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.