Text of sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday, 2015 (May 31) by the Rev. Katie Hargis at the Church of the Holy Cross in Murfreesboro, TN.
**This sermon was on my last Sunday at Holy Cross.
Well, I’m just going to go ahead and name the big elephant in the room today. It’s my last Sunday at Holy Cross. I’ve been your seminarian and now deacon for almost 17 months. The fact is that you all are a wonderful community of people who have meant a lot to me over the last year and a half and have nurtured me and helped me grow into the clergy person I am now. I will probably shed a few tears and may even do what we at the seminary called “ugly crying” during the last week of classes. And if I do, thats ok. In fact, I invite you to laugh at me. To heckle me. Or even to join me in crying.
My moving truck picked all of my worldly possessions up about a week ago. I said my final “see ya laters” to my classmates and professors on Wednesday and headed up to Nashville for my mini-vacation. Aka, hang out time with Ava, Iris, and Carolyn. Tomorrow morning I will set off for Kansas with Abi, my Toto look alike dog. In the next couple of weeks I’ll attend my 10 year high school reunion, preach at the Episcopal Church I grew up going to in Lawton, Oklahoma, and attend an ordination to the priesthood of a classmate. I’ll also close on my first home. I’ve bought a new fridge for the house and am looking forward to the endless summer of grilling out on my new back porch. I’m getting the heck into Dodge and am pretty excited about it. I’ll go evangelize the hordes of people at Wal-Mart who are there buying potatoes, since a few people here think there must only be heathens in Kansas…
Three years in seminary and it all comes down to this. Carolyn and I couldn’t have chosen a better Sunday for me to preach my final sermon here. Out of all of the topics and Sundays we could have chosen. We had to chose Trinity Sunday. I will probably break all of Dr. Brosend’s preaching rules today, but as he says, “nothing is always and nothing is never.” And Carolyn, you stood up here 17 months ago and asked me if I was ready to step up and preach on another difficult text. Shifu, I think I’m ready.
The Doctrine of the Trinity is possibly the hardest Sunday to preach on because it is such a hard concept to grasp. I’ve been told a story several times of a gentleman who is now a bishop in the Episcopal Church. On his first Trinity Sunday as a young priest, he got up to the pulpit and held up a can of Coca-Cola. He asked the question, “How can something/someone be three in one? Coke, soda, pop.”
This is possibly the worst way ever to explain the Trinity. We are going to look at today’s readings in another way.
Imagine with me for a moment, the delight you would experience in discovering that you had a long lost uncle or aunt who had made you the heir to their estate. Can you see it? You’d wake up one morning and discover that they had left you riches beyond count, that your major financial worries were over, and that you really didn’t have to worry all that much about the future.
If that scenario happened, how would you feel? What would you do? Or, more to the point, what would you do differently? And here I don’t mean what would you run out and buy — though I suspect that most of us would treat ourselves to something a little bit better than potatoes for dinner — but I mean something more along the lines of, what would be different about your day-to-day attitudes, practices, habits, and outlook? How would you, knowing that your future is absolutely secure, change your present?
I ask because that is exactly the scenario that Paul is describing in these few verses of his Letter to the Church in Rome. Note the language he uses:
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
According to Paul, we are not only God’s children, but also heirs, and not just heirs, but co-heirs with Christ. Now, stop here for just a moment and think about what Paul is really saying. That God considers us co-heirs — that is, equal inheritors of all God has to give — with Christ, God’s only begotten Son.
Not only that, but Paul goes on to describe the difference it makes. Rather than being afraid — of the future, of what people may think of us, of our status, of our standing with God — Paul invites us instead to imagine a life of courage, the courage of those who have been adopted by God and invited into the full measure of God’s blessings and riches.
Jesus says much the same to Nicodemus, inviting him to imagine that we have the opportunity through our life in the Spirit to be born anew, born from above as God’s children, those so precious God was willing to give his only Son as a testament to how much God loves all of us.
All of which brings me back to the Trinity. (Betcha didn’t see that one coming and I can almost bet that Carolyn was wondering where I was going with this.) Going back to those preaching rules. You’re never supposed to admit when you don’t understand the text or theme. But look, here’s the thing. I don’t for a moment pretend to fully understand the doctrine of the Trinity, and quite frankly I don’t know that I trust those who say that they do. I mean, Augustine even said that it was beyond him.
But I do know this: at the heart of our understanding of God as somehow three-in-one is the notion that you can’t fully or finally understand God without talking about relationship. That God is so full of love that there has to be some way of talking about that love shared in and through profound relationships. Some say that’s why God created the cosmos and humanity in the first place, to have more people to love. But the Trinity goes even further, saying that from the very beginning of time the dynamic power of love that is at the heart of God’s identity and character can only be captured — and at that dimly! — by thinking of the love that is shared. And so God’s essential and core being has always been a giving and receiving and sharing of love that finally spills out into the whole of the universe and invites all of us into it. First through creation and God’s series of covenants, then and pre-eminently in the sending of God’s Son to demonstrate in word and deed just how much God loves us, and now as the Spirit bears witness to God’s ongoing love for us and all of creation.
Which means, I think, that when we talk about the Trinity as God being three-in-one, we really haven’t captured the heart of the doctrine and reality unless we recognize that God is three-in-one in order always to add one more —and that’s us, all of us, are an infinite “plus one” through which God’s love is made complete in relationship with all of God’s children. And that’s what these passages testify to — the profound love of God that draws us into relationship with God, with each other, and with the whole of creation and the cosmos.
So I’ll ask again: what does it mean for us to live knowing we are God’s beloved children, adopted and chosen and named co-heirs with Christ? And when I ask this, I’m not actually doing the heaven-and-hell-thing, as if you can sum up our life as Christians as a get-out-of-hell-free card. Rather, I mean what difference does it make NOW? What difference does it make to know that you are unconditionally loved? That you have immeasurable value in God’s eyes? That no matter what you do — or is done to you — and no matter where you go, God always loves you and cares about you?
I sometimes wonder if part of the reason so many people have a hard time connecting faith to everyday life is simply because we don’t take God’s promises seriously enough. Do you think that knowing that you have God’s unconditional love and confidence will make you make decisions differently this week? Do your relationships look different in light of God’s promises? How might our challenges — at school, work, or other places — be put in perspective when you remember that you are co-heirs with Christ? Are you willing to take more or different risks in your relationships or career knowing that the creator of the universe has your back?
I don’t have the answers for y’all to these questions. As much as some of you would like for me to stand up here and tell you exactly what to do, I can’t. You have to look deep inside of yourselves to find this answer. And you can’t do it alone.
Carolyn has asked me on several occasions what my one sermon is. There is a theory that preachers typically have one message that they preach over and over in most of their sermons. I could easily tell you what Carolyn’s “elevator speech” sermon is because she has been preaching a little longer than I have. I’m still finding my voice. But I think there is one central theme that you can see through most of my sermons. And it’s a message of love.
If there is only one thing that you remember from all of my sermons after 17 months, its this.
As I mentioned earlier we are that infinite “plus one” through which God’s love is made complete in relationship with all of God’s children. In Relationship and Love. Those are the key words here. Through being in relationship we get to love. We can’t do this on our own. We need each other. Our relationships with each other, our relationships with God, these are important things. My challenge and my dream for you all is to cultivate these relationships. To figure out how to be in relationship with one another and with God. And not just the one another sitting here in this congregation today. But with your neighbors, and yes, even your worst enemies.
You are the infinite “plus one” through which God’s love is made complete in relationship with all of God’s children. Live that out to it’s fullest meaning. Love God. Love each other. Love yourself.