Sermon for Trinity Sunday
Sunday, May 30, 2021
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts
Watch Here (TLC Worship Service 05/30/2021)
Photo: “Dance of the Trinity” by Margie Thompson SSJ, M.F.A. an artist, spiritual director and a Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia and an Associate Professor of Art at Chestnut Hill College.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A question for you … are you the same person you were 5 years ago? What about 15 years ago? 30 years ago? Do you have the same thoughts you did then? The same opinions? Or, has your thinking evolved? Do you see things differently? Do you understand and believe things in new ways? If you have changed your thinking – what happened? What led to the change? What led to the new beliefs? What led you to becoming a different person now, then you were before?
Over the course of my nearly twenty years in parish ministry, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has changed. 20 years ago, partnered gay and lesbian pastors were defrocked or rejected from becoming pastors of the church. 12 years ago, the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly changed policy to ordain partnered LGBT pastors and now the ELCA has elected multiple gay bishops and in May of this year elected its first transgender bishop.
Those of you who are older than me remember a time when women could not be ordained in the Lutheran Church. Then, 50 years ago, the first women were ordained as pastors, and then female pastors were elected bishops, including the Rev. Margaret Payne, who was the bishop who ordained me into the ministry. Currently, the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a woman – Bishop Elizabeth Eaton – elected to her first six-year term in 2013 and re-elected to a second six-year term in 2019.
What happened? What caused these changes? How did the church believe one thing about itself and its leaders, and then come to believe another thing? It was through relationships.
In relationship with women, and in relationship with its gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members, Lutherans began recognizing gifts of faith and leadership in the people previously excluded from leadership. In faith, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America came to believe that the same Holy Spirit poured out upon heterosexual men, was also poured out upon women and LGBT persons. In faith, and in relationship with baptized believers, the church came to believe the Holy Spirit was calling the church to receive and welcome the leadership of those it had previously excluded.
These conversions of the church, these changes in the church’s heart, came about through relationships. People of faith and good will, were changed by the relationships they had with people around them. New beginnings came about through relationships.
The scriptures on this Trinity Sunday, speak about conversion that happens in relationships.
In our First Reading [Isaiah 6?1-8], Isaiah was converted in a powerful experience of relationship with the Lord. Finding himself in the Lord’s presence, Isaiah declared himself unworthy. He confessed he was a sinner with unclean lips. But then, in a dramatic experience, and in what physically always makes me cringe – an angel touching Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal, the angel proclaimed that Isaiah’s guilt was removed and his sin blotted out. In response, when the Lord asked who would go and proclaim the Lord, Isaiah responded: Sign me up! Here I am! Send me where you will send me! He entered the relationship believing he was not worthy – that he was unclean. He left the relationship ready to proclaim the good news!
In Romans [8:12-17], Paul writes that his readers, in God’s relationship with them, has given them a spirit of adoption. Given a spirit of adoption they were proclaimed “heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. All of this leading to an intimacy with God – an intimacy that breaks down formality – an intimacy that leads us to call God “Abba” or “papa.”
In this morning’s Gospel we read of Nicodemus who is converted in his secret meetings with Jesus at night. In conversation and dialogue with Jesus, in his questioning and puzzlement, Nicodemus is led to a new understanding. Nicodemus wrestled with what it meant to born again, or born from above, and in his wrestling, in his dialogue with Jesus, he was indeed born anew and born from above.
Conversions through relationships …
On this Trinity Sunday, we once again enter into the mystery of the Trinity.
Preachers are discouraged from trying to explain the Trinity. In the mathematics of faith, 1 + 1 + 1 = 1, but rather than trying to explain that mystery, we are invited to experience it.
My seminary professor who taught the course “Trinitarian Theology” taught that central to experiencing the Trinity is experiencing relationship. In three persons our Trinitarian God is in relationship with God’s self as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And in relationship with God’s self, God is in relationship with us.
One theologian, (Fredrick Niedner), writes that: “Among the few authorized metaphors for understanding the Trinity is the Greek term perichoresis, “dancing in a circle.” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dance in an embrace so intimate and graceful that human observers can scarcely distinguish one from the others. One can’t know the true God without knowing all three persons, however, and one can’t truly know any of the persons apart from the others.”
Whether or not dance imagery is helpful, the central point is that at the core of God’s very identity is relationship. And that a relational God in relationship with God’s self, proclaims the promise of God in relationship with us.
Along with Isaiah, we are invited to experience God touching our unclean lips. We don’t have to dress ourselves up in our Sunday best to approach God, but in faith, we can trust that God comes to us, broken sinners that we are, to blot our sin. In response to that grace, we are invited to respond like Isaiah, to God’s call for volunteers. “Here am I,” we are invited to proclaim like Isaiah. “Send me!”
Along with the Romans, we are invited to experience God filling us with a spirit of adoption and claiming us as God’s children. And as children of God, as join heirs with Christ, to trust that God pours out upon us all that God has – just as God poured it all upon Christ, God pours everything God has upon us. In response to that grace, we are invited to give thanks to our papa and to live in the boldness as children of God.
Along with Nicodemus, we are invited to experience God fielding our questions, receiving our wonderings, engaging with us as we try to figure it all out. Faith is not about certainty, in fact, it’s been said the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. In faith, we are invited to trust Christ’s presence with us in the midst of the reality of our lives – the full reality – the doubts, the wrestling, the grappling, the struggles, the uncertainties.
On this Trinity Sunday, for a church named Trinity, could it be that our special emphasis as a congregation – is on the relationships we have with one another that are inspired by the relationship God has with us?
In last week’s sermon, I mentioned that the biblical image I had of God’s work among us today, is that in our return to in-person life after Covid, we are in a way like the exiles returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. I suggested, however, that our physical temple, the building, is just fine. Instead, the temple we are called to rebuild are the relationships we have with one another – the relationship we have to worship, to the central aspect of our faith, and flowing out of that, our relationships with each other and the world.
There are many ways we are celebrating relationships, and open to conversion, in relationship with one another:
- We continue to wear masks today as an ongoing sign of welcome to families with children in our community, and as ongoing precaution even for those vaccinated. While infection leading to serious illness is extremely rare, it’s not impossible. In relationship with one another, we strive to protect one another. In relationship with each other in this way, might we begin to see that we don’t come to worship for ourselves, but we come for others. (Old saying: “I don’t think I need to go to church today. But maybe you need to be there for someone else today?”) In what ways might this central concern for others in worship shape and transform us? That worship is not about us, but about community?
- We see Spanish and hear Spanish in our liturgy, not because we have Spanish speakers among us now, but as a visible sign that as the body of Christ we have brothers and sisters in Christ who are Latino/a/. In relationship to the Spanish language in this way, how might we be called to be open in new way to our Latino/Latina neighbors?
- Next Sunday, I’m excited that the Dean of the WPI Business School, the Rev. Dr. Deborah Jackson, an ordained minister in the American Baptist Church, will be our guest preacher. Her presence with us reminds us that we sit on the campus of WPI, and that WPI is just one of several schools of higher education in Worcester. What is our relationship with WPI? What is our relationship with academia in the city? What transformations does God have in store for us as we take those relationships seriously?
The Good News on this Trinity Sunday is that in the mercy, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, God is in relationship with each of us.
In the water and word of baptism, God promises to be in relationship with us forever.
In the bread and cup of the table, God gives us the very presence of Jesus Christ.
In the Word and Sacraments, and in the assembly of the faithful, the Holy Spirit grants us faith to believe these promises.
In relationship with our Trinitarian God who is in relationship with us, our Triune God converts and transforms us! Along with Isaiah, and Paul, and Nicodemus, may we experience a conversion and deepening of our faith. Transformed and renewed in the dance of the Trinity, may we though many, become one community of love, healing, and understanding and go forth in the world bringing blessing and healing.
Thanks be to God. AMEN!