A sermon for Trinity Sunday, from the Revised Common Lectionary texts for Year B (Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17)
The capstone of the gospel
Trinity Sunday is the capstone of the gospel journey that we began in Advent.
- During Advent, Christmastide, and Epiphany, we prepared for and celebrated the Incarnation: God becoming human in the flesh of Jesus.
- During Lent and Holy Week, we walked the way of the cross, beholding the earth-shattering horror of the crucifixion of Jesus.
- During Eastertide, we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his ascension into heaven, where he now reigns as Lord of the whole world.
- And last Sunday we celebrated the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost: the gift the Father promised – the presence of Jesus, with us forever.
Which brings us to Trinity Sunday, a hinge point between the two halves of the church calendar: it ties all the threads of the gospel story together theologically, and launches us into Ordinary Time, where we work out our salvation together, learning to live this new life in the Triune God together as the church.
Trinity Sunday can be problematic, though, because we preachers often think we are supposed to explain the Trinity, using some nifty illustration, but every illustration is almost always also a heresy, so I’m not going to offer one.
(And if you ever see an illustration of the Trinity out in the wild, do not look it in the eyes… just back away slowly and leave it alone.)
The doctrine of the Trinity
Here’s why: the ultimate goal is not being able to comprehend the doctrine of the Trinity, the goal is to allow ourselves to be drawn into the life of the God named by the doctrine of the Trinity.
Now, the doctrine of the Trinity is important, because it is how we speak truthfully about an incomprehensible mystery. In essence, it’s a procedure for talking about God without committing idolatry (helpful!).
The doctrine is fairly simple, actually: there is one God, who has been revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But we don’t really know what we mean by that. As Herbert McCabe writes:
Dealing with God is trying to talk of what we cannot talk of, trying to think of what we cannot think…. To say that there is Father, Son and Holy Spirit who are God is no more mysterious than to say there is God at all. In neither case do we know what we are saying, but in neither case are we talking nonsense by contradicting ourselves.
We affirm this doctrine whenever we recite one of the Creeds, but again, our aim is not to simply be able to articulate the doctrine… Because the doctrine is the result of the church’s theological reflection on their experience of the presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit in their worship and life together. The church took hundreds of years to fully articulate the doctrine of the Trinity, but it had been experiencing life in the Trinity from day one.
The good news of the Trinity
Our aim, then, is to live in the Reality of which this doctrine speaks: that the God who is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is renewing all things, and drawing all creation into participation in the life of the Trinity.
And so the good news of the Trinity is that salvation is not a product we get from God, salvation is participation in the very life of God. Today we are being drawn out of our separation and fragmentation into communion with the God who has been revealed as Communion: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Will you drop your defenses and consent to communion today?
Born from above
We see this good news in John 3:1-17, where Nicodemus, a Pharisee, comes to Jesus at night because he is intrigued but confused. And Jesus proceeds to further confuse him!
To enter the life of the kingdom, Jesus tells him, you must be born. Born from above, born of the Spirit, because this is all about a new kind of life in the Spirit, and life begins at birth. Later Jesus says whoever trusts in the God-sent, world-loving, world-saving, non-condemning, lifted-up Son of Man will have eternal life.
The threads come together in this conversation to reveal that this “eternal life,” this salvation from God is not a “product” we get from God; it’s not a ticket to heaven to keep in our pockets to “use” later. Salvation is a life, a new kind of life that starts now. It’s the life of the Age to come that overlaps with the present. Even now, we are being drawn into the very life of God.
We live this life by “believing in Jesus”, which means trusting Jesus in our everyday lives, paying attention to how God is at work in our lives, and allowing ourselves to be pulled more deeply into participation in the life of God.
Life in the Spirit
This good news is also proclaimed in Paul’s words in 8:12-17: it’s all about life in the Triune God.
The point of Pentecost is not that we get “superpowers” to use however we want, but that we receive the Spirit, who is God (the doctrine of the Trinity teaches this).
The Spirit is not a resource we use, the Spirit is God present in our midst, the Spirit of adoption that empowers us to cry out together to God as our Father.
So the Spirit bears witness that we are children of God, and co-heirs with Christ (if we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him).
In other words, we share in the very life of God when we walk in the sufferings of Christ. And as we do, we are drawn into the life of God! It’s all about participation now as children and joint heirs with Christ.
So again, the good news is that salvation is not a product we get from God, salvation is participation in the very life of God. Today we are being drawn out of our separation and fragmentation into communion with the God who has been revealed as Communion: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Consenting to communion
What defenses do you need to drop today to consent to communion, with God and with others?
- Is it fear about the future that keeps you locked in anxiety and fretting?
- Is it a defensive self-preservation instinct that makes you want to insulate yourself from conversations about racial justice?
- Is it thoughts of judgment and condemnation toward others who aren’t acting how you would act in their situation? (I found that the social isolation of the pandemic made it easier for me to suspect others of bad motives, for example.) Let go of judgments? Seek reconciliation? Open yourself to compassion and curiosity for yourself and others?
These are reflexive defense mechanisms our bodies create to keep us safe, but in reality they only bring about more separation, fragmentation, and heartache for us and others.
Will you drop your defenses today and open yourself to communion with others in God? Will you forgive? Tell the truth? Ask for help?
Today we are being drawn together into the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is what happens every Sunday in Holy Eucharist: we commune with God as we partake of the Body of Christ, which flows into communion with each other as we become the Body of Christ, sent like the prophet Isaiah to participate in the life and mission of God.
This is salvation! Not a ticket to heaven, but participation in the very life of God! Today we are being drawn out of our separation and fragmentation into communion with the God who has been revealed as Communion: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let’s consent to communion today. Let’s allow ourselves to be drawn into the life of the Trinity today.