Matthew 28:16-20 and 2 Corinthians 13:11-14
June 15, 2014
First Christian Church
“In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
We hear that phrase in church often. We hear it baptisms and might here it at the end of the worship service on Sunday morning. We refer to this naming God in this particular way, the Trinity. This first Sunday after Pentecost is called Trinity Sunday. It happens to be one the few holy days on the religious calendar that is based on a doctrine and not an event or person.
The concept of God in three persons has vexed me since I was a kid. What did it mean that God was three people and yet one? Do we have three gods? How can three equal one? Can God count?
I remember feeling somewhat comforted when I start hearing from pastors during my youth who would like the the Trinity to an egg: the shell, the egg white and the yolk- one egg, three parts. And that understaning worked for a while, at least until I went to seminary. I remember taking on my first systematic theology classes and having the professor telling the class that the whole egg explanation didn’t really capture the Trinity. The professor, Gary Simpson, would stress that you can’t use an egg or apple to easily capture the Trinity. Okay, I said to myself, at some point Professor Simpson is going to totally explain what they Trinity is all about. I kept waiting; believing that I would get the plain answer to what was a great theological mystery. So, I kept waiting. And waiting. And waiting….
Sufice to say, I never did get the clear explaination I was seeking, which I think was the professor’s point. The Trinity, and the word doesn’t appear in the Bible, is something that is truly a mystery, something that is more experienced than it is understood and the place where that understanding takes place is in the congregation.
Our passages from Matthew and 2Corinthians have a communal nature to them. In Matthew Jesus meets the disciples and gives what has been called “The Great Commission.” Jesus commands his friends to go into all the world making disciples and baptizing people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus empowers the disciples to make more disciples, more followers of Jesus. Jesus also talks about baptizing people. Baptism is sometimes understood and entry in the church. The act of baptism is an act that welcomes people into the worldwide church. The act of baptizing in the name of the Trinity is not about attaining some kind of secret knowledge, it is about entering into a relationship with the church and with God, the God who is in God’s nature is relational.
In preparing this sermon, I came across this definition of the Trinity from Lutheran theologian David Lose. Actually, it’s the definition of church shaped by the Trinity. It goes like this a church shaped by the Trinity is called and sent by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed for the sake of the world God created and loves so much. Jesus is sending his disciples back down the mountain and get busy making disciples and baptizing people in the power of the Trinity. The Great Commission is about us getting involved in the world instead of waiting for the church to come to church.
Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth ends with the apostle evoking the Trinity: the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit. He ends the letter sending the church back into the world, but they are not going alone, they are going with the power of the Trinity behind them.
The thing about the Trinity; it says more about who God is and what the church is all about than it tries to explain three beings as one. The working definition of the Trinity is found in the church.
As some of you know, I tend to have a passion for new church planting and church revitalization. Some might say obession, but that’s another story. As someone who never in his right mind expected to be a parish pastor, let alone a parish pastor that is the solo pastor in the congregation, I find it funny that I am concerned about congregations. I was involved in a new church start that failed and I’ve been in two congregations involved in being revitalized for ministry. The reason that I am so heaven bent on starting new faith communities and recharging older ones, is because the world needs to see this Triune God in action, and they can only do that by seeing us in action.
So about that new church start. Ten years ago this fall, I helped plant Community of Grace Christian Church. The congregation was only around for three years, but it made a difference in the lives who attended. Many of these people were shunned from their old churches because of their sexual orientation. One person in particular, my friend Jim. Through this church, he found the God who loved him, the God that offered grace and the God that enabled him to worship with others. It made all the difference in his life.
Why do we need First Christian of St. Paul? Why do I drive from Minneapolis to Mahotmedi every Sunday? Why should it matter if we stay open or close up?
As you can guess, I am not a big fan of closing churches. Churches can close and in some cases should close. But if there are people who are willing to make it go, I want to see what God will do with this community. Churches, congregations are the way that the world can see the Triune God in action. It’s when they see people loving each other and those outside of the church. It’s when they see people of God living gracefully with others; showing mercy and forgiveness. It’s when they see the people of God come together regularly to learn more of God’s Story and break bread at God’s table. Just like God is in realtion with God’s self, the single Christian has to relate with their sisters and brothers to flourish.
Which is why this church is still open for business. People in Mahtomedi need to see a community where the Christian life is lived out where the God in three persons is alive.
But there is another reason we need church: to remind ourselves about the wonderful love God, because out in the world, we can forget that over time. Church is a place to meet the Three in One and remember why we are called, gathered and sent into the world.
It’s been about fifteen years since I was in that Systematic Theology class wondering if the professor was going to tell me what the Trinity was all about. I know I’m never going to totally understand it and I’m learning that maybe it doesn’t matter if I do get it. What matters is how you and I experience it.
There is a song called the Power of Two by the folk -rock duo of the Indigo Girls. I remember falling in love with that song when it first came out 20 years ago. It focuses on a relationship, but in thinking about church and Trinity, I think it can apply here today. Let me share the chorus with you all:
Cause we’re okay
Baby I’m here to stop your crying
Chase all the ghosts from your head
I’m stronger than the monster beneath your bed
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart
We’ll look at them together then we’ll take them apart
Adding up the total of a love that’s true
Multiply life by the Power Of Two
Now this song is about a loving couple, but for some reason I can see this as refering to church. It is a place where where we care for one another, calming our fears working through our doubts, protection from evil and support in a cold world. I think we are called to jounrey as Christ-followers together and not alone. We are here for each other and here for the sake of the world.
You want to know what the Trinity is all about? Look around you.
Thanks be to God. Amen.