Preacher’s Note: My internship supervisor was fond of saying that, in ministry, one phone call can change your entire day. Case in point: I wasn’t planning on preaching at our Thursday evening worship service tonight, but here we are! The original version of this sermon was preached at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Midlothian, IL, on May 27, 2018, hence the RCL Year B gospel reading. So enjoy this #ThrowbackThursday / Sermon Remix for Trinity Sunday!
Unity Lutheran Church + Christ the King Campus
13 June 2019 + The Holy Trinity
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching
Trinity Sunday (or, in our case, Thursday) is a weird day, isn’t it? For starters, it’s the only Sunday in the entire church year to commemorate a doctrine. Never mind that that’s kind of mind-numbingly boring, it’s also downright unusual. Every other major feast and season of the church year has to do with some event: Christmas is about the birth of Jesus; Epiphany, the visit of the Magi; Holy Week and Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus; and just last week, Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. But there’s no single biblical event or story that can be tied to the celebration of Trinity Sunday.
It’s a weird day about a weird thing that no one really understands or can ever fully explain. The idea of the Trinity defies all logic and reason, and yet: It is foundational to who we are as church. When we recite the creeds, we confess what we believe about each person of the Trinity. When we are baptized, we invoke the presence and blessing of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Many churches, including my home congregation in Chicago, Holy Trinity, take their name after this doctrine. We even begin our worship with a shared greeting: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
The Trinity is so much a part of who are as a church, and yet it’s also so difficult to grasp and comprehend. But maybe that’s the point: The Trinity is not something meant to be understood. The Trinity has to be experienced.
Centuries of faithful Christians have tried their best to explain the mystery of the Trinity, deeply desiring to describe the different ways God relates to us and the different ways we experience God. For them, and for us, the Trinity is about the way God is in relationship with us.
At first glance, it’s easy to overlook any mention of the Trinity in the late-night conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. It’s such a famous passage that most of us could recite it in our sleep — or at least those last couple verses of it. But, if we really pay attention, we notice that Jesus is telling Nicodemus about the ways God relates to God’s creation: God the Creator is the one who so loves the world God has made that God sends the Son to redeem the world, a world which is reborn through water and the Spirit. There’s an intricate interweaving here, almost like a dance, drawing attention to all the ways God relates to God’s creation.
But it’s God’s rationale and end-game in all of this that is most remarkable: that God loved the world… that the world might be saved through the one God has sent. LOVE is beginning and the end of the activity of God in the world! LOVE is the chief concern for the writer of John’s gospel, mentioning LOVE language more than forty times.
Now, brief pause, I have to ask: Any other Royal Family fans out there? You know who you are! And you might also know that last year around the time of Trinity Sunday was also the last big royal wedding, celebrating the love between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. At that service, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, was invited to preach the sermon — which, if you haven’t heard it, you really should look up. It’s an amazing sermon. Because when you’re not only a Royal Family nerd and lover of all things England but also a church nerd, you pay attention to these things!
In his sermon, Bishop Curry invited us to consider the power of love and a world where LOVE is the way:
When love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
When love is the way, then no child would go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty would become history.
When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.
When love is the way, there’s plenty good room. Plenty good room. For all of God’s children.
And when love is the way, we actually treat each other – well, like we’re actually family.
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters. Children of God.
LOVE is the way of the Trinity, the way of God. As an alternative to “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” St. Augustine has even referred to the Trinity as “Lover, Beloved, and Love.” LOVE is the way of the Trinity. We know love. The love between spouses, the love between parents and children, the love of this faith community every time we gather together, even the unconditional love of our pets we’ll bless at the Sunday service this weekend. Those kinds of love are powerful, and God’s kind of love is even more powerful.
Under the cover of night, Nicodemus comes to Jesus and gets to glimpse a vision of the God of love beyond anything he could comprehend as a teacher of Israel. So too in our night — and doesn’t this world so often feel like one, long night lately? — we are in need of that God of love more than ever:
A God who so loves us and refuses to give up on us,
a God who becomes one of us in the flesh and offers healing and wholeness and salvation to all of creation,
a God who continually invites us into the work of love and healing through rebirth—baptism!—by water and the Spirit.
God is Trinity, and God is love. Extravagant love, incomprehensible love, powerful love, earth-changing love, invitational love.
For we, dearly beloved children and friends of God, who abide in God and God in us, that love is both promise and hope, relationship and invitation.
God who has been,
and ever will be with us
sweeps us into the work of love, the way of love, for the sake of the whole world.