Psalm 8 (1)
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
Almost exactly three years ago today, on June 19, 2011, I was sitting in the pews of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Southfield, Michigan, the congregation where I grew up and was raised in the Christian faith. That Sunday morning, I had the joy of worshipping with the people who had supported me during the first eighteen years of my journey, and that afternoon I was privileged to be ordained into the ministry of Word and Sacrament as those same people surrounded me with their prayers. One of the most interesting things about that day was that, like this weekend, the church was celebrating both Father’s Day and Holy Trinity Sunday, which for me was either an incredible coincidence or evidence that God might just be behind this whole pastor thing after all. You see, though I rarely missed a Sunday at Emmanuel and had great pastors throughout all those years of growing in the faith, it was my dad who first got me thinking about the doctrine of the Trinity as something that really mattered. My memory is a little fuzzy on the details of how that happened – I seem to recall my dad had been approached by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, though I can’t be sure about that – but I am absolutely clear on what my dad said about how he had ended the conversation. He said very matter-of-factly that because the person he was talking to didn’t believe in the Trinity, there was very little else for them to talk about. I don’t think my dad was being rude. I think that there was something so essential about this point of the Christian faith – that, as one of the ancient creeds of the church states, “we worship one God in Trinity, and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being” – that he simply had no interest in compromising that belief, even if there might have been agreement about other important matters of the faith.
Back then, of course, I didn’t really understand what the big deal was. Sure, I’d been professing my own belief in God as Trinity my whole life. I don’t suppose I was as aware of it as I am now, but looking back it’s easy to see that references to the three persons of God permeated our worship services each Sunday, even as they do for us today:
- The beginning of the order of confession and forgiveness invokes the Holy Trinity.
- The Apostolic Greeting, which is taken from today’s second reading from Second Corinthians, evokes the Trinity in referring to “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.”
- The Prayer of the Day often ends with references to all three persons of the Trinity.
- The Creeds each lead us to proclaim our faith in the God who exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Despite all that, I just can’t say that I ever considered this belief to be important until my dad talked so bluntly about his insistence on the truth of that teaching.
As we gather this weekend to reflect on the Holy Trinity, this mystery that has confounded all attempts to explain it from the very beginning, perhaps you’re like me, and you wonder if this whole Trinity thing is really all that important. After all, the word Trinity doesn’t actually appear anywhere in the Bible. There is no single place in Scripture in which this doctrine is present in any concrete way. One of the criticisms of this belief is the idea that it developed relatively late in the life of the church, a claim that is partially true; in fact, it wasn’t until the year 381 that the vast majority of the Christian Church agreed that this belief would be part of their profession of faith. So let’s go back to the question from the younger me: What’s the big deal?
To answer that, let’s take a brief look at our Gospel reading from Matthew. Jesus and his disciples are gathered on a mountain in Galilee, where he commanded them to go after the resurrection. On that mountain, Jesus gives what has come to be referred to by the church as “the Great Commission”, the last set of marching orders received from Jesus before he ascended to the right hand of God: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” You can probably guess where we’re going. Jesus commands his disciples (and all those who would come to believe because of their testimony) to go out into the world and, through baptism, join people to the community of faith that has formed under the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
In his reflection on this passage, Pastor Steven Eason invites us to consider the significance of this baptism into the Triune God by asking the following: What if we baptized people only in the name of the Father? Or only in the name of the Son? Or only in the name of the Holy Spirit? Eason argues that Scripture testifies to the experience of God in each of these persons. We experience God as Father when we reflect on the fact of our createdness, when we wonder at the mystery of creation and the vastness of God’s majesty and glory. We experience God as Son when we reflect on the story of Christ, when we marvel at the fact that God became human in the person of Jesus, taking on our humanity, showing us the love of God by his obedient suffering and death for our sake, and revealing God’s power and victory in his resurrection and ascension. We experience God as Holy Spirit when we reflect on the ways that God continues to be present to us now, inspiring us to new ways of thinking and doing as the people of God, surrounding us with comfort and peace in times of anxiety and trouble, and dwelling within us to assure us of God’s concern for us every moment. Each person of the Trinity is fully involved in all of this work, but this language gives us handles for wrapping our minds around all the different ways that we experience the power and presence of God in our lives.
In the end, the big deal about the Trinity is that it is our best guess at explaining how God has acted in history to create, redeem, and save us and the world. So we continue to name God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to invite people into relationship with that God, because the truth of our life lived in that relationship is powerful, even if our way of describing it is impossible to fully understand. This weekend, we rejoice as we continue to fulfill the commission that Jesus gave us: the calling to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. We celebrate with Helen as she receives the gift of baptism, declaring her desire to be joined to this community of faith that, in the words of Pastor David Lose, has been “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.”* Most of all, we give thanks for the many ways that we continue to be invited into the life of the Triune God, surrounded with divine love and grace, and sent out to make that love and grace known each new day. All praise to you, blessed and Holy Trinity, today and always. Amen!
*David Lose, “Trinitarian Congregations”, Dear Working Preacher, June 9, 2014.