The Holy Trinity (Year C, June 16, 2019)

On Trinity Sunday we pause and reflect on the God who is revealed in the Church’s stories. The text we read today may not be Exodus or Easter, but they reveal the same God. What happens in our texts? What is revealed? In Proverbs, Wisdom is present before creation, with God, perhaps is God, and wisely makes room for everything. In Romans, Paul writes of God sharing—the Son justifies, the Father loves and gives the Spirit who hopes and has faith for us. In John, Jesus speaks of letting go of his role in life, and handing off that work to the Holy Spirit, trusting she is going to do as well as he did. Letting go, making room, sharing…it’s preschool. Basically, the doctrine of the Trinity states that God has mastered preschool.

God has mastered preschool. If you do not think that is impressive, just remember that none of us have mastered what we learned in preschool. We may have finished preschool. We learned of letting go, sharing, making room. We did not master them. Sometimes we are downright bad at them. Sin makes us bad at them. Sin is not bad things you do; Sin is a fundamentally broken state of being. Sin ruins everything. We may hear, “there’s enough room for everyone,” but Sin makes us hear, “there is no room for me,” or, “there is no room for them.” Sin makes us decide the preschool rules are stupid, or that we outgrew them. That’s always fun: dealing with a grownup who thinks they outgrew the rules. Or, Sin convinces us that preschool rules are good, so good that we must appoint ourselves as their enforcers. We may even be well-intention-ed, but we manage to turn sharing, making room, and playing well with others into a weapon. Sin is awful, that way. So, no, we’ve not mastered preschool rules. God has. Despite us not mastering the rules, and misusing them frequently, the rules are necessary.

Saint Paul appears to have wrestled with the question of how to live faithfully in a world where sin is real. That question lies behind our Second Reading. Paul writes, “We also boast in our sufferings.” Sin hears, “we also boast in our sufferings,” and turns it into something like, “let your abusive parent or partner keep abusing you.” Or, “don’t do anything about bad situations, yours or others.” That’s Sin interpreting Paul. The word we translate as “sufferings” refers neither to physical pain—as with an illness—nor to unfair treatment—as at the hands of an abusive partner. It’s a word for “squeezing” or “tightening.” It’s Paul’s term for the tight spot in which Christians find themselves in the world.

Christians in Paul’s day worship a man executed by the Roman government on an official state torture device. If you’re Christian, that means your God is an enemy of the state. That puts you in a tight spot. For all its problems, the state is popular. Paul writes during the early part of Nero’s reign. Nero would eventually upset the apple cart enough that the Senate would condemn him to death, and a brief power struggle would ensue, but when the dust settled it was with another emperor atop a similar structure. Rome and its subject peoples preferred the Roman state to the alternative: chaos, decades long civil war, lawlessness. Rome maintained the classical civilizations of Greece, Egypt, and even Persia. Rome brought running water, paved roads, and a smoothly running economy. And the brought a generally accepted set of rules: pay your taxes, don’t mess with Rome, and don’t mess with each other because that tends to cause unrest and then Rome will have to show up with legions.

The legions, and the crosses: those are what Paul wants to do without. Paul asks, “Can we have indoor plumbing that does not come on the blade of a sword?” Can we have roads that are not paved with crucifixes? Those preschool disciplines of sharing, making room for others, and letting go and trusting others—those should be enough, Paul knows. We all learned that these things make a better world. We should be able to do them without the threat of lethal force hanging over our heads. And, Paul knows, Sin ruins it. Sin means someone won’t share, someone else won’t make room, and maybe I won’t trust anyone. Sin is awful, that way.

Take a loving family. Sin’s all over that. A loving family is wonderful. It’s good that children have responsible adults looking out for them. It’s good that human beings enter into formal relationships and state officially, “We’re in this life together, and agree to work together and share everything together.” And then there’s Sin. Our former hymnal used to kick off the wedding ceremony: “because of sin, our age-old rebellion, the gladness of marriage can be overcast and the gift of the family can become a burden.” It’s so Lutheran. “Welcome, sinners, to the joining of these two sinners.” (For some reason, we cut it out of the current hymnal.) But it’s true. We have this great thing where people can love each other in a safe place and children can grow up nurtured and protected, and Sin makes it miserable. Or Sin tells unmarried parents that they are wicked or less-than the rest. Or Sin tells us that marriage is defined as one man and one woman. Or—this is becoming an issue in the wider church—Sin puts so much emphasis on the necessity of marriage as a prerequisite for other things that people rush into it so they can say they’ve checked that box and can live together without any questions, only to realize later that this was not going to be a good long-term plan, that the relationship needs to end, and there’s no good way to do that.

Or, take the Church. Sin has long loved the Church. Just look closely at some of Paul’s letters and the stuff he’s dealing with. Seriously. Any time you think stuff at Church is hard, read Galatians or First and Second Corinthians, and you realize, “We’re doing okay.” In the Church God promises to be real to us, to be in our neighbors around us in worship and in life, to be our food and drink. to speak to us, to love us tangibly. And then along comes Sin. Sharing, letting go, making room? That’s supposed to be our thing. Turns out we’re as bad at is as everyone else. (Or, by turns, good at appointing ourselves as merciless enforcers of the rules.) And you could ask, Why even have a church?

Honestly, it helps to ask that question periodically. Over the last year the Property Team, the Council, and the Special Projects Team thought, worked, and prayed, and together they discerned that it was a season of renewal for our facilities. We have roofs due for replacement, floors due for upgrading, climate control systems reaching the end of their lives, and a pipe organ ready for work to be done. We’ve begun raising the capital for that. Work on the roof begins this fall. So, we’re fixing up the Church’s building. Why? Trinity’s been here 85 years. Why undertake the work to keep us here 85 more? That is a question I think we should be asking. What is it we want to do? Why are we here?

Whatever specifics we may discern, I suggest the Church is here because God has mastered preschool. Sin seems to keep us from mastering preschool. It’s good to have someone around who has mastered preschool. No matter how much we don’t want to make room for others, God continues to make room for us. No matter how much we don’s want to share with others, God keeps sharing creation with us. No matter how much we desire not to let go and trust, God keeps letting go and trusting us. In Jesus, God’s sharing, making room, and letting go become part of our history. They become the story God tells us about God. In Jesus God keeps offering sharing, making room, and letting go, even as sin drives us to keep clutching greedily, taking away room, and refusing to yield. That’s what the Cross is. Jesus is still trying to share, make room, and let go even on the Cross. And he winds up on the Cross because we don’t want to master these…preschool skills.

Theologian Edward Schillebeeckx says that Jesus is where God’s persistent offer of grace and our persistent refusal to accept grace meet. God is doing everything for us in this person, in whom we try to run away or hide. This person, Jesus, shows up, here, in the Church. He promises to do it. He keeps doing it despite our ongoing efforts to ignore him or refuse what he says. Jesus’ presence here is the promise that this world can be different. You can have indoor plumbing without swords. Jesus’ presence proclaims Sin is not forever. Not only is Sin not forever, but God is right now living among us as one who has mastered preschool. That’s something we need. That’s something the world needs. That, maybe, is worth a roof and a floor and a pipe organ.

It’s worth being here for good because of God. It’s good to be here with the name “Trinity” because the Triune God is here. Where Sin wants to get in and ruin public life, private life, and spiritual life, the Triune God proclaims, “It does not have to be this way.” Where Sin says, “there is no more room,” the Triune God says, “there is room.” Where Sin says, “there is not enough,” the Triune God says, “there is plenty.” Where Sin says, “hang on tight; whoever dies with the most toys wins,” the Triune God says, “let go; let God be God; let your neighbor be your neighbor.” It’s worth being here in the name of the Triune God, because the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have mastered preschool.