Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a – In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Psalm 8 – When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
2 Corinthians 13:11-13 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
Matthew 28:16-20 – “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
There are too many Trinitarian hymns to mention all, but below are a few. The section on Trinity can be found in ELW 408-415.
- Eternal Father, Strong to Save – ELW 756
- Holy, Holy, Holy – ELW 413
- Come Join The Dance of Trinity – ELW 412
- Holy God, We Praise Your Name – ELW 414
- God, Whose Almighty Word – ELW 673
- We Believe by The Newsboys is popular in many of our congregations. The refrain is low and singable. The theology is straightforward.
- David Scherer (Agape) has a creed, as do Lost and Found, Jay
- Beech, The David Crowder Band (Believe) and Hillsong (This I Believe).
Here is a YouTube video that might make for a meaningful prelude/gathering or contemplative piece during the service. It is a Ken Burns effect on Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity set to the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy of St John Chrystostom. The Russian Orthodox chant captures a sense of mystery.
Many thanks to Pastor Don Carlson Who helped prepare the posts for this summer.
When the Father laughs at the Son
and the Son laughs back at the Father,
that laughter gives pleasure,
that pleasures gives joy,
that joy gives love,
and the love is the Holy Spirit.
— Meister Eckhart, German mystic (1260-1328)
Come, join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun-
the interweaving of the three, the Father, Spirit, Son.
The universe of space and time did not arise by chance,
but as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance.
— Come Join The Dance of Trinity – ELW 412
Trinity Sunday is the only festival of the church year dedicated to a doctrine. A full discussion of its roots can be found on Wikipedia under Trinity. There is a lot of interesting information there, but as Pastor Don Carlson in our synod says, “It’s pretty hard to preach. Preaching doctrines can be a pretty dry business.”
One of the ways I have found to touch down in people’s lives is to talk about experiences of God. We experience God as creator (through creation and being in our own skin). We experience God in the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. We experience God in the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Jesus that blows through our lives and our communities.
Pastor Carlson suggests rehearsing Luther’s Small Catechism on the Apostle’s Creed. The Small Catechism is helpful included in the pew edition of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 1160. The portion on the Creed begins on page 1162. Luther focuses on believing not as intellectual assent to events or doctrines, but rather in trusting in God. In other words, faith is not intellectual assent to the doctrine of the Trinity, but trusting that God who is revealed in three persons.
I would not drag out the Athanasian Creed on this day. It has, in my opinion, little liturgical value. The product of 4th century polemics, it is a valuable historical document that has importance in study, but requires too much interpretation of the 4th century cosmology to be helpful, especially to newcomers. Pastor Carlson says, “It nails the coffin lid on Arianism and Adoptionism, but also nails the lid on interest about halfway through; and the anathemas smack of Christendom.”
Holy Trinity Sunday: whether to preach on the theme or on the texts? The day’s texts are assigned because of Trinitarian references or allusions. Matthew 28 was not chosen because of its well known Great Commission. It was chosen because of the Trinitarian formula.
The Trinitarian formulas of our creeds are an effort to maintain the mystery of the Trinity and not solve the puzzle of the Trinity. So, preaching on the mystery without venturing into our penchant to puzzle-solve can be a very slippery slope.
But there are real life political issues also at stake in the creeds; and so, first, a brief wade into the waters of Nicaea and the Council of 325. Marcus Borg writes:
To resolve the conflict, [Constantine] called the bishops of the church together at his palace on the shore of Lake Nicaea in Asia Minor, not far from today’s Istanbul. Constantine’s agenda was to reach agreement about the nature of Jesus, so that conflicts within Christianity would not lead to conflicts within his empire. He seems not to have cared what the bishops concluded-only that they came to an agreement. Both sides agreed that Jesus was divine. But was [Jesus] one with God- “of one substance” with God, “of one Being” with God? Or was he a little bit less than God; divine, yes, but created by God and thus not equal with God? The first position was represented by Athanasius (293- 373), the second by Arius (ca. 250- 336). Athanasius won.
[However, another] issue was at stake that Constantine seemed initially not to understand. Like Roman emperors before him, Constantine was hailed as divine, Son of God, and Lord. But he was not, to use the language of the creed, “begotten and not made.” He was not “of one substance,” “one Being” with God. Athanasius’ interpretation put Jesus above the emperor. Within a few years of Nicaea, Constantine realized this and became “Arian,” that is, an advocate of the lesser status of Jesus advocated by Arius. So did his imperial successors for much of the fourth century.
Thus a major issue at stake in the Nicene Creed is: Is Jesus above all of the lords of this world or is he one among a number of lords? The issue continues to come up for Christians today. Is Jesus above the lords of culture or is he one allegiance among a number of allegiances? Are we to give our allegiance to Jesus in the religious realm and our allegiance to others in the other realms of life? Are our religious and political loyalties separate? Or is Jesus lord of all lords? The answer of the Nicene Creed (and the New Testament before it) is clear. Jesus as Lord and Son of God transcends all other lords. Given this, standing and saying the Nicene Creed is a subversive act. Its affirmations negate the claims of other lords upon us. God as known in Jesus is Lord, the one and only Lord. The lords of culture- and they are many- are not.
BORG, MARCUS J. (2011-04-12). SPEAKING CHRISTIAN: WHY CHRISTIAN WORDS HAVE LOST THEIR MEANING AND POWER-AND HOW THEY CAN BE RESTORED (PP. 205-207). HARPERCOLLINS. KINDLE EDITION.
The Greek word for “person” – πρόσωπον – often gets misunderstood as “the separate individual” in modern usage. πρόσωπον was much more nuanced than that.
The “prosopon” was the mask that an actor wore. That gives a little different twist to “God in three persons (masks?) blessed Trinity.” Halloween is the night when we all get to put masks on our masks, because prosopon can also mean “face” (In truth, the public face we put forward is often already a mask). Prosopon is the exact word that Paul uses for face in 1 Corinthians 13:12.
“βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι’ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι, τότε δὲ πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον.” – “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.” Then we will see prosopon to prosopon; but for now we see αἰνίγματι – from which we get our word “enigma” – and we are back to the mystery again. Who really is behind mask #1, #2, or #3? Who really is behind our own mask? What is your face on the world?
While the word Trinity is never mentioned in the Bible, it is implicitly there and became the way the church understood divinity, as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. There may be no mention of the Trinity in the Bible per se, but the theology of it is everywhere. Once Christians began to contemplate the God who creates, redeems, and makes us holy, one God in three persons, they began to notice it in other places. They wondered about the three divine messengers Abraham encountered at the Oaks of Mamre. The personification of Holy Wisdom in the Scriptures came to be understood as the Holy Spirit. The Trinity was not a new idea; it had been there all along, like the Theory of Relativity. They noticed that you have God, Word, and Spirit in the first Genesis creation account. Jesus became identified with the Word in John’s gospel.
Understanding Jesus as The Word, took on significant importance as the Word, the Divine Logos, had special significance in Greco-Roman culture. Heraclitus had used The Word as a philosophical term to describe knowledge and the underlying order of the universe 500 years before Christ. In Greco Roman culture, The Word is a reference to the rules that govern the known universe; The Word is the DNA of the cosmos.
The Stoic philosophers identified the Word/Logos as the divine animating principle pervading all things. In Roman theology, the Logos was the first emanation of the Pleroma (the fullness of all divine powers). For Greek Christians, identifying Jesus with the Divine Logos meant something in pagan society. It communicated, and that communication had cosmic implications. For Jewish Christians, identifying Jesus with the Word that God spoke at creation, the creative force of the universe, also had cosmic implications. Even the Jewish philosopher Philo (20-50 A.D.) had incorporated the concept of the Logos into his philosophy.
The first lesson is the later creation account from the Priestly tradition. This needs to be preached in such a way that it avoids any “7 day creation” literalism. If people want that, they can head for north Texas and visit the Creation Evidence Museum or the Museum of Earth History.
If you preach on this text, consider focusing the God, who creates through the Word, a world where the Spirit blows. Preach on the breath/wind/spirit of God bringing order out of chaos. Take the ELCA “God’s work. Our hands.” and explore the ways in which we are to be about the business of ending the chaos of life.
A great verse from the Trinitarian hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” – ELW 756:
Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
Lots of themes here. This is the “Great Commission” text and Matthew’s ascension story, selected, of course, because of the Trinitarian formula that is spoken by the ascending Jesus. How does one make disciples of all nations? (ἔθνη) Two actions: baptize (βαπτίζοντες) and teach (διδάσκοντες – from which we get didactic and Didache).
I’ll leave to you the discussion/debate as to whether in practice it should be baptize > teach or teach > baptize; but I think that – especially in Matthew where Jesus is painted as the New Moses – the teaching issue is critical. How is the faith best taught? What does “teaching the faith” look like in a postmodern world? What in fact is being taught? (One ought review Kenda Creasy Dean’s book, Almost Christian, with regard to these questions).
And lastly, are we really willing to involve “all nations” (ἔθνη)? Are we interested in teaching – and learning from – people different from ourselves? I think that those are important questions being asked by Christian teenagers at a time when the people in their “teaching places” – the church and the school – are looking increasingly dissimilar.
What to Preach?
A few years ago (2007) Canadian author William P. Young self-published a book of fiction called The Shack, which went on to become a New York Times best-seller. It is now been made into a movie, which I have not yet seen. After a tragedy with his daughter, Mack Phillips enters the shack and encounters manifestations of the three persons of the Trinity. God takes the form of an African American woman who calls herself Elousia and Papa. Jesus Christ is a Middle-Eastern carpenter. Finally the Holy Spirit physically manifests itself as an Asian woman named Sarayu. The book provides a stimulating opportunity to consider how God is manifested, particularly through suffering.
If you want to imagine the way to preach this doctrine in a compelling way, take a look at how Rob Bell starts his 2-hour walk through Scripture, talking about the Trinity.
However you come at this, remember the words of my homiletics professor Paul Harms, “So what?” What is the Good News about the way God comes to us, even those of us sitting here today?