Sermon for Trinity Sunday Based on Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17.
This is Memorial Day weekend. There will be apt attention to those who sacrificed themselves – ready or not—to the great ideals on which this country stands. Memorial Day for Americans calls us again to respect and practice the great ideals of freedom, justice, and human dignity. They are the civil markers that indeed doubly measure an individual’s mixed character of virtue and venality. Virtue will be marked publicly and privately in prayer, in patriotism, in gratitude, in generous graciousness to anybody. Venality: well, it begins with mattress sales and somebody naming tomorrow as “National Brisket Day,” rather than devoting memory to the cost others paid and pay. Venality moves further to swap patriotism for nationalism and to treat public service as the means to increase one’s financial girth. But Memorial Day calls us outward to give thanks and celebrate the public protectors who served around the world and in our cities. It is never enough rotely with eyes averted only to say “thank you for your service;” we honor our departed protectors them and hold them high as examples of selflessness on behalf of the violated neighbor.
Today for the liturgical Christian is Trinity Sunday. Similar to the error of misidentifying Memorial Day as the beginning of summer vacation, Trinity Sunday is misunderstood as the one Sunday per year that we celebrate a doctrine. Some people I know think it is a cool to force everyone to say out loud The Athanasian Creed on Trinity Sunday. If you do not know it, take a look at it sometime. While we confess its authority, it is a masterpiece of confusion for the contemporary mind. After you read it, if you were to see that it is scheduled to be said this Sunday morning, it would be okay for you to stand up and say “Thank you for your worship service” and then walk out. Because rather than being about a doctrine or even about who God “is,” Trinity Sunday’s focal point is about who God is for us.
Who God is for us! Father-Son-Holy Spirit is a complicated “person” to get to know! God the Father-God the Son-God the Spirit is so personal and yet so beyond human understanding. We know God. But we don’t. Our essential human being is at stake along with any true Christian character if we don’t both know and don’t know God the Trinity. Even our national character on Memorial Day is at stake without such knowing and unknowing.
So what do I mean? Consider the direction of all three of our scripture lessons. In each of them we have a different view of God. In Isaiah God is the mysterious LORD above all other beings. The language soars and stretches beyond its capacity into otherness. This God of all the universe is wholly beyond human comprehension, but mystically reaches out through his seraphs to touch frail human lips with painful but cleansing coal fire. In the second lesson the focus is on God the Spirit, who led us to be God’s children, who binds us together, who witnesses within us, inside us, giving our hearts courage to suffer and be glorified with Christ. John’s Gospel text uniquely speaks of God in clear Trinitarian terms, but gives us the objective historical particularity of Jesus, the Son of God, teaching us what it means to be spiritually recreated by God and not by any ability on our part. In other words, we see from even just these texts that God is transcendent, immanent, and historical. That means that God is wholly beyond human comprehension and within our own subjective being and personally accessible.
In simpler words: God is beyond, within, and beside. God Beyond-God Within-and God Beside relate fully to each other and to the creation. In all they do, with no limit in time or space, they relate. God is fully social and communal. And when Father-Son-Spirit relate together, “God happens.” Like the analogy of a jazz trio, when the bassist and sax player and piano player play their roles they are always intimately related and fully attuned to each other’s music even as they play their own part. When the three play in perfect accord, “jazz happens.” We thank God that God’s jazz is eternal. Were any of God’s “players” to go total solo, the universe and time with it would disappear!
This sociable God urges and coaxes and directs us who are created in his image to join the music and to be likewise mutually response-able. From the beginning as image of God Trinity we are meant to be connected and meant to be mutual caretakers, partner jazz makers! As image of Trinity God we are intended to be mutually honoring. As image of Trinity God we are self-sacrificing for the rights of every human being to be both free and visibly God-blessed!
No matter how secular a place or occasion may be to the non-believer, wherever Trinitarian faith looks, there one sees the purposes and the presence of God. If we claim that there are some places where God’s image is not to be honored, as when we dehumanize others by calling them animals or racial epithets or other terms of hate, there is no way this can be called Christian, because it is not Trinitarian; it wrongly presumes God’s and the image of God’s absence. This does not mean everyone is a jewel; of course not. Punishment and rehabilitation have their place from family life to social policy. But there is a line never to be crossed. There is a line drawn by the Holy Spirit herself who binds us all together as children of God bearing Trinity God’s image; that line that says every child of God is to be treated with respect to their basic God-given rights. A human being is never to be taken away from the arms of one’s loving mother and left elsewhere. That is to rip a child from the very arms of God. It is a denial and defiance of God Trinity. It plumbs and probes the recesses of blasphemy.
Trinitarian faith finally sees and celebrates God’s activity in Creator-Christ-Spirit in all activity that intends toward the thoughtful and beautiful and true. No place or human activity is off limits to God Trinity. The Holy Spirit can sing through Bach and from the interiority of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The Spirit may inspire through formal liturgical art or the thick wild colors of Kandinsky “too full for human tongues” (Barbara A. Holmes). And where beauty has been made wasteland of suffering and death by human evil, even (!) there the Crucified Christ’s solidarity is expressly promised. Or if we claim that Jews and Muslims will not go to heaven because that “only” happens through Jesus, at best we are incomplete Christians who do not understand the true expanse of Jesus’ work and his Trinitarian bandmates. There is no boundary condition to God Trinity no matter how insistently we sinful human beings build our walls to declare some zones sacred and others lost.
And if we suppose that the Trinity is only about a doctrine and Memorial Day nut a break from workdays with a nod to the flag, then we miss their wondrous and yet routine connection. We would miss the staggering grace of it all. For when that awful time in history must come, the occasion of a public servant’s giving of one’s life for another’s is the full expression humanly possible of what the persons of the Trinity do for each other and the world eternally. But always, thank God always, God the Trinity picks up life again so still to coax this beautiful and terrifying human race unto its God-intended goal of joy and peace without bounds.
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX May 27, 2018