Sermon by The Rev. Kathy McAdams
May 27, 2018 - Trinity Sunday B RCL
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, MA
In the name of the triune God, who Creates, Redeems and Sanctifies. Amen.
The Trinity has got to be one of the most confusing and obtuse doctrines in all of Christian thought. I’ve heard it explained in a variety of ways. The more simplistic the attempt, the more heretical they become. I think my favorite simple description of the Trinity uses the example of Neapolitan ice cream: the three flavors are distinct, yet when you stir them together they are one substance. This one, too, borders on modalism and possibly other heresies.
So why do we even have this doctrine of the Trinity? It was an attempt to solve a problem: how to remain true to our Jewish roots in monotheism (one God) while exalting Christ as divine Savior? The Early Church accepted Jesus as a deity and freely adopted the Trinitarian baptismal formula: “in the name (singular) of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Gradually, Early Christian writers began to clarify aspects of Trinitarian doctrine. For instance, the “persons” of the Trinity are three in number, but one in substance; they are distinct, co-equal and co-eternal. These distinctions protected against heresies that sought to separate the three into individual entities, or to place them in hierarchical or chronological order. The Council of Nicaea in the 4th century ruled on these matters and developed the Nicene Creed over and against the heresies of the time. The Council of Constantinople, later in the same century, made further clarifications and reaffirmed the Nicene Creed. This is the same creed that we will recite in a few moments.
So here we are, post-Modern Christians in 21st century Franklin, Massachusetts, reciting 4th century doctrine. What’s up with that? I think that the most important thing the concept of the Trinity has to offer us is a relational view of God: God as a community of “persons”. It demonstrates that God’s nature is to be relational; relating to people is part of the essence of God.1 Because we are created in the image of God, we are called to embody the community that is God.2 The Trinity expresses God as both unity and diversity; one and many. It can’t be collapsed into 1 or separated into 3.
Just like the divine community, the human community is both diverse, consisting of many different persons with many different backgrounds and beliefs and concerns, and we are one body, of one substance as children of God. Just as God is by nature a parent and a child and a spirit, at the same time creating, guiding, seeking guidance, scolding, shaping, renewing, reconciling, giving life, taking life, surrendering life, loving, being loved, and moving in impossible ways, so too are we of many personalities and fulfilling many functions as a community in God’s image. Human nature mirrors divine nature. We are made to be persons in community, with God, with each other, and with the rest of the created order. If God is distinct in three persons, yet of one substance, and all of creation is made in God’s image, perhaps all of creation is of one substance. Theologian Jay Johnson states, “The communal life to which the Holy Trinity calls us will not let us draw sharp distinctions, on this home called Earth, between human society and the community of all God's creatures. The mystery of God's own unity-in-diversity holds implications beyond our own human communities and into the vast array of species with which we share this planet. We are bound together by one and the same Creator in bonds of inexplicable beauty and mysterious interdependence.”4
As a work of the Spirit, the Church is a new community modeled after the community of the Trinity. We are a critique of the prevailing social order, an eschatological community, foreshadowing and breaking in the “kin-dom of God.”3
So, in a nutshell, the concept of the Trinity calls us to recognize our oneness with the rest of humanity and the rest of Creation, to know ourselves as one world community, and to consider what is best for that community as a whole. It calls us to leave behind our rugged individualism, and to reorient our priorities toward the greater good. Instead of, “what do I want to do to have fulfillment in my life?”, the question becomes, “what shall we do together that God’s vision of goodness may be fulfilled?” As the entirety of God’s Creation, how shall we benefit the entirety of Creation? It’s a huge question, and it requires lots of honesty, negotiation, trust, cooperation, compromise and especially divine involvement. This new community, in the image of the Trinity, reaps benefits that none of us could possibly acquire, or maybe even imagine, on our own: the pooling of resources so that everyone has abundance; the sharing of gifts and skills; the collective celebration of accomplishments and the mutual grieving of losses. This new community begins to take shape in the local Church, in this congregation, as we pool our resources, gifts and skills toward fulfilling Christ’s commission: to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to each other and to the world. But even as a Created community, we are not alone; the divine community accompanies and assists us in our work. Let us never forget Christ’s promise to be “with [us] always, to the end of the age.”
3 Dr. Don Compier - lecture: “Constructive Theology”, CDSP, Spring 1999.
4 The Rev. Dr. Jay Johnson - lecture: “History and Theology of the Modern Church”, CDSP, Fall 1998.