Sunday, May 31, 2015


Grace and peace to you, and good morning.  Trinity Sunday—something of a transitional place on the church calendar—hints of Easter and Pentecost hovering still in the rearview mirror, but then turning ahead to what is sometimes called the long “green season” of “ordinary time” through the summer to come.  We won’t have the festive white paraments out again on a Sunday morning until the first of November, All Saints Sunday—which will also be the day we turn the clocks back to standard time! 

There is a long-standing joke about assigning the sermon on Trinity Sunday to a seminarian, with the rector to sit off to the side keeping score, to chart just how many of the classic third and fourth century heresies are inadvertently promoted as the preacher seeks to communicate this ancient and foundational doctrine, that God is one Being made up of three distinct Persons who exist in co-equal essence and co-eternal perfect communion, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Three-leaf clovers don’t cut it, nor do analogies like ice, water, and steam, and don’t even begin to try diagrams with triangles spinning inside of circles--and on and on.   There are in fact some wonderful sermons, lectures, and books and essays on the doctrine of the Trinity, ancient and modern, and it is I think important to pause at least for a moment on this Sunday to acknowledge the power of this model, this theological “lens,” as a way of seeing and understanding the fundamental proclamation of our faith: that God in Christ without differentiation or distinction was reconciling the world to himself.  Making it possible for us to come into relationship with him, the perfect source of grace and mercy and love.   There’s the letter of St. Athanasius to Serapion, back in the first years of the fourth century.   In the twelfth century a wonderful series of sermons by St. Bernard of Clairvaux on the Song of Solomon.  And just a couple of years ago I recall our own Dean Byrom preached a very fine Trinity Sunday sermon.  For many of us perhaps the version of the great theological poem, the Lorica, sometimes called the “Breastplate of St. Patrick,” certainly a powerful expression, perhaps something like the “national anthem” or alma mater for the great family of the doctrinally orthodox Christian family across continents and generations.  I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity.

So what I want to say about Trinity Sunday, that this is a day that is first about Christology and Pneumatology, the Son and the Spirit in the fullness of the Father,  but finally and in triumphant conclusion it is about Doxology.

First Christology.  The theological discipline of thought in which we discuss the nature of Christ and his work.  Who was this Jesus, anyway, and what are we to make of what he said and did?  What the doctrine of the Trinity helps us to see and know about Jesus. Thus the wisdom of the compilers of our Sunday morning lectionary, to give us this morning the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3, the memory verse and summation of the gospel so pervasively cited that we sometimes see enthusiastic Christians lift up signs at basketball games.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”   To understand that “sending” not as a delegation of a servant to do his master’s bidding, but as a self-offering.  God in his essence and in his fullness, born of a woman, laid in the Manger,  broken on the Cross.  For us and for our salvation, our healing and our reconciliation. 

And Pneumatology  The theological discipline of thought in which we discuss the nature of the Holy Spirit in the life of God.  To note that this is a different way of talking about the Spirit than when we sometimes hear and talk about “spirituality.”  When people say they are “spiritual, but not religious.”  The Spirit as we speak of the Holy Spirit on Trinity Sunday is to address God’s continuing gift of himself to and for his Church, his continuing presence, as Jesus spoke to his friends, “I will not leave you Comfortless, but I will send you the Holy Spirit,” and at the end of Matthew’s gospel, “Lo, I am with you always.”  God in his essence and in his fullness, speaking to us and revealing himself to us in and through the Scriptures, and as we pray in the Name of Jesus, and as we offer ourselves as his hands in loving service. 

So finally, where we are together here this morning,  Trinity Sunday and doxology.  The Greek meaning a “word of praise.”  All worship.  In God’s presence.  The call to worship, “Sursum corda!”  Lift up your hearts.  Thinking of that great Trinitarian doxology we sing pretty much every Sunday morning at the presentation of the gifts.  Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.  And the fantastic and stunning and even terrifying language of Psalm 29, appointed in the lectionary for this morning.  “The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.  And in the Temple of the Lord, all are crying, “Glory!”

The psalmist calls us to worship the Lord “in the beauty of holiness.”  Not the “holiness of beauty,” which would be to talk about what we make and do, but in the beauty of who he is.  Above and beyond all our scales and standards, whose breath moves galaxies.  Source of all light, in his own perfection.    To get that tough message somehow into our heads, to comprehend what is so strange and unthinkable in the container of our ego, and how we understand ourselves.  That this is not about us.  About the hardest concept ever to get our minds around.  Almost an impossible idea, since we seem born with the notion that we are the center of the universe.  But the message of this Sunday: It is not about celebrating who we are and what we do.  If a friend asks, “why do you go to church?” and our reply begins “because I,” that’s a warning light on the dash.  “Because he.”  God in three persons, blessed Trinity.  It’s all about him, first and last.  Trinity Sunday.  Father, Son, and Spirit.  High and lifted up.

One of my favorite movies, quite a few years ago now, Robert Duvall as “The Apostle,” the story of this profoundly broken and imperfect preacher and evangelist who has everything stripped away from him and gets himself into all kinds of trouble--yet who somehow manages to hold on to a vision and a certainty of the glory of God.  Constantly muttering that one word.  “Glory.  Glory.  Glory.”  And it is through that one word, “glory,” that we begin to see God’s redeeming work.

“The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.  The Lord shall give strength to his people; the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.”

Trinity Sunday a day to open ourselves in mind and heart to the magnificence of God, the glory of God, who is real--who found us when we were lost, who healed us when we were broken, who is present with us in Word and Sacrament, who offers even now, and right now, forgiveness for every evil thought and intention and action of our past, who reaches out to bring us safely home. 

An old friend of mine used to say that at least once a year every Assembly of God Pentecostal ought to take a Sunday to visit the local Episcopal Church, to touch base I guess you would say with the power and depth and meaning of sacramental worship—and that at least once a year each of us in the honored tribe of introverted and restrained Book of Common Prayer Episcopalians ought to give ourselves up to an hour or two of hand-clapping, arm-waving, halleluiah-shouting abandon of praise in return.  Or maybe in all the denseness of our liturgical vocabularies and our aesthetic ceremonial, to sit in the plain simplicity of a circle of Christian Friends at a Quaker meeting, attending to the movement of the Spirit, and to meet Jesus in silence.  To shift our frame of reference, anyway.   To get ourselves away from that odd question, “what sort of worship do you prefer?”  As if coming into his presence was something like deciding which box of cereal to choose at the grocery store . . . . 

An old definition of art is that it is a process to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.  Perhaps that should happen in our worship as well, to explore the far reaches of doxology.

I’m not prescribing the necessity of an actual Sunday morning exchange, mind you.  Some may find the idea helpful, others not so much.   But simply to say that this is about our frame of reference—about how in our hearts and minds on this day of the Holy Trinity we are called to lift our eyes and our minds and our hearts to take in the glory of God in the absolute and radiant splendor of his magnificent complexity—and of his profound simplicity.  To come into his presence with thanksgiving, to show ourselves glad in him, to give thanks unto his Name.    To allow ourselves in this instant to be lifted out of our “comfort zones” and into the light of his countenance.

So the old hymn.   Trinity Sunday.  God himself is with us, let us now adore him, and with awe appear before him.  God is in his temple, all within keep silence,  prostrate lie with deepest reverence.  Him alone, God we own, him our God and Savior.  Praise his name for ever.

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