Trinity Sunday A: The Great Promise

Matthew 28:16-20

Dear Partner in Preaching,

Ever notice that the close of Matthew’s Gospel, a passage we usually refer to as “the Great Commission,” ends with a promise? I think I sometimes get so caught up in the grandeur and import of the Great Commission that I overlook what I now think of as “the Great Promise” – “And I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I suspect this isn’t an accident. That is, I suspect that our only hope of fulfilling the great commission – sharing the good news of God’s grace in Christ with the world through word and deed and welcoming all into fellowship through Baptism – is by keeping in mind the great promise: Christ will be with us. Except notice Jesus’ language: it’s not just future tense. Christ is with us. Even now. Even here. Even amid our struggles at home or at work or at our congregations or in the world. Christ is with us. Encouraging us, comforting us, working with us, guiding us, granting us the grace and courage necessary to be the people of God in the world right now.

Frankly, I think that’s pretty much enough for a meaningful sermon this Trinity Sunday. Because I am not at all sure that most of our people sense that God is with them. Oh, maybe in times of tragedy or loss, when even the most infrequently religious of us call on God for some extra help. (Though, now that I think of it, calling on God and experiencing God with us are not the same.) But what about all the other times. Good times, not so good times, joyous times, sad times, expectant times, anxious times. Do we sense God’s presence?

Right now, as I write, I know of one friend anxiously awaiting the outcome of a surgery on a grandchild. And another who has recently lost her job. And one more who is celebrating a much better semester than he’d imagined possible. And yet one more who is navigating significant changes in her roles at both home and work. Do they sense God’s presence? Some, I expect, do, but others perhaps do not. And so also with our people. So I think it could be really, really powerful to remind them that the very last thing Matthew records of everything Jesus said and did is a promise: “And I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Right here, right now, and forever.

While I really do believe this is enough for a sermon, I think it also helps us to make a little more sense of the Trinity. Yes, the Holy Trinity: one of the last “doctrines” to be defined by the church and surely one of the most difficult to understand. Here’s the thing: We tend to think of the Trinity as something we need to at least believe, if not fully understand. That is, we think about the Trinity in terms of what it is. But maybe – if you want to talk about the Trinity (and I don’t actually think that’s a requirement) – it might help to focus on what the Trinity does. Not simply the individual members of the Trinity – as in Creating, Redeeming, Sustaining – but rather in terms of the Trinity’s more holistic and ongoing activity to remind us of God’s promise in Christ to be with us and for us always, to help us believe that promise, and to encourage us to live in the confidence it grants.

I will confess that I don’t really understand the Trinity as a concept or doctrine – and that I don’t completely believe those who say they do! – but I do know that at the heart of the Trinity is the belief that God is inherently and irreducibly both communal and loving. One God in three persons whose shared, mutual, and sacrificial love spills out into the world and all its inhabitants. And I think that, ultimately, we are called to be church in a similar way. Loving, respecting, and caring for each other in a way that spills out into our neighborhoods and communities in tangible, beneficial, and attractive ways.

And that’s part of what promises do – they bind us together, they provide hope, and they create courage to live with each other, support each other, forgive each other, and encourage each other. At the heart of every authentic and nurturing relationship, when you think about it, is a promise. A promise that is a whole lot like Jesus’ promise: I will be with you. I am for you. You can count on me. I’ve got your back. Let’s see what we can do together.

So perhaps the opportunity this week, Dear Partner, is not so much simply to talk about the Trinity, let alone try to explain it, but rather to invite us into the shared love and life of the Trinity by reminding us of Jesus’ Great Promise – the promise that makes it possible for us to dare the Great Commission and so much more. In fact, perhaps a question to pose this week might be, “what would you dream, dare, and do if you believed that Jesus is with you, no matter what.” Not, mind you, what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail – for most daring and faithful feats involve a fair amount of failure! – but rather what would you do if you knew that God was for you and with you no matter what and forever.

Promises create relationships and possibilities. And that, it seems to me, is just what the Trinity is about, as well. And perhaps just what we need to hear. Thanks for the creativity and courage you offer in bringing us this Word. It makes a real difference in our lives.

Yours in Christ,