June 7, 2020 Trinity Sunday
June 7, 2020
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; II Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
From the Gospel according to Matthew, (Jesus said) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded.” I speak to you in the Name of the Holy Trinity: God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.
Fascinating scripture lessons this morning. On the one hand, our Old Testament reading tells of the beginning of creation, the forming by God’s own hand of everything that is and ever will be. On the other hand, our New Testament readings are conclusions. We hear the end of St. Paul’s second letter to the Church at Corinth, and Jesus’ final words to his followers in Matthew. Beginnings and endings are prominent themes offered on, of all things, Trinity Sunday. That day when Christians affirm and then try to explain one of the most bizarre mathematical formulas known to humankind: Not that one + one + one = three as we find in basic arithmetic, but rather, that one + one + one = One. Like I said, A bizarre mathematical formula but one that begs us to ponder the uniqueness of God, that God is One being just as our Lord prayed that we, too, would be One body. With all that has happened in our world, our nation, these past few weeks, I find today’s scripture readings with their beginnings and endings, and their description of the power of unity, incredibly timely.
Now, on Trinity Sunday each year, clergy are required by the Canons of the Church to offer an explanation on not only our belief in God as a Holy Trinity, but also, why it matters, how it might make a difference in how we choose to live.
In a nutshell, and at the risk of giving short shrift to one of the great mysteries of our faith, grasping that God is a Holy Trinity – three revealed persons or beings and yet one and the same eternal God – shapes the Christian understanding of who God is and what God desires of all creation. As our reading from Genesis tells us, God, having created everything that is seen and unseen, declared this creation to be “very good.” And when humankind turned against God’s established values and ways, and the relationship between God and creation, between heaven and earth, was broken, God became incarnate, fully human, in order to live as one of us and one with us in the person of Jesus Christ, God our Redeemer. And it is this Redeeming God, this Jesus, who makes it possible for us to be reconciled to God our Creator, to creation itself, and to one another. And God, the Holy Spirit, continues God’s creative and redemptive work in this world sustaining people of faith in their quest to live as God intended from that moment first described in Genesis. One God: revealed in three ways - creator, redeemer, and sustainer. That is the Holy Trinity. Why does this matter? Because for Christians, grasping who God is affirms that God is not some disinterested, abstract being, but rather, a God who cares. A God who still creates, still redeems and still sustains those who desire to know God as God intended to know us. And why does God care? Because God loves the world – loves everything God created. Grasping that God is a Holy Trinity shapes how we choose to live in this world today. Here ends the lesson on “The Holy Trinity.”
All of that being said, the question remains this morning, “So what? I mean our communities are in an uproar, troops are in the streets, neighbors are shouting at each other, businesses have been looted and burned, and people of color are begging us to affirm that their lives matter because, we are all created in the same image of God. What does faith in a Holy Trinity offer the world today?” Again, in a nutshell – everything: everything and hope.
Have you noticed how each of the four gospels end differently? Luke speaks of Jesus appearing to his disciples followed by his ascension. Mark focuses on an empty tomb on Easter morning and the fear experienced by those first witnesses to the resurrection. And John focuses on several appearances of the resurrected Christ, especially to Peter. But, Matthew concludes with Jesus back in Galilea where his ministry first began. He has come full circle. And from here, standing on a mountain top – symbolically standing between heaven and earth, Jesus affirms his authority over heaven and earth, his authority over the empires of this world. In this brief story from the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus proclaims that the days of empire, the days of debt and slavery, the days of inequality, and the reign or kingdom of death is passing away. Rome has done its very worst and in crucifying Jesus, the violent nature of the Roman empire – that supposed “Pax Romana” - has been revealed as a fraud for all to see. God’s reign, God’s kingdom is coming just as people of faith have prayed “thy kingdom come” for generations ever since. Heaven and earth – God’s creation described in Genesis once broken apart through humanity’s disobedience, is being reunited: two worlds are becoming one. Jesus is declaring a magnificent moment in human history.
And yet, almost on cue, in the midst of this triumphant story, Matthew brings us back to the reality of everyday life; the reality of what it is like to live between those two worlds; the world as we know it and the world that is coming. Remember, Jesus is only speaking to eleven disciples here – a reminder of not only Judas’ betrayal but their own tacit betrayal of Jesus. And Matthew notes that their initial response to the presence of the risen Christ on this mountain was belief and doubt. Often in the gospels the presence of the divine was met by faith and doubt. We might remember Peter trying to walk on water (Matt 14:31) or the story of doubting Thomas (John 20:25). And I find that truth in the gospels encouraging because it affirms that Jesus “commissions not perfect disciples, but people like you and me who worship God and yet often have doubts as we stand at the edge of the world that is passing away and the one that is coming towards us” (paraphrase of Stanley Saunders, Commentary on Matthew 28, June, 2014).
And therein, we can begin to see how this teaching of the Holy Trinity – the work of God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, applies to our own lives today. The truth is, beloved, our nation is standing at the threshold of a new world. A world that could be marked by true systemic change where, to paraphrase the words of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “a person will (no longer) be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”. This new world that Jesus describes is an ending and a beginning: a reconciled heaven and earth, a reconciled Creator and Creation, a reconciled neighbor and neighbor, permeated by the presence of Jesus, our Redeemer, who promises to remain with us “to the end of the age.” We stand at the threshold of that kingdom of God. And yes, I acknowledge that welcoming this new world, will be hard work – very hard work – it will require changed hearts and minds. And yet, as scripture tells us making God’s kingdom a reality, making it more than a prayer, is up to us, to people of God.
In closing his Second Letter to the Church at Corinth, St. Paul says that this new world, this new creation, this reconciled heaven and earth, this kingdom of God should be exemplified and demonstrated by the Church. Yet Paul found the Church at Corinth to be filled with “quarreling, anger, selfishness, jealousy, slander, gossip, conceit and disorder” (12:20) – gosh, they were a mess – and in so being, their lives suggested that this kingdom of God, this new world, was no better than that of Rome. Paul reminds the church that we are not a building, but people of faith committed to standing up and speaking up for God’s values, God’s ways. People of faith who recognize that there is no longer slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female, black or white or anything else people use to divide communities. People of faith who affirm that all people are created in the image of God – and worthy of dignity and respect - the image of the same God who in our reading from Genesis declared what God had created was not just good, but verygood.
Jesus, in our reading from Mathew, sent forth his disciples to teach others to do everything he commanded. And what did he command? “That you love one another as I have loved you.” “That as you have done to the least of these, so you have done to me.” “Love God, love your neighbor, love your enemy” and so on. So many of Jesus’ commandments are about loving, about choosing to live differently, about being God’s people not just in our hearts and minds, but in our words and our actions. And therein, lies the challenge and hope for us as people of God on this Trinity Sunday, 2020.
May the God we profess to know and worship as our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, so shape our hearts and minds that we will commit to the hard work before us, God’s work in us, as re-creators, reconcilers, and sustainers in this community, our state and nation. May our belief in a Holy Trinity be more than a doctrine. May it become for us our way of life. Amen.