May 27, 2018 – Trinity Sunday
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
I’m sure you have often had the experience of hearing someone speak or reading something someone has written and thinking, “Wow! That person has just given a great explanation of something I didn’t understand” or “What a great summary of a lot of information I already knew!” The experience can be more personal. You may react by thinking, “Exactly! That’s what I think or that’s how I feel. My life is like that, too!” You recognize that the other person has found just the right words to help you better understand a thought or feeling or experience of your own. And that can be a very helpful gift, moving you further in your learning about life.
During the week-long clergy conference I attended earlier this month the faculty consisted of eight people, priests actively serving in parishes and lay people. These men and women had training in areas of mental health, nursing, finance, and teaching. Many of the lay people have been very active in the Episcopal Church, locally and church-wide. Each faculty member presented information related to his or her field of knowledge.
In sessions for the entire group of priests attending the conference a great deal of material about all these areas was presented. I knew much of the information already, but I learned new things, too. And the way the conference “put it all together” was interesting and helpful. I left the conference with much to ponder in the coming months.
In addition to the group presentations, we had the opportunity to meet individually with faculty members if we chose to. I had an important half hour meeting with the Rev. Dr. Stephen Holmgren, a priest whose area was spirituality. You may recognize his name as the author of a volume in the New Church’s Teaching Series, “Ethics after Easter.” My meeting with him provided me with both kinds of helpful experience I described earlier.
We talked about the church today and how people in the church – even at the conference, I might add – speak about God. I explained how uncomfortable I am when clergy and others make certain broad statements about God – about how God feels or what God does or doesn’t do, for instance. This confidence about our human understanding of God that is expressed by some people seems all wrong to me. Stephen agreed and pointed out that the church today has apparently lost some of the wisdom the church had in times past. “Exactly!,” I thought. He put into a few words what I knew – the church today has departed from the wisdom of many great minds and deep souls of the past. We have lost a fundamental sense of the mystery of God and the humble acknowledgment of our inability to describe or understand God.
I bring this up today because it is Trinity Sunday. This is a Sunday when we should be especially alive to the mystery of God. We should be cautious about accepting people’s “explanations” of the Trinity. Some of them have been labeled as heresies during the history of the church. For example, one popular explanation of the Trinity is that God is like a human being who is one person but functions as three persons, such as wife, mother, and sister. This is a heresy named “modalism,” that God is one but operates in three different modes – as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – as if God has three different skill sets.
We profess a belief that God is one God in three persons. As we prayed in the opening collect: we “acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of [the] divine Majesty … worship the Unity.” The best minds have explained this by stating that God is a community, three persons in relationship and all always acting together. In our recent readings in the Gospel of John we have found this expressed. There is an essential and eternal unity among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of Christ. Christ bears witness to the Father, and the Father glorifies the Son. No “person” of the Trinity acts differently or separately from the other “persons.” Believing, as we do, that God is love, we may describe the community of God as a community of love.
I want to share something else that Stephen said to me, something that relates to this morning’s reading from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Do you remember from when you were in school learning English grammar or perhaps learning a foreign language that you learned what the subject and object of a sentence are? Take the sentence, “I love my cat.” In that sentence the subject is “I,” the one who loves. The object is “my cat,” the one being loved, the object of love.
What Stephen said to me is that we speak and think sometimes as if we are the subject and God is the object, when in fact, God is the subject and we are the object. Do you see how important that is? It is similar to being reminded that God is our creator and we are God’s creatures. But it is even more than that, because it helps us understand the dynamic of our relationship with God. God loves us. God seeks us. These are the primary facts. As it is expressed in the First Letter of John (4:19): “We love God because God first loved us.” And we see this in our reading from Isaiah. God gave Isaiah a vision of God, and Isaiah knew that he was not worthy to see God. After the angelic being purifies him, Isaiah hears the Lord ask “whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” God does the asking, and Isaiah replies, “Here am I; send me.” In the verse following our reading, God says, “Go, say to that people …” In other words, God then gives further orders to God’s willing messenger.
God is the agent. God begins everything. God speaks to us first. God gives us everything. We have come from God and we are going to God. God is the only proper center of our lives. God is the Subject far beyond our comprehension. We don’t need to speculate on the nature of the Trinity or attain deep theological understanding to know what this means for our lives. We need only remember that the nature of God is love and be thankful for the teaching and example of Jesus Christ who showed us what God’s love looks like in human living.
Because we are here, worshipping together as followers of Jesus, I think we can assume that God has called us. We have a vocation, a call. We may not have had a vision like Isaiah or heard the Lord speak to us directly, but we have been called by God. We have been called out of the world and into the community of the church. We have been called to live according to God’s ways of love and mercy, to bear witness in our hearts and minds and lives – in the church and everywhere – to the love of God. We have been called to grow in love. God has called us. How will we respond?
In the name of the Holy Trinity of love, Amen.