Sermon preached by the Rev'd Fr. Donald L. Turner, Vicar, St. Peter's-at-the-Light Episcopal Church, Barnegat Light, New Jersey, May 27, 2018 (Trinity Sunday - Year B).
Isaiah 6: 1-8; St. John 3: 1-17
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Our eight-year-old grandson, Eli, attends a Classical Christian school of the Reformed tradition. It’s a Presbyterian school. That’s okay. When he is ten years old I will introduce him to Arminianism to counterbalance the Calvinism with which he is being indoctrinated! (Kidding, of course!) His sister, Addison Grace also attends that school. Her age is in double digits, now! Conversation in their car when their mother picked them up from school one afternoon revealed the fact that in both of their religion classes that day the theme was the Trinity. Eli is undaunted by the doctrine. He has it all figured out. He said, "Jesus is the solid one, and the other two are ghosts."
Cynthia Bourgeault in her book The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth of Christianity (boy, there’s a title and a half! [Shambhala Publications, 2013]) quotes the late Karl Rahner, German Jesuit and Roman Catholic theologian, who once quipped " . . . that if the doctrine of the Trinity were to quietly disappear out of Christian theology, never to be mentioned again, most of Christendom would not even notice its absence!" I suspect that’s true, and I would add that most preachers would be relieved to put it to rest! But that would be very wrong. The Church in its wisdom knows that, thanks to Pope Gregory IX who instituted Trinity Sunday in 828 of the Christian Era. It is one of seven Principal Feasts of the Episcopal Church. It has been pointed out that Trinity Sunday is the only major festival of the Church that commemorates a doctrine rather than an event.
I must point out that the Trinity is only a seminal idea in the Bible. You cannot go to a specific scripture text and say, "See, here is a reference to the Trinity." Nevertheless, the doctrine is not completely bereft of biblical support in its emerging form. What we read as "seeds" of the doctrine will be given full growth and form during the first four centuries of the Church’s life. Much of the doctrine will be the fruit of the toil of bishops in those early centuries, meeting in several major councils to formulate what will become our Catholic Faith. The most notable of these formulations is the Nicene Creed, named after the city of Nicea in Asia Minor. The year 325 C.E. represents the first assembly of bishops in Nicea to produce the Church’s Creed. "Creed," by the way, is from the Latin credo which is translated "I believe." So the Creed is what we believe as orthodox Christians. The Creed as we now have it reaches its final form by the mid-fifth century. What we’re looking at today is what the Creed says about the Trinity.
If the doctrine of the Trinity does nothing else but embolden on our minds and in our hearts the majesty of God, that is sufficient. Let me tell you about the time I came face-to-face with the glory of God, and why I feel that every Christian must have that experience.
I was nurtured in the tradition of Christian fundamentalism. For many years I was a member of a Baptist church which was a part of what was called in those days The American Baptist Convention. We were known as "northern Baptists" as opposed to the churches of The Southern Baptist Convention. As one might conclude, the churches achieved their particular geographical designations at the time of the Civil War.
My earliest years at college proved to be unsettling as I found myself on an "ecclesiastical sojourn," and to make a very long story very short, I will simply say to you that one Sunday morning, at the lowest point in my appreciation of my Baptist heritage, I entered an Episcopal church.
Probably you’re expecting me to say, "The rest is history," but it wasn’t. It would take another 19 years before I would call myself an "Episcopalian"! But, here’s what happened on that Sunday in October, 1957 when I stepped into Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Georgetown, Kentucky:
" . . . I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke."
What do you think of that? How would you react? Here is what Isaiah did. He cried out, "I am a mess! Look at me, God! No good thing comes from my lips! I live among a people whose lips profane your glory! To add to my misery, now I have seen you!" In Isaiah’s religion whoever looked upon the face of God must die! But, God is merciful. As our beloved late Bishop George Councell used to say, "God is good, all the time!"
God is good to us, folks. God is good. God is forgiving. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity died for you and me that we might rise above sin and death. Now we are in the presence of God, in the presence of the glorious God, and God says, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Us? There is the plurality, but at the same time the unity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. "Who will go for us?" the Trinity asks. We are Isaiah. We hear the call. And what do we say? Not that we deserve to say it, not that we have any gifts of our own to give, but in the power of the Third Person of the Trinity and only because of that power we are able to say, "Here am I; send me!"
Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Copies of Fr. Turner's sermons are available each Sunday on the table in the rear of the Nave. He advises that it is not e specially helpful to follow the text as printed since he preaches from memory of the manuscript and therefore departs from it with extemporaneous remarks - especially if he thinks of a good joke! The sermons are not lengthy. The Vicar had a professor of homiletics who often said, "If you can't strike oil in ten minutes, quit boring!"