Hold on to your theological seat belts, folks! Matthew’s taking us on a rocky ride. For today he presents us with the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God in three persons ~ the Holy Trinity! How do we make sense of all this?
For starters, let’s take a look at Jesus in today’s gospel.
Anglican priest Brian McGowen of western Australia, preaching on the Trinity gospel, writes:
“How does the post-Resurrection Jesus stack up against Matthew’s version of the 'real Jesus'? Not too well, I reckon! The Jesus (that) Matthew shows us here on the other side of death isn't recognizably the same One who goes to his grave in utter humility and servanthood ~ or even the One who appears to his friends. It's amazing what can happen to Jesus when the church gets its hands on him!!! Now here's an Agatha Christie for us! When all is revealed, the culprit is.........! Whoever took control of the Matthew material and bent Jesus into a changed shape for a church already well on the way to losing Jesus' plot? While not wanting to dismiss helpful aspects of the truth of God as 'Trinity', I do want to ask questions like "What happened to Mother (God), or other glimpses of God along the way?") I do wonder if it's not God's time to let God's Spirit help us bend God's Jesus back into God's shape!”
A lot to digest! Theologians do that! But this trinity doctrine is hard to figure out. For the Trinity, far from explaining anything about God, actually makes God more mysterious than ever! How can God be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Do we wind up with a three-headed God? This concept sounds like Early Church theology rather than the real Jesus talking with us. Where is God’s Word in all of this? Where’s the gospel for us this day ~ on this Sunday of the Holy Trinity?
Bishop James Pike, Episcopal bishop of California (until his death in 1969), called the doctrine of the Trinity “excess baggage.” He said that, with the exception of this Matthean passage (which he felt was tacked on to the gospel by the Early Church), Jesus never spoke of it. Pike did not pay much attention to it and did not consider it essential to the faith.
I don’t want to get into a debate over Bishop Pike’s view of the Trinity. Rather I say we need to take a good look at the Trinity, though. It is at the heart of our Christian faith today. We proclaim a triune God in our Apostolic and Nicene Creeds. But why do we worship a triune God?
First, we must acknowledge the word “trinity” is not found in the Scriptures. It’s just not there. It comes to us much later through the Church Fathers.
Second, we do, however, have a Trinitarian greeting from St. Paul this morning (in the 2nd Lesson) which we use each Sunday to begin our worship. And we also have the command by Jesus to “make disciples and baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” in the gospel for this day. So there is “trinity action” here! Jesus commands us to work the trinity!
So what is this work of the Trinity? We see the first work most clearly in the extended 1st Lesson for today from Genesis: God is the Creator. This One God has made all that is ~ the universe as we know it and much more. Our world is just one dot on the fringe of our galaxy! Astrophysicists, looking through the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), estimate there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. A recent German super-computer simulation estimates that the number may be as high as 500 billion! As we look farther into space, we may very well find even more marvelous creations by our awe-some God!
And what this mysterious Trinity tells us is that God the Creator has made them all! That helps me. It makes my faith stronger. In the face of so much scientific knowledge, we can rest assured that God our Creator has all the galaxies and the entire universe or cosmos in his hands. The Trinity has told me so!
The second work of this triune God is that of redemption. God has saved us from sin and death in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Savior. Jesus Christ has redeemed us. God’s gift of new life through Christ on the Cross is for us. No matter what may come our way, we are in God’s keeping. We’re in the company of the apostles which we call the Church. We are part of the Communion of saints ~ forgiven sinner-saints ~ in Christ. So we can give a hearty “thank you” to God for our lives. Since “God’s Son has set us free from Satan’s tyranny” (in the words of Edvard Grieg’s masterpiece that I sang as part of the Wagner College Choir), we have nothing to fear. We can do “all things through Christ” who strengthens us. We are sent forth as witnesses to share this good news with others ~ even the whole world. We are to make disciples of all nations and baptize in his Name. We can do this because Jesus is our Redeemer and sets us free to do God’s work.
And the third or final work of this triune God is sustenance. Jesus comes among us as the Holy Spirit, the Sustainer. God sustains and empowers us. In other words, God keeps us going, even on those days when we find it hard to get going. Ever have one of those? I have!
In the beautiful film, Moulin Rouge, Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman sing the song “Come What May” as she is dying in a very moving scene. Some of the words are:
Suddenly the world seems such a perfect place
Suddenly it moves with such a perfect grace
Suddenly my life doesn't seem such a waste
It all revolves around you.
And there's no mountain too high
No river too wide
Sing out this song and I'll be there by your side
Storm clouds may gather,
And stars may collide
But I love you (I love you)
Until the end of time (until the end of time)
Come what may
Come what may
This Counselor and Comforter will be with us no matter what comes our way. As Jesus promises in the last line of our gospel for today: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Like the song, he sings to us, I love you until your dying day. “I love you ... come what may.” God is with us ~ today and tomorrow and forever. God’s Spirit is here with us and will be
with us always!
This is the work of the Trinity. This work helps us understand a bit more about this mysterious doctrine we call the Trinity: One God in three persons. We do not have three gods. But each “person” of the Godhead has a unique work to do ~ yet all three are actually one.
In our lives we are called to carry on this Trinitarian commission. We have God’s three-fold work to do also. We are called, no commissioned, to go into all our world. We are to preach and teach and heal. We are to baptize, confirm, and commune. We are to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked poor, and to set at liberty all who are oppressed.” We are to welcome the stranger. We are to “make disciples of all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit.” We are trinity disciples.
Loving Father/Mother God. Self-giving Son in Jesus. Sending Holy Spirit, our Counselor, now and forever. God in three Persons. This Blessed Trinity ~ promises to be with us always.
Larry Broding, a Catholic priest, writes on this text: “The risen Christ revealed more than his changed life. His presence showed his followers the power of the Father and the Spirit. When the followers saw the resurrected Lord and heard his command to evangelize the entire world, they saw for themselves the Trinity in action.
“When we live as followers of Christ, we invite others to join us not because they see nice people living good lives. No, they (too,) see the Trinity in action. For God works through us.” He concludes with these thoughtful questions for us:
Have you ever prayed to be God's instrument? To be the face of Christ to others? To have the Spirit work through you? To show others the Father's love? Take time this week to pray in this way. And focus your prayer on one or two people.”
Carole and I and our kids, Evonne and Tory, lived in the Student Christian Center where I served for many years as ecumenical campus pastor at SUNY New Paltz. Tory, my son, put a sign up on his wall. Some construction workers had left it behind on the ground in front of our house. So he discovered it and somehow it found its way (he “re-located” it) to his bedroom wall. It read: “MEN AT WORK.” This Sunday God calls us, men and women, girls and boys, to go forth into all of our world as his “TRINITY DISCIPLES AT WORK.”
And the peace of God, which surpasses our fullest human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Savior and truest Friend forever.