despicable at their worst.

And perhaps worst of all, these gods are usually unable to fight their own battles. It’s up to their human followers, and in the case of the Percy Jackson novels, it’s up to their half-human children, to carry out the so-called divine agenda.

As I read these books, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the children. No parent here would put their children through the things that these gods did, and no one would have blamed the children if they had simply refused to be pawns in gods often senseless and endless cycle of violence. And yet, rarely did such a revolt happen in these novels, and when it did, the child who revolted was usually cast as one of the bad guys, or somehow had been brainwashed by the bad guys.

Now I’m not trying to criticize these books unfairly. But I do think there’s something illustrative in stories like this, and Clash of the Titans, that provides a helpful contrast to the God we affirm in Christianity. 

That the God of Christianity is One and Three actually tells us something that’s not just abstract and theoretical, but is practical and helpful. It tells us something reassuring about God and who God is for us. 

Whereas the Greek gods are capricious and divided amongst themselves, the God of Israel revealed in Jesus Christ is perfectly unified. The Greek gods were unable to harmonize themselves amongst themselves. They were unable to harmonize their people. And they certainly weren’t able to create harmony between divinity and humanity.

By contrast, Jesus tells the disciples in today’s gospel that all that the Father has is his, and all that the Spirit reveals to him is received perfectly from the Father. Jesus attests in these words to a relationship of perfect transparency and harmony between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

And whereas the equivalent of unreliable humans who simply possess a greater capacity for chaos, the God revealed in Jesus Christ is a god of harmony. There is harmony between the three persons. 

Jesus prays that the disciples might experience harmony too, both between themselves and with God. It is being offered to them as a gift. this God who enjoys perfect unity and harmony while remaining a diversity of persons. What does it mean that this unified yet three person God is able to invite others to share in that divine harmony?

God’s oneness, God’s unity is really important for understanding the Trinity. The God of Jesus Christ is not three Gods, or, worse, one god, one really important human dude, and one ghost. No, God is one God in three persons. This is something so categorically different from the Greek and Roman pantheon and the gods of the Middle East amongst which the Jews and then the early Church found themselves. 

One of the best books about the Trinity, in my opinion, was written late in the 12th century by Richard, a priest who lived and taught at the abbey of St. Victor, just outside of Paris. Richard believed that the Trinity was indeed a mystery, but most importantly the Mystery of Love. Perfect love begets from eternity another to love, and the perfect love they share produces, also from eternity, a third who receives not just the love of the one, but the love of the two. This third is constituted perfectly and eternally by the love of the two.

In other words, perfect love is not singular, it’s plural and unifying. It is a unity that is unbreakable, eternal, and unimprovable. 

And it’s not just something shared between two persons, inwardly preoccupied and facing their relationship, but outward looking. Perfect love is excessive, generous, and overflowing. It wants to be shared with many, wants to draw others into that harmony. This is the Trinity. That mysterious source of all love, all harmony.

Grasping the threeness and oneness of God is hard. Or rather, I should say it is ultimately not possible to fully grasp this idea. Eventually, we all hit a limit, we all see a horizon beyond which we can’t go, at least not on this side of the kingdom. 

But Jesus seemed to think that it was important to share his relationship to the Father and the Spirit, to let his followers know that this relationship was special, that by knowing Jesus, we really know the person of the Father, and by receiving the Spirit we really come to experience the love shared between the Father and the Son.

This is something so completely unlike anything we will know and experience by nature, in this world. There’s something so revelatory and liberating this what Jesus shares with us.

And Jesus calls upon his followers, us, to no only affirm our belief that Jesus shows us the Father, and that he and the Father have sent us the Spirit. No, we have to do more than merely believe these things. 

We also have to let the relationship of the three persons begin to re-create us, to change our goals, to reshape what we live for. Paul calls this adoption. You might call it being a disciple of Jesus. 

The Theophany , an icon depicting Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan as the Father’s voice breaks in from heaven and the Spirit descends as a dove.

The Theophany, an icon depicting Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan as the Father’s voice breaks in from heaven and the Spirit descends as a dove.

Last week, we were blessed to see many people affirm and reaffirm their intention to be Jesus’s followers. We confirmed them as adopted children of the Father, welcoming them into this community of adoption. 

And we did all of that on the day of Pentecost, the day the Church celebrates its birth, when the spirit sent by the Father and the Son descended on the Church in tongues of fire.

It is fitting that we should confirm people on Pentecost, that their incorporation into the life of the church mirrors in a way the incorporation of the Church into the life of the Triune God, that the church is born as the Father and Son send the Spirit as the most excellent gift. 

And you might remember that part of that service included a reaffirmation of our baptismal vows. Those vows begin with the Apostles creed. We affirmed our belief in the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And we affirmed our belief in Jesus Christ, the only son, our Lord, born of the Virgin Mary, and who suffered, died, and rose again after three days, and has ascended to the Father’s right hand. And we affirmed our belief in the Holy Spirit, and the church and communion of saints that comes from being in relationship with the Triune God.

The Trinity isn’t just some dry and dusty doctrine. Please don’t let anyone ever tell you that.

Rather, the Trinity is the way we talk about that far country, that just beyond the horizon, that vision that however distant isn’t just a pie in the sky ideal.The Trinity is worth dedicating your life to. The Trinity invites us into the family through adoption in Christ through the Holy Spirit. 

The Trinity, as St. Paul tells us, is the means by which God pours love into our hearts, and then slowly begins to teach us, day by day, how to live in that love, how to share it with others, how to be Christ’s followers in a broken world. 

Still, we need to remember that no doctrine or dogma of the faith is an end unto itself

Rather, all teaching is just another tool or resource for shaping our love of God, for bringing us to the threshold over which we enter into our homeland, which is eternal life and joy with God. 

This is why our affirmation of the Trinity, perhaps best expressed in the Creeds, is meant to be studied, then prayed, and then finally left behind in the summit of perfectly loving union with God. 

But as the English priest Austin Farrer once reminded us, before we can leave behind the doctrine itself, we must meditate continuously upon it. “For no spiritual truth, however fundamental, is once and for all acquired like gold locked in a safe. We think it is there... But when we look for it, either it has vanished or it is no longer gold. It has turned as dull and soft as lead, and must be transmuted back to gold by the alchemy of living meditation” (Farrer, Lord I Believe, 16).

Let me close with the words of St. Paul. 

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand…  we … boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

+In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit