Trinity C: Don’t Mention the Trinity!

Dear Partner in Preaching,

So what do you think: is it possible to preach a sermon on the Trinity without mentioning the Trinity?

I ask because I have this hunch that we’ve gotten a little off track with our thinking about the Trinity. That is, I think the Trinity was the early church’s way of trying to grapple with a monotheistic belief in one God in light of their actual, lived experience of God’s activity powerfully in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and after an encounter with the power of the Holy Spirit. And the Trinity provided an answer…of sorts. An answer often couched in the language of fourth-century metaphysics. Not that there’s anything wrong with using fourth-century metaphysics to make sense of experience, or twenty-first century either. But somewhere along the way the Trinity because less about describing an experience of the living God and more about accepting metaphysical doctrines and definitions of God.

Which leads me not just to ask whether we can preach such a sermon , but actually to suggest that perhaps the best way to be faithful to the communal nature and relational reality of God is to avoid talking about the Trinity as doctrine and instead highlight the relational, communal, accessible nature of the God we know in Christ through the testimony of the Spirit.

Toward that end, two observations about today’s readings. First, I think it’s kind of awesome that Jesus promises that the Spirit will come and guide them into truth. That there are some things they simply can’t bear yet. That they have more to learn. That the disciples – those who have spent so much time with Jesus – do not have all the answers. Because all of that means that the Christian community then – and now! – continues to be dependent. Dependent on the Spirit and dependent on each other, because the Spirit so often speaks to us through the person and words of those around us.

So might part of being a Trinitarian community be striving to be a place that knows it doesn’t have all the answers, and so consequently makes space for conversation and values those who are bring different voices and experiences into its midst? Conversation, valuing difference, being inclusive – these things aren’t easy, but genuine community, while challenging, is also creative, productive, and enriching.

Second, I am also struck by Paul’s insistence that it’s precisely because we have the peace of God through justification that we can endure almost anything, and not just endure but grow stronger and find hope. Justification is nothing less or more than the promise that God accepts you as you are not because of who you are or what you have done, not because of what you might become or do, not because of who you have promised to be or what you have pledged to do, but that God accepts you because that’s who God is and what God does – justify the ungodly in order that we might know peace and turn in love to extend the same grace, mercy, and acceptance to those around us.

So perhaps being part of a Trinitarian community is to be a community that looks outward rather than inward or even upward. Outward not inward: we are not called to survive, but to bear witness to the peace of God in Christ that responds to the needs of the neighbor. Outward not upward: God doesn’t need our good works, our neighbor does. In a sense, God in Christ takes care of all the “vertical” dimensions of our life – our relationship with God and eternal destiny, for starters! – so that we can throw ourselves into the “horizontal” dimensions of our live with those around us. When we turn our eyes outward and extend the peace of God that allows us to transform suffering – ours and that of others – into endurance, character and hope because we have experienced God’s love, the Spirit of Christ is surely present.

Well, that’s about all I have this week, Dear Partner, the invitation to preach a sermon about the Trinity without ever mentioning the Trinity but instead inviting people to experience the relational, communal nature of God by looking around and seeing the gifts of God by whom we are surrounded and then striving to be a community that values each other and responds to the needs of the world in confidence, hope, and love.

Blessings on your preaching, Dear Partner. And even more, blessings on your ministry, for fashioning and forming a community of love, hope, and courage is not easy work or quick work, but it is good work, work to which God has called you, and I am grateful for your faithfulness.

Yours in Christ,