The Trinity

First Presbyterian – Lafayette, Louisiana
June 19, 2011 – Trinity Sunday (Year A) – Father's Day
Genesis 1:1 - 2:4a
Psalm 8 (sung with cantor)
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

"You know about The Trinity, right?" That was the first truly doctrinal question that was asked of me as I moved from Georgia to Louisiana. It was not so much of a question of what I knew as much as it was an attempt to be sure I understood where I was.

The Trinity stands as a means of describing completeness.  It is a word used religiously and culturally to describe something that can only be understood as the sum of its parts.  By the same token, the concept of a triune God has offered as much confusion as it has clarity for centuries.  Yet here in south Louisiana, the Trinity is simply a part of who we are and what we do. Everywhere you look you will see the Fluer de Lis.

Interpretations of this symbol vary widely, and I think it is fair to say that it is more of a cultural symbol than a religious symbol. But there it is – three leaves of a lily gathered as one.  You can scarcely know the whole without the parts being joined together.

That brings me back to the earlier question that I left to simmer for a few minutes – the question about knowing the Trinity. I was listening to cooking show on the radio while driving around town yesterday. The man began with melting butter, and then he said to throw in some onions. Next came some celery, and then of course – bell pepper!  He threw in some garlic for good measure – perhaps that was for wisdom.

What I find interesting about all of this is that there is a unique blending of flavors that comes from the Cajun version of the Trinity that cannot be understood apart from one aspect or character of the ingredients. The Trinity is the missing link that makes things taste different when you get too far above highway 10.

And so it is with the church. Throughout the centuries we have disagreed about the person and work of Jesus as our redeemer and how that fits in with the idea of God as creator, dispenser of wisdom, and sustainer of all that is.

One of the earliest recorded uses of Trinitarian language to describe God is found in our passage from Matthew.  In fact, this is the only place that Jesus explicitly uses the formula of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is also interesting to me that the participants listed in this story are the eleven remaining disciples that have gathered with Jesus. We don't know if any others joined them.  What we are told is that they worship him – but some doubted.

Jesus doesn't seem to mind. It doesn't seem to matter that some of them have doubts about this man who has been raised from the dead. How they can have their doubts I cannot imagine, but it doesn't seem to matter to Jesus.

What matters is that we understand the fullness of God cannot be defined by the person and work of Jesus, by the glory and grandeur of creation, or even by the emotional and spiritual pinnacle of feeling and knowing God's presence. Thinking of any one of these alone as God places us in the African parable about three blind men describing an elephant.

One man has the tail and swears the elephant is like a rope. Another man has a leg and claims the beast to be like a tree. Another man has the trunk and proclaims it to be like a serpent, only thicker and stronger. And so it is with the church when we proclaim what we believe God is without remaining open to God's presence.

I believe that is why the authors of the lectionary had us start our celebration of the Trinity with the story of creation.  In the beginning the earth was a formless void – tovu vah vohu is the phonetic Hebrew. It means chaos. In the beginning there was chaos, which was created by God. A wind from God swept over the waters. The Ruah of God was the breath of God – the spirit of God.  The waters were the unknown, untamed chaos of creation. God is ever present in chaos.

Then begins a rhythm in which God creates order out of chaos and blesses all things.  Finally humankind was created, the only thing said to be in the image of God – both male and female. What matters in this story is not that we are fallen and marred. What matters is that in our inception we were accounted for as good because we are a part of what God has done and is doing!

That doesn't mean that we are without a need for redemption.  It simply means that our story is not limited by our weakness.  Our story has a beginning that is far before the decisions that we make and an ending far beyond the chaos – or the order – that we are able to create.

Still, it would be naïve to suggest that our decisions do not matter.  In fact, our decisions and actions have more weight than we can imagine.  That's why we have Paul's parental tone speaking to the Corinthians.  A central theme in 2 Corinthians is reconciliation, and our passage comes toward the end – after Paul has defended his ministry and described the conflicts he sees in their fellowship. In some ways he is like the parent who tells the child to go pick their own switch for the whipping they are going to get. Yet in the end he takes the tone to say, "I hope I am wrong about all of this."

What we can hope to receive and to give from this passage is nothing short of the encouragement I received before officiating the internment of our beloved Mac Drake last Monday. On the way out I was told to "remember whom I represent." Of course we must all remember whom we represent in all things, and that is nothing short of the very God of the universe who creates, redeems, and sustains all things.

Jesus said to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Baptism for Jesus, even the resurrected Jesus, was a means of proclaiming a new orientation. John baptized Jesus – the fully human Jesus – in a baptism of repentance, and the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus while the voice of God called him "my beloved son."

Through this Jesus, baptism has now become more than a way to claim whom you will follow, emulate, and be disciplined by. We are not baptized in the name of a man, in the characteristic of a deity, or in the hope that our commitment will make us more loveable.

No! Through baptism, we instead become the roux. You know about roux, right? It's a mixture of butter and flour used to thicken up a sauce. Remember that cooking show I mentioned earlier? That trinity of vegetables is simmered down and the flavors seep one into the other. By itself it can do little more than make you hungry. That's why you need a roux!  In the show I listened to they added in some flour and chicken stock and simmered it down before folding in some heavy cream. I'm not entirely sure what they were making – might have been a crab bisque or chowder. It could be a lot of things.

And so it is with the church. Even now with aging members and concerns for the future, we are poised for some great creation – as long as we can allow ourselves to be steeped in the fullness of God.

Friends, God is not finished creating – for it is God's character to bring order out of chaos. God is not finished redeeming – for it is God's character to restore value to that which was created as good. God is not finished sustaining – for all things exist through the providence of God's Holy Spirit.

You may have your doubts about these things, and that's OK. Jesus does not seem to stop inviting us into ministry when things don't go the way we expect them to go. God does not stop expecting us to teach others by loving as we have been loved, and God's Holy Spirit will never be limited by the chaos this world seems to dish out.

You and I – by ourselves we might never do more than leave someone else unsatisfied.  Yet through God's help, through participating in what God is doing in the world, we may yet feed thousands with a particular flavor that can only come from one place. May the God who creates, redeems, and sustains forever be the place from which we baptize, sanctify, and serve as we experience and share the Kingdom that Christ revealed that is both present and yet to come! Amen, amen, and again I say amen.
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