Sunday’s sermon from Community Lutheran in Sterling, VA.
Today is Holy Trinity Sunday, and I’d like to begin by saying that I don’t understand the Trinity. Amen. Nah… just kidding – you can’t get off that easy! And I think Pr. Joe is with me on this, too. I find that no amount of seminary training or theological study can help us fully grasp the Holy Trinity. As St. Augustine put it in a sermon: “What then are we to say of God? For if you have grasped what you wish to say, it is not God. If you had been able to comprehend it, you would have comprehended something else in the place of God. If you had been almost able to comprehend it, your mind has deceived you. It is not God, if you have understood it. But if it is God, you have not understood it.” Whoa… That was not so helpful, Augustine…
The God we confess as three distinct persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is a mystery. On the one hand, I sometimes find this mystery frustrating as I try to understand and to explain it to others, and maybe you do, too. On the other hand, however, I find that the doctrine of the Trinity is always inviting me to a deeper encounter with God and with others.
The idea that the God we worship exists as three persons in relationship with one another – in community – is amazing to me. At the core of God’s very being is relationship. One of the best depictions of this that I’ve seen is Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity. Painted in 1425, this icon features three divine angels seated around a table. These figures are taken from the description of the angels who met Abraham and Sarah at Mamre. The figures not only relate to one another through their body language and hand gestures, but also through the rich blue color, a symbol of divinity, used on a portion of each of their garments. These holy beings not only form a circle and a community by themselves, but they invite the viewer into the conversation and intimacy of the table.
This is the community, relationship and intimacy into which God graciously invites us. God the loving Father calls us through the Holy Spirit to an encounter with Jesus Christ – God in the flesh, visible and approachable. God invites us into the holy conversation and leaves a space at the table open for each of us, inviting us to join the party!
Today’s texts speak about God as community. We hear it in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians just as we hear it every week in our worship: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” And in the Gospel we hear Jesus tell the eleven disciples to “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.”
Both of these verses point to the second part of trying to grasp the Trinity. The triune God doesn’t just invite us into relationship with God, but calls us into relationship with one another. God draws and gathers us together through the Holy Spirit as brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, we are reminded of this incredible good news in the celebration of the baptism of Xander. In baptism, we are not only brought into relationship with God through water and God’s promises, but also made a part of the community of Christians here in this place and around the world.
Because God exists as community, communion with God is always communion with one another. We come together for worship every week to pray together, to share Christ’s peace with those around us, to sing songs in unity and harmony, to receive communion from and with others, and to be blessed to go back into the world to share the communion we’ve experienced here. We come to deepen our relationship with God and we wondrously find ourselves in relationship with one another.
When I was a new to the Christian faith, I thought I could read my Bible and study on my own. I found, however, that I wanted to be able to discuss faith and life with others who were trying to follow Christ. I wanted to be with others who knew God and could help me learn more. After being a part of a community in high school that proved divisive, I was ready to quit organized religion. I decided that I would follow Christ, but on my own – without a community. Sure, I would talk to my Christian friends about faith, but I wanted no part of church life.
Once studying in Germany, I thought I’d give church another shot. And so after a time, I found myself nervously walking down a street to a small church in Freiburg, Germany. I was alone and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be welcomed, or that I wouldn’t understand anything, or that there would be the same insider/outsider lines drawn at this church as I had experienced before. I prayed and told God as I walked that I was nervous and the response I received was what we heard in Matthew’s Gospel, “You are not alone – I am always with you.” I ended up loving being a part of that little community, trying to sing the hymns and follow the service. There, I found people willing to help me learn the liturgy, people who welcomed me although I was a foreigner, people who invited me over for Easter lunch since I was alone, and people who invited me to take my place at God’s table.
Once back in the States, I thought that I might not find another church as welcoming as the one in Germany, so I again avoided organized religion. That was all well and good until I realized that I was missing out on being able to talk to others about faith. I felt kind of isolated. I had questions and I wanted grow in my faith, but I needed support. I was hungry for God and I found myself missing Holy Communion – I longed for and needed to hear those words, “the body of Christ given for you,” “the blood of Christ shed for you.” So again, I nervously stepped through the doors of a Lutheran church. The rest is, well, history in the making!
No community is perfect. I have experienced ugliness in the church and maybe you have, too. We’re always a motley crew of sinner/saints all gathered together. But I have also experienced the incredible beauty of community. I have been formed and shaped, welcomed, loved and taught by pastors and laypeople alike. And my relationship with God continues to grow because of the encounters I have in this community of faith. When young and old offer their gifts, or a child offers a prayer during the Children’s Message, or I listen to the wonderful conversations at Bible Study, Adult Forum, or Adults Anonymous, I catch glorious glimpses of God in community. Where have you seen the face of Christ in this gathering? Who has helped to form and shape your faith?
We all need others to remind us of God and point to God. There’s too much hatred, hurt and pain in the world for us to bear by ourselves. And when we’re hurting or don’t know where to turn, we need others to help us see that God is with us. We need others to care, ask about our lives, and to say, “I’m praying for you.” We need people to share how God has been active in their lives to encourage us in our journeys. We need others to inspire us to step out of our comfort zones by sharing their gifts. In short, we need one another – each and every person. That kind of sharing and mutual support takes real vulnerability – the type that says, “I struggle, too, but let’s lean on and learn from one another.” Are we ready for that?
In World Cup terms, it takes a team of eleven working together to be successful. Usually there are a multitude of passes and maneuvers before anyone can score a goal. Or, as some might say, a “GGGOOOOOOLLLLL!” Hmmm, now that I think about it, Jesus sent out 11 disciples in today’s text – coincidence, I think not! The point is that no one can maintain the marathon up and back pace of a 90-minute soccer game and score by themselves. They need their teammates.
Today’s Gospel says that Jesus came to the eleven disciples on that mountaintop and they both worshiped and doubted. And in my experience, that seems about right. We worship and doubt, wrestle and struggle. And still, in spite of their doubt, Jesus sends the disciples out to make communities in the name of the holy community. Even without perfect faith or complete understanding, he still tells them to baptize, to share the good news, to make disciples, and to teach. Because the thing is, he’s going to be with them. ALWAYS. Even until the end of the age. We will keep messing up, but Jesus continues to forgive us and send us out to build relationships and community in the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To keep trying to live out our new lives in Christ together in community because where two or three are gathered, Christ is there among them.
We are not perfect and we never will be, but the God who does live in perfect communion continues to call us together and to breathe new life into us through the Spirit. So maybe we won’t always understand the Trinity completely. But the faces around us will help us understand that God, the three-in-one, calls us to live out our faith in community because it is through relationship with others and the sacraments that we experience God. And I have learned that I need that community, always, even to the end of the age. Don’t you? Amen.
© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.