Trinity Sunday, Based on Matthew 28:  16-20

In our Gospel reading today are the final words of Matthew’s gospel, the culmination of Matthew’s teaching.  So pretty important words; and wow there is so much in these 4 short verses.  These last words have come to be known as “The Great Commission”.   All who believe in Jesus the Christ are to make disciples of all nations—which means the good news of God’s love in Christ, is open to all—available to anyone and everyone and it’s our job to live it and spread that love and to tell everyone! This is evangelism–sharing the news of the Love of Christ with others, teach them about the love of God in Christ, the ways of Jesus, God’s saving grace.  This is how we make new disciples, sharing what Jesus taught as a way of life.  Why? Because when we all walk in God’s ways, in Jesus’ way, we come closer in relationship to God, our Creator, and can more fully live in the love of God.  When we live fully in God’s love, we can love as God loves. We believe God loves all the people of God’s creation, regardless of skin colour or gender, regardless of our socioeconomic status, and all the other barriers that humanity creates that justifies one group’s superiority over another’s.  The events of this past couple of weeks since the death of Floyd George have dominated the media, regardless of what type of media you consume. It’s made me think deeply, and causing me to struggle with a few thoughts.

Firstly, how could I or even should I address it in my message today?  I really did want to focus on the Trinity, as Trinity Sunday comes only once a year.  But to ignore what has become so impactful world-wide would be like playing ostrich.  And the impact Mr. George’s manner of death has raised is remarkable.   I have become even more conscious of the bubble I live in, in this little oasis in the globe.  I can go days, even weeks without seeing any people of colour.   But all this overt racism, this hatred of others because of skin colour, it’s not how I was raised, it truly feels so foreign to me, I don’t understand it.  However, it’s the term ‘white privilege’ that hit me this week, forcing me to consider all the advantages I have because I’m Caucasian, which I’ve unconsciously so taken for granted. ‘Systemic racism’ is another phrase I’ve not considered before, and while some say it’s not as bad in Canada, I can’t help but think of the way Indigenous people in Canada have been and still are being treated.  We do have so far to go!  And I’ve come to appreciate it is such a complex topic, and I’m trying to consider and own up to my thoughts and feelings about my own racism and privilege.   I have absolutely no expertise on the subject, beyond the discrimination I’ve experienced that continues to impact women, and yes, female clergy.  But that seems so very minor in light of everything else!

I have posted various articles on the Regional Ministry’s face book page which impacted me and I do hope have prompted you to some thoughtful soul searching as well!  We need to learn more, to understand better, and I promise you this is something we will explore together once we can meet together.  Just a final thought to leave you with before I move on to our regularly scheduled sermon.  This is one of the images that really impacted me:  George Floyd’s daughter, Gianna, sitting atop the shoulders of her “uncle” being quoted as saying, “Daddy changed the world.” Out of the mouth of babes!  Her uncle’s cap says ‘Faith’.  It struck me, reminded me, reinforced for me that God can take the worst evil of this world—the horribly violent death of a man, this time a black American man and from it create incredible good—and positive world-wide change.  Does that make it right or good?  Absolutely not, violence and destruction are most certainly go against the teachings and example of Jesus.  Yet, you can’t help but notice the impact for positive change that Mr. Floyd’s death is having.  God can and does bring good out of evil, that is the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection!

Ok, so let’s go back into our gospel reading for today.  As Matthew tells us, Jesus tells us also to baptise new believers in the name of, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  I’m pretty sure that’s why this section of scripture was chosen for Trinity Sunday.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, words Jesus used; in time to be known as the Holy Trinity.  It’s something we say—or hear anyway—fairly regularly at church.  Simple words but an amazingly complex idea, this theology of the Trinity.

There is no explicit Trinitarian thelogy in the Bible.  It developed over the years, kind of an amalgam of various biblical sources.    At Jesus’ baptism those who had ears to hear heard The Lord God Almighty refer to Jesus as ‘Son’.   Jesus referred to God as his Father.   So if Jesus is God’s son, God’s heir as it were, he has all the entitlement and power of his Father, those are the rights of a true heir.  Jesus even said:“All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus has the authority and the power of God, which would make him just like God.

Now, in the first creation story in Genesis,  a ‘wind from God’ or ‘the Spirit of God’ –depending on which translation of the Bible you read, hovered over the water.  In ancient Hebrew the word used is ruach, which can mean spirit, wind and breath God’s ruach hovered over the water–God’s creative spiritual power breathed life into humankind– literally in-spired life into humanity.  God’s Spirit is literally within us.  Over the centuries, a Trinitarian, a three-fold theology of God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit came to be, as theologians and biblical scholars studied the scriptures to more deeply understand Jesus, the Son of God in relationship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

It is an abstract concept, challenging to understand, it’s not something easily nailed down or explained.    So, I thought, the Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church would provide us with a nice succinct definition.   The Trinity is:

“the central Christian dogma, that the one God exists in 3 persons and one substance.  It is a mystery in the strict sense, in that it can neither be known by reason apart from revelation, nor demonstrated by reason after it has been revealed, but it is not incompatible with the principles of rational thought.”[1]

Hmm.   Did you get that?  No, me either, not at first reading anyway.  Doesn’t sound like a very concise definition was it?  And that it can only be known by revelation adds even more challenge.

So in a nutshell — maybe that’s a bad choice of words, can we really get the Trinity into a nutshell????  I seriously doubt it, but we need to start somewhere so, let’s focus on the major points of this definition to try and get our heads wrapped around it.

  1. The concept of the Trinity is fundamental to our Christian faith;
  2. There is one God, but in 3 personas.  Note I said personas, not persons. You sometimes hear the Trinity referred to as 3 persons, which is not a really accurate translation of the original Latin word.   Persona means “The aspect of someone’s character that is presented to or perceived by others (as in) ‘her public persona’. (Coming from the Latin it means) literally ‘mask, character played by an actor’ ”. [2] In ancient theatre, the same person would play multiple roles on stage. When they changed their mask, their ‘persona’ that was the cue to the audience that this was a new character.
  3. The Trinity really is a mystery,
  4. but one which we can come close to only by experiencing it, as it is revealed to us by God.
  5. It is extremely difficult to rationally define it, but not impossible to do so, as I am trying to do right now!  I’ve heard it said that the preacher who tries to explain the Trinity in a sermon is crazy.  So, call me crazy!  But I think it’s important to try and get a grasp of it, as it is such a fundamental Christian concept.

Over the years since Matthew first wrote these words, many great minds have tried to understand and explain this Father, Son and Holy Spirit concept, to get a sense the hugeness of what came to be known as the ‘Trinity’, the three in one and one in three God.   The idea was to attempt to bring the mystery of it close enough for us to get sense of the implications of the triune God.  Some have used illustrations.  St. Patrick was said to have been the one to use the shamrock to teach the concept of the Trinitarian God to the Irish; three parts of one same leaf.

Another way to illustrate this three in one idea is three ovals that overlap and create a circle in the centre.  The Celtic knot is based on this Trinitarian design. 

No matter how we try and explain the concept of the Trinity; draw it, write books and theological treatises about it, just like my Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church said, we can’t get to the absolute bottom of it, we can’t capture the immensity of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And some will have doubts about it all.

However, if you spend some time pondering it; it is an idea that grows, that matures within us.  It’s something that over time we may come to get a sense of, feel it and come to believe. After all, “It is compatible with rational thought.”[3] Inherently, the Trinity is about relationship, how these three faces, persons, aspects—whatever word helps you to understand, these three personas of God are in a relationship with each other, and they want nothing more than to be in relationship with us!  It was what we were created for, to be in relationship, in communion with our Creator, our Father/Mother, loved by Jesus the son, our brother.  We are afterall, God inspired!  And by the breath of God, by God’s Holy Spirit we are empowered—to do God’s work, to live as the Son taught us, and are strengthened to do all those things. Amazing isn’t it!   This truly is worthy of our worship and wonder and praise.

And even more amazing, no matter what, no matter how bad things may get in our world, we have the assurance that we are not left to muddle through on our own.   Jesus is with us and will remain with us – “always, to the end of the age”. (v. 20)

Let me end with a Trinitarian prayer that I often use during my morning prayer time, it’s a Celtic prayer that I think brings the aspects of the Trinity into focus:

Be the eye of God dwelling within me,

                the foot of Christ in guidance with me,

                the shower of the Spirit pouring on me,

                richly and generously.   Amen

The Rev. JoAnn Todd, Rector The Anglican Ministry of Hope

 

[1] The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christ Church. E.A. Livingstone, Ed.  (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press. 1987) pg. 521

[2] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/persona accessed:  June 8, 2017

[3] The Concise Oxford Dictionary, see above