“In the Name”
Pastor Todd Buegler
May 21-22, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church
Grace and peace to you from God who creates, from Jesus Christ who redeems and from the Holy Spirit who sustains. Amen.
When our boys were young, we (and by “we,” I mean mostly Lori) were active in our school district’s ECFE, that’s Early Childhood, Family Education program. Three days a week, Lori would take one of the boys to class. There would be play time together, and then parents and kids would split up, with kids going with a teacher for 30-40 minutes, while parents went into a room next door to have a learning time of their own with a parent educator, a wonderful woman named Wendy.
There was a Thursday, when Lori had to be somewhere else, and asked if I could take the boys to ECFE. Of course! I’d be glad to! Nathan and I were having a blast, sitting cross-legged on the floor in the playroom, driving trucks on the sand table when the time came to split up, and I went into the parent’s room. I walked into the classroom, which had a large round table, Wendy, 9 moms who all knew each other, and…me. For some reason I didn’t understand, my “Dad” nervous meter instantly went up.
About halfway through our conversation, when the group was “checking in” and sharing their joys and frustrations, (and I was sitting in the corner, kind of trying not to be noticed) one of the Moms said: “I’m trying to raise my kids to have a strong faith. And we’ve been reading Bible stories together. But wow, so many of those stories in the Old Testament are so violent; there is fighting, and death. I’m not sure how to talk about that with my kids! Or maybe we should just stick to the New Testament. Why does the Old Testament have to be so violent?” The whole group nodded in sympathy, several of them chimed in in agreement, and then one of them said “Maybe you should talk to a pastor about how to handle that?”
And slowly, every head in the group turned and looked at me.
“Ummm…isn’t it snack time yet?”
Yeah. Sometimes the Christian faith is hard. There are hard questions and there are things we don’t completely understand. Our faith can challenge us…it can make us question our decisions, or the actions of others. It can be confusing and difficult to navigate. I always say that the Christian faith isn’t for the faint of heart! It is a promise, wrapped in questions.
That leads us to today, and to our text. Today is the day, celebrated by Christian churches around the world, as “Holy Trinity Sunday.” In our worship today, we celebrate the triune nature of God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Now you hear these words all of the time: We open our worship with them in the invocation…we close the worship with them in the benediction…and you hear the Trinity invoked at other points throughout the service. We see images of the Trinity right here, in our beautiful stained glass windows…(see there? God the Father up on top, on the left, the Lamb of God, representing Jesus the Son and on the right, the descending dove, representing the Holy Spirit?). Our congregation is even named after the Trinity. Sitting here today, we are quite literally and figuratively, surrounded by the Holy Trinity.
And while a church branding expert might say “Fantastic! You’ve got this Trinity thing nailed!” there is a bit of risk to becoming too comfortable with the idea of the Trinity.
You see, our natural tendency is to try and to wrap our minds around the Trinity, a complicated theological concept, in terms that we can easily understand. And so we say: “The Trinity is like…” and we use (or at least I’ve used) comparisons. “It’s like water” (you know, liquid water, solid ice and gaseous steam)…or “it’s like light, bent through a prism”…or “it’s like a tricycle”…or a 3-legged stool, and so on.
But here’s the problem: The Trinity really isn’t like any of these things, and anytime we try and compare God: the Holy, the Almighty, the creator of the cosmos, to a tricycle, well…you understand where it can become problematic.
But I also understand why we’ve done that. Since creation, humans have struggled to understand and describe God. We’ve been trying to figure out how to take the idea of the creator of the universe, the infinite, and put it into terms that we can understand, the finite. It’s the ultimate “round peg into a square hole” problem.
And the truth is, we can’t. There are just elements of the Holy that are so far beyond us, that we cannot fully grasp them. And for some people I’ve spoken with, this is a problem. It becomes a roadblock for their faith. They believe that if they cannot understand something, then it must not be real, or true. While I understand this perspective, it does concern me, because embedded in it is a denial that there could be anything that exists that is bigger than our minds can grasp…anything that is outside what we are capable of understanding.
But both of our scripture readings for today, I believe, can help us to reframe our understanding of God into one that can make sense for us. These are pretty significant pieces of scripture.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is not laying out, or defining a doctrine, which is what we’ve kind of always assumed. Rather, Jesus is highlighting the relational, communal and accessible nature of the God we know in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus begins by telling his disciples that “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” There is more that they, his disciples, us, will need to learn, but we’re not ready yet. He is reminding his disciples that they do not have all of the answers. He is reminding them, and us, that they are dependent on the Spirit, and dependent on each other, because the Spirit so often speaks to us through those around us. That’s why being here, a part of a community, is so important!
So is it possible then, that to be a community that follows Jesus and depends on the Holy Spirit is to be a community that doesn’t have all of the answers? I think so. These communities make space for conversation, and they value those who bring different voices and experiences into their midst. I’ll be the first to admit: This isn’t easy. We love answers. But questions are hard. Jesus reminds us today that to live in the midst of questions, wonderings and even doubts is what it means to live in an authentic Christian community that is shaped by the Holy Spirit.
I’m also struck by the apostle Paul’s insistence in our reading from Romans, that it’s precisely because we have the peace of God through justification that we can endure almost anything, and not just endure, but grow stronger and find hope. Justification is the promise that God accepts you as you are:
- Not because of who you are or what you have done
- Not because of what you might become or do
No, God accepts you because that’s who God is and what God does. God justifies, makes right, the sinner in order that we might know peace and turn in love to extend the same grace, mercy and acceptance to those around us.
So, is it possible then, that to be a part of a community that follows Jesus and depends on the Holy Spirit is to be a community that looks outward rather than inward? Outward, not inward. Dr. David Lose, of the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia, wrote “we are not called to just live and survive, but to bear witness to the peace of God in Christ that responds to the needs of our neighbor.” Outward, not inward. Remember: God doesn’t need our good works, our neighbor does.
So let’s back up for a moment. What do these texts tell us about the Holy Trinity? How do they describe God?
Well, first, they remind us that this idea of the Trinity, it is not about a doctrine or a dogma. It is not about answers or absolutes. It is about questions, and about wondering how we connect with God. And second and most importantly, the Trinity is a relationship.
Think about those who love us the most. Think about those relationships. There are so many different aspects…so many different things to which we pay attention.
When I think of my most significant relationship, I think of Lori.
- Lori is my friend. We talk. We laugh. We share.
- Lori is the co-parent of our sons. We make decisions. We seek wisdom. We try to figure out how to get them through childhood and adolescence with as little trauma as possible.
- Lori is my wife, and I love her completely. Just seeing her brings me joy.
- Lori is the co-administrator of our household. Together we make decisions about money…about our house, our cars, about where we go and what we do.
Lori is all of these things to me, and much, much more. That is the nature of our relationship. And I know that it’s similar to relationships many of you have too.
So then, just try and imagine the relationship that you have with God.
- The God who created you, the world, and the universe; who breathed life into you
- The God who took human form to love, teach, and guide you. Who went to the cross and was resurrected, for you.
- The God who continues to work in the world, caring for God’s people and working through you to bring peace and wholeness to a broken creation.
This is the nature of the Trinity. It is not an idea or a doctrine. It is not merely a way of us thinking about and describing God. It is not something we invoke every week in worship and forget about. The Trinity is a relationship. The Trinity is how you connect and relate to God who wishes nothing more than a deep and abiding relationship with you.
And it is because of, and through the Trinity that we turn our focus away from ourselves and turn it toward the world around us; the world that desperately needs to hear and understand the hope, peace and compassion that comes only through God.
Let us remember that here, in this place, we are literally and figuratively surrounded by the Trinity.
Let us also remember that everywhere we go, we are likewise surrounded by the Trinity.
Let us leave here today bound and determined to recognize God’s love for us, and for all the people we encounter. Let us be bold in asking God to work through us to serve our neighbor.
And let us do these things together, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.