A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on June 12, 2022 (Trinity Sunday, Year C)
Few things make me feel older and sound crankier than when I talk about the playgrounds of my youth. Parents today would never let their children play on them. The metal slides would scorch your exposed skin, the seesaws would fly away and catch you under the chin, and like many people my age, I have a small scar on my face from that time I walked too close to the swing set. But my favorite piece of playground equipment was that circular metal apparatus that you’d run alongside to make go as fast as possible before grabbing a metal handle and hopping on. I don’t even know what it was called — I think we referred to it as the whirly gig — but I do remember occasionally slipping off and biting the dust, especially if the older kids were controlling the speed.
For some reason, Trinity Sunday made me think about this particular piece of playground equipment. The Trinity is ultimately about love. That dynamic interplay between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is a divine dance of love into which we are invited. But there’s also a circular nature to this whole concept, which is why I thought about that old-time piece of playground equipment. It’s not a perfect analogy, since God doesn’t send us sprawling into the dirt. But the loving circle that is the fullness of God draws us in and then sends us out to share that love with others. And that never-ending circle of love goes round and round.
Now, we’re good at over-analyzing the doctrine of the Trinity. It is as complex and unknowable as it is simple and comprehensible. That’s the great paradox of this day. You can’t exactly put a holy mystery into a well-defined box. And yet to revel in the great gift of the fullness of God, rather than feebly attempting to parse it all out, is the point of this day. As a friend of mine once put it, “To use this day to delve into theological teaching would be a bit like going to a wedding and offering a scientific explanation of what might be happening in our brains when we experience love.”
In the end, like most things surrounding our faith, the Trinity all comes down to love. We are loved and so we share that love with others. Because if the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t encourage us to reach out our hands in love, then what’s the point, really? Why bother with the gallons and gallons of ink that have been spilled to help us make sense of the whole thing?
I often like to remind people that the life of faith is not rocket science. It can be distilled down to two things: love God and love neighbor. And I think the Trinity falls under this formula as well, or at least our response to it. We love God because God loves us, and we love neighbor because, again, God loves us. That’s the essence of why the Trinity matters. This circular argument is not just dusty doctrine, but a dynamic life force. Animating our actions towards God and one another. Inspiring us to live and love as God loves us.
You know, just about one year ago, we held our first in-person service after being exclusively online for 62 straight weeks. We continue to live into what it means to regather as a community of faith and we may well continue this process over the coming months and years. This has never been like a light switch where we hit the button and suddenly everything goes back to pre-pandemic levels. This is a process, full of signposts of hope along the way; full of extended invitations. Holding our first Summerfest in three years is one of those signs of hope. Hearing laughter and music and smelling barbecue and tasting ice cream are all signs of hope in a world, in a community, that so desperately craves such signs.
The ultimate sign of hope is that we continue to worship the fullness of God, as held out before us in the Trinity, as we have throughout this pandemic. The fullness of God holds out to us hope and healing, renewal and inspiration. That’s why we continue to gather, whether that’s online or in person, indoors or outdoors, wearing masks or not. This hasn’t been easy, but as a parish community we have been faithful, even when it’s been hard. Especially when it’s been hard.
These are all signs of the Trinity in our midst. This dynamic life force that transcends the mere mechanics of divinity. The community of faith that includes each one of us. We are signs of God’s fullness in the world. We are signs of the Trinity.
I don’t know whether my circular playground analogy helped draw you into the divine mystery of the Trinity. But hopefully it was more helpful than my back up plan of a tire swing being held up by three ropes. Remember those?
But the main point here is that 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. And that’s what the Trinity is all about.