Sermon by The Rev Kathy McAdams
June 16, 2019 - Trinity Sunday
St John’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, MA
In the name of the triune God, who Creates, Redeems and Sanctifies. Amen.
In honor of this Trinity Sunday, I’d like us to look together at the Nicene Creed. It’s on page 358 of the Book of Common Prayer. The reason I want us to look at this is because it is laid out in a Trinitarian formula - it tells the story of each person of the triune Godhead. First, it says, we have one God. Not three Gods, but one God in three different persons. The first of those persons of God is the Father, the one who creates everything. The book of Genesis recounts the work of this Creator God who forms the world in six days out of nothing, beginning with the stars and dirt and water, to the plants, fish, reptiles, birds, sea creatures, humans and other mammals. After each act of Creation, God sees that it is good. And on the 7th day, God rests, and sets aside that day for appreciation of the work he has done.
Then, the next paragraph in our creed tells the story of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus the Son. He is eternally begotten, and not made, meaning that while he comes from the Father, he is not a created being, and does not come after the Father, or before. He and the father are both eternal, both true God, both Light. And “through him all things were made.” Wait a minute, we just said that the Father was the Creator of everything; now we’re saying the Son did that. So the Son must have been there in the beginning too. That means that we can’t assign tasks such as Creation to just one person of the Trinity. It’s all God.
Next we hear the story of salvation: For us… he came down out of heaven, and by the power of the third person of the Trinity, became one of us. He became incarnate - carne’ meaning meat. He took on flesh. Between the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, he was born a human. But don’t forget, he’s still fully God while he’s fully human.
The story continues: For us…he was crucified. Stop and think about that a moment. God was crucified. He didn’t have to be. He’s God. For us…he was crucified, suffered death and was buried. He rose again, ascended into heaven, and is back with the Father.
When the disciples see the risen Christ, “they worship him; but some doubt.” It’s hard enough to think of an ordinary man as God, or even as the Son of God, but to then see that person in his divine form, must be nearly impossible to comprehend. It’s much like us trying to comprehend the Trinity. And what were they to make of this Jesus, whom they had followed and listened to and learned from, now telling them that they now have the power to carry on his work? And how they must have feared his ascending to Heaven and leaving them alone. But they are not alone. Jesus leaves with them, and with us, the Holy Spirit and tells them, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Not Jesus is with them always, but God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is with them, and with us, always.
The words he leaves them with are known as the Great Commission: He gives the disciples some simple instructions, in fact commands. He tells them to Go…Go and make disciples…Go and make disciples of all nations…baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The practice to which Jesus calls us is disciple making
Lastly, he will come again…in glory…to judge…and his kingdom will have no end. There are thousands of theories of what this second coming will look like, or what his judgment will mean. People interpret various parts of Scripture to describe these “end times.” It’s clear that something will be different, something will be new, and the old will go away. I think this second coming is the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, when finally we have all managed to live into God’s vision together, when finally we have brought every human being to know the loving embrace of God. Then Christ’s judgment consists of saying, “Yes, well done good and faithful servants,” and the Kingdom will have no end.
Now we read of the third person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. But wait, this is the giver of life. We’ve already learned that the Father and the Son were both present in Creation; now it seems that the Holy Spirit was there too…Wow, the world was created by a community. Imagine! The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This is the phrase, by the way, that caused the split between the Eastern and Western churches in 1064, or so the story goes. The argument was over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, or just the Father. I think we have something to learn from this argument in our present day arguments in the larger Church. I wonder if 1000 years from now people will speak of our disagreements and wonder what it was we were really fighting about.
There’s a tradition within the Church that speaks of the Holy Spirit as “She,” and you've probably heard people use this pronoun when we recite the creed. The Holy Spirit is to be worshiped and glorified, along with the other two persons of the Trinity, but here’s something new: it’s she who speaks through the Prophets. In fact, perhaps it’s the Holy Spirit who speaks through all our creative endeavors, through all those times when we have no words of our own but something profound comes out of our mouths anyway, through all those moments when we get out of the way long enough to let God speak.
The rest of the creed is about the Church, but I think there’s one really important thing that we should notice. It says, “WE believe…” When I first started attending church (and that’s all I was doing was attending; I wasn’t actually being church or participating in faith; I was just attending)…when I first started attending church, I didn’t believe a word of this, except maybe…maybe, “We believe in God.” The “one” part didn’t mean anything to me, nor did any of the rest of it. But I came to understand it, and then to believe it through the practice of participating in a Christian community. And one of the things I came to understand is that this is not a personal statement of belief. It is not something that each of us has to understand in exactly the same way, then sign on the dotted line. It is, instead, a summary of what WE - all Christians throughout all of time - corporately believe. This is the best summary of our best thinking about the three persons of God, and it is what we proclaim to be the central doctrine of our faith.
After I sit down, I invite you to take a few moments to reflect on the three persons of the Trinity, and to develop your own statement of belief about them. Perhaps you’ll even have different names for them. What are the three faces of God that you know, that you’ve experienced, that you interact with? If you wrote your own creed, what would you say about them?
What’s most important about all of this is to remember that no matter how we know God, no matter what face we use to engage with God, it’s all God and it’s all good.