Tag Archive: Holy Trinity Sunday


Sunday’s sermon on the Holy Trinity from Community Lutheran Church!

It’s Holy Trinity Sunday.  The day when it is incredibly easy to try to explain the mystery of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to end up either committing heresy or making everything even harder to understand.  As a result, there is a picture the Episcopal Church has made that has been circulating around the Internet this past week.  It features an adorable kitten and has these words: “How not to commit heresy on preaching the Trinity: Say nothing and show pictures of kittens instead.”

Adorable Kitten Trinity Meme

While this sounds like a wise plan, I think I’d be shirking my pastoral duty if we just watched cat videos this morning.  They might make us say, “awww,” but I want to focus on a different type of awe.

The call story of Isaiah, our first reading, is one of my favorite passages.  Isaiah, the prophet of God has this vision, in which he finds himself in the throne room of the Lord.  There, the Lord is sitting upon a throne and the Lord is so huge, so powerful, the hem – just the edges of God’s robe – fill the Temple! That’s a big robe.  Flying around the Lord are Seraphs or Seraphim.  Usually we think of these as mighty angels, some sort of winged, human-like figures, but in the Ancient Near East, these were understood to be fiery serpents with wings.  Yes, flaming, flying snakes! In Egyptian culture, these terrifying beasts were thought to protect the gods, but here, in Isaiah’s vision, they are serving God and covering their faces to shield themselves from God’s glory.  Now if I were Isaiah, and I saw terrifying fiery serpents with wings flying around and sheltering themselves from the power and might of God, I would know that I was in deep trouble.  And if I were there when the Temple started shaking because of the sound of their voices, I know I would have been looking high and low for a place to get out of dodge.  And then all the smoke! Oy veh!

With all this going on, Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  He knows he’s unworthy to be standing there, filled with awe in the presence of the LORD, and he’s worried about what is going to happen.  No one can see God and live.  The holy and the unholy shouldn’t mix.  But amazingly, God overcomes his fears, forgives his sins, and asks who will go out into the world on God’s behalf.  Forgiven and empowered, Isaiah says, “Here I am; send me!” and sets off to declare a difficult message to God’s people.

Isaiah is filled with complete awe as he stands before the Lord, bathed in the glory of the Lord of hosts, the Lord whose voice alone shapes, shakes, and remakes creation.  I know I’d be petrified if I were in his shoes, but even if we aren’t standing before God, aren’t there plenty of moments in our lives when we are filled with awe, wonder or a sense of the holy? Think about it.  How did you feel seeing a magic trick when you were a child? Or what about accomplishing something you didn’t think possible in school or sports? How about visiting a new place? Or surveying the wonders of nature? What about on your wedding day? Or when you saw your children born? What about at a joy-filled baptism? Or coming forward to receive communion? How about the sense of the holy at the bedside of a dying loved one?

Each of us has had moments that have taken our breath away, and filled us with a sense of wonder, awe, and a glimpse of God’s glory.  As the Seraphim say, and we sing every week during Communion, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  The whole earth is chock full of the glory of God.  God’s presence and work in the world inspire fear, respect, awe and a sense of wonder.  But do we cultivate that in our lives? Do we pay attention to all of the wondrous things that point to the awesome majesty of God? The chirping of birds or the miracle of beautiful flowers springing forth from bare earth.  The smell of sweet honeysuckle in the cool night air.  The laughter of children playing outside.  Music or dance that send your heart soaring.  The unexpected kindness of a stranger.  Being invited to the table to receive the body and blood of the most holy, magnificent God, humbled and broken for our sake.

There is plenty of bad news in the world along with plenty of distractions, but the mysterious, triune God we have invites us into lives of wonder and awe.  And we practice living those lives by being in worship together.  We listen to Scripture that tells us of God’s glory and love.  We are wondrously forgiven and fed.  We sing words of praise.  We look with awe and joy on the things God is doing in and through each of us.

We are a people who seek answers.  We are, after all, a Google people who have access to the world’s information at our fingertips.  We want proof.  We want certainty.  We want the concrete.  We want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  But maybe, just maybe, in the divine mystery of the Trinity, we’re invited into the shadow of a doubt.  We are invited to be like Nicodemus, searching for answers in the darkness and asking, “how can these things be?” We are invited to slow down and revel in the mystery of God and embrace that which is so much bigger than ourselves.  To delight in, find joy in, and swim in the amazement of this God who cannot possibly be put into a box.

That’s the kind of God I want to worship.  A God that’s bigger than anything I can come up with on my own.  A God that continues to challenge and push us beyond our comfort zones, to cross boundaries, to take risks and to love with abandon.  We cannot do that on our own, but we can do it with God’s help.

You see, that’s the truly wondrous and amazing thing about God.  God is not only the God of Isaiah’s vision – awesome and powerful, seated on a lofty throne.  No, God is also a God of relationship.  Not only relationship in the sense of God as three-in-one and one-in-three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but as a God who desires relationship with us.  As Paul explains, this is a God who has made us God’s own beloved children. We are children of that Almighty God on the throne, able to come to God through Christ and the Holy Spirit.  God is our loving parent and Christ our brother and, even more, we’re co-heirs of everything God has to give to Christ.  Wow.  That’s incredibly good news!

It’s news that means that God wants to be present and active in our lives and in our world – not distant, but near, and at work bringing about transformation in and through us.  When I really slow down and think about the fact that the God who commands the Seraphs, whose voice is thunder and lightning, who reigns over the heavens and all creation, wants to be at work in each of us, in you and me – that’s an extremely humbling thought that fills me with awe.  It’s the same thought that I have when receiving Communion – “thank you for using something so ordinary so that we can know your presence and your love.”

It must have been the feeling Isaiah had standing before God.  An everyday man, forgiven and cleansed by the purifying power of a hot coal, empowered to proclaim God’s word.  He wasn’t able to do this on his own, but through God at work, he was able to bear God’s message.  The holy touched the ordinary and transformed it.  So I ask you, in awe of God’s action in your life and the world, and forgiven through Christ, is the Spirit stirring up something in you? How might you spend time cultivating a sense of awe, wonder and even mystery toward God in your life? How might that affect your worship? And how might that affect how you live each day?

19-Isaiahs_Call

Holy Trinity Sunday invites us to think about the awesome God that we worship.  To step back and behold with humility, wonder and awe the glory of a God we cannot possibly pin down or understand completely.  May we see with eyes of faith the glory of God that fills not only the heavens, but earth as well.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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.

Trinity Rublev

Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity

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.

Here’s the sermon I preached last week at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC.

It’s Holy Trinity Sunday.  Now, I’ve been pondering for a couple of weeks now, wracking my brain about what to say about the Trinity.  If you want to tie your brain in knots, I recommend thinking about the Trinity.  It’s something we can take for granted because we use the language of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” all the time.  And we speak of God as being three persons, but I don’t know if we actually pause to think about what that means.  God is three-in-one, one-in-three.  As someone put it, 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 What?!  I’m no mathematician, but that does not add up.  So, pondering the Trinity blows my mind a little bit.

In preparing for this sermon this week, I sat down to pray, asking for inspiration and guidance.  And I was surprised and delighted by how God answered my prayer.  As I sat silently, I was overcome by a sense of being invited to just be with God.  To simply experience God.  To stop thinking about God or the Trinity in abstract terms and to just sit with the triune God.

Now the best word I have to describe what I experienced is “invitation.”  And I think that’s what the Isaiah and Romans readings for today, and indeed the whole Bible do.  They invite us to get to know God – not as a doctrine, but to experience the living, active, mysterious God – three-in-one – in our own lives.  The ways in which the authors speak about God are vastly different, but I think this only serves to show the breadth, depth and mystery of God.  These texts invite us into life with the triune God in diverse ways, and they remind us that we can never quite figure God out completely.  They also remind us that our encounters with and our ways of speaking about the triune God might look or sound a bit different from one person to the next.  Overall, they invite us to experience God and to keep our hearts open on the journey.

When I was young, my mom, my brother Zack and I were walking along Carroll Creek in Frederick.  Now if you’re familiar with the creek, you know that there is a bridge there that is concrete, but painted beautifully to look like real stone.  The technique used on this bridge is called trompe l’oeil, which is French for “deceive the eye.”  There are several such paintings in Frederick including one of an old angel who is leaning out of a window, one of ducks flying through an open window, and one of a man who has his arms outstretched.

That day when we were walking along the Creek, the artist was painting the bridge.  We stopped to watch him, filled with awe and wonder at the amazing work he was doing.  Then, to our surprise, he asked my brother and I if we wanted to help him paint the gate he was working on.  We were all shocked!  My mom, naturally worried that her little children would not have the same skill as the artist, asked him if he was sure he wanted to let us paint!  He smiled and without hesitating said, “yes.”

Under the watchful eye and with the guiding hand of the artist, my brother and I each painted a few strokes of black on that portion of the gate.  And to this day, when I walk down Carroll Creek, I always make a point of looking at the gate, right at the spot where Zack and I were invited to be a part of a work of art.

In the Isaiah reading, in an incredible vision, the prophet finds himself standing before the Lord’s throne.  Seraphim fly around and call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  The throne room shakes and is filled with smoke.  And Isaiah, knowing full well that he is a sinful human being in the presence of a completely holy God says, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  It’s as if we hear Isaiah saying, “oh boy!  I really shouldn’t be here right now!!”

But just as Isaiah is overcome with panic and feelings of being unclean and not worthy to be in the presence of the Holy One, the unthinkable happens.  One of the Seraphs uses a hot coal to touch Isaiah’s unclean lips, telling him, “your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”  In the throne room, filled with God’s overwhelming holiness, Isaiah is forgiven and made clean.  As if that isn’t amazing enough, God issues an invitation: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  Sins blotted out and guilt washed away, Isaiah is able to say “Here I am; send me!”  God invites Isaiah, a man of previously unclean lips, to be a messenger of God, speaking God’s word to Israel.  From sinner to God’s spokesperson – that’s pretty good.  Just as a talented artist invited relatively unskilled little kids to participate in his work of art, God invites Isaiah, a man of unclean lips, to participate in God’s salvation-oriented work of art.

In a completely different way, Paul continues this idea of invitation into relationship to God in his letter to the Roman community.  Through the movement of the Holy Spirit, we are invited to know and trust God.  The Spirit leads us and through Christ, makes it possible for us to be called the children of God.  It is through this movement of the Holy Spirit that God adopts us as God’s own daughters and sons.  And for Paul, this means that we are freed from all that holds us captive or keeps us bound.  As he says, “for you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”  Through this holy adoption, we are invited into a life of forgiveness and freedom, rather than one of fear.  And when we cry out, whether in joy or sorrow, to God as our Father in heaven, it is the Holy Spirit bearing witness that we are indeed children of God.

But Paul doesn’t stop at saying we’re children of God.  He goes one step further.  “And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”  If we’re the adopted children of God, we’re brothers and sisters with Jesus, the Son of God.  And even more than that, we are heirs with him!  With Jesus, we inherit or receive all of what God has to give.  That’s crazy!  Since this is possible through Christ, just as Jesus suffered on the cross and is glorified, we also encounter suffering, all the while awaiting the glory the Father has to give.  Just as Christ died and has experienced resurrection life, we, too, die to ourselves and experience resurrection life and hope through our baptisms into Christ.  In others words, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together for the redemption of all of creation.

In both of these readings, the triune God – God three-in-one, and one-in-three – reaches out and draws humanity into the life and work of God.  In Isaiah, just when Isaiah was overcome with knowledge of his own sinfulness, impurities and imperfections, God forgave him and sent him out to serve in the world.  When we feel bogged down by our sin or feelings of unworthiness and wonder if God could possibly work through us, God reminds us that God prepares us for service and empowers us to say “Here I am; send me!”

Paul describes powerfully how the triune God has freed us from all that keeps us bound.  We have received a Spirit that liberates and empowers, rather than one that keeps us trapped with fear.  We live in a broken and fallen world and so we continue to suffer with illness, relationship struggles, grief, lack of self-confidence, guilt, and shame.  However, we have tremendous hope because we have been adopted as daughters and sons of God and we are heirs of the resurrection life of Christ.  The Holy Spirit reminds us of this when we forget, bearing witness that we are the children of God.  The Spirit reminds us that we can always cry out, “Abba! Father!” in our deepest need and that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

God continually invites us into relationship with Godself.  And as I was thinking about the Trinity and invitation, the image of Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity kept coming to mind.  Nadia Bolz-Weber, the pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado describes this icon beautifully:

“The three figures in the icon are depicted as angels seated at an altar table. They have identical faces but their postures and clothing differ as though we are looking at the same figure shown in three different ways.  But it is the way in which the figures relate to one another which is so compelling.  The father looks to the son gesturing toward this Word made flesh, Christ gazes back at the Father but points to the Spirit, and the Spirit opens up the circle to receive the viewer.  Between the Spirit and the Father in the Trinity icon is an open space at the table in which the viewer is brought to sit in communion with the Godhead.  Here we see an image of God’s relational circle into which we are welcomed.  The Father sends the Son the son sends the Spirit and the Spirit welcomes us to the table.”

God longs to welcome us into an experience of the Trinity – God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And because of this deep longing of God, God never stops inviting us to experience Godself.   God draws us through the Holy Spirit, forgives us through the Son, adopts us as beloved children, and empowers us to serve in the world.  We are invited into the experience of a God who lives and acts in relationship as three-in-one, one-in-three.  We are invited into loving relationship with the God whose very being is loving relationship.  Thanks be to God for such an incredible invitation!  AMEN!

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Andrei Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity

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