The Rev. Canon John L. Peterson
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The one God.
Today the church celebrates Trinity Sunday, a day when we contemplate, but more than contemplate, a day in which we celebrate the very essence of God as God has been revealed to us in the Christian tradition. I am the first one to confess that after the glorious celebration of Easter, the Ascension of Jesus, and last week’s beautiful service of Pentecost, when we celebrated the birthday of the Church, that Trinity Sunday can be more cerebral when we have to think about the Athanasius Creed and all those good things.
Nowadays people talk a great deal about Scripture and the Bible. Those with a fundamentalist view of Scripture have a difficult time today because the word “Trinity” is not mentioned in the Bible. Certainly it is the name of many churches and Cathedrals, but the word Trinity is not named in the Scripture itself.
The closest imagery we have is in the last few verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel when the disciples are told to baptise “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” St. Paul, of course, ends several of his letters by the words of the grace, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore.”
For those of you who regularly hear me preach, you know that I begin every sermon, as I did today, by invoking the Trinity. “In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and then I always say, “the One God.” I have been adding “The One God” ever since I lived in Jerusalem because the Trinity for the Muslims is one of the main stumbling blocks they have with Christianity. The Trinity for the Muslims means three Gods, but for Christians, we, of course, argue the Trinity is three in one and one in three. More about that in a couple of minutes.
But what is it that we actually celebrate today? We have journeyed from Advent to Pentecost following chronological and sequential events in the life of our Lord, the Saints, and, of course, the Church, when we celebrated the Church’s birthday last week. Now in the next few weeks we do something quite unusual and that is, we simply celebrate. The Trinity is not about a day. It is about the way in which we understand the mystery of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and known to us by the Holy Spirit. It is about our unity and our diversity.
The Trinity has been explained by the Creed of St. Athanasius. It is in the Prayer Book; you may want to take a look at it after Communion. The Trinity, in light of the readings chosen today, exemplifies a perfect unity. Indeed there is one God, but the manifestation, the proclamation is seen in three very unique and distinct ways.
There is the Father: the Creator,
The Son: the Redeemer, and,
The Holy Spirit: the Sanctifier.
All have unique roles and all speak to different people in different ways.
What is fascinating here is that often times in Church history the three persons in the Trinity have been separated. The purpose of the Athanasius Creed is to show the unity, the oneness of the Trinity. However, it is not a state secret that by the sixth century in Arabia the Trinity was totally separated into three persons, not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but Father, Son, and Holy Mother.
Islam saw it as a heresy to have the holy family as the Trinity. That was too much for Mohammed. In Islam there is only one God and God’s nature is not divided. He pleaded with the Church (and I might add the synagogue as well because of their own heresy in the sixth century), but literally the Church was unwilling to clean up its act and hence Islam was born and hence why I always begin each sermon with the phrase, “The One God.”
Today we celebrate the unity of the One God, the perfect manifestation of God’s revelation. As a Christian I know God’s nature because of Jesus.
“Jesus is the only perfect image of God and Jesus shows us the nature of God…” “We recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus as Lord and we are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.”
Critical to the Trinity is that we live in love and harmony with God. One of the questions we have to ask ourselves today is simply: Are we living in love and harmony with God? Are we living in the icon of Jesus? Are we living in the perfect image of God?
The Prophet Isaiah in today’s lesson helps us to understand what it means to live in the perfect image of God. In our first lesson today we heard how Isaiah had been called to be a prophet, one who spoke God’s Word to his people—a message of judgment, but also a message of peace for the present day.
Kathy Nelson, a Presbyterian minister, argues that to be a peacemaker is one of the hardest jobs in the world, but Isaiah, and Jesus, calls us to be a peacemaker. To be a peacemaker means we will live in that perfect love and harmony with God. To be a peacemaker requires both humility and self-judgement.
I believe we are called today to speak to the problems facing our world based on race and religion, on the way we are to live together. Last Wednesday President Obama made an historic speech at Cairo University. This speech was co-sponsored by al-Azhar University, the leading Sunni educational center in the Muslim world. It was there that Obama said something absolutely remarkable for a United States President to say: “Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.” Such an understanding is an excellent basis for resolving conflicts, be it with the Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims and Christians, the Darfur genocide, or any one living under oppression.
Last month while I was in Jerusalem with the National Cathedral’s Pilgrimage, we were praying the Stations of the Cross. At the fifth station we remember that Simon of Cyrene was called upon to help Jesus carry his cross. That station is located at a busy junction on a road that goes both to the Dome of the Rock, holy to Muslims, and the Western Wall, holy to Jews.
As we prayed about Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus carry his cross, I reflected on the fact that the Scripture is color blind. There is no reference in the Scripture to one’s skin color. All of a sudden, after 25 years praying at that site, I realized that not only is the Scripture color blind, but so often our prejudices and fears are informed by irrelevant things like our dress, our costumes, that makes us different from someone else.
Passing the fifth Station of the Cross were Muslim women wearing the hajab (the head dress) and steps behind them, Jewish Orthodox men wearing their incredible 19th-century black dress and fur hats from the ghettos of eastern Europe.
So often skin color and dress inform our prejudices and fears instead of recognizing that each individual is created in the image and likeness of God. Conflicts and wars, racial and ethnic prejudices are fuelled because someone does not look or dress like me.
Trinity Sunday reminds us that we are to celebrate our unity and diversity in our human family, that we are one in the image of God.
For the Christian we know God because Jesus shows us the perfect image of God. The Jew and Muslim know God because of other manifestations. We as Christians have to be careful not to be idolatrous as we celebrate the perfect manifestation of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.
One of the great icons of the Trinity is Rublev’s 15th-century icon of “The Holy Trinity.” For those of you who know that icon, you know that the three figures are seated round the table. As the three figures sit around the table their legs are turned inward, emphasizing the inner circle of communion in which these three figures share. Theirs is a close circle of love. But as we look at the icon there is an empty space in the very center of the icon. I would like to suggest that we are invited to take our place in that icon. Here there is room for us to partake of this fellowship of divine love; here we are offered to share in the very communion of those we call Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; here we are drawn in to participate with the cherubim and seraphim in the very worship of heaven.
In that icon we have both our unity and our diversity. As our president reminded us last Thursday, we as individuals, and we as a nation, have a prophetic responsibility, to love and care for our neighbour here and abroad. It is only when we can lift up our diversity and see it as our unity that we will be able to join the cherubim and seraphim as we sing: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.”
In the name of God. The one God. Amen.