Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trinity Sunday Sermon

This has been a hard week for our city and our community. The storms and tornadoes that struck Moore and a number of communities near the Oklahoma City is unsettling even for those who have lived here their entire lives. There are no easy explanations in a time like this. Adversity and trial demand of us faith that God is working his purposes even if we are unable to grasp what they may be. Especially with the death of children, faith is difficult to find. There is a simple, but beautiful prayer in the prayer book service for the burial of a child. It reads, ALMIGHTY and merciful Father, who dost grant to children an abundant entrance into thy kingdom; Grant us grace so to conform our lives to their innocency and perfect faith, that at length, united with them, we may stand in thy presence in fulness of joy. A trial like this can be an occasion to remind ourselves of a few important lessons. For example, the things of this world are highly unstable. We expect permanence from material things and even, when not confronted with mortality, act as if we are permanent and will never die. The things of this world crumble to pieces in a moment. In the face of such sudden change we have to ask ourselves where is our faith and trust placed? A second lesson is that we often assume that a happy life is a long one. We are mistaken. A blessed and happy life is one that is lived with love and devotion to God and kindness and pity for our neighbors. The author of the Apocryphal book of Wisdom reminds us of this fact when he wrote 2000 years ago that “The righteous man, though he die early, will be at rest. For honourable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the gray hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age. . . The good man, being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time” (4.7-9,13). My friends, death often does not give us a warning of its visitation, and so while we live, we must live well, and treat our time to live as the gift that it is. Finally, it is moving to see how many people have reached out to help those who have been affected. This outpouring of love is, as Fr. Petley reminded us a few weeks ago, the way that we are to live as human beings. The expressions of care and generosity we have seen are the way we were created to live rather than the usual callousness and indifference that characterizes our fractured world. The common element in all these expressions of love is self-offering. People showing up and saying how can I help? A similar self-offering is evident in the work of Stephen Ministry. This ministry is not about dispensing advice, money or gifts. It is a simple self-offering of time and attention to someone enduring the inevitable trials of life. For all the self-offerings we have seen this week, we gives thanks to our Lord who has left us the prime example of self-offering in his cross and passion.

Turning now to today's feast, the day is set aside as a feast of the Feast of the Holy Trinity. It is not the day in which the doctrine of the Trinity should be reduced to palpable images or figures. No doubt you've heard of the ice, liquid water, and water vapour image as a metaphor for the Trinity. When we speak of the three persons of the Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—we are not speaking of different parts or changing states of God. One of the most helpful phrases on the doctrine of the Trinity comes from what is called the Athanasian Creed. It states in part, “the Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons : nor dividing the Substance.”

The purpose of this feast becomes more when we consider where it falls in the course of the church year. The Feast of the Trinity comes at the end of a long string of feasts that celebrate chronologically the life of our Lord The church year begins with Advent in December. Advent anticipates the second and first comings of our Lord Jesus. His nativity is celebrated at the end of Advent with the 12 days of Christmas. Epiphany—the manifestation of Jesus as both God and man—follows in January and February. In the next season Lent, we recollect our Lord's temptation in which he faced and overcame all the temptations common to man. The climax of Lent is Holy Week and the commemoration of our Lord's last days, his crucifixion and triumphant resurrection on Easter Day. Forty days after Easter Sunday, we remember that Jesus ascended into heaven where he intercedes for us and from where he sends his disciples the Spirit. Ten days later on Pentecost—last Sunday—the church gives thanks for the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and the church. From Advent to Pentecost we remember the events by which we confess that God entered into history to save humanity from sin and death. The crown of these successive events is Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday follows this yearly re-telling of salvation history in order to remind us that our belief in a Tri-une God is shaped and formed by God's self-revelation in these saving events. You see, the doctrine of the Trinity is not really the speculation of philosophers who have discovered something new about God; the doctrine of the Trinity is the inspired result of reflection on the saving events we have commemorated over the past six months.

Now, someone will ask, why does the doctrine of the Trinity matter? Isn't belief in one God sufficient? It is an adage of religious studies that you become like that which you worship. If your god is remote and distant and loves in a purely abstract way, that will shape your character and thinking about the world: empathy may not be a distinguishing aspect of your personality. In many false religions, of course, one worships a simply a self-image, a god of our own tastes, opinions and prejudices. That is why the idea of God's self-revelation is so important. Rather than imposing our own image on God, we allow God to speak for himself. The doctrine of the Trinity is so important because we believe it is who God has revealed himself to be in the person and mission of Jesus Christ. The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that the Tri-une God is an eternal community of love. Love and self-offering is not a learned behavior of God or one of God's modes of acting. Love belongs to the very substance of God in the intercommunion of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father begets and loves the Son. He gives his divine life to him. The Son loves the Father and gives himself completely in love and obedience. The Holy Spirit is the bond of love proceeding from the Father and the Son. That we worship this Trinity and believe that we are made in his image means that we are created for love and community. As individuals, families, and a community, we want to become like the God we worship, a communion of love with God and fellowman. It is not good for man to be alone, and so we are given families, friends and communities to love freely and unreservedly. We have seen such love this week, but even so, it is still only partial and imperfect. It belongs to the hope of eternal life, to see the perfection and fulfillment of this communion of love in God. The most profound image for heaven in the Bible is a city without church or temple because the city itself is the temple. The society of man is joined to the society of God—the Trinity—and it is joined in love. The Anglican theologian Austin Farrer wrote a meditation on this feast of the Holy Trinity. He had these moving words to say, “Belief in the Trinity is not a distant speculation; the Trinity is that blessed family into which we are adopted. God has asked us into his house, he has spread his table before us, he has set out bread and wine. We are made one body with the Son of God, and in him converse with the Eternal Father, through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost” (Crown of the Year 37).

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