Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, June 12, 2022

YEAR C 2022 trinity

Trinity 2022
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15
Psalm 8

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So today is Trinity Sunday, the day that strikes fear into preachers around the world.  Every pastor and priest I know struggles over what to say on this morning each year, because you don’t want to get it wrong.  And actually, a lot of blood and ink have been spilled over the centuries trying to get this right, this idea of what we mean by “the Trinity.”

People don’t take this getting it right lightly.  I mean, St. Nicholas himself is said to have punched Arius in the face in 325 at the council of Nicaea, over whether or not Jesus is eternal.  St. Nicholas, I tell you!  (I’m guessing Arius got coal for Christmas that year.)  There is not a lot of room for opinion on the Trinity; you don’t want to get it wrong, and everyone struggles to get it right.

So in trying to explain the Trinity, people end up using fancy words in other languages, debating the difference between homOIousios and homOousios.  (The difference being one iota, which is where we get that phrase.)  Or, you end up describing some interaction between the Father, Son, and Spirit as being a perichoresis, which some people call a dance.  Or you end up talking about the same person wearing different masks, or persona in Latin. All these Greek and Latin words are supposed to help, but some of us doubt their usefulness.  Using these words and concepts is supposed to make it easier to understand the Trinity, but . . . well, I’m not supposed to be telling you this . . . it doesn’t.  Using fancy words and complicated concepts just makes it easier for the person talking to have something to hide behind . . . in case St. Nicholas is listening.

But then you have theologians who go to the other end of the spectrum, trying to use everyday shapes and materials to make their case.  The three-leafed shamrock of Ireland, or the three physical forms of water, or a tri-colored pinwheel, or a simple triangle.  The physical objects are supposed to help, but they’re only so useful, and they break down under scrutiny.  So we end up with this big long continuum that runs from St. Nicholas punching a guy back in 325, all the way to a triangle on a piece of newsprint in some Sunday school room.  That is a long line of people struggling to get it right.

And at the end of the day . . . well, how much does it matter?  I mean seriously, how much does it matter whether the Spirit proceeds from just the Father, or from both the Father and the Son?  (Which is a distinction that keeps the Eastern Church split from the rest of us.)  How much does it matter whether Jesus was there from the beginning of time or just from the beginning of his earthly life?  (Which is what can get you a roundhouse from St. Nicholas.)  Even before the Council of Nicaea in 325, the Church has claimed that it is of the utmost importance to get this right, this definition of the Trinity.  

So important to get it right, but so hard to even explain.  It’s more a case of, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once wrote, “I know it when I see it,” about . . . a different matter entirely.  Nonetheless, we live in this confusing tension of wanting to get it right when talking about the Trinity, and yet admitting it’s unrealistic to try, since the word “Trinity” isn’t even in the Bible.  Every explanation of the Trinity has its downside, and many will legitimately still doubt whether it really matters in the end anyway.

And, you know, if this parish were called “Trinity Episcopal Church,” I would feel a strong need to press these various metaphors on you today in the hopes that one would stick.  That way, when your friends ask, “Why is your church called Trinity?” you could have a pithy little response all set to go, with Latin and everything. But since we are called, “St. Timothy’s Church,” instead we get to explain why our patron saint’s seal has a club and a bunch of stones on it.  Such is our fate.

So, let’s talk about what we do know.   In this morning’s Epistle reading, from Romans, Paul writes “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Now FIRST off, we have to avoid the temptation to read that as though suffering is a good thing, being the first step leading to hope, right?  I mean, if we’re not careful when reading that little contorted sentence, we might end up thinking that an increase in suffering is actually a good thing, since it leads to endurance, which produces character, which produces hope.  Two key words to notice in that passage are “also,” and “because.”

Paul says we ALSO boast in our sufferings.  That whole thing about suffering is preceded by “We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”  He makes that statement, which we generally agree with.  We boast in our hope.  And the word that gets translated as “boast” is related to the word for “neck.”  Boasting is not bragging.  Boasting is holding your head up, keeping your chin up.  Standing tall in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  Right.  Totally makes sense.  But Paul goes on . . .

And we ALSO boast—or, hold our heads up—in the midst of our sufferings.   We ALSO walk in confidence with our chins up when we are suffering (or feeling hopeless), because suffering leads us through a pathway that leads us right back to to hope.

In essence, Paul is talking about hope.  No matter what happens, we can walk with confidence and hope.  And that whole little riff on having hope either way starts with Paul saying, “since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God . . . we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.”  We stand in peace with God through grace, with our heads held high, because of Jesus.

Today at St. Timothy’s, we celebrate our 186th anniversary of ministry in Massillon.  For 186 years, this congregation has been gathering together to worship Jesus.  We hold our heads high in hope, and we hold our heads high in suffering as well, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts, just as Paul says.  For generation after generation.

This parish would not exist if God did not want us to be here.  Or, in a more positive way: we are here—in our little postage stamp of Massillon—because God wants us here.  God has a purpose for this congregation.  And that is why we will continue together toward our 187th anniversary and beyond.  

And that, my friends, is the most important thing to remember about the Trinity.  It might not matter one iota how you define the Trinity . . . especially since nobody who is honest is able to do so.  What matters about understanding the Trinity is the full presence of God in our common life together.  The most important thing to take away from here on Trinity Sunday is that God is with you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God walks behind you, and beside you, and in front of you.

And this morning, the Trinity meets us at this altar, in bread and wine, in the body and blood of Jesus, which is sanctified by the Holy Spirit, who was sent by the Father to inspire us to faith together.  And when you come forward and stretch out your hand, you can hold your head high, knowing that God welcomes you unconditionally.  The Creator is with you, and the Spirit is leading you, and Jesus is coming to meet you once again in the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation.  So, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Happy Anniversary, people of St. Timothy’s!


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