Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Trinity Roadmap

Zion Lutheran Church, Lake Bronson, MN
Maria Lutheran Church, Kennedy, MN
June 3, 2012
Trinity Sunday
 In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

This is the Sunday when many preachers wimp out, “duck and cover,” sidestep a golden opportunity to preach and teach God’s triune love for us, God’s three-person-ed overture to us.

Yup.  Today, Trinity Sunday, is when many preachers pray:  “Dear Lord, please let Trinity Sunday fall on baccalaureate or senior recognition Sunday or even Soil and Water Stewardship Sunday.   Please, please don’t expect me to get all tangled up in the intricacies of an ancient doctrine.  It’s summer, after all—folks can just barely stay focused on any sermon—let alone one on the Trinity.   Next year, God, I promise—Scout’s honor—I’ll take a crack at it!”

Why do preachers flee, why do they pass up the chance that Trinity Sunday offers them?   I think it’s because the doctrine of the Trinity seems like a bad math problem—like trying to explain how 1 + 1 + 1 = 1.   I suspect that we preachers are flummoxed by all those strained analogies we’ve heard over the years—you know:  “God is like water, which can be solid, liquid and gas”  We get lost in all the abstract language that highfaluting theologians have passed on to us.    

Or are we simply intimidated by the Holy Trinity?  Do we avoid preaching and teaching this dogma simply because we know we’ll never get it right—we’ll never, ever do justice to God’s “Godness”—so why even bother?

In his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson suggests a way out of the preacher’s dilemma.  “Early on,” writes Peterson, “the Christian community realized that everything about us—our worshiping and learning, conversing and listening, teaching and preaching, obeying and deciding, working and playing, eating and sleeping—[everything] takes place in the ‘country’ of the Trinity, that is, in the presence and among the operations of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.”[i]

If the Trinity is a whole “country”—a field of divine action—well then perhaps the doctrine of the Trinity is more like a useful roadmap than a bad math problem.  It helps us avoid blind alleys, detours and thickets.  It guides us on the path, it helps us go where God is leading us.

What if, what if our teaching and preaching of the three-in-one God were more like spreading out a roadmap on the hood of our car…getting ready for a journey through the world, toward God’s future?   What might such a roadmap tell us?

Let me suggest three possibilities:

I.    First, the Trinity roadmap helps insure that our God is big enough—his grace amazing enough.

The Trinity roadmap keeps us from settling for a too-small God.

This doctrine prevents us from limiting ourselves to a Father-only God, a kindly watchmaker who "way back when" wound this world up and then left it to run on its own....while he dozed off in heaven, like a cosmic grandpa--fast asleep in his rocking chair.

The Trinity roadmap refuses to let us settle for a Son-only, hero-God, whose selfless sacrifice settled our accounts, removed our guilt and left us a model worthy of our imitation.

The Trinity roadmap leads us to more than a Spirit-only God, who like an unseen, invisible force...unlocks doors, deciphers puzzles, reveals secrets, inspires seekers, enlightens searchers.

The Trinity roadmap will not let us settle for any single one of these too-small gods by insisting that we must talk about all three of them if we're going to talk about any one of insisting that we speak of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in order to have a big-enough, gracious-enough God on our hands. 

Where God is concerned we need to say it three times before we've said it right--even once!

We need to talk about God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth...who has indeed put this world together like a master craftsman...but who, instead of leaving it to run on its own, has remained intricately involved with the Creation from Day One.   We must speak of God the Father almighty, who to rescue us from our waywardness dispatched his only Son into the world to liberate us.  We need to talk about the Father who sent the Son and in the power of the Spirit continues to grant new life...and who will one day usher in a New Creation.

We need to talk about God the Son...who at the cross has won us back, in order to restore his Father's creation to its original that after rising from the dead he might continue in the power of his Spirit to be with us day by day...enlivening us in each moment to walk as his disciples.

We need to talk about God the Spirit as well...a Spirit who doesn't just reveal anything or everything to us...but who constantly focuses on and confesses with our lips what the Father and the Son are up to...the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at the dawn of time...the same Spirit who makes the Son's story more than a tragic martyr's tale...the same Spirit who loosens our lips and frees us to proclaim God's mighty deeds in history.

The Trinity roadmap helps make sure that our God is big enough and gracious wooing us to talk about the Father and the Son and the insisting that we haven't said a true enough word about God until we've said that Word three times in three different ways.

II.    Second, the Trinity roadmap helps our worship to be deep enough, our prayers passionate enough, our spirituality focused enough. 

The Trinity roadmap reminds us that it’s never enough to occasionally tip our hats to the "Man Upstairs"...that we need more than an occasional encounter with God in the beauty of nature out on the lake or the back nine...that we will not be sustained by a cozy "me and sweet Jesus" love affair...that our private spiritual experiences will take us only so far.

The Trinity roadmap exposes us to the beauty of creation, but also its brokenness, its birth-pang longing and groaning for the new creation in Christ the Son that is already dawning upon us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Trinity roadmap guides to a love for our Savior that is always more than a private matter...never oblivious to the Father's intention to save everyone...never ignorant of the Spirit's calling, gathering, enlightening and sanctifying of the whole Christian church on earth.

The Trinity roadmap insists that our spirituality...however satisfying it might be...must bring us to a deeper awareness of all that the Father and the Son have done for us...catching us up in the whole scope of the Spirit's restoring, reconciling work in the world.

The doctrine of the Trinity keeps our worship deep enough, our prayers passionate enough, our spirituality focused enough…always reminding us that we pray to the Father only in the name of the Son and through the power of the Spirit.

III.  Third, the Trinity roadmap points us to a mission and ministry in the world that is wide enough.

Whatever it is we may think God is up to...God is always up to more. 

Whatever it is that we hear God calling us to do in partnership with is always more.

The Trinity roadmap helps keep us from narrowing mission to the this-worldly work of rescuing the creation and liberating God's creatures.

In the same breath, the Trinity roadmap keeps us from narrowing mission and ministry to the other-worldly work of saving scattered souls from future hellfire.

So also, the Trinity roadmap prevents us from defining ministry consumeristically, as the meeting of our needs, wants or desires.

The Trinity roadmap attracts us toward a mission and a ministry in the world that is wide enough...never letting us forget that God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son that whosoever believes in him [through the power of the Holy Spirit] shall be saved.

But enough!  I’m starting to repeat myself, in case you hadn’t noticed.  And yet, after all, isn’t Trinity Sunday a day for repetition? 

The Trinity roadmap, if it reveals nothing else, reminds us that in the “country” of the Holy Trinity we always need to say things three times before we've said them even once.   As in any good story or any decent sermon, the “rule of three” applies:  we believe, teach and confess the Holy Trinity to make sure that

·      our God is big enough and gracious enough,

·      our worship deep, passionate and focused enough, and

·      our mission and ministry wide enough and compelling enough to be worthy of the one we invoke as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

[i] Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places:  A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (Eerdmans, 2005), p. 6.

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