Sermon: Trinity Sunday 2016

May 22, 2016

You may be relieved to hear that I will not attempt to explain how all three of the players of the Trinity are co-equal in the business of being God. Though theologians have tried to explain the Trinity for centuries using different metaphors—such as the three leaves of a single clover, or the shell, white, and yolk of an egg—there isn’t a theologian, living or dead, who ever figured out how God can be one and yet three, or three and yet one. So I’m not going to add my 2 cents to the confusion.

Instead, I want to share what I know about the community of The Trinity and of this Trinity, gathered together. Both can be summed up in one word: relationship. Everything we are and do centers on God’s relationship within God’s own self and with God’s creation. That’s the whole story. And as is the case with all relationships, the nature of God and our relationships with God and others is an constant dance, an interweaving of roles and responsibilities, and ever-shifting kaleidoscope, consisting of all the same pieces, repeatedly falling in different patterns. Just as I am daughter and wife, sister and aunt, citizen and pastor, all at the same time—each identity connecting me to others in a different way— always remaining one me.

And that sums up this community of faith too. Sometimes one person leads and others follow, sometimes the roles reverse. Sometimes a particular ministry or group blooms while another seems to be floundering, and then another surges up. Sometimes people leave us, and sometimes new ones join. Sometimes we gather for a baptism and sometimes for a funeral. This church is not struggling for life, but dancing through it.

It might reshape our understanding of ourselves and our picture of the future to view our experience together as a dance, instead of a fight, but it won’t make the work of being a church easier. Because everything will still be all about relationship, and relationships are messy. Even church relationships. Maybe particularly church relationships. We do not always do what we ought. Sometimes we neglect our duties, and sometimes we do things we shouldn’t do. Though Christians are called to be stewards of the world that God so loves, our poor stewardship of the earth is resulting in calamitous changes in our climate. Our flawed stewardship of one another’s dignity and value results in conflict daily, sometimes bloody ones.

Probably each one of us can think of a historical or contemporary example of the people doing things in the name of God that make us ashamed to call them our sisters or brothers. Christians are meant to mimic our relational God by working together in harmony, recognizing that all the pieces of God’s handiwork are of value and contribute to the whole. But we get out of step sometimes, and end up hurting one another, or passively standing by while someone else degrades what God has declared good. Fortunately, God does not leave us to our own devices. We are not the choreographers of this dance. Instead, as Paul writes to the church in Rome, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

It was so nice of the Shumways to arrange Emmaline’s baptism for today, so we could have a visual God’s love being poured out on humanity. Emmaline did not ask for this gift, nor does she understand it. She has no words yet to articulate what it means. But that doesn’t stop God from washing over her all the blessings of belonging, of being named and claimed, forgiven, and cherished for all time. And this is a gift we all receive in baptism. God’s love is poured out on us, and nothing we do or fail to do will wipe the sign of the cross off our foreheads. God the Creator, Sanctifier, and Redeemer has danced into our hearts and will never leave us.

No matter how smart or devout Emmaline grows up to be, no matter how “good” we think we are or strive to be, the point that all of creation remains dependant on the grace and goodness of God will remain the same. The dance of life we employ when we share a song or a prayer or a potluck is a dim reflection of the festive jig God has been dancing ever since the beginning, when the stars were formed in all their splendor, and beasts and birds and sea creatures were made to give glory to God. Still, it is a dance. No matter how often we mangle the steps, we can breathe a sigh of relief that we don’t have to master the dance in order to belong. We are following Jesus, not leading this dance.

Jesus promises us, as he did his first followers, that the when he leaves, the Holy Spirit will come to them and guide them into all truth. The Holy Spirit guides us like little kids, standing on their parent’s feet as they shuffle through dance moves. Not even Jesus’ closest friends learned the dance perfectly—Jesus flat out tells them that there are some things they can’t bear to hear yet. After all the time they spent together with Jesus, they still have more to learn. Their relationship is still changing, growing, expanding. The first disciples remained—as we remain—dependent on the Holy Spirit to show the way.

So perhaps part of being a member of THIS Trinitarian community is acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers. We don’t know all the steps to this dance. We have not perfected the art of drama-free relationships. The good news in facing that reality is that we can make space for learning and growing. We can have conversations, listen to one another stories and perspectives. We can enter into relationships and situations that may not come easily or naturally to us, that may not feel safe or secure. We can cherish one another’s voices, though they may express ideas and values that differ from our own. We can welcome one another as sisters and brothers in this complex family of God, trusting the Holy Spirit is leading.

It won’t be easy. Not even the Divine Relationship is uncomplicated. But we have the peace of God through justification, and that means we can endure almost anything. No matter what treacherous paths or difficult steps our dance as a community has to navigate, these experiences will not squelch the hope that is in us because we stand firmly in God’s grace.

If you’ve ever had a dance class, you know that the goal to make the individual steps flow seamlessly into one another. When you trust the one who’s leading you, your motions can begin to look fluid, and you can stop thinking about what where your hands or feet or chin are supposed to be in the next moment. When the urge to control every movement at every moment softens, you’ll find you look up and out, instead of down at your own shoes. You can stop counting and just listen to the music.

This is the call of the Trinity to us—enjoy the music! Don’t get stuck looking at your own feet! Put your head up! Look around! There is a beautiful, hurting world out there that needs to be engaged and embraced. You don’t have to get the steps just right, you just be open to the movements and welcome others to the dance too! Or, as theologian David Lose puts it, “God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbors do.” Whether this is your first Sunday in relationship with us here at Trinity Lutheran Church, or you five thousandth, God’s love is sweeping you into the dance. Where your feet go matters, because they represent Christ’s movements. But trust deeply in the assurance that no matter what happens in your relationships with God or any part of God’s world, you are always encompassed by God’s grace and love. The Holy Spirit knows the steps.

So what have you got to lose? Come, join the dance of Trinity!

About Trinity Lutheran Church

A congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) located in Madison, Wisconsin.
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