Trinity Sunday, Year A
7 June 2020
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
On a holiday in 2011 our family visited St Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco. We did so because a couple of years before I had attended a workshop with their priest and their director of ministry, and because I had read their director of ministry’s autobiography.
What I had heard and read had intrigued me and I thought this was a community where our souls would be fed and where I could learn a thing or two.
Sarah Miles begins her biography with telling of her conversion. She says that her personal story is one of an unexpected and terribly inconvenient conversion of a very unlikely convert: a blue-state secular individual; a lesbian; a left-wing journalist with a habit of skepticism.
Her conversion began when at age 46 she walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, and took a sip of wine.
She says, “Eating Jesus led me against all my expectations to a faith I’d scorned and work I’d never imagined.”1
Miles is a bright, articulate woman. She had scorned the Christian faith for it’s fundamentalist expressions. In her autobiography she speaks about her faith, about theology, and about the church.
But it all begins with that experience of Holy Communion, of – as she says – eating Jesus.
Lutherans are a cerebral bunch. Historically we have been preoccupied with defending pure doctrine, and for good reason, and so religious experience isn’t the first thing that comes to mind if we were to describe Lutherans. And yet experiencing the presence of God is what either brought us here or keeps us here.
The thing with experiencing the presence of God is that it is not within our control (although it is good practice to make ourselves aware of God’s presence in every place and at every hour). But experiencing the joy of God’s presence is always a gift and always surprises us.
In the case of Sarah Miles, her conversion led her to feed others. Her experience of God came with a vocation and a commissioning. Her experience of God was the moment from which God drew her to where she could not return.
In a sermon on Trinity Sunday Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, points out the peculiar order of verbs in Jesus’ Great Commission. Go, baptize, and teach, says Jesus. Williams asks, whether it shouldn’t be the other way around: “Go, and teach, and baptize? Go and sow the seeds, put people through the courses, show them the landscape; and then invite them to commit themselves and baptize them?”2
If and when we have conversation with others about God, we often try to persuade them with good arguments, perhaps at times trying to prove that being believers does not mean we are fools. The church of my youth did precisely that. We often hosted guest speakers who with compelling arguments layed out the beauty of the Christian faith.
They didn’t need to convince me because I was already a follower of Jesus. And mostly, they made sense to me. But I am not sure that the arguments of our guest preachers brought about any conversions.
Perhaps those talks created the space for God to act. But when someone was convinced of the truth and presence and holiness of God, it was likely less because of theological or philosophical arguments, but rather because God became present to them.
Our Gospel reading is short. The eleven disciples do as Jesus had asked them through the two Maries. They went to Galilee where Jesus met them. Matthew tells us that they worshipped him but that some doubted. It is to these disciples, some worshipping, some doubting, that Jesus entrusts his great commission. None of them are theologians, and I would guess that none of them have a clue of what Jesus is talking about when he tells them to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
But Jesus commissions them anyway and, enfolded by the presence and holiness of God, they will begin asking how this all makes sense and how these pieces of Jesus proclamation and their experience all fit together.
Think back to the beginning of the Gospel of John. Jesus says to those who are to be his disciples, ‘Come and see, come and be involved in the mystery, come and see what it might be like to love and praise the eternal Father with the full joy of the Spirit. Come with me.’
And so, it is not a mistake when Jesus says to the eleven and to us, ‘Go, make disciples, baptize, and teach,’ but in the same way that Sarah Miles’ journey as a follower of Jesus began with stepping into the church, receiving bread and wine, eating Jesus, so our life as Jesus disciples is shaped first by the mystery of God’s presence, and only then by our attempts to understand it.
And so the Sunday of the Holy Trinity is not about understanding God, it is not a lesson in theology, is not about an abstract theological concept, but it is about being held and called by the God whose love and peace are beyond understanding.
Two things follow our experience of living in God’s presence.
One is that we try to understand, as much as we are able to. For as much as God is mystery, God is not against understanding. Speaking of the Holy Trinity is a coming to terms with our experience of the Son who led us to the Father and breathed on us his Spirit.
The other is that of obedience. Teaching others to obey what Jesus has commanded, assumes our own obedience. And as the Father has sent the Son, who has sent the Spirit, so we are sent into the world as carriers of the mystery of God’s salvation.
Being carriers of the mystery of salvation means that we know that the world is in need of salvation, as we are in need of salvation. It means that the church is not the defender of the status quo, but an advocate for healing, for reconciliation, and for welcoming not only all, but especially those at the margins, those Jesus welcomed.
So, go, make disciples, baptize, and teach, in that order. Carry the mystery of God, seek the mystery of God, so that the world may be healed.
1 Sarah Miles, Take This Bread, New York: Ballentine Books, 2008
2 7 June 2009, Pusey House Chapel, Oxford, http://aoc2013.brix.fatbeehive.com/articles.php/881/sermon-at-high-mass-of-trinity-sunday-pusey-house-chapel-oxford