Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trinity Sunday Sermon 2011

RCL, Year A: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

[Listen to the sermon here.]

Of all God’s creatures great and small, the Western Lowland Gorilla named Koko stands out as an amazing animal. Koko has learned more than 1,000 signs based on American sign-language. She’s also learned and responds to approximately 2,000 words of spoken English. And she’s even invented new signs to communicate her thoughts and feelings. In her expressive use of sign-language, it’s stunning to see how Koko is like a human person.

Perhaps even more remarkable than her language skills is Koko’s capacity for love. Koko wanted to have a cat for a pet. When the opportunity arose, she chose a gray male from a litter of abandoned kittens and named him All Ball. Koko loved, cuddled, and cared for All Ball like he was one of her own babies. A few months later, the kitten got loose and was killed by a car. When Koko’s trainer used sign language to tell her what happened, Koko signed “Bad, sad, bad,” and “Frown, cry, frown.” And her trainer reported that Koko made sounds like that of a human crying. Fortunately, Koko went on to have other pets, including two cats she named Smokey and Lipstick.

The story of Koko reminds us that regardless of where we find it, genuinely self-giving love gets our attention, commands our respect, and resists our attempts to fully comprehend.

Garrison Keillor, the host of “A Prairie Home Companion,” sums it up. “We should not think that we have figured [love] out,” he said, “because it is not a problem, it’s a mystery and always will be.”

Keillor’s point about love also applies to God, for according to Scripture, God is love. And so God is not a problem to be solved or figured out. God is the Ultimate Mystery to be worshiped and obeyed, and a presence that elicits our love in return.

The early Christians knew this. Instead of sitting around trying to figure God out, they devoted themselves to prayer, the breaking of bread, and sharing their possessions with the needy. And when it came to defining the Christian understanding of God as one Being in Trinity of Persons, there wasn’t some armchair theologian who thought up the Trinity because he thought it was cool. On the contrary, the understanding of God as Trinity emerged from the early Church’s experience of the mystery of God revealed in love, service, and worship.

Most of the early Christians were converts from Judaism. They already knew God through Torah and synagogue worship. But something extraordinary and unexpected happened when they encountered Jesus of Nazareth. When they were in Jesus’ presence, when they heard him teach, when they watched how he treated people – especially the poor, the sick, and the marginalized – they came to realize that they weren’t merely in the presence of an ordinary human being or even an exceptionally gifted Rabbi. In defiance of rational explanation, they were in the presence of God in the flesh. Jesus embodied the mystery of God’s love, a love willing to go to any lengths – including suffering and death – to rescue and heal us. Raised from the dead, Jesus was singled out as unique, and the one whose way of life and teachings had been vindicated as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And when Jesus was no longer physically present among them, the early Christians continued to experience the power of his risen life in their midst. It was the power of the Spirit sustaining and guiding them such that a small group of mostly uneducated men and women turned the world upside down.

So out of their relationship with Jesus as Teacher, Savior, and Risen Lord, out of their worship of the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and out of their experience of the power of the Spirit, the early Christians began to speak of the one true God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

While we cannot fully comprehend the mystery of the Trinity, we can say that this uniquely Christian understanding of God tells us that God is not a loner. God is not a solitary being. Internal to God’s very being is relationship. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-equal in power and majesty. No one of them lords it over the others. In God there is no above and below, no superior and inferior, no insiders and outsiders. In relation to each other, each Person of the Trinity lives in a free society of equals. And this freedom finds its perfect expression in self-giving love.

Our lesson from Genesis reminds us that we are created male and female in the image of the Triune God. As bearers of the Divine image, God created us for relationship. God created us to live in community characterized by equality, respect, and love. God wants us to find the very purpose of our lives in just and loving relationships with one another. God wants us to be so transformed by the healing power of Jesus’ forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection that our lives shine as beacons of light in the darkness. God wants us to be Easter people in a Good Friday world. God wants our lives to mirror the life of the Trinity.

And so it turns out that, far from being a merely intellectual preoccupation for academic theologians, the mystery of God as Trinity is an ethical mandate and a call to mission for all the baptized. That’s why in the Gospel reading appointed for this Trinity Sunday we hear Jesus giving very specific instructions to his followers:

“Go and makes 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” (Mt 28:19-20).

Go and baptize persons, making them members of Christ’s Body and reassuring them that they are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Go and teach what Jesus lived and taught about loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Go and make persons into disciples – into persons who have so fallen in love with Jesus that they look to him as their Teacher and their Guide in daily life. Go, and by your example of love and faithfulness, show the world that there really is another way, that we don’t have to be defined by a world in which violence, death, decay, and the domination of the poor and powerless by the rich and the ruthless are simply taken for granted as the way things are. Go and show the world a better way: the Jesus Way.

Speaking of this better way, Anglican bishop N. T. Wright hits the nail on the head:

“The world needs to see who God is: neither a big bully in the sky, nor the sum total of all the impulses and instincts of the world, but the Father who sent the Son to be the foot washer, the healer, the truth-speaker, the life-giver, the one whose kingdom challenges the kingdoms of the world precisely because it doesn’t use the world’s normal methods of power and death but because it uses God’s methods of service and life.”

My friends, in our baptisms every one of us has been commissioned to show the world who God is. Baptism commissions us to model in our relationships with family and friends, strangers and enemies, the same kind of respectful, just, and loving relationships that animate the life of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We do that when we seek to reconcile broken relationships. We do it when we faithfully keep our promises. It happens when we place more value on things eternal than on money and possessions. We bear witness to the mystery of God revealed in Jesus when we reject judgmentalism’s condemnation of people in favor of loving guidance and correction, when we let go of resentments and the desire for revenge by doing good and praying for our enemies, and when we treat all persons – especially the least of these who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and in prison – as though we are responding to the Lord himself. In short, we show the world who God is when we put the teachings of Jesus Christ into practice in our daily lives.

The commission we receive from our Lord Jesus Christ is clear. He says to us: “Don’t keep the wonderful mystery of God’s love all to yourselves. Give it away. Go out there and share it. Model the Good News by living my teachings in your daily lives. Invite everybody to come in and be a part of God’s family. Let everybody know that God loves them and wants them to know the love and joy that unites the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Bring all nations into God’s fold, transforming a divided world into one Beloved Community.” And, my friends, when we feel discouraged, when we wonder if any of this makes any difference, remember: we follow the One who has overcome this world by the victory of resurrection. And we are never alone. For the risen Jesus is with us always, even to the end of the age.


Anonymous said...

Ah . . . yes my brother . . . well said.



Bryan Owen said...

Thanks, Alston. I wonder if this is the first time in the history of Trinity Sunday sermons that the preacher has included a gorilla ...

Joe Rawls said...

Just don't give communion to unbaptized gorillas.

Great sermon. It's not heretical, so it must have taken less than 15 minutes to preach.

Bryan Owen said...

Yes, indeed, Joe, it took less than 15 minutes to deliver this sermon! And we only give communion to baptized gorillas at the Cathedral. :)