Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Letting the Trinity define us" -- Trinty Sunday

Preached by the Rev. Canon Dan Smith at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, May 30, 2010
Good morning, it is nice to back with you again. The Cathedral is of course the community in which Evelyn and I normally worship, but it is a special opportunity to help lead worship this day. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Trinity. It is an unusual type of feast day in that instead of celebrating an event, say like Pentecost last week, or a great Saint like Peter or even an Absalom Jones celebration we are today celebrating a doctrine or a teaching of the church. I will tell you that this fact puts the preacher on somewhat shakey ground. There is much to get wrong we you try to talk about a doctrine.

A little homework might be in order as I begin sharing my thoughts with you today. The word Trinity is not found in the New Testament. The concept though is certainly implied in many places of the both the gospels and the letters that make up the majority of the Christian Scriptures. Two of our lessons today at least implicitly speak of the Trinity, the lesson from Romans 5 and the gospel lesson from the 16th chapter of John. We can find other examples, perhaps the most well known of which is in the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel where we are called to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. One of the early church fathers is credited with first using the term Trinity around the year 150. There was almost immediate debate about whether the teaching really described the essence of God. Factions following various teachers or schools of thought emerged. Arguments in the church are not new in the 21st century. The Council of Nicea was called to once and for all end debate and settle on a doctrine to understand God. It decided on the Trinity and declared Arianism to be heresy. There are stories of physical violence erupting at the council and we think Diocesan Convention or General Convention can get emotional. The council while it gave us a creed we will say in a few minutes did not end the debate. It has continued through the centuries. Bishop James Pike once preached a sermon in this cathedral calling for the doctrine of the Trinity to be discarded.

All that said the doctrine of the Trinity is the position that the vast majority of those who call themselves Christian hold today. And yet even then we often try to fix up the Trinity to better suit our sensibilities. For instance we take the Old Testament lesson for today and decide that the Spirit is “She.” Not that I mind that idea, but it shows that we still are trying to clean up our understanding of God or worse that we are trying to make God in the image we would like. The Trinity is a way of understanding God, but it will always fall a short, because we can never fully understand the mystery that is God.

Rather than working at defining God I think we ought to pause this day and see how the Trinity might define us and our mission and ministry in our community. To do so I want us to look at a mission that is often associated with each person of the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. Please note that I said A mission, this is not meant as an exhaustive list, it is meant to get us thinking.

A mission often associated with God the Father is creation. I love the opening words of Genesis: “In the beginning when God created…” What would it be like if we let this mission of God help define the mission of this cathedral? What might we do? I know that we are not going to create any new ground and we are not going to create life, but what about really engaging in the creation that is. I don’t think there can be any doubt that the climate is changing. I have read recently that some changes are such that there is no going back no matter what we or nature do.

How might we re-engage at theology of creation? Flower festival this year was a first step, the energy audit of this building was perhaps a second. I am not talking about just going green, but what might people of faith have to say out of that faith about our planet. How might we share our faith in God through a deeper understanding of creation and our responsibility to that creation? Part of the reason I ask this is that I have actually heard Christians say that using up the planet is alright because that will mean the end of the world and the coming of Jesus. Let me say that is just stupid. It is also scary. It also begs the question about how to approach Rev. 21 where a new Jerusalem comes down to the world as opposed to all of us going somewhere else. Again I am interested not in just going green, but how we might really engage a theology of creation, of our planet.

We often associate redemption or salvation with the second person of the Trinity, Jesus who we call Lord. Now I know that Jesus has won for us salvation by his death and resurrection. I can’t save anyone in that kind of way. St. Paul though talks about all of us being engaged in the ministry of reconciliation. It is a ministry of reconciling all people with God. That is a formable task when you realize that only about 21% of the population is in church this morning. Just watch the news and see the violence in our own city. Look around and see the literally thousands of people who are trying to find meaning and purpose. How will we reach them with the Good News of Jesus? I heard a really remarkable sermon last week on Pentecost. The preacher said that if Pentecost is the birth of the church then it is also the birth of complete and full inclusivity, because everyone heard the good news of Jesus in their own language. The preacher went on to say that if we are to engage people we have to speak their language. Not something that is as simple as it sounds. The language of facebook, twitter, texting, the language of generations, the language of the lofts in downtown, the language of the clubs on Washington Street, the language of any of the sub cultures that exist in a city as diverse as St. Louis. If we are going to take seriously the mission that the second person of the Trinity sends us on then it not a question of if we learn the language it is figuring out the Rosetta Stone for the languages we need to learn. It is about going out from this place not waiting for people to come here. That is a cultural shift for the Episcopal Church, but it is the only way to go about the mission of reconciliation. What language are you willing to learn?

There are many missions that we could choose from with the Holy Spirit, but I want us to think about the one mentioned in today’s gospel. There Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. I sometimes watch the Downtown Guides on their bikes. They really know the city, they are good at stopping folks that just look a little lost, I know because they have stopped me a time or two. What if we became Downtown Guides for Christ? Could we be a guide into truth, the truth of the gospel, the truth of God’s love, the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ, the truth of all people being equal in the sight of God and on and on. That is a mission that we ought to be able to sink our teeth into. Notice in the gospel today that the guide does not speak on his own. The guide speaks on what the guide hears. To be effective guides we must be effective disciples, steeped in prayer, students of the scriptures, faithful in community and worship. You don’t guide from behind your desk or closed up in a room somewhere. You guide by being with, present to the people you are guiding. It is about being out in our neighborhoods, our offices, our schools.

So I come back to a question: Can we let go of trying to completely understand the Trinity or trying to fix it up to better suit us and let the Trinity help us to understand ourselves. Can we see the mission of the Trinity as the mission for Christ Church Cathedral, for the Diocese of Missouri and the church?