A Sermon by the Rev. Susan P. Thomas, June 15, 2014, Trinity Sunday: Heresies - Met by the Grace of Jexus Christ, the Love of God, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit
Tuesday, July 1st, 2014 at 11:43 am
June 15, 2014: Trinity Sunday
HERESIES — MET BY THE GRACE OF JESUS CHRIST, THE LOVE OF GOD, AND THE COMMUNION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our salvation. Amen.
Today is Father’s Day and I had a recent conversation with a pastoral colleague who was puzzling over how to acknowledge the fact that many in her congregation would have fathers on their minds this morning rather than the festival of Trinity Sunday. She herself had a complicated relationship with her father, yet she did recall how he would lift her up and hold her high so that she could see more and see better. Placing that image before you today seems to me to be a fine way to express and value what it is that the fatherly ones in our lives do for us — they give a boost to the small, they lift up the lowly, they help us to see the world better. So may you, on this day, remember and give thanks for all of those “tall people”, fathers and others, who have lifted up the lowly, who have cared about those who are small.
I chose today’s Gathering Hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” because of the associations I have with it from the time when I was small. It’s a great hymn for Trinity Sunday, but I could easily have chosen another.
I chose it because “Holy, Holy, Holy” was the processional hymn EVERY Sunday at my home church in Minnesota all through my childhood. When I hear it, I’m immediately back there, peeking around my father’s elbow to see the choir process into the church dressed in their maroon robes. And I hear certain voices, imprinted as they are from Sunday after Sunday, year after year. Patty Hedtke’s loud soprano, always flat (she marched in first). Joan Kroening’s rich dark alto. The liquid tenor of Paul Stans.
As a child, my favorite line to sing was “casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.” I loved giving unnecessary emphasis to “-sy sea” at the end of that line.
In all those years of singing this hymn, of repeating, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” it never occurred to me to wonder whether Patty Hedtke’s and Joan Kroening’s and Paul Stans’s Trinitarian theology was any closer to correct than the notes they were singing. Doctrine just didn’t come up much in general conversation, as I recall.
Oh, we said the Apostles’ Creed and we sang hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy” and received benedictions in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And we studied the Trinity in Catechism and our Sunday bulletins all summer long said things like the 8th or 12th or 17th Sunday after Trinity. But I would have been hard-pressed to recognize any Trinitarian heresies creeping into discussions I might have overheard among Patty and Joan and Paul as they put on their choir robes each Sunday morning.
For heresies there certainly were — and are — in that congregation, in this one, and in the church at large. We are constantly slipping in and out of them, moving too far in one direction and being pulled back, correcting one another, bringing things at least occasionally into proper balance. Yet I would submit to you that one thing we can celebrate on this Trinity Sunday is that there is room for that within the church. That falling into error of belief does not immediately exclude you from the community of the faithful. While bad theology, unaddressed, can come back to bite you (and believe me, I’ve seen that happen!), there is yet time to gain a better understanding. There are other believers to speak God’s truth to you. There is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit to guide your growth in faith.
Those words — “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit” — should sound almost as familiar to you as “casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea” sound to me. But they are a little more significant than childhood memories of a peculiar way of singing a peculiar phrase in a hymn. For this is the greeting we hear almost every time we gather for worship, the first words after our gathering hymn. I used it today instead of the greeting we’d assigned for the summer season, realizing its importance in today’s 2nd reading. It’s a Trinitarian greeting — and it’s also lifted up in our second lesson from 2 Corinthians on this Trinity Sunday.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” And we respond with, “And also with you.”
It’s no small thing to greet one another in this way, asking for each other the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Spirit. Such was the desire Paul had for the church at Corinth.
Now it might be worth noting who these people are to whom Paul is addressing the most complete Trinitarian benediction that appears in any of his letters. Here’s what’s interesting: there’s good evidence within his letters that the church at Corinth is a church deeply divided.
Several different theologies are apparently at work in this congregation, so heresies exist there alongside the Gospel.
It’s a church that is not only questioning Paul’s authority as an apostle, but his personal integrity, as well.
There are people who are not concerned for one another and who even disregard each other at the Lord’s table.
There are those who have interpreted Christ’s death and rising as a triumphant spiritual ascent, an individual climb in which they have participated, reaching spiritual heights that leave most everyone else behind.
There is a measuring and ranking of God’s blessings and approval of certain members by the kind and variety of spiritual gifts they may have received.
In other words, there is lots of what one might call uncharitable, unchristian stuff going on in the church in Corinth.
And Paul is not pleased.
When we come to the last verses of this second letter that he writes to the Christians in Corinth, we’ve just finished three chapters of frustrated, defensive, angry discourse directed at this church, whose doctrinal errors seem manifold.
One might expect a curse to complete this section. And yet, Paul invokes a blessing upon the Corinthians. The tone changes. It becomes tender and pleading, like a parent who has raged against a child’s foolish and dangerous action and then pulls the child close with words that show the parent’s deep love. It’s as if Paul, with tears in his eyes, looks upon this strong-willed, enthusiastic, and occasionally foolish congregation and says, “I only want the best for you, my dear children.”
In that context, then, it’s only to be expected that what is “best for these wayward children” can really come only from God, from the fullness of God in three persons — balanced, complete, whole — not twisted into some mis-shapen little god formed by human imagination to fit our fancy.
From God who is all-in-all;
God who is merciful and mighty;
God who “wert and art and ever shalt be”;
God who is creator, redeemer, and sanctifier;
God who is Father, Son, and Spirit;
God who is grace and love and communion.
God who is glorious, holy, and human.
God who can never be fully known, God who enlightens us by the Spirit, God who stoops down to take on our flesh.
Paul’s blessing upon the wayward Corinthians, and our blessing upon one another, includes all of that and more.
I don’t know what sort of wayward Corinthians sang in the choir at my home church. But I do know that Sunday after Sunday as they entered worship they lifted their various voices into one song that praised the Triune God and I know that that God never abandoned them. They were given the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, just as these gifts have been given to God’s people throughout the ages, even before the words were poured out by Paul upon those doctrinally challenged Corinthians who were (not incidentally) having trouble loving one another.
Rejoice in that! And pray that, having been thrice blessed in this way, we might also be fulsome blessings to one another, lifting our various voices into one song of praise to the only God, the God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!