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Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on Trinity Sunday, May 29, 2005

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Trinity Sunday

Sermon preached by

The Rev. Ethan Cole

May 29, 2005

Once a year the Church very explicitly calls before our minds the doctrine of the Holy Trinity that pervades and informs all our worship all the other Sundays of the year. The Church is right to do this because despite our Trinitarian language throughout the liturgy, the simple unitarianism of a faith in "God" could easily come to dominate our thinking. In this tempting unitarianism Jesus becomes a wise moral teacher more in tune with God than any other man, and so he is worth listening to; the Holy Spirit becomes shorthand for the power of the one God moving and active in the world and in our lives; God is God, and we usually call him Father. This is a philosophically very neat little heresy. It saves us from the mental gymnastics of considering three-leafed clovers and other familiar metaphors for calling three One and one Three. Once we have put the trinity to bed we can get on with our business. Denominational Unitarianism has done this formally. They deny the Trinity and worship one God. There are no mental gymnastics necessary. There is a pleasant and satisfying simplicity in unitarianism. The mind need not strain to understand a mystery. There is a rational and mathematical satisfaction to the number one. We need go no further, the Unitarians say.

But the Christian faith is more robust than this. The first Christians were Jews, grounded in the vibrant and demanding monotheism of Israel, expressed in the Shema-words from Deuteronomy that are to be recited every day, "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One." They were grounded in this truth from Holy Scripture, and yet, in their encounter with their teacher Jesus, they encountered God. They encountered God so fully that Paul wrote to the Colossians, "Jesus is the image of the invisible God….In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…." In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul says of the Spirit that it "searches the very depths of God." What can search the very depths of God but God himself, and yet the Spirit is not Christ, and Jesus is not his Father, and the words of Deuteronomy that "the Lord is One" are all true. These first Christians encountered God in this threefold way. Jesus had taught his disciples to pray to our Father in heaven. They saw God dwelling fully in Jesus. They knew God was present with them, giving them power to proclaim the kingdom from the day of Pentecost forward because they had met the Holy Spirit of God. For these first Christians, God is One, and he is Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit. These first Christians were proclaiming this vibrant experience of God, living for it, and dying for it with such urgency that the philosophical difficulties that would plague the next generation of Christians did not bother them. It was not until the persecution of Christians died down, and Christian thinkers began to appear who had the inclination to consider matters other than martyrdom that there were attempts to reconcile the apparent contradiction of these assertions about God: that God is One and the Father, Jesus his Son, and the Holy Spirit are all God. It is here where the mental gymnastics are likely to begin.

I will not trouble you today with clovers or fire, light, and heat or any other of the myriad of metaphors that theologians have used as they sought to explain the Holy Trinity. Instead I will point to Scripture and Experience and pray that these two point to the truth.

I have already noted a few places in Scripture where Jesus and the Spirit are spoken of as God. All throughout the Scriptures there are hints and whispers of the Trinity, too numerous to mention them all. We have The Spirit of God moving over the face of the deep in the first words of Genesis today. Those of you who come to Evensong tonight at four will hear those mysterious first verses of John's Gospel where we are taught that Jesus the Word was in the beginning with God and in fact was God. In Matthew's Gospel that we heard today Jesus himself at his Ascension commands his disciples to make more disciples, and to baptize "in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." In obedience to this command we baptized Jamie Nicole Hendon into our Trinitarian faith last Sunday.

What Scripture says, my experience echoes. If we trust scripture that the Father to whom Jesus taught us to pray is the God of Israel, we experience his Godliness every time we look into the grandeur of creation. I know the Father every time I offer my prayers to him, and often they are prayers of thanksgiving at the magnificence of his handiwork. He is the Father whom we praise and thank for the whole sweep of salvation history that we recount at the Great Vigil of Easter and in the Thanksgiving over the Water at Baptism.

We know God and the power of God in Jesus because of our experience of own salvation. We know that Jesus is Lord because of the undoing of death and sin at Easter. Jesus is God our brother who guides us and leads us to his Father, and this is why we pray "through Jesus Christ our Lord" or "in Jesus' name." We meet and experience the power of Jesus our God every time we receive the blessing of his very self that he has pledged to us in the Eucharist that will eat and drink in a few minutes.

We know that the Holy Spirit is God because we have known the working of his divine power in the midst of this community. We have seen the Holy Spirit empower ministries and raise up leaders and carry the fellowship of St. Paul's community through both sorrowful and joyful times. That we are able to pray at all is a great work of the Holy Spirit, "who," as St. Paul says, "helps us in our weakness" and "intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words."

Somehow these three are one. The mystery of the Trinity compels my assent not because I understand or comprehend the inner workings of God's "biology" so to speak, but because this is how I feel the presence of God in my life: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

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2005 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York