19 June 2011
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity: We beseech thee that thou wouldest keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see thee in thy one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
When Jesus ascended to heaven, he left us two things. The first was a community that had experienced his life and ministry, that had been witnesses to his death and resurrection, and to whom he gave the commandment to love each other as he and the Father have loved them. The second is that which we call the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the meal of bread and wine he commanded us to eat in remembrance of him.
Ten days later the community that gathered to tell stories about Jesus and share the meal of bread and wine were given another gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Enlivened with the very breath of God, Jesus' friends were empowered to go out into the world to tell all the peoples who had never known the God of Israel about Jesus. Now, full of real and lasting life they might fulfill the great commission and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Having been on this journey ourselves, we too stand on the other side of that first Eastertide. We have travelled with the disciples to the foot of the cross, sat with them on that day when they believed all was lost, made our way to the empty tomb, come to know the reality of the resurrection, walked again with the risen Christ during those forty days, witnessed his ascension, again faced the question “what next,” and finally gathered with the disciples when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. We, too, have lived through these tumultuous days and now know what to do. We, too, are to go forth and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Our work, and the work of each Christian since those first days, is to discern what this means for us as a community and for each of us as individuals.
This work of discernment is rooted in our understanding of who God is, who we are, and of what we have experienced. Today on Trinity Sunday we focus on the first of those questions: who is God? Asserting that God is Trinity—one God in three persons—has been at the heart of the Christian Religion from earliest days and continues to be one of the most important elements of Christianity. Yet nowhere in Scripture is the Trinity explained. Scripture teaches us that God in the person of the Father created all that is and proclaimed that creation to be good. Scripture teaches us that the Word of God, his self-expression into the world, was with the Father from the beginning and became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, his son. Scripture teaches us that God as Spirit is, and has been, at work in and through the creation filling each of us with the breath of life.
We have learnt from Scripture each of these things and know that what we read is true because it has remained the steadfast faith of the Church ever since. The key to our realisation of its truth, however, is found in a phrase from the Fourth Gospel, “we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” We have beheld Jesus glory and know him to be one with the Father. We have beheld the Glory of the Father in creation. We have beheld the glory of the Spirit in the power of the community, the power of love at work in the world in and through God’s creatures. We know God as Trinity because we have beheld its Glory, the glory expressed in the great hymn, Te Deum we will sing following Mass.
All the complex arguments over the last two thousand years about the precise definition of the Trinity is the work of people wrestling to understand what they have experienced within the life of faith, within the life of relationship with God, within the life of the Church. Saint Anselm had it right when he declared theology to be faith seeking understanding. It is an intensely human activity and a most worthwhile endeavour.
I think that what matters most for us today, however, is that as we declare the Glory of the Trinity, we need to understand what difference it makes to our lives here, in this City, today. I believe with all my heart that knowing God to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit matters. I believe that knowing God as relational, active in creation, and enlivening our very beings affects how we live and ultimately affects who we are. And this brings us back to today’s Gospel.
Here, at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus leads his disciples back to a mountain and offers them one final instruction and a promise. He commissions his followers to go forth into the world, the world beyond Judea, beyond the people of Israel and make disciples of them. He commissions them to incorporate those whom we meet into the fellowship of other believers through baptism “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” He commissions them to teach and spread the word about the God of Israel who commands his people to love God and their neighbour as themself, teach and spread the word about the God who is served by our serving other people, the God who said that “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Finally he promises that in and through all of these things, wherever they will go, that even if he is not there in the flesh that he is still with us “always, to the close of the age.”
The reality of the Trinity is connected with this commission and is at the heart of this commission. We are sent out into the world by Christ, empowered and given our mission, so that we might help express the very love of God into the world. We are sent out into the world by Christ to help people realise that the fullness of the Glory of God is found in the love of the God who made us, who came into the world to show us that love is more powerful than death, and who fills us and energises us with the very breath of life. We are sent out into the world as ministers of the Gospel of the triune God and asked to do this work in whatever way we are most able. We need not wear signs and hit people over the heads with our story. Rather, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit in this post-Pentecost season, we are called to live our lives as signs of God's love in the world and be proud to say we do this because we are intimately and inexorably bound through baptism to the one, holy, and living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
Joseph Butler, 16 June 2011
© 2011 Andrew Charles Blume