A Sermon from All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor, NY
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on June 6, 2004.
(Trinity Sunday, Year C).
It’s been said that more heresy is preached on Trinity Sunday than any other day of the year. I’m not sure whether this is true or not, but it does highlight the confusion generated by the concept of one God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Long theological tomes have been written on the subject. Church councils have been convened on the subject. Christians have been martyred over the subject. And the confusion remains. Human language is always inadequate to explain the fullness of the mystery of God. And the historical debates make this, at least, very clear.
But talking about the Trinity only gets us so far. The Trinitarian debates of the fourth century and its byproduct the Nicene Creed are undoubtedly foundational to our understanding of the faith. Through this conversation we know that God is the Father “of all that is seen and unseen.” And that “Jesus Christ is the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father.” And that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” And we praise the great saints who shaped this formula. People like St. Athanasius. But for us, talking about the Trinity is a world apart from experiencing the Trinity. The Trinity isn’t dry doctrine, it’s living faith. Because the Trinity is the fullest expression of God. And the fullest expression of God is anything but dull. For God is a dynamic power, a presence bursting with energy, a Creator intimately involved with our everyday lives, a Redeemer who came into the world to save us, and a Sanctifier that breathes holiness into every corner of life. This isn’t just theoretical. This is life-giving truth.
So, here’s a little secret: the fullest expression of God is not about arcane or complex theological language. It’s not about some new-fangled math that claims three is really one. The fullest expression of God is simply this: that God is love. That’s the essence of God’s fullest expression. Again and again the Gospel of John brings home this point: God is, above all, love. And that’s what the Trinity is all about.
In a sense, there’s nothing simpler or more basic than love. So, maybe we’re the ones who make the concept of the Trinity so complex. Maybe it’s our sinfulness and brokenness that confuse the divine simplicity of God. Maybe we complicate the fundamental essence of God. God is love, so the Trinity, too, is love.
Which brings us to a question. How do you experience love? How do you know what love looks and feels like? We know love because we are loved or we love others. So it’s through community and interaction with others that we experience love. The Trinity, which is ultimately the heart of God, is bound together in community, in a community of love. Because the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is itself a community. These three persons are in loving relationship and loving community with one another. The ultimate community, perhaps, but just as much a community as your family or this parish. And so the Trinity as the fullest expression of God, models communal love. The difference is that it is a community based exclusively on love. In our own communities we certainly strive for loving community. And there are moments when our communities reflect glimpses of this divine love. But we’re human. And so, many things thwart our efforts towards fostering loving community. Like pride and self-interest, insecurity and fear. But rather than despair, the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit gives us hope. It points to what can potentially be created when people join together in love. And the possibilities are astounding.
The other lesson about community we learn from the Trinity is that its dynamic power cannot be contained. The community of God that forms the loving bond between the Father, Son, and Spirit is not merely internally focused. A community so focused upon itself is limited. But community finds its deepest expression when that love is shared, when it moves outside of itself. The relationships of the three persons of the Trinity are not a remote model for us. It’s not something we stare at and strive for. The Trinity’s love must be shared. It needs an object for its love. And that’s where you and I come in. We are the object of this Trinitarian love. God doesn’t just love in the abstract; God loves us. That’s the miracle of the Holy Trinity of God. It exists to share God’s divine love with you and me. And it’s why we can say with such conviction that “God is love.”
Through our relationship with God, we live in community with God. Our community with God is the single most important community we have. For it is a community that offers us life and salvation. It is stronger than any human club or fraternity, it’s stronger than any sports team or alumni association. It’s even stronger than the community of our own families. And when we live in community with God, we live in community with one another. It is impossible to love God without loving one another. It just doesn’t work.
Trinitarian love is why we celebrate this day. The point of Trinity Sunday is not to honor doctrinal complexities. It is to rejoice in God’s love for us. And to remember our charge to share God’s love with others. And so it is that we end our time together each Sunday morning with a Trinitarian blessing. Asking God’s full expression of love to be among us and remain with us always.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2004