Last week, I talked about how Pentecost seems strange to me because it is a feast to celebrate the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit in a manifestation that usually makes us uncomfortable. It was not the loving, comforting side but rather the unruly, untamed side that sends us forth and out into the world.
At the beginning of the service, I reference that this is also a feast day. It is the feast day (or Sunday) of the Holy Trinity, which is always the first Sunday after Pentecost. It is a strange day in it’s own right.
Our Sunday or Feasts texts usually involve a particular teaching or theme, or it deals with a particular event (like Pentecost), or perhaps a particular person like one of the Saints that we honor. Today is none of those. Today is the ONLY day of the church year that is dedicated to a teaching of the (Christian) Church, a core teaching, one of our most basic and fundamental doctrines.
But, throughout the world today, people will be hearing a lot of heresy (or false teaching) because the Trinity, the three-in-one, the one-in-three is a profound and divine mystery of who God is in our life, in our place, in our time, and in our world. One that we cannot easily explain, teach, or describe. In Seminary, I (even) took a whole course called “Trinity” because I thought perhaps I would learn a good way of teaching and explaining this mystery, but instead I walked away knowing more heresy than I did beforehand.
This is a Sunday usually full of analogies, symbols, and images trying to “get at” this mystery. I am going to run through a few of those and then we will move onto something a little different.
First, many of you may be familiar with Saint Patrick’s favorite description of the Trinity, which is the Shamrock (3-leaf clover). We have three leaves that create one shamrock. (You got it, the Church says this is a heresy).
Another image is the apple. (I know someone who is using this same concept with a softball). You have the ‘skin’, the ‘meat’ of the apple, and the ‘core’. One apple, three parts.
Then, I came up with a new image this week. It may sound odd, but bear with me: my nail polish. I am currently wearing a nail polish that changes color with the temperature, depending on the temperature of my hands. Currently, the nails are blue which means my hands are cold. When the hands are warm, it is pink. When the hands are somewhere in-between, it is purple. One nail polish, three colors.
It is a mystery. It is one we experience, but it is one we have a hard time conveying or sharing. I want to set that aside for just a moment and talk about how this shows up in our texts.
In Genesis, we have the creation story, where many Christian biblical scholars say that the Trinity is present.
We have God, the Father and Creator.
We have the WORD, Christ, through which creation is created.
We have the “Spirit of the LORD” moving across the dark void (the Holy Spirit).
In verse 26 (Genesis 1:26), “let US make [humanity] in OUR image”. Many Christians point to that as a reference to the three persons (because we lack a better term) of the Trinity.
Paul ends his letter (2 Corinthians) with a greeting to the people in Corinth. It sounds familiar to something that we usually hear at the beginning of service: “the love of Jesus Christ, the grace of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” [response: “and also with you”].
Amusing side story: At a Military Ball, the Chaplain giving the prayer/invocation was Lutheran. He begun with those famous words and I responded “and also with you”. Everyone looked at me, I said “well, I guess you can tell who the Lutheran in the room is”.
It is familiar. It is how we greet one another acknowledging the wholeness of who the Triune God is: the Father (one of grace), Christ (the Son), and the Holy Spirit.
In our gospel text (Matthew 28:16-20), we have the Great Commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. This is where I want to put my focus today.
This verse (Matthew 28:19) has a special place in my heart. My home congregation had a tradition that on Confirmation Sunday, those being confirmed got a bible verse. The pastor and volunteers choose these verses specifically for the receiving individuals. This was my verse: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.
At the time, it made sense to me. My faith statement given in front the congregation that Sunday announced that I was going into ordained ministry, either as a military Chaplain or as a civilian (as I am).
As I got older, I pondered it more. ‘What does it mean to baptize all nations in the name of the Triune God?”
Then, I got to Seminary. I started exploring the Greek and it opened this verse up to me in a whole new way. Greek has a specific ending that tells you it is a command and there is only one word in this passage that is a command. You might expect that it is ‘to baptize’ but it is not. It is actually ‘to make’, the command is to “make disciples”. Baptism is how we bring people into discipleship with Christ, but that discipleship does not end there because it is a life-long process.
You might have to bear with me a moment on this next analogy as well, but ‘making disciples’ is like being in the kitchen, where there is a difference between cooking and baking.
You know I like to bake.
I do not like to cook. I have a whole list of reasons why, but one is that you get your ingredients together. You mix it up, however you feel that it should be mixed up. Then, you cook it. Often, you can experiment, you can be a little crazy or chaotic with how you do it and it will still turn out alright. Well, maybe not always in flavor, but usually in how it sets.
However, baking is different. You have to be precise. You can experiment some once you have a base, or foundation, created but not too much or it might not bake and set correctly.
We, as people in the Church, wish that ‘making disciples’ was more like baking a cake. We want that recipe knowing exactly how much bible study, fellowship, service, and type of music comes together to ‘make disciples’ and grow the church.
But, the truth is… it is a bit more like cooking.
We know that we need all those things (bible study, fellowship, and service), but for each person it is a different combination. Discipleship includes living together in community gathered for fellowship. It includes being nourished with the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. It includes bible study and being in relationship. These are all key elements to the process of ‘making a disciple’, but there is no one way to do it.
I think one of the main ingredients that we tend to miss is the wrestling with that ultimate divine mystery of who God is through the mystery of the Triune God.
The Trinity is my favorite mystery of faith to explore, ponder, and wrestle with perhaps because ultimately I know that I will never figure it out. That, in itself, drives me crazy enough to try it.
That is a large part of how we become disciples, of how our journey of discipleship looks and will continue to look in this time and throughout our lives.
Our sending song will be “Come, Join the Dance of Trinity”.
My invitation to each of us this week is to take that divine mystery (none of us know how to communicate) wrestle with it, dance with it, and let it take us on an adventure of writing our own recipes for our own discipleship. Amen.
The Scriptures were Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 and Matthew 28:16-20.
The Sermon was originally preached 11 June 2017 at Gloria Dei Lutheran (Kelso, WA).