Homilies for the Feast of the Holy Trinity
This year, I joined with the saints of Holy Trinity parish in Decatur as my godson was baptized into the Body of Christ. (It was also their patronal feast day and the bishop preached. What a joyous celebration!) In lieu, then, of my normal Sunday sermon, here is a link to my homily from 2018 (Year B) and the full text from 2017 (Year A):
Grace to you and peace in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On this Trinity Sunday, we are left scratching our heads, reaching for analogies that always fall short of describing this divine mystery. The Gospel texts for the previous weeks have been not-so-subtly hinting at today’s feast, offering up cryptic descriptions of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are connected: God in Trinity, the Trinity in unity, equal in glory and co-equal in majesty. The Father in the Son, the Son in the Father, the Spirit proceeding from both.
We want it to make perfect sense, to be able to sit down and chart out exactly how the Trinity works, to be able to explain the it to our children, our family, our friends, and even ourselves – and yet this divine mystery frustrates our every attempt at understanding. Every analogy falls short.
At the end of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Christ sends out the apostles – and by extension, us – to make disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But how can we proclaim and practice a faith that confounds our attempts at understanding?
Fifty years ago, young adults from all over the United States poured into the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco looking to turn on, tune in, and drop out. It was the declared the Summer of Love as young Baby Boomers sought to build a counter-cultural community founded upon the principles of peace, love, and psychedelic experiences. They came, seeking to turn off their minds, relax, and float down stream.
In the midst of this summer of love, the Beatles, fresh off the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released a number of singles that gave voice to the San Francisco-based movement. John Lennon famously sang, “All you need is love,” and as the summer wound down, he voiced the puzzling ode to community and inter-connectedness:
I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
As far as a vision of community is concerned, Lennon’s is only slightly less confusing than Jesus’ statements in John 14:
I am in the Father and the Father is in me. You will know the Spirit, because the Spirit will abide with you, and the Spirit will be in you. You will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I in you.
These utterances come across almost like logic puzzles, leaving us to grab a sheet of paper and trace out the complicated web of connection. The Spirit is in us. And we are in the Son. And the Son is in the Father. Ergo…goo goo g’joob.
Kindred, the mystery of the Trinity is not something that demands understanding but doing. Our commission is not to go out, making disciples of all nations, quizzing them every week to make sure that they can adequately explain the interrelationship of the Trinity without accidentally slipping into heresy. Our faith is not a systematic theology class.
There is no term paper, no final exam. You will not lose your salvation simply for the fact that you can’t explain how salvation works.
But we cannot flee to the other extreme and simply leave today’s text at “It’s a mystery. Far out, man.” Jesus commissions us not to tune in and drop out but rather to go out and make disciples. Our faith isn’t simply about what happens in these walls, or out by the fire pit on Wednesday nights.
It’s not merely a matter of mysteries and togetherness enhanced by a psychedelic experience at the Altar. Our faith is one that is active. Our faith is about what God is doing in the world through us.
Beloved, the Trinity is about so much more than a complex statement about God’s existence. Rather, it shows us who God is – and who we are if we are to be like God. And in showing us who we are, it reveals what we are called to do.
After all is said and done, despite all of our analogies and attempts to explain it, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is this: God exists in perfect community as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But that is not the end – it’s only the beginning.
We are being brought into that community through God’s saving work in the world. In the waters of Baptism, the Holy Spirit unites us into the Body of Christ, so that the Spirit is in us, and we are in the Son. At the Altar, the Holy Spirit is making Christ’s body and precious blood fully and completely present in, with, and under bread and wine. When we eat that heavenly feast, the Son is in us and remains with us.
United into God’s community, blessed by God’s grace in the Sacraments, we are sent out to preach this Good News to the world.
We are sent out, commissioned, alongside the apostles, to invite others into God’s divine community. We are sent out to invite in, bringing people to the waters of Baptism and then to the feast at the Altar.
Beloved, Christ sends us out to build up the Body of Christ, to build up the Church. This is not a mission based around numbers, as though somehow size equals importance. It’s not a mission of checking-and double-checking our theology to ensure that we can recite the Athanasian Creed or explain in precise detail the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It’s not a mission of building up a non-profit, working to end some societal ill.
We are sent out as nothing less than an in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, calling all people to join the Body of Christ. To be certain, our faithful attendance at worship, our beliefs, and our work for social justice all matter, and they matter a great deal. But they are all rooted in our primary identity as the Body of Christ.
When we gather on Sundays, we do so to give thanks to God, not to check an attendance box. When we confess our faith, we do so in response to the movement of the Holy Spirit, not as a mental exercise. When we work for social justice in the world, we do so as the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
We are an apostolic Church – a Church sent out to make disciples and baptize the nations. When we contemplate the Trinity, we are embracing a divine mystery of holy community.
God is inviting us into that relationship, and God is sending us out and going alongside us into the world that we might unite all people into the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the almighty Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.