Sunday, June 03, 2007

De Trinitate

This is Trinity Sunday. It is also the 28th anniversary of the first sermon I ever preached. (I'm emitting a silent interior scream--that's more than half my life ago.) If you know very much about my biography, you may already have done the math and figured out that 1979 was a full decade before the authority to preach without a leash was conferred on me by ordination.

Here's how it happened: I was a part-time church musician at the time at St Timothy's in Salem, Oregon, and was conferring with the (then) Rector about music for Trinity Sunday, and he casually said something like, "I don't think I'll preach on Trinity Sunday. What can you actually say about so great a mystery." I promptly went...well, not quite ballistic, but something on that trajectory. "What?! You've got to preach on Trinity Sunday. Yes, it's a great mystery--one that people need to be told about!" (I was 27, and had very little respect for authority.)

The next thing I knew, I was in the pulpit on Trinity Sunday. It was memorable. I was eloquent and erudite. I was transparent. I read passages from my personal journal wherein I wrestled valiantly with the mystery of the Godhead. Not since St Augustine's volume from which the title of this humble blog post was ripped off has the Triune God been as elegantly and winsomely explained. You had to be there.

I said the final 'Amen,' sure that most of the congregation was moved to tears, and made my way prayerfully back to the choir in the rear if the church in order to lead them in the singing of the Nicene Creed. I was very pleased with how everything had gone.

Then I looked at my watch.

Listening to a young punk expostulate on the Holy Trinity is an experience that most Episcopalians will suffer gladly. But not when he takes 45 minutes to do it! A sermon of that length skirts the environs of the Unpardonable Sin. I wanted a hole to open up in the floor. People were ultimately kind about it, but they did let me twist in the wind for a while.

My essential message on that occasion, significantly edited in the direction of succinctness, still lies at the heart, I think, of the liturgical observance of Trinity Sunday. Here's the third base-to-home plate portion of my homily from this morning:

So, knowing God as trinity of persons in unity of being is, I hope we can see from these brief reflections, critical to our experience of who God is and what God is up to and how God intends to accomplish his purposes. Yet, even though the theology of the Trinity informs our thinking about God, it is never an end in itself. Thinking correctly about God is important, but it doesn’t get us where we need to go. Rather, the doctrine of the Trinity is always configured toward the worship of the Trinity. Our celebration of Trinity Sunday is not about the doctrine of the Trinity—it’s about the Trinity. That may seem like a small distinction, but it’s not. It’s huge. Both Isaiah’s vision of heaven and John’s vision of heaven in Revelation are all about worship, both have the heavenly hosts singing “Holy, holy, holy…”. So there’s every reason under heaven for those same words to be crossing our lips as they will in a few minutes, even as we are here and now gathered as a microcosm of the worship of the heavenly hosts gathered around the throne of God the Father, with God the Son standing as a slaughtered lamb who has tasted and conquered death, and God the Holy Spirit energizing the hearts and lips of the faithful to offer hymns of unceasing praise. Only the worship of the triune God keeps us faithful, in a balanced way, to the truth of the triune God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

It was true 28 years ago, and it's true today.


A Square Peg said...

Your sermon this past Trinity Sunday was finally clicked......God as trinity of persons in unity of being.

Thank you!!!

Ann said...

Excellent - Trinity Sunday is one of my favorites to preach. You may have stumbled along the base paths but you scored a run in the end. Thanks