Sunday, June 3, 2012

Preaching Thoughts on a Non-Preaching (Trinity) Sunday

I have a lot of colleagues who would be perfectly happy if there were no Trinity Sunday on the Christian calendar.  Certainly doing a Trinity sermon can pose challenges.  Because the the term Trinity never occurs in Scripture, Bible readings for this Sunday sometimes have fairly strained relationship to this central, Christian doctrine.  And then there is the basic logical problem of 1+1+1=1 that leads many, even many preachers, to relegate this doctrine to "only of interest to academic theologians" status.

I am not dealing with such problems myself this year. Our congregation is doing a lessons and carols styled journey through the Christian year, and so there is no sermon today. But I am in some ways sorry not to be preaching on Trinity Sunday. Despite the obvious challenges , I think the doctrine provides some very practical help when it comes to envisioning God.

A seemingly universal, religious tendency is to render God manageable. As a good Calvinist, I know that we humans love our idols, substitutes for God that are much more willing to do our bidding and much less inclined to challenge us or frighten us or demand that we change. But a Trinitarian God resists such attempts if, for no other reasons, the difficulty we have explaining and picturing this God.

Of course most of us are not really Trinitarians. We are functional Unitarians. You can promote any member of the Trinity to top status and make the other two junior partners, but my Presbyterian experience has been almost entirely a Unitarianism of the Father sort.  God is Father and Father is God.  Consider how people began their prayers.  Rarely do they pray to Jesus or the Spirit.  "Father God" is even a popular opening. Jesus and the Spirit are not discounted, but they don't have the full godhead credentials for some reason.

Now there are plenty of people who are Unitarians on purpose, but that is not the issue on my mind. I'm talking about Presbyterians who today sing "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty" with great gusto.  They don't flinch singing "God in three persons, blessed Trinity," but when it comes to relating with God, this goes out the window.

I think it was C.S. Lewis who called God the great iconoclast who keeps shattering our images of God so we can replace them with better, but still incomplete ones. And the Trinity keeps chipping away at our too small images of God, forever reminding us that God is always beyond, fuller, more than we can ever imagine.

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