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Sermon: June 12, 2022

The Very Rev. Judith A. Sullivan

Trinity Sunday 2022                                                                                                                        

June 12, 2022

Trinity Sunday is the only time that we in the Episcopal Church dedicate a day to doctrine.  And in most churches, though not in this one, Trinity Sunday is a preaching assignment that most clergy like to avoid. It’s a daunting and humbling thing to describe the indescribable, the mystery of the Trinity, that unique and distinct Christian understanding of the Holy One whom we know is so much more than our limited efforts to categorize and explain.


My first awareness of the Trinity began with learning how to bless myself as a very small child—In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Now we say Spirit. It was an action that many of us who were Roman Catholics wrongly believed was reserved only for us, Roman Catholics, as a special invocation of God’s blessing.  My first genuine ecumenical moment occurred when my grandmother commented on Julie Andrews, an Anglican, playing the novice Maria in the newly released movie The Sound of Music. It was wonderful, my grandmother said.  She blessed herself so beautifully, and she’s not even a Catholic!


Of course, in mass we spoke the Nicene Creed, the Church’s orthodox Trinitarian formula.  Adopted at the Council of Nicea in 325, it was the proposed antidote, the last and final word, at a time when the Church was deeply divided on doctrinal matters and struggling for unity. We repeated it faithfully every Sunday, but 4th century phrases such as “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father,” added little to my understanding of God in three persons, raising questions that I didn’t know that I had with answers that I couldn’t understand. And from what I read on Facebook, I know that some of you feel that way, too.


Much later I learned the original Greek in the Creed and discovered that the historical word so often translated as “being”, and often understood as “person,” actually meant a state of being and to my great relief, not necessarily a gender specific individual.  That meant to me that God is not a boy’s name nor is the Holy Trinity necessarily two-thirds male.   So while the Trinity can and does represent to us the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it can also represent the activity of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer. And it is so much more than we can know or imagine about the nature and the life of God. 


We also experience God as mother, friend, liberator, partner, jokester, promoter, deliverer, healer, listener, comforter, mountain mover. I’m sure you have your own experience of God to add. So if we can’t really know definitively about the nature of God and if the word Trinity is not even mentioned in the Bible, why should we bother with the doctrine of the Trinity at all, or the Nicene Creed, for that matter?


We should bother because they are much more to us than a reminder of what we don’t know.  As part of the defining tradition of the Church, they represent the genuine, inspired efforts of generations before us throughout the millennia as they have struggled to explain their experience of God.  And they are also a window into many things that we do know and that are true for us, aspects of God that touch our hearts and spirits and that we hold close as we struggle to make sense of our own experience of God in our lives. 


We do recognize God as majestic and eternal father, generating and orchestrating the complexity of the universe.  Our God of the Hebrew Scriptures who created the heavens and the earth and all that is seen and unseen; the same one who encountered Moses beside the burning yet unconsumed bush and spoke to Elijah in the silence of the still small voice. Our God who parted the Red Sea causing Miriam to dance with joy, and spoke tenderly to Israel in the wilderness, and who also from time to time, rained down some very tough love on the beloved people.  


We do recognize our God of the New Testament revealed to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and in whom God’s love continues in his name. Jesus, the living Word whose presence infuses our church and our worship; whose service, sacrifice, and passion for justice infuse our lives.  His gospel gives us hope and shows us a way to God that defies death and the evil and self-interest of this world. 


And we do recognize the Holy Spirit of inspiration, truth, and strength who symbolically moved as a dove and in the tongues of fire and in the wind. Whose wonder and mystery confound and overwhelm us and whose intimate presence we feel in the sighs of our breath, and the beating of our hearts. Who Bishop Desmond Tutu said fills us “with the divine attributes of compassion, gentleness, and love.” 


Today, as they consider the Trinity, theologians like Richard Rohr invite us to redirect our attention from the limits of distinct personhood and names for God to the relationship among three aspects of the same entity.  We are encouraged to approach the Godhead in the same way we know that water exists as a liquid, a solid, and a gas, the same essence moving among three states of being.   Rohr and others intuit similar change and movement in the life of God.  They see there a continuous dance of self-giving love, of love pouring out, of love renewing and transforming, of love overflowing, and of love never ending.  


This is a view of the Trinity that is consistent with our understanding that God IS love. It gives us a unique and distinctive understanding of the Holy One, in whom we live and move and have our being.  Whose source is love, whose modus operandi is love, and whose intention for the world is love and wholeness. The indescribable limitless power of God manifest in an eternal cycle of creativity and possibility in which love is given away, abounds and overflows, as new life emerges.  


It is a view of the Trinity that includes and invites us all into the dynamic and undivided life of God.  A life, not a list of names or static images in windows, but an active presence, that is all about relationship and connection and unity. Revealing to us a pattern of re-creation and renewal in which every person is part of the whole, connected. And far from being exclusive, it is a revelation that nothing and no one are outside the embrace of God or beyond healing.


At a time when violence and despair are so present to us in our city and across the world, when human institutions in which we have placed our trust have disappointed us, and when civility in our daily lives and interactions feels in decline, I find that this understanding of God, our trinitarian understanding of God, to be profoundly hopeful.


It reveals to us that nothing and no one are outside the embrace of God and neither are we.  That the divisions and distinctions that exist among us, even religious ones, are not the loving unity that God has intended for the creation that is still unfolding.  As a wise teacher of mine once said, when you draw a line between yourself or your group and others, you should expect to see Jesus standing on the other side of that line.   


As followers of Jesus and as participants in this loving and renewing cycle of God that infuses the creation and our beings, we are called to be agents of that love, hope, and renewal. We do not claim to have every answer, but we are called to cross that line. To keep trying. To ask ourselves hard questions about our own brokenness.  And to promote relationship, reconciliation, and healing, even when we are heartbroken and outraged. Especially then. This is the way of our God, unbound by dogma or doctrine, who has created us, loves us, and sets us free.


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  AMEN

Last Published: July 19, 2022 5:57 PM