Trinity Sunday, Worshipping the Unity – A Child Gets It

The Rev. Robert P. Travis Trinity Sunday Sermon  – 9am Chapel of St. John the Divine, Saunderstown, my 1st in-person All Parish Service in the Chapel since the pandemic began. RCL Year B 5/30/2021

Scripture Text: Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17, Psalm 29

Sermon Text:

I love preaching on the Trinity, this central doctrine of the Christian faith, because it is so important to what we believe as Christians.

I don’t think I can explain it,

Better than anyone has in the past,

As in fact the Trinity defies explanation,

And that’s why so many preachers fear

To preach on this Sunday.

It took four hundred years

From Jesus’ resurrection to fully develop our understanding of God this way as a Christian church.

So I don’t think I can add anything new,

Or better to the understanding of the doctrine.

But I’m excited to be preaching about this,

Because it is so essential to each of our faiths,

to our individual lives,

and our life together as community of believers,

Essential to the very relationship we have with God.

And this year, I’m particularly happy to get to share with you

How we don’t need to fear this doctrine,

Because a child can grasp what’s important about it.

 

Our relationship to God (as Trinity,)

As followers of the new covenant in Jesus

Is in fact all about the movement from fear

To love.

From total otherness, to welcome and belonging.

 

Look at the reading from the prophet Isaiah.

This powerful experience of God,

is the very experience of the first calling of that great prophet.

And it is one of the places in the Old Testament

That we see the Trinity,

At least where we see that the One God,

Is in fact perfect unity, three-in-one.

The two places we see that in this passage,

Are that the Seraphim, as they cry out to one another.

Say “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

That’s not just random repetition,

Or repetition for the sake of adding effect to the words.

That is a word of worship for one of each of the persons,

That make up the Lord of hosts.

And then at the end of the passage,

When the Lord is asking “whom shall I send,”

The Lord is conferring within the Trinity,

And expresses that plurality by saying,

“who will go for us?”

That’s how the tradition sees the Trinity in that passage.

 

But what I want to emphasize,

Is the way the presence of God’s full self,

Makes Isaiah respond in this vision.

The imagery is amazing of course,

Winged creatures, a high throne,

The hem alone of a robe, so large

that the hem alone Fills the temple.

Threshold pivots that shake at the voices

Of those flying seraphim,

And a house filled with smoke.

This is an awe-inspiring vision.

But Isaiah’s response is not simply being struck dumb,

Or joining in the worship of the angels.

He is afraid, aware that his own imperfections,

And not just his own flaws,

But also the faults of those among whom he lives

Make him unworthy to be in the presence of the Lord.

He fears for his survival.

“Woe is me! I am lost!”

That is the common experience, in the Old Testament

Of faithful Jewish believers,

When they experienced God directly.

As the scriptures say,

“It is a fearful thing, to fall into the hands of the living God.”

But look at how quickly the Lord responds,

Making Isaiah pure, and worthy.

He doesn’t leave Isaiah in his woeful state,

But sends one of the seraphs, to purify his lips,

Making him worthy to be in the presence of God’s holiness.

And Isaiah’s response is a quick and dramatic change,

From fear, to eagerness to serve the Lord.

 

Jump forward in time, almost 800 years,

And we hear the Apostle Paul, a faithful Jew himself,

But now one who has encountered Jesus,

Bringing a shocking element of familiarity,

To that experience of God.

And here we see all three persons of the Trinity,

But now defined, rather than hinted at.

“Those who are led by the Spirit of God

Are children of God.”

The third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit,

Is the one in us, who cries in our heart

“Abba! Father!”

Abba, as you probably have heard,

Is a tremendously familiar term for a father,

Somewhat like shouting, Daddy!

A far cry from a fearful image, but an intimate one,

Made real by the Spirit of God living in us,

This same Spirit, if we will listen to Him,

Says that we are children of God, and if children,

Of this same magnificent King we saw in Isaiah,

Then heirs, no longer simply fearful slaves,

But beloved children.

And it is Jesus who makes this familiarity possible,

Because it is through him we are joint heirs.

All three persons of the Trinity are in this passage.

 

So all three persons of the Trinity are in Jesus’

Conversation with Nicodemus as well,

And again it’s more about the relationship between them,

And us,

Than about definitions of the persons.

We must be born of the Spirit.

God the Father sent the Son into the world,

In order that the world might be saved through him.

 

And this relationship Jesus talks about

it’s so obvious to him, that he is astonished,

saying to Nicodemus

“are you a teacher of Israel,

and yet you do not understand these things?”

 

That kind of astonishment is how my question

Was received, when after 29 years of being Episcopalian,

I asked my seminary professor what the big deal

About the Trinity was.

He looked at me, this wizened old Lutheran pastor,

who had taught at the Episcopal seminary for longer than I had been alive,

And at first shocked,

His face melted into a smile and he said,

Mr. Travis, it’s all about Love.

The Trinity is all about the love between the Father,

And the Son and the Holy Spirit!

 

We all know that Jesus loves us,
but what his love invites us into,
is an even greater love,

A self-sacrificing love between equals,

That makes up a three-in-one mystery of unity so deep

That we can barely comprehend it.

 

As I reflected on this love,

One of the most significant things about the Trinity,

Is that they are each individual,

With their own minds, wills, identities.

They are individual,

But of the same substance,

the same blood, if you will.

Out of love for one another,

They act in perfect unity,

They function as one.

 

This brings me to this special picture that I want to share with you today. It was drawn for me back in 2015 by Lucy, who I believe was in Kindergarten at the time, or perhaps not yet in Kindergarten.

She gave it to me, and said, “Fr. Rob I drew this for you!” I said, “That’s great, Lucy, what is it?” She responded,

“It’s God.”

It’s about the most perfect simple drawing of the Trinity I have seen. As you can see, it is three equal hearts, with big eyelashes, and smiles on their faces, they’re holding hands, and facing outwards, as if to invite all into their embrace.

They’re equals, and completely united in love,

But they’re three separate persons, made of exactly the same substance.

Little Lucy got it about as right as any sophisticated theologian did, and this church, and most especially her parents, should be proud that they conveyed this mystery so well to a five-year-old girl.

There are a lot of heresies that have been made throughout the centuries regarding the Trinity, usually based on giving one person of the Trinity greater importance or power than the others, or leaving out one of the three all together. The reasons those are heresies is that true love of the sort that God shares between God’s persons is only possible among equals.

The other Abrahamic faiths, who worship God the Father, get the idea of unity, but have no understanding about God as Trinity, and usually think that we Christians are not monotheists but poly-theistic, thinking that we worship three Gods. But the key of the Trinity, is that these three persons are so perfectly united that they are One God,

Everything they do, they do together.

The love they share, the substance of which they exist,

Is one love, one substance.

 

So I say this to each of you as well today,

If you get what it is like to be welcomed into a loving

Community, of two parents,

Or of aunts and uncles,

Sisters and brothers,

Or of three of the closest friends,

So close to one another,

That they’re practically inseparable,

So powerfully loving to one another, that it’s scary,

So inviting, that you can’t imagine not wanting to be a part of that love, but kind of wondering if you could handle it,

Imperfect as you are,

Then you have some small sense of the circle

Of love that exists between God the Father, God the Son,

And God the Holy Spirit.

 

It’s like they’re looking at you,

And Jesus is reaching out his hand,

He is the key here, the opening

That determines whether you experience God

As something frightening and deadly

Or someone who loves you.

And the Holy Spirit, reaching out a hand,

The Holy Spirit who always testifies about Jesus,

Saying to you, be born into our circle.

Let yourself fall into the hands of the living God.

We welcome you in,

We know you’re not perfect,

We know your first response as our creature is fear.

But we made you for this relationship

We will make you worthy to be among us,

Set aside your fear and let us

Bring you into new life.

What we have,

Is only possible among a community of self-giving love.

Our response, being welcomed into this community of love,

This perfect unity of three persons into One God,

Is to Worship the Unity.

This is what makes us different from our monotheistic brothers and sisters who worship God the father, but are unaware of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

It is this understanding of the One God, that we offer to the world, so it is important that we understand it.

Lucy got it, and shared it.

Will you do the same?

 

Amen

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details