Sunday, June 16, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday – one last white Sunday before a long season of green. We celebrate the nature of God as three-in-one and one-in-three – the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now, here’s your pop quiz for the day: does anyone know how many times the word “trinity” actually appears in the bible?
It’s a trick question! The answer is actually zero. The word “trinity” never actually comes up in the scriptures – which is kind of weird, considering how often we talk about God in this way, and how we even have congregations named for the Trinity! In reality, trinity is language that the church has come up with over the centuries to try to describe who God is and how God is. It’s a faithful response to the awe and mystery of God.
Now, even though the bible never explicitly names God as trinity, that doesn’t mean that theologians just pulled this idea out of thin air (or anywhere else!). We see each of the three persons of the Trinity revealed in scripture over time. That’s what our readings for this morning are trying to get at.
Psalm 8 is an echo of the story of creation in Genesis. Here we see the image of God as mighty creator – a sovereign whose name is majestic in all the earth. God the creator is glorious, and at the same time, there’s also this beautiful, intimate imagery of the moon and the stars being the work of God’s fingers, and of God’s hands shaping all of creation.
Our first reading, from Proverbs, begins to give us a sense of the Holy Spirit. When God’s hands were at work, shaping mountains and hills, smoothing out fields, laying the foundations of the earth, God was not alone. The spirit of wisdom was by God’s side, advising, helping with the work, and rejoicing in all that was being created.
And of course, in our reading from Romans and our gospel reading, we see God the redeemer, God made flesh – God in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the one who sanctifies us and gives us peace, the one through whom we have received grace. These readings sound a lot more like what we are used to in terms of talking about the Trinity.
And it makes sense that they would – Jesus is the one who makes the Trinity most clear to us. He is the one person of the Trinity humankind has physically seen. And he continually witnesses to the actions of the other two persons of the Trinity. In our readings for today, Jesus talks about the Spirit pouring love into the hearts of God’s people and guiding us toward truth – much like the spirit of wisdom described in our first reading. And he leaves us with the image of God as someone loving and glorious and giving, generously sharing glory and grace and love with us.
This is how the persons of the Trinity are with each other; they work together and make space for each other and witness to each other. And they are deeply connected together by love. The reality of God is community – God is a loving community of persons, the three-in-one. Now, I know that this can all sound like some high-minded, abstract theological thinking that has nothing to do with anything. But it does matter. It matters for how we understand God.
One of the things we know best about God is that God is love – and I think that the Trinity is what makes that true. God is not some solitary, cosmic entity, floating around totally on his own. God is a relationship, a loving and dynamic community. That makes sense to me – because you can’t love on your own; love is a transitive verb. I love my family. I love my friends. And the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all love each other. In fact, St. Augustine famously described these three persons of the Trinity as Lover, Beloved, and Love.
The love among the Trinity is the ultimate source of love in all the cosmos. And God’s love spirals out to draw in all creation – including us. We are a product of the love of the Trinity, made in the image of a triune God. You probably remember that, all the way back in Genesis, God even said, let us make humankind in our image. Humanity was created in the image of a community of love. We are not meant to be solitary individuals, in competition with each other, building walls between ourselves. We were created to be together in love. And we are called to imitate the Trinity in reaching outside ourselves to draw others into God’s love as well.
I read a really inspiring news story this week that perfectly illustrated this kind of love. At a beach in Florida, there was a family with young kids that swam out too far from the shore; they got caught in a rip tide and started to drown. Some of the other people at the beach noticed that this family was in trouble, and a small group of them started linking hands and walking out into the water. Hand after hand, this human chain grew to over 70 people – people of all ages and genders and colors out in the water – and together, they managed to reach the family and pull all of them to safety.
I also saw the love of the Trinity in action here at St. John’s this last week. We hosted our first mobile food pantry event on Thursday and it was a huge success. We managed to serve 117 families in less than an hour before we completely ran out of food. Next month, we will order almost twice as much food and we might still run out! But more than anything, I saw love in the attitude of the people who showed up to help. We had over a dozen people from this congregation there. I saw you smiling and welcoming people and helping them get where they needed to go, even when you didn’t speak the same language. You made people feel welcomed and loved.
And I’ve also seen the love of the Trinity at work in the way that the ELCA has rallied around Pastor Betty Rendón and her family – you may remember that I preached about her a few weeks ago. After she and her husband were deported to Colombia, members of the ELCA quickly organized a fundraiser for her and her family that raised over $10,000 in less than 24 hours. Presiding Bishop Eaton and the bishop of Pastor Betty’s synod have been in touch with her and with leaders of the Lutheran church in Colombia to keep communication open. And Pastor Betty herself is already hard at work finding ways to spread the love of the Trinity where she is in Colombia, without letting herself be stopped by the fear of very real danger.
All this reminds us that God’s love – the love of the Trinity – is a love that is not stopped by fear. It does not stop at any national or political boundary. It is not stopped by language barriers or cultural barriers. It cannot even be stopped by death. And with our every act of reaching out to our neighbors – however small it may be – we witness to that love. And we remind ourselves once again that we are held with all creation in one divine community of love.