Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday – June 16, 2019 – Trinity, Winchester

Today is Trinity Sunday, a principal feast of the church and the titular feast of Trinity Episcopal Church in Winchester. It is a deep joy to be a part of a congregation so steadfast in faithful witness to God’s work in the world. 

I’m not sure that a sermon is the best place to expound upon complicated doctrinal teaching, even on Trinity Sunday. In-depth exploration of the doctrine of the Trinity is probably best suited for adult formation, Bible study, and late-night conversations with nerdy friends. 

We can’t even begin to scratch the surface of the Trinity in next 10 minutes. The Trinity was yesterday, is today, and will remain tomorrow a great mystery. 

Even scholars who devote their lives to studying Christian theology will never quite grasp it. This is not to say that we shouldn’t ask questions about it, study it, or discuss it. In fact, we should!

Labeling this core component of our faith a “mystery” should not be an excuse not to think about it, wrestle with it, or intelligently argue about it. Quite the contrary, our beliefs are strongest when they are joined with knowledge. Learning and holiness must be linked. Prayer and study. Faith and reason. 

But look who I’m telling… You know what it means to critically engage your faith. During the program year we meet weekly for both Sunday School and Bible study. A couple of weeks ago, when Amy and I suggested taking a summer hiatus, you told us you didn’t want to.

You said you wanted to keep meeting each Tuesday afternoon to talk about God and explore your faith. What’s more, you chose to forgo our typical lectionary-based Bible study in favor of a more challenging course that involved reading a scholarly book about biblical narrative. 

Trinity Sunday may be the only day on the liturgical calendar that focuses on a complex theological doctrine, but at Trinity Church in Winchester we have challenging, mind-bending, faith-fueled conversations all year long. 

When you think about it, it’s fitting that we are called “Trinity.” To be named for this inexplicable doctrinal mystery says something about us. It says that we are ready and willing to have challenging conversations.

This is not new to Trinity. Some of you remember that more than a decade ago you had one of the hardest conversations of all. When some members of the parish walked away to start a new venture outside of the Episcopal Church you made sure that Trinity parish remained steadfast in faithful witness. You remained committed to one another and committed to exploring your faith. 

Today is about more than making sense of a complicated theological doctrine. Today is about remembering who we are together and why you—as members of Trinity Episcopal Church— are in relationship with one another. 

The Trinity—one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is in itself a divine model for relationship. God is three, constantly relating to each other, in one. We are constantly reminded of this divine relationship in our liturgy, from “Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” all the way to “The blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

The Trinity reminds us that Christianity, before it is anything else, is a relationship. Before it is faith, or belief, or creed, or doctrine, or catechism, or morality, it is first and foremost a relationship with God who knew us and loved us before time and who knows and loves us still. 

Christianity is a relationship with God who came as the Son in flesh to sanctify our human nature and who lives among us still. Christianity is a relationship with God who as the Spirit fell in tongues of fire on the disciples and who sustains the church still.  

Christianity is a relationship with God who teaches us what it’s like to be in a relationship with each other, and the rest of creation. Without God we couldn’t live this life together. We couldn’t tolerate each other’s quirks or deal with each others’ personalities. 

Without God we couldn’t have kept this little ship afloat. Without God we wouldn’t be greeting new faces at the door or welcoming back old friends. Without God we wouldn’t be able to gather in the Parish Hall for heady conversations and faith exploration. 

No, without God we would not have this wonderful parish. 

And without God we would not be equipped for the ministry of the future. We would not be equipped for our growing food pantry, or our renewed commitment to evangelism, or our close relationships with our fellow STEM congregations. 

Without God we would scarcely have the courage to walk into each new day, calling this community’s attention to the signs of God all around. 

I guess it’s a good thing we have God, then—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—because I, for one, would hate to miss this. 

They remain examples

Thursday, June 29 – Feast of St. Peter & St. Paul – 2 Timothy 4:1-8

Today, June 29th, we gather to celebrate Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It is not January 18th, when we commemorate Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah nor is it January 25th when we commemorate the so-called “Conversion of Paul.” No, today we remember these two great leaders of the Apostolic Age because they were persecuted and died as martyrs.

Clement of Rome wrote to the Church in Corinth, “Because of jealousy and envy the greatest and most upright pillars of the Church were persecuted and competed unto death.”

It’s hard to say it much better than that. Peter and Paul were good at serving as witnesses to Jesus Christ. The fearful leaders of the empires of this world didn’t know what to make of their zeal for their God. Faced with the stark reality of a group of followers proclaiming a Lord who lifts up the lowly and casts down the mighty, earthly authorities killed these apostles in an effort to ensure the continuance of their own power.

Both Peter and Paul took their place in glory as examples of God’s endurance, and today as we remember them because they glorified God in their death we can also learn from the example of their lives.

“I solemnly urge you:” writes the author of the second letter to Timothy, “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”

Proclaim. Be persistent. Convince. Encourage. And rebuke.

Proclaim the message with persistence in good times and bad—whether surrounded by the Spirit’s rush on Pentecost, after your second trial, during the growth of the church in Rome, or during your seventh stay in prison. Encourage and convince—take heart, ask questions, and burst into doxology when necessary.

And yes, even rebuke. “For the time is coming,” says the writer to Timothy “when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”

Yes friends, we’ll have do some rebuking. It’s tricky to challenge those who wish to distort the faith, but luckily Peter and Paul show us that it is possible. Even they had differences of opinion. Their disagreement over the appropriate mission to the Gentiles is well known.

Paul wrote about his meeting with Peter in Antioch in his letter to the Galatians, saying, “I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong … he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when [men from James] arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.”

These saints help us see this good news: that rebuking doesn’t mean leaving someone behind, writing someone off, or breaking a relationship. Amid the strong words of bitter disagreement these two who seemed on the surface so different—a cosmopolitan Jew and a rural fisherman—kept always in common their unwavering commitment to Jesus, and they remain examples for us.

They remain examples of the importance of never losing sight of what binds us together even when our hermeneutical lenses or exegetical interpretations are at odds. They remain examples for us—no matter how we vote at General Convention or what we think of a certain church canon—of our one, sure foundation, the Lord of the Church. And they remain examples for us of the peace that passes all understanding, that peace that guards our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ our Lord. So may it ever be.