Posted by: dacalu | 27 May 2018

Trinity, Baptism, and Participating in Love

Today, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle on the occasion of Trinity Sunday and a baptism.  Here is the sermon I shared.

 

Prayer for Trinity Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Readings

Isaiah 6:1-8 (“Here am I am; send me.”)

Psalm 29 (“Ascribe due honor to God’s holy Name“)

Romans 8:12-17 (We are children of God and, if children, then heirs also.)

John 3:1-17 (Nicodemus visits Jesus. “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”)

 

Sermon

 

A cautious man would use baptism as an excuse 
to avoid preaching on the Trinity.
The Trinity is one of the most contentious, 
confusing, and dubiously Biblical
of the core doctrines of the church.
I am not a cautious man.

We’re not sure exactly what the Trinity means,
	But we are committed.
We set aside one Sunday a year to talk about it.
It appears in the Creeds and the Catechism.
It forms the very heart of our baptismal rite.
The Book of Common Prayer and many theological councils
	have affirmed that the most essential parts of the service
	are the believer, water, and these words.
“I baptize you in the name of the Father,
	and of the Son,
	and of the Holy Spirit.”
This follows from the Great Commission,
	a passage from Matthew 28, where Jesus tells the disciples
	to go forth and baptize in the name of the Trinity.
And most of the mainline churches have agreed to mutually recognize
	all baptisms done in this way.
The Trinity makes a difference
	in how we think of ourselves
	and the unity of the church.

I am not a cautious man, but I am a scientist,
	so, I’d like to start with an experiment.
I want to take a poll and ask you about your prayer life.
	Raise your hand if, when you pray, you chiefly pray
		to God the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
	Now raise your hand if, when you pray, you chiefly pray
		to God the Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
	And now raise your hand if you chiefly pray
		to God the Holy Spirit.
In my travels, I have found 
rather sizeable portions of the community
that pray to each of the three,
with God and Jesus coming in first and the Spirit a close third.
 
Now and, I suspect, in the days of the early church,
	people pray to all three, and have relationships with all three.
	As a community we worship all three.
	And yet we say that we worship one God.
	They are the same.
So, at a very practical level, the Trinity reminds us
	that God is bigger than our personal knowledge,
	or our personal experience.
	We need the wisdom of others
		to fill out our picture.
As I said a couple weeks ago:
	God is all that, and more.
We, in the church are constantly discovering that God
	is greater than we can comprehend,
	and that God’s power, working in us
	can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

God is everywhere,
	everything is holy,
	but we have trouble seeing it.
And so, the church is in the business of sanctifying the world,
	making holiness more visible.
I joked that the theology is something like a do-it-yourself book
	good for helping us deal with life and meaning,
	very important, 
nearly impossible to understand, 
and something you can start working on today.
And I said that the church would always provide seven easy steps.
	The church calendar has seven days in the week
		and seven seasons, even seven-year cycles.
	All time is holy,
		but we forget,
		so, we set aside the seventh day,
		and the seventh season,
		and the seventh year,
		to remember.

We also sanctify the world through seven sacraments,
	or, for those more Protestant in their theology,
	the two great sacraments – Baptism and Eucharist –
	and five other rites, commonly known as sacraments –
	Confirmation, Ordination, Matrimony, Reconciliation, and Annointing.
I told you, it’s always seven easy steps.
And Baptism is the first.

 
I should, then, explain Baptism.
I fear it is as great a conundrum as the Trinity.
It means more than we know.
	It is a mystery too deep for words.
Augustine described all sacraments
	as an outward and visible sign
	of an inward and spiritual grace.
Speaking of the holy and the sacred,
	I would also call it a concrete, visible sign
	of an ubiquitous invisible grace.
God loves us all,
	truly, madly, and deeply.
	God loves the baptized and the unbaptized,
		the Christian and the non-Christian,
		the good, the bad, and the indifferent.
	Baptism does not make us more beloved.
And yet, we do not know that we are beloved.
	We have trouble recognizing God’s love and acting on it.
	We have this ritual as a concrete sign
		that these specific people 
		are beloved,
		not only by God, but by the whole church.
	They remind us that we are beloved,
		indeed all people are beloved.

Is baptism, then, only a symbol?
	Is it just a psychological reminder 
of something that already happened?
No.
You may as well ask whether there is any significance 
to the words “I love you.”
Every time you say it – and mean it – something happens.
It is not just a reminder; it is an act of love.
Communication participates in the love that brings it about.
Baptism participates in the grace it celebrates.
	It is God’s love made visible in the world.

This is why I will always be a supporter of infant baptism.
If you wait to understand God,
	if you wait to understand the importance of grace,
	the importance of the gift,
	the meaning of it all,
	you will wait too long.
None of us fully understands God’s love for us.
 
God does not wait for our understanding.
God does not wait for us to be worthy.
God loved us first,
	truly, madly, and deeply.
And we must not risk any confusion,
	as a church:
	God’s love is unconditional,
	freely given,
	for all.
If you have been baptized,
the church has taken the time to say,
“This applies to you, specifically.”
I would be happy for everyone to have that in their past.

We must not baptize those who will see it as an imposition.
Communication is always a two-way street.
But, if their parents can tell them,
	“God loves you, specifically.
	The church accepts you, specifically.”
Then I think it is a good thing.

But perhaps you are asking what is Baptism, actually?
	What kind of gift is it?
The Bible gives us two images: forgiveness and adoption.
Forgiveness, first.
	Last week, I mentioned passionate love,
		and the difficulty we have letting our guard down,
		being truly open,
		being fully ourselves,
		and letting God be fully God in us.
	We need to be shown love, before we can love.
	We need to be shown faith and hope before we can believe.
	We need to be shown passion before we can be truly passionate.
Jesus Christ accomplished this.
	In the language of Romans,
		“while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
	Or first John,
		“We love because he loved us first.”
As my friend John Powless put it,
	“God loves you,
		no matter what,
		even if,
		and anyway.”
 
I don’t know what holds you back.
I cannot name your sin for you,
	your stumbling block or trespass,
your debt or obsession or failing,
falling short of the mark.
Only you know what holds you back from
	accepting God’s love
	and loving your neighbors
	truly, madly, and deeply.
I can only speak to what I know, 
and testify to what I have seen.
That I feel a need for forgiveness.
That nearly everyone I have ever met,
	seems to lacking something.
And that baptism and forgiveness help.
They help us understand that we are forgiven. 


And adoption.
That is the greater mystery.
Forgiveness is letting go of something bad,
	something were holding on to.
Adoption means getting something new,
	something better than you asked for
	or understood.
Adoption means becoming part of God’s family.

‘Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” 
And I said, “Here am I; send me!”’
Being adopted means we have a place,
	a purpose,
	a plan for our lives.
We belong somewhere.
That may sound like an imposition,
	but it brings happiness like nothing else,
	to have a context.

Jesus said, “What is born of the flesh is flesh, 
and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
He did not mean that any of us are not flesh.
	He was embodied.
	He did not mean that any of us are not Spirit.
	We all move by the will of God.
	But, there is a difference.
 
If we focus on our physical selves, our physical context,
	we will die with our bodies.
	We will decay.
If we focus on our spiritual selves, our spiritual context,
	if we accept adoption,
	see that we are already loved,
	and respond with love,
	We are eternal.
It is not just a psychological reminder 
of something that has already happened.
It is participation.
	True life can be found in community,
		with God and neighbor.
	True life is lived in loving.

The Trinity reminds us that a Christian alone is no Christian.
Even God alone is no true God,
	for God is love.
God is all that, and more.
God is everywhere and we are blind to it.
But God has given us one another.
	God has given us forgiveness and adoption.
	God has given us sacraments and community.
	So that we might catch the barest glimpse
		of overwhelming glory.

 

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