Sunday, June 15, 2014

God Be With You -- A Sermon for Trinity Sunday (Year A)

2 Corinthians 13:11-13


It is Trinity Sunday, which is a good time to stop and think about the God we serve and worship.  Most Christian traditions confess God to be One, and yet three.  This is the confession we raise when we sing: “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!  Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee; holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty!  God in three persons, blessed Trinity!” (Reginald Heber).    

This doctrine of the Trinity that we celebrate today is complicated, and yet there are incredible spiritual riches to be found in this confession.  The benediction that closes Paul’s second Corinthian letter offers us one of the more explicit Trinitarian confessions in the New Testament.  While this isn’t a fully developed theology of the Trinity, because it closes one of Paul’s most difficult letters, it might have some practical importance. 

Paul wrote to a congregation he started, but which was now deeply divided – and they didn’t even have to worry about the color of the carpet in the fellowship hall!  Despite the conflict that’s present in the congregation, which includes resistance to Paul’s ministry, he ends the letter on an upbeat note, even offering them a word of blessing.   

In this benediction Paul gives a few last instructions:  

“Put things in order.”   

Agree with one another.”  As if the first task isn’t difficult enough, he wants them to agree with each other!

“Live in Peace.”  In other words, work together to build up the community rather than tear it down.  Paul tells them that if they do this, then “the God of love and peace will be with you.” 

As you can see there are three parts to this commission – order, agreement, and peace.  This commission is followed by a final benediction that also has three parts:  grace, love, and communion.  

When I read this final verse, I thought of the way Eugene James delivers his benedictions: “The grace of Christ, the love of God, and the sweet communion of the Holy Spirit” be with you. I love that phrase:  the “sweet communion of the Holy Spirit.”  Even when there is sourness in our midst, there is sweetness to be found in the communion of the Holy Spirit.   

Some time ago I learned that putting salt on something that is sour or bland, can make it sweet.  Just try putting a pinch of salt on your watermelon and see if it doesn’t taste sweeter.  This sweetness expresses itself through communion with God and with one another.  It is, you might say, the effect of the Spirit’s presence in our midst.  

Over the past few years as I’ve reflected on the confession of God as Trinity, I’ve turned to what is know as the Social Trinity.  Now we don’t have time to dive deep into this idea, but the message that I’ve taken away from my reflections is that the God we worship and serve is a relational God.  Theologian David Gushee puts it this way: 
To say that God is triune is to mean that God is social in nature.  It is also to say that those made in the image of God are likewise intrinsically social (Feasting on the Word: Year A: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16)p. 40).     
God is not an isolated solitary being living somewhere out there, completely disengaged from our lives.  That is the vision of Deism, but not Christianity.  

Pushing this idea a bit further, we might want to think of God’s inner nature as a fellowship of “divine subjects.”  While the traditional confession of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has its gender issues, if we can think of God in terms of a circle of fellowship, there is potential for a richer understanding of our relationship to God.   

To get a sense of what it means for God to be an open circle of fellowship, into which the Spirit draws us, think about what happens when we go into the fellowship hall after church.  

With your imagination, think about those round tables.  Imagine that there’s a group of people sitting around the table.  They know each other very well.  They’ve been friends for years.  They care about each other.  Now think about what happens when a stranger wanders in.  Will this group open its circle to welcome the stranger, or will it keep the circle closed?   There are risks in opening the circle to include the stranger, but there is also the possibility of finding great blessings.  What are these blessings?  Paul names them, even as he pronounces the names God, Christ, and Holy Spirit.  These blessings are grace, love, and communion.  By entering into the circle that is God, we experience the love and peace that is shared within the nature of God.  As we do this, we experience salvation and healing.  As Paul puts it earlier in this letter – it is in Christ that God is reconciling us to Godself and calling us to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).  To us is given the calling to bring healing and wholeness to the community in which we have been planted, and this ministry emerges out of the fellowship that is God.    

As I was preparing to preach today, I was also preparing to lead the Elders in one last conversation about Carol Howard Merritt’s book Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation.  As I was thinking about the message and the study, I thought about what it means to live together as an intergenerational community of faith.  Carol, who will be with us in November, writes that many younger adults want to be part of intergenerational communities.  

This is true even though too often we live in generational silos.  It’s easier to hang out with people just like us.  Different generations listen to different music, watch different movies, and drive different kinds of cars.  We even parent differently. While conventional wisdom has taught us that the way to grow a church is to focus our attention on people just like us, is this the way it is supposed to be?  

I know it’s not easy to build intergenerational community.  Every generation seems to think that the generation that follows them or went before them does everything wrong.  This isn’t new.  It’s always been there, even from ancient times.  But, perhaps we’ve escalated things in recent years.  I know growing up, my parents didn’t care for the Beatles, and I was no fan of Engelbert Humperdink.  And as for the music that this new generation is listening to – I have no clue why you like it.  But perhaps the church can be a place where we learn to experience life together, sharing the wisdom of our different generational experiences.      

Living into a truly intergenerational Christian community requires much of us.  It means respecting differences.  It also means being willing to share leadership across generations.  Younger adults want to be part of the decision making process and help shape the future of the congregation.  But, they might not be completely sold on the ways in which we’ve been making decisions over the years.  As Carol points out – while there is value to be found in committees, they also have their drawbacks.    

You might be wondering what all this has to do with the Trinity.  Well, this past week, as I was praying and reading and thinking about the Trinity, it dawned on me that the traditional Trinitarian confession of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has an intergenerational component to it.  Now, I will confess, there is a hint of heresy to my reflection, but since we’re Disciples, then perhaps I’m safe.

So, for a moment let’s think about the way the Gospel of John speaks of the oneness of the relationship between Father and Son.  In John’s gospel, Jesus prays that we, his followers, would be one, even as he is one with the Father (John 17:11).  Then, I thought about how orthodox theologians have insisted that the Trinity is a partnership of equals.  This is no hierarchy within the Trinity.  This is true even though there is, at least in name, a difference of generation.  This is where we get dangerously close to heresy, but I think there’s something useful in this analogy.     

If we think of God’s nature in social terms, and if, as Genesis 1 declares, we’re created in the image of God, as male and female, then perhaps we have within the nature of God a model for intergenerational relationships. 

In a moment, we’re going to install our officers, which includes our new President, Tim McGookey, who is not yet thirty.  I’m guessing that he might be the youngest person ever to serve in this capacity at Central Woodward.  So, perhaps it’s providential that we’re installing officers on Trinity Sunday. Perhaps it is a sign that we are reaching a tipping point in our journey leading to a new era of intergenerational community.  With this in mind, may we hear again Paul’s benediction:  

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the [sweet] communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. [2 Corinthians 13:13].
Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Trinity Sunday
June 15, 2014

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