a sermon for The Holy Trinity [Year C]
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5, and John 16:12-15
As many of you all know, about two months ago our Evangelical Outreach Team finished making nametags for everyone in the congregation so that we could wear them when we worship and gather. Lots of congregations have nametags, and we’ve used paper ones from time to time, but the team felt it would be helpful for us to have official nametags as we reacquaint ourselves with each other as the COVID pandemic subsides. It was a formidable task, because we have close to 1000 people on our books, and the team didn’t want to leave anyone out.
What I appreciated most about this project was out conscientious they were in getting everyone’s name exactly right. When I got my nametag, not only was I thankful that my name hadn’t been shortened to Phil, which happens quite often, but both Ls were in there, and they’d also included my suffix with the comma! No one can wear this nametag correctly but me, even if another Phillip Martin walks in here some day, including my father! It’s a very specific nametag that helps people know me. Funny enough, another person who has the junior suffix, Frank McCollough, had his first nametag incorrectly printed as “JR McCollough.” They printed him a new one.
This Sunday in the church year is basically meant to be God’s name tag Sunday. We call God by name every Sunday, of course, and the name is not ever a secret but today, on the Sunday of the Holy Trinity, we take intentional time to give thanks that God has given us his name and remember that it is good to be conscientious with it: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is good to be conscientious with God’s name because it is connected to God’s unique story and it is a story of deep love for us. God has commanded that we not take God’s name in vain, which means talking about our God with respect and as much clarity as we can will inevitably help others understand that deep love too.
When we come to experience that love we arrive at the conclusion that God is a Trinity—God is one and God is three all at the same time. God reveals that identity to us in Holy Scripture, and we see examples of it from Genesis all the way to Revelation. Sometimes God is referred to as Father, sometimes God speaks to us directly as his Son and at other times we hear that God is Spirit. Precisely how these three persons relate to each other is never spelled out neatly and in an organized fashion in the Bible, but it is there nonetheless. In fact, explaining how Father, Son, and Spirit are yet one God is something big church nametag committees of previous centuries hammered out. We called them Councils, funny enough (Nicaea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, to name a few), and they gave us things like the Nicene and Apostles’ Creed to help us articulate the Holy Trinity.
Over the years people have tried to come up with analogies to describe the Trinity and make it easier to understand. Some of these analogies have been helpful, to a certain degree, but all of them eventually fail in some way because God’s nature is something we’ll never fully grasp. This name of God we use doesn’t say absolutely everything we can ever know about God, but it is enough for us to base our faith on. The fact is this: God’s identity is about nothing more and nothing less than the rich love that the Father and the Son have for each other in the bond of the Spirit. This love between then is so powerful and gracious that it eventually draws us in, too. Since it is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity, I thought it might be helpful to focus briefly on three things about God as a love-based Trinity that arise out of this set of texts today.
The first is that God is the source of all things. All things come into being through God, whether they are things we can see with our eyes, like puppies, or things we “see” with our heart, like joy. They all must have a source, and that source is God. I think we’ve all had the experience at some point of just sheer wonder at the world that surrounds us. That was the point of that hymn we just sang, the one that names all the different kinds of animals.
There was one father on the camping trip last weekend who had to get up in the middle of the night and make the trek to the bathhouse. He said that once his eyes adjusted to the darkness he looked up and there above him were uncountable stars. It just made him stop and stare. This happens to be a gentleman who has his own telescope and knows quite a bit about space and he still hasn’t lost that wonder of how immense it all looks.
We don’t get that particular opportunity very often in a time and place with so much light pollution, but the night sky is always a mind-boggling way to think about the vastness of creation and the grandeur of everything around us. Voices of the Bible reference it all the time in the same way, like this writer of Proverbs who looks at the heavens roughly about 2500 years before the concept of relativity and light years come onto the scene and he almost instinctively understands he is looking back in time to the very beginning of creation. Woven into all of this universe is a wisdom that makes it all work together. In his wisdom, God creates this all—time, space, stars, this planet, all the ways in which we make a living from the earth, human community, the shoes on our feet and wine and bread on this altar. All of it comes from a God who wants to provide things for his creatures. All of it comes from a Creator who weaves it together with a purpose we often miss. All of it for us to enjoy and marvel and steward as God’s representatives. So, first thing: God is the source of all things.
The second thing: this God, who is the source of all, comes near to us. That is a crazy thought, but the Holy Trinity says it’s true. God has created all of this—the stars in the heavens, the unfathomable diversity of this earth, and still finds humans something special. The writer of today’s Psalm says, “I look at the heavens, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, who are human beings that you should care for them?” I think at some point we have all been made aware of our smallness. We have grappled in some way with our limits as humans. We may be small in the grand scheme of things, but to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we are not insignificant. God comes to dwell with us, and doesn’t just stop there—God comes so be so near to us that he becomes one of us.
And this is all the more wonderful considering what a mess we make of everything. And that goes beyond pollution and climate change and littering. We’re quite unlovable in a lot a of ways. We make a mess of each other and our relationships because of our sinfulness and self-centeredness and all the ways in which we deny the image of God in one another. And in spite of all of this, human beings matter so much to God that Jesus even says that everything the Father has given him Jesus will give to us.
And that brings us to the third thing: God’s love lives through us. It doesn’t stay distant in the heavens, or in books, like a theory. Because of God’s Holy Spirit, all of the love that the Father has poured into his Son has been poured into us to know and share. Our relationships with God will deepen as we live in that love, and we come to know God better the more we love.
One of my good friends recently lost his father to a long battle with cancer. My friend is an only child and was really close to his dad and the loss has been really hard for him. He texted me a photo the other day of what turned out to be his father’s final minutes. He snapped the photo as he was sitting in his chair by the hospital bed because his mother and father looked right then. She was exhausted, having kept vigil for days and nights as he slowly succumbed. She had wadded up his dad’s Snoopy PJs that he didn’t need anymore and had placed them on his father’s body as a pillow. Even though she needed to rest and take a break, even though her energy was giving out, she couldn’t bear to leave her husband. There was a bond there that could not be broken, even as death closed in.
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul says that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us. When I saw that photo and heard the story behind it, I thought of the kind of love that God pours out for us. I thought of Jesus, doing whatever he can for us to make sure that bond is never broken.
I would venture to say that you have experienced this kind of sacrificial love in your own life, the kind of love that does not turn away, the kind of love that is so strong it can take a situation of suffering and make it produce endurance. And then the endurance creates character, and character produces hope, and is a hope of things that will be that does not let us down. Hope: one of those unseeable gifts that God has created for us. Formidable stuff. God pours that transforming love into our hearts so that we can pour it out in the world, so that we can boldly go to where there is suffering and fold up the PJs, so to speak, to stay there and be hope. God’s love lives through us.
To say it differently, we get to wear God’s name tag when we go forth from here. In our baptism this Triune God has claimed us—that is, the God who has created all that is, the God who draws near to humans in all their messiness, the God whose love lives through us. This God sends us out with that name on our foreheads in the shape of love as we know it best: the cross.
We’ve planned next Sunday to be “nametag” Sunday here. We’ll do it once a month. Check to see if you have one already. However, every day is a chance to bear God’s name. Each day God strengthens us to bear his name so that all may come to know this God who is Father, Son, and Spirit and who has given all for the life of this creation.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.