Sermons That Work

Back To Basics…, Trinity Sunday (A) – 1996

May 26, 1996

Trinity Sunday, that anomaly of Sundays. A day when we celebrate a doctrine or foundation of our faith within the context of the celebration of Christ’s resurrection as every Sunday is. It is always a Sunday that has provided most clergy with anxiety or anguish or consternation as one tries to prepare a sermon on the Trinity that is not boring or so full of theological jargon that parishioners will fall asleep. How often have you heard clergy lament on having to preach on the Trinity. Well today is no exception for me. However, I would like to share with you some reflections on how it shapes and forms who we are as a people of faith.

From Advent until through Pentecost we focused all of our attention on the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Even Advent focuses our attention on the coming savior. The one who came and will come again. We have lived the liturgical drama of Christ Sunday by Sunday climaxing with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, The Easter Vigil and Resurrection Sunday. Now comes the hard part living the faithful life, “with the Spirit’s gifts to empower us for the work of ministry.” (from hymn #528).

In order to understand the Trinity one must go back to basics. To understand how that early faith community understood their life that resulted in the adoption of the Trinity as a way of being and doing.

That community knew their story as found in the Hebrew Bible and in the Gospel stories. They knew God as their creator and in whose image they were created. Not only did they know God as their creator, but that God created all that was and is as reflected in the Genesis reading for this day. But God was more than just their creator, God was in an intimate relationship with them as a parent as a father, a mother. We glean that from the stories where their God hears the cries of the people and brought them out of bondage cares for her children as a hen cares for her chicks, where God calls Israel my children, and weeps over their destruction, as parents weep over the actions of their brood. No this God is not a God from afar or just a judging God, but a loving and gracious God who created them, and even when Adam and Eve sinned stayed with them and clothed them. The stories of God as creator and intimate parent, father/mother abounded in their in salvation story, and continues in ours.

For this community another understanding of God came through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God became flesh and dwelt among us. The incarnate Word. Through the early apostles and disciples the community heard the story of Jesus and how God lived and acted in new and profound ways among the people. It wasn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection that his life made sense to the apostles. For during his life the disciples were still trying to understand. We know from the Gospel of John how difficult that last night was as Jesus was explaining what had to happen and what it all meant. They didn’t get it fully until after the centurion said, “truly this was the Son of God.” The disciples finally get the full meaning at the Ascension when “they return to the temple rejoicing and praising God.” God was made manifest in Jesus to ensure that the faith community understood that God was not just out there, but lived as one of us as our brother through God’s son Jesus. The new community had also experienced the resurrected Christ and knew like Mary that with God nothing was impossible for the Easter story is the knowledge that the impossible is possible. Now the new community had all those stories to know God as not only their creator, but as their savior and redeemer.

Finally this community understood God as the Holy Spirit. As promised by Jesus, the gift of the Spirit came on Pentecost. It came to the whole community and not just a select few. One would have thought that the spirit would come to the disciples and their friends only, but the spirit came to the gathered group that represented people from all over the region. They spoke different languages and were from different cultures yet they heard the word of God in their own language. To them that must have been a mind-blowing experience. The Bible says they were “bewildered.” For only the disciples knew about this gift Jesus had promised and I doubt they knew in what about form the Spirit would come for to woman at the well, to the good Samaritan Jesus lived and preached a life of welcome and inclusion even when his followers didn’t. The community now has experienced God as the Holy Spirit.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not a “top down” theology that began with Augustine or Thomas Aquinas, but a way for the faith community to understand the God of our salvation history. Throughout our tradition and the stories handed down this is still be best way to understand God.

Why celebrate Trinity Sunday? For us it is the time when we begin the struggle to understand how it is we live in this community of faith. The liturgical dramas of Jesus’ life are over and we the ones left to tell the story. We are the ones to go out into the world to proclaim the good news, to baptize in the name of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore we must understand how God acts and lives in our lives in order to share the good news in the world. People are not converted to Jesus because we can articulate a theological doctrine, but because we can share our faith in very human terms. Sharing how God has acted in our lives as creator/parent, redeemer, brother, and empower spirit.

I have a friend who said he could not believe in God solely as Father for his father was absent and when present abusive. We all know people whose fathers were the disciplinarians. Remember our mothers saying “just wait until your father comes home” and when he did you were afraid you would be punished and sometimes afraid to do something to irritate him? Or you were told to be quiet your father has had a hard day at work? We know people whose mothers have also abandoned and abused them. Therefore limiting God to either parental name limits the God we love and worship.

While our God will judge us at the last day, our God is a loving and generous God who gives to us unconditionally. The God we worship is the God who created all of us and accepts all of us as we are. God does not make mistakes. Understanding God in this way gives us knew insight into loving and accepting others who are different from us for we are all made in God’s image. It is us, not God, who has put limits and parameters on who is acceptable to God. Understanding God this way also calls us to reach out and care for all of God’s children especially those who can not care for themselves.

How do we understand God the Son, the Redeemer? We are Jesus’ hands, feet and heart in the world. As we eat Christ body and drink the cup week after week and year after year we become what we eat and become Christ in the world. In our baptism we are baptized into Christ’s life, death and resurrection. As someone once said we may be the only person someone who does not know Christ may encounter. What will they see? We sing the hymn “they will know we are Christians by our love,” but will they when they see us destroying one another?

By the virtue of our baptism we have been empowered by the spirit of God to go into the world to proclaim the good news. Too often the phrase “Spirit-filled” has been narrowly defined to the narrowly defined understanding of charismatic. As if one has to have a certain type of religious experience to be spirit-filled. We are all spirit filled. How we exercise and live out our lives in the spirit is up to us. Paul reminds us there are a variety of gifts but one spirit. We are variety of people in one Spirit. We are called to live out and develop our gifts to the fullest. Our gifts are complimentary to one another but competitive or hierarchial. There is no scale of 1-10 on the gifts of the spirit. The gift should be seen as that a gift from God, of God. A gift to be celebrated.

Trinity Sunday is a day for the church to celebrate how it understands God and how it lives out that understanding. It is an opportunity for us to wrestle with, to struggle with, to celebrate the meaning of God in our lives and in the life of our faith community. It is about getting back to basics.

To the community that hears the salvation story and how God has acted through history and continues to act in our lives as we recognize all are created in God’s image.

To the community that lives the resurrected life of the risen Christ and makes itself manifested in the world by living as Jesus lived a welcoming and inclusive life.

To the community that knows it is empowered by the Holy Spirit to live boldly as it proclaims the good news and goes forth into the world baptizing all in the name of the Trinity.

It really is simple this Trinity. Very basic and very profound. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.


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Christopher Sikkema


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