Trinity Sunday: Go, Baptize, and Teach

Pentecost  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  18:35
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When we go into the world to baptize and teach, but we neglect a whole person of the Trinity, we find a stunted, dangerous embodiment of our faith. By acknowledging, fully, all persons of the Trinity -- Creator, Christ, AND Spirit -- we encounter the fullness of God's unity and our participation in it as teachers, baptizers, and faithful witnesses to the abundance of God's love for all.

The New Revised Standard Version The Commissioning of the Disciples

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Intro - Missing Persons

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday. We mark this day by hearing Jesus’ Great Commission — sending the disciples (and us) out to Go, Baptize and Teach.
As we dive into this text I have to acknowledge…it has been said that we Presbyterians aren’t all that comfortable talking about the Holy Spirit. I mean, that’s a stereotype for many Reformed traditions — we’re not very spiritual, they say.
But I want to push into that stereotype and wonder what is underneath it. Are there parts of our faith that we’d rather just not pay much attention to? Like, things we don’t understand? Sure. But is it also embedded in our culture, our world, to shut off certain voices and ways of thinking that make us uncomfortable or are so different from us that we don’t want to notice or attend to them? Absolutely.
This morning, I’m wrestling with this thin line between the question of why we don’t always pay attention to the Holy Spirit and why we find it so easy to not pay attention to invisible but so very tangible forces like racism, hate, fear, power and privilege. It’s easy to just tune out.
Today, we are invited…instead…to tune in. To listen.

Trinitarian Theology - the Abbreviated Edition

As we hear Jesus’ Great Commission to go out into the world and spread the good news, I want to focus in on the concept of the Trinity — God in Three Persons. Today is Trinity Sunday.
A very brief theological framework for you: Christians are a mono-theistic people AND we proclaim God is Three Persons. There’s a beautiful tension built into our faith - Three in One. One God, Three Persons, each distinct, particular, and yet also beautifully intertwined in a Divine Dance.
There is God — God the Father, God the Mother, God the Creator. God is the Ground of Being, who holds the whole world in his hands.
There is Jesus, the Christ - the Son, the Firstborn of all Creation, the King of Kings, the Lamb of God. The embodied, enfleshed person of the Trinity.
And there is the Holy Spirit — the Pneuma, the Breath, the Fire, the Rushing Wind, the Ruah of God. The Advocate, the Presence with us here and now, the one who lights us up and empowers God’s people to do the work in the world.
We honor and celebrate these three distinct parts of God as we share the Good News. And when we recognize that we have cut off part of their collective voice, their collective self, a part of God — we recognize that we are missing something, that there’s not a full picture of God’s love and reign being shared. That’s what I want to focus on today.

The Stunted and Dangerous Duality

When we find ourselves focusing on only one or two persons of the Trinity, we find ourselves creeping into perilous territory. You might think that statement’s a little strong, but hear me out. When we lose site of the Creator, or the Christ, or the Spirit, we cut off an all-important part of God’s body, God’s self.
This is perilous for a couple of reasons. Rather than speak in theological terms, I want to illustrate this problem by looking right into the face of two major issues facing our world right now: the coronavirus pandemic and the awakening of so many to the injustices of systemic racism.
Denying a person of the Trinity, specifically, in this case, the Holy Spirit, is dangerous. Think about this: the coronavirus (and most forms of disease and illness that we face in the modern world) is hidden. It might be on surfaces you touch or in the sneeze of a person next to your, transmitted silently and invisibly. To ignore that reality is to risk infection — that’s why we’re all wearing masks when we go out into the world these days. For love of neighbor and self. When we ignore that unseen reality, we face danger. In the same way, when we ignore the unseen presence of the Spirit, or we diminish the Spirit’s active work in the world — we find ourselves with a dangerous faith. We have the Big God in the sky and a loving Jesus who once walked the earth…but we have no animating Presence of the Spirit with us today. We lack imagination and inspiration, which the Spirit provides. Our faith becomes rigid, all too strict and human. We need the Pneuma, the breath, the Spirit that enlivens us. Would you deny that there are particles of disease floating around, impacting hundreds of thousands of us? No. It’s very clear, though it cannot be seen. So, in the same way, we do not deny the animating Presence of the Holy Spirit.
Another example, one that might be a little more hard to stomach, but which need to pay deep attention to. Leaving out a person of the Trinity gives us a stunted form of faith. It’s under developed, missing something very important. Its as if a voice is not at the table.
And here we find ourselves at systemic racism. Since its founding, our nation has silenced the Black voice and used the Black body for slavery and scapegoating. The Black voice has not been invited to our tables, to our pulpits, to be represented in equitable ways amongst our White conversations and cultures. And what has this wrought? So much pain. So much violence. So much injustice.
When we leave out a person of the Trinity, we get a stunted picture of the fullness of God. When we deny and leave out a Black or Brown person, we get a stunted, underdeveloped, painfully lacking picture of humanity.
I’m struck by the movements in our nation this week to stand up for Black Lives. There was an incredibly powerful gathering at Maritime Heritage Park yesterday, where we gathered with thousands of Bellinghamsters to listen and stand with People of Color in peaceful solidarity. It was beautiful, profound. And it offers a glimmer of what the fullness of humanity CAN be, when we celebrate and honor the Black voice. We no longer need to have a stunted humanity — we need the fullness of hearing and celebrating and lifting up People of Color who have been so long silenced. This is what the People of God do.

Finding the Fullness of God

When Jesus sends out the disciples to Go, Baptize, and Teach — he sends them out with the fullness of God.
A quick aside: we have a translation of Scripture, the New Revised Standard Version, that is generally really helpful for reading and getting a sense of the original words used in Scripture. It’s good for study and is approachable for many people. However, it’s not perfect. One thing we might note in today’s text is the language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are accurate translations from the original Greek. And yet, they are also stunted in their own way, as they highlight a only masculine forms of God’s name. I’m not going to argue with the NRSV’s translation…but what I want to note is that there are other, more inclusive and helpful ways of speaking God’s name that can invite us more deeply into the fullness of God and not exclude parts of who God is. We used one of those alternatives in our Call to Worship — God as Creator, Christ, and Spirit. Notice the subtle, but important distinction there? It calls in more, celebrates more voices.

Honoring, Liberating, and Celebrating All Persons — a Trinitarian form of mission and action

And this is what the Trinity does. It invites us in. Jesus sends out the disciples to Go, Baptize, and Teach — to all people. The disciples’ stories, which follow in the Letters of the New Testament, in the Acts of the Apostles, and in the tradition of the church, find them going out to all people, all over the world.
When we discover the fullness of God that is here in the Trinity, all person, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit, we find that God is inviting the fullness of us into participation, as well. God dances with us, invites us to join in, call out all voices to sing in the chorus of God’s love and redemption of the world.
Our work here, friends, is to not settle for a stunted or dangerous version of the Trinity. We need Creator and Christ — which we’re pretty good at. And we need Spirit — the wild, untamed, enlivening and uniting Presence of God.

So what do we do?

So what do we do? We want a plan, an action step, a bullet point list.
Think again about the Black Lives Matter movement swelling in our nation. White folks like myself, we want an action step, a book to read, a list of things I can do to help.
But like rediscovering the Holy Spirit and like slowing the spread of the pandemic and like the movements we are seeing across our nation — what we really need to do is stop. And listen. Be still and pay attention.
We’ve talked enough. We’ve led enough times. Now, we need to be led. We need to listen. We need to stand beside and not in front of.
One of my favorite images of the Holy Spirit is that of a deer. If you’ve ever hiked out into the woods, you know that humans make a lot of noise. But when we can slow down and sit, perhaps in a clearing in the trees, and wait patiently, we begin to notice so much more life around us. Imagine sitting on a tree stump, on the edge of the clearing and silently waiting. Slowly, the deer creeps out of the woods and into the tall grass of the clearing. It notices you, but you are still and silent, not a threat. And so it steps out further, chews on a flower, slowly makes its way into full view. It is beautiful. It is wild. You see its powerful legs that allow it to run swiftly through the forest, away from predators and in joyful frivolity of God’s good creation. You see it and you are undone.
This is what it looks like to encounter the Spirit of God. Wait patiently, silently. In stillness, she arrives. May we Go, Baptize, and Teach and in such actions, may we practice stillness, faithful listening to the voices who have been too long silenced, and may we be made new ourselves. Perhaps we can finally realize that when we Go, Baptize, and Teach, we are ourselves being taught and baptized again and again as well.
My friends, take heart — Christ, the embodied member of the Trinity, promises to be with us. In the Spirit, in God’s loving creation, in our hearts. We are not alone.
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