Friday, June 9, 2023

Trinity Sunday Sermon for Adults

For my preaching at Faith Lutheran, I've decided to write a new (newish) sermon for each Sunday.  I do give myself permission to borrow from myself, and I have two sermons that I wrote for my Women and the Preaching Life that I will use because they were written with the church in mind.  But for the most part, I'm trying to do some new thinking each week.  I will also preach from a manuscript, so that I stay on topic.  I'm still sorting out how long the sermon should be.

It also makes some sense to post the sermon manuscript here on this blog, which has become an archive for all sorts of ministry ideas.  Here is last week's manuscript, preached on June 4, 2023, Trinity Sunday:

June 4, 2023


          When I started seminary, I had pastor friends who told me that I should expect that my faith would be shaken.  I heard stories of people who had been challenged by Systematic Theology classes or by meeting people from deeply different faith backgrounds.  However, I did not expect my faith to be shaken by Church History class, particularly not in learning about the earlier centuries of the Christian Church, a time period I knew very little about.  Throughout that class, I learned about all the divisions that led to schisms between Christians, schisms and sometimes worse, like wars and massacres.

          As I prepared for this sermon, for Holy Trinity Sunday, I thought about one of the earliest schisms, the one that led to the Nicene creed.  In the years before the adoption of the creed in the year 325, early Christians bitterly disagreed about whether or not God the Creator was equal to Jesus or existed before Jesus—were they both created of the same Divine substance or was the Creator elevated?

          Modern people might be surprised to learn that this controversy wasn’t resolved by the adoption of the Nicene Creed.  Over and over again, this issue caused controversy and schism—and worse. 

          So why have a Sunday that celebrates the Trinity?  Why poke at this old wound?  You might also wonder why we celebrate the Trinity so soon after Pentecost.  Can’t the Holy Spirit be the focus for a bit longer?  It’s not a new festival—we’ve been celebrating it in some parts of the Church since the 1300s.  By now, most of us don’t need Trinity Sunday to help keep us from heresies like the ones that disavow the Trinity—that could be the subject for a different sermon.  But since it would probably be more like a Church History lecture than a sermon, let’s go in a different direction.

          Let’s think about what Trinity Sunday has to offer us here in the 21st century.  First, let’s return to our readings for the day, particularly the reading from Genesis.  In the words of that song from The Sound of Music, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.  Let’s go back to one of my favorite creation stories.

          I won’t read the whole thing out loud here again—it’s quite lengthy.  But go back and take a look and see if you immediately notice what’s missing from this story.   Correct—there’s no snake, no forbidden fruit, no casting out from the garden.  Maybe you think we just haven’t gotten to this part.  But if you go back and read further in Genesis—homework?—you’ll notice that the story we have for this morning is complete.  It’s the first creation story, and it ends here—and then the next one starts, and that’s the one that’s more familiar, the one with humans misbehaving and expulsion from Paradise.

          So let’s look at this one again.  It’s become one of my favorite depictions of God, God as creator, God in full creation mode.  God creates and creates—such a variety of creations--and declares everything “good” and “Very good.”  Unlike many of us, God the creator in this version doesn’t say, “This attempt was stupid.  I am so stupid.  I am putting away all my creative materials that bring me joy and I will never create again.”

          No, God takes joy in creating and the next day, God finds more joy in creating.  We don’t see a God of hellfire and damnation here, no God of punishment, no God of disappointment.  It’s a very different picture of God than the one that many of us think we know.

          This past year in seminary, my Preaching professor said this on our last day of class.  She said that one of the most prophetic things we can do is to tell people that God loves them just as they are.  She said that we might be surprised how many people have never heard that God loves them.  I don’t think she’s wrong.

          If you look at Church history, you’ll see that the church has emphasized a very different picture of God than the one we see in this first chapter of Genesis.  It’s not always a very loving picture.  And it’s not limited to the past.  I’ve been to many a retreat and heard people talk about God sending them all sorts of tribulations as some sort of test.  While I admire the ability of people to try to find the good in the most awful situation, I have to wonder why people would worship a God like that.

          Happily, that’s not the version of the Trinity that we meet today.  In addition to God the Creator, we meet the Redeemer, and we even get a sense of the Holy Spirit.  This brings me to the other way that I think that the Triune God is so important, still important, for us today.  From the very beginning, God shows us, and keeps trying to show us, how to live in community.

          The early Church was asking the wrong questions when it spent so much time trying to discern which part of the Divinity was in charge, who was most important, who came first.  The science fiction writer Octavia Butler has a scene in one of her books where a space alien notes that humans have a lot going for them, but what will doom them is their need for hierarchy.  That character wasn’t entirely wrong—but God works to try to save us from our doomed need to put people in rigid hierarchal structures.  God does this by showing us a new way of being in community, even though humans through the ages have resisted following God’s model of the Trinity.

          I also wonder how much our received views of the Triune God limit us from experiencing the new ideas that could come if we think of the Trinity differently.  For many of us, some of the traditional aspects of the Trinity problematic.  I think of this each year when Pentecost approaches, and I wonder for those of us who live in places that are susceptible to the damaging force of wind and fire (and that’s more and more of us these days), if this vision of the arrival of the Holy Spirit means we’ll be less receptive.

          As I’ve spent time broadening my image of God from one of God as a father (and not always a patient father) to God as a creator, I’ve experimented with other aspects of the Trinity too.  I’ve thought about communities I’ve been part of, communities where we are so much stronger together than we are as individual units.  A few years ago, I explored this idea a bit in an article for Gather magazine, an article that envisioned the Triune God as a quilt group.

          I wrote:  If we thought of the Holy Spirit as a quilt group, perhaps we could transform our relationship with this part of the Trinity.  Once I saw God as an angry judge.  Now I see God as the ultimate quilt designer who invites us to contribute ideas, fabric, thread, effort.  Once I saw Jesus as the college student who could get us all into trouble, good trouble, as John Lewis would say.  Now I see Jesus as  one who comes to our tattered quilt of existence, to introduce us to new fabric and more interesting patterns and vibrant colors, all stitched together with much stronger threads than any we’ve had before.  The Holy Spirit is the quilt group member who comes to us with complex quilt patterns or information about quilt shows that we should enter.  The Holy Spirit is the one who believes in our creative powers, even when we’re less sure ourselves.  It’s a wake up call, to be sure, but not the kind of wake up call that natural disasters bring.  It’s the insistence that we can be better versions of ourselves, that we already are better versions if we could just believe it.

          In the coming week, I encourage us all to think about the example of community offered by our Triune God, the image of a Triune God that has been so important through the ages.  I encourage us to think about what elements of the Triune God are most important to us and what those elements say to us as we nurture the communities that are important to us and to the larger world.

          I encourage us to return to the words of Jesus in Matthew, the words that he gives after the resurrection.  He makes it clear that his mission is not complete, that he’s relying on us.  He invites us to continue the work and promises always to be with us.  He invites us to be part of the community that the Triune God has already begun to create.

          Today and every day, I hope we say yes to that invitation.


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