Scripture – Matthew 28:16-2 – Trinity Sunday – June 11, 2017
The following statement, which I came across several years ago, written by Rev. Quinn Caldwell, then of Boston, has seen me through questioning, doubt and confusion; and I offer it to all of you this morning as a brief but meaningful set of words which may help you, too, sometime…and it is this: “No one gets the Trinity.”
No one gets the Trinity. Now, of course, Rev. Caldwell, goes on to clarify his statement a bit by adding, “Not in any rational, well-reasoned sense, anyway…” We can all agree with that clarifier, if for no other reason than our concurrence that the complete nature of God is beyond our human understanding. Accepting with relief the notion that “no one gets the Trinity”, however, does not get us off the hook today, on Trinity Sunday, of at least addressing the Christian doctrine of one God in three persons, especially when Jesus utters the “Trinitarian formula” in our passage this morning: “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” So we will address the Trinity, but first, let’s dive into our passage, these very last verses at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew.
It is after the Resurrection. Jesus has already greeted the fearful yet joyous women running from the tomb with these instructions: “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Our passage begins with the eleven disciples going “to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus directed them.” And we read, “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” This is somewhat similar to the Gospel of John version in that some one or ones doubt the resurrection; but in the Gospel of John, Thomas wasn’t there to see Jesus the first time he appeared to the disciples and Thomas doubted their story that they had seen the Lord. Certainly, Thomas was overwhelmingly convinced the next time when he did see Jesus and touched his side and his hands.
So I don’t understand how you can be standing on a mountaintop, as Matthew writes, when Jesus comes and you see him and you still doubt. But then again, there can be things right in front of our own eyes, as plain as the noses on our faces, as they say, and we don’t believe them. I think they call it “denial”… because if we do see and recognize and believe, whatever it is, we may have to do something about it.
Listen to this interpretation of that same verse by Eugene Peterson from The Message: “The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.” Just a few verses before when the women encountered Jesus outside the tomb, scripture says: “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.” From these words we can imagine the emotion, the physical falling to the ground, the utter relief, joy, surrender. “They came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.” Later the eleven disciples are on the mountain in Galilee. “When they saw him, they worshipped him.” Now, I doubt if that means they took out their hymnals and opened their bulletins and stood up together and sang the Gloria Patri. No – again, we can imagine most of those eleven being completely emotionally overtaken by the sight of the risen Jesus. But apparently, not all of them: some doubted. Some held back, not sure about risking themselves totally.
Think about this human apprehensive withholding, this trouble with commitment, in contrast to Jesus’ words to them which convey a condition of no limits: “ALL authority in HEAVEN and on EARTH has been given to me. GO therefore and make disciples of ALL nations, baptizing them… and teaching them to obey EVERYTHING that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you ALWAYS, to the end of the age.” ALL authority, heaven and earth, GO – hit the road – baptize ALL nations, not just your fellow Jews, teach them EVERYTHING..and remember I am with you ALWAYS!
All, everything, always! Not even the sky is the limit! Jesus has all the authority…and where did he get that authority? Right! From God the Father, the Creator, the Mother, the Source of all Life, the first person of the Trinity. And how is Jesus going to be with us always, even to the end of the age? Right! Through the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter, the Sustainer, the third person of the Trinity. Pastor Steven Eason of Charlotte, NC asks us to imagine no Trinity:
“What if there was no Trinity? Jesus told us to go and baptize people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. What if we baptized people only in the name of the Father? Besides sounding awkward, it would deny the very work and person of Christ and the ongoing activity of the Spirit…
“What if we just baptized people in the name of Jesus?…That would miss the person of ‘God the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth,’ that part of God that is larger than what we can see or understand and is beyond our logic and reason.
“What if we said only…’in the name of the Holy Spirit’?…Missing would be the awesomeness and creativity of God the Father and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh. We would miss the part of God who rose from the dead to overcome our sinfulness. Please do not leave that out!”
See, we can’t limit God, either. My friends, how assuring it is to be reminded this morning by these words of Jesus that we can let go of our hesitation, our apprehension, our non-committal fear of jumping in with both feet and just do it – just say “yes” to Him and go out into unknown territory and an unknown future and live the way Jesus taught! And what better person to have our backs…always!
The Message said some held back, not sure about risking themselves totally. Some held back. We all hold back: we all hold back in relationships for fear of risking our hearts; we all hold back in expressing our beliefs for fear of risking our reputations; we all hold back in our giving for fear of risking our own assets; we all hold back even in our worship for fear of looking foolish or singing too loud off-key or making a mistake or appearing too enthusiastic for God. Underneath all of that we’re afraid of losing our very selves if we surrender to God, to the way of Jesus, to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
So here’s another insight into the Trinity. The three persons of the Trinity are relational – they indwell each other. My theology professor in seminary used to say the three persons of the Trinity are so close in their relationship to one another, indwelling one another, that they can finish each other’s sentences. And that relationship is one of selfless divine love. Professor Stephen Boyd of Wake Forest University writes: “Rather than an isolated monad, God from eternity is relational; between the Father and Son, for example, there was, is, and always will be mutual self-giving. The unity within God is [as theologian Arthur McGill said] a unity of love, a unity in which the identity of each party is not swallowed up and annihilated, but established.”
My friends, we don’t lose ourselves in committing to Jesus any more than the persons of the Trinity lose themselves in each other. Our identities are not “swallowed up and annihilated, but established;” established as children of God and disciples of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit. We can recall Jesus on the day of his trial, facing death, “knowing that his life rest[ed] not in his power to preserve it, but in God’s willingness to sustain it.”
Boyd says, “When we understand that, we are freed from the fear that cause us to hold anxiously to our lives and our possessions and are freed to love others by sharing all that sustains us.”
Notice there was still room on that mountain in Galilee for the “some” who doubted. Jesus came and spoke to them, too, just as he continues to speak to those of us who still hold back. He told them just as he told the falling-down worshiping people beside them that he would be with them always. He is with us always.
Don’t understand the Trinity? That’s OK – no one does. But we all get the Trinity – we get the creative power of the Father, and we get the redeeming love of the Son and we get the sustaining guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He, she, they never hold back on us. Thanks be to our one God in the name of all three. Amen.