The Holy Trinity
Baptism of John Dustin
Prayer of the Day
God of heaven and earth, before the foundation of the universe and the beginning of time you are the triune God: Author of creation, eternal Word of salvation, life-giving Spirit of wisdom. Guide us to all truth by your Spirit, that we may proclaim all that Christ has revealed and rejoice in the glory he shares with us. Glory and praise to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.
Readings and Psalm
Genesis 1:1–2:4a The creation of the heavens and the earth
2 Corinthians 13:11-13 Paul’s farewell to the church at Corinth
Matthew 28:16-20 Living in the community of the Trinity
Title: Witness of a Mystery
John – who is about to be baptized – I give you a warning before you are brought to the font: you are being baptized into a mystery. And while the good thing about mysteries is that there is always room for more exploration, more discoveries, more glorious epiphanies. The not so good thing is that we as humans, flesh and blood, seeking peace and contentment in this life, dwellers in this concrete world, we don’t like mysteries. (Excuse me for a minute, John, I have to say something to all those fans of Murder, She Wrote reruns, and who read books upon books of mysteries that are purchased and devoured, because they are all saying, “I love a good mystery.” In that form, yes, you do, because there is a guarantee that it will be solved before the credits roll or by the last page. But let’s not even talk about the folks who need to know and so they peek ahead to that last page.)
So John, back to the great mystery that draws us together, that calls out to you here and now, that claims you as its own, that invites you to join with it, to trust it, to let it define you, to let it love you. Yes, John, not only do we not like mysteries, we have a very difficult time building relationships with mysteries. Your parents got to know each other before they got married. People like to get to know a field before they dedicate their time and energy into building a career working in that field. As a colleague/mentor of mine likes to say: anxiety craves information, or anxiety desires facts. And to put it bluntly, mysteries give us anxiety.
And so through the ages, people have tried to name and define this mystery into which you are being baptized. Probably the least defining, most open name we give it is God. But that is so undefined and open that we immediately move onto the next question: Well, who is God? And the companion question: What does God do? And here is the more important warning that I will give you John: many will try to answer those questions for you. They will tell you that they have the right answers to those questions. And the more problematic – they will tell you that you have to accept their answers and believe the way that they do.
Some will tell you that God is primarily a judge – that somewhere God is watching everything you do so that God can zap you for doing wrong, or reward you if you are doing something right. They will call it “putting the fear of God in you.”
Some will tell you that God is primarily a lawgiver – that God is best served by obeying all the rules, by staying on the straight and narrow path that those laws and rules define. They will say that loving God is best expressed in obedience.
Some will tell you that God is their national hero – that God plays favorites in earthly conflicts and peaking orders. That God blesses some and brings devastation on others. The funny thing about this one is that a lot of countries, and peoples, and movements, claim that they are number one in God’s eyes.
Some will tell you that God is an investment banker – that if you just pray enough, do enough good, believe enough, that if you just deposit enough positive stuff into your “being holy” account, that God will pay you back with interest in material goods and other earthly blessings. (Pay attention to this image of God, this is a very popular one in our country today.)
To all of them and to you, John, who is about to be baptized, I say God is mystery, beyond definition, beyond understanding, beyond labels. And as God’s children, as followers of Jesus, as clay pots filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are called not to define God but to be witnesses to all that we experience as God in our lives. Sometimes we witness God in our lives but don’t understand it – we call that miracle. Sometimes we witness God in our lives and know it – we call that faith. Sometimes we are not sure if God is even anywhere near our lives – we call that doubt. (That’s a part of faith, and don’t ever let anyone tell you there is something wrong with it. It’s a given when living with this mystery.) Sometimes we lean on God when we feel we can’t go own – we call that trust.
Yes, John, today you are being baptized into this mystery on a Sunday when we focus in a big way on what it means to live into this mystery. As if they were going to help explain the mystery, the church leaders way back when came up with this mysterious way of trying to explain the mystery. Sometimes this doctrine we call the Trinity, seems to have pumped more fog into the mystery of God than to clear the air and increase understanding. One in three and three in one. One God but three persons. But not three gods just one God. And when anyone has tried to explain it, too often they have been deemed a heretic. Which is why I’m just settling on talking about the great mystery that is our God.
So, avoiding heresy, let’s go back to a favorite word of mine when talking about living into this holy mystery that is God. That word is witness. We are called to be witnesses. Not explainers or deciders. Not judge, jury, or prosecutor. We are called to be witnesses to all that God has done and is doing. In today’s gospel, we see Jesus commissioning those first disciples on a hill top. Go, he tells them. Go and baptize – weave everyone you meet into this mystery of God. Connect them with God by telling them that God claims them. Jesus tells them to go and tell others what they have learned from him. Tell them to love, to forgive, to show mercy, to be peacemakers, to work in community. Tell others what they had seen in him, one who suffered and died for the sake of the world, and conquered death bringing life to all.
You see, John, as mysterious as God is and this teaching of the Trinity is, the one thing it does try to make clear is the completeness of God. It tells us that the God who created us, is the same one who came to as Jesus the Christ; living our life, suffering our pain, sharing our joys, even feeling as forsaken as we feel ourselves whenever this world puts us on cross, but then sharing with us his victory over death in the resurrection. And this doctrine goes on to tell us that God goes on, living with us, in us, through as, as the Spirit that brings life to all, unites all, and empowers all. We don’t have to solve the mystery, John. We can just enjoy the gift of living into the mystery.
The gospel writer Matthew, wants to make this very clear. So he bookended his gospel with the wonderful promise of God’s presence. Doesn’t explain it, just witnesses to what he has seen. In the first chapter of his telling of Jesus’ story, he says our Savior’s name will be Immanuel – which means God with us. Then, in the final verse of the gospel, included in our reading today, as Jesus is about to go back to heaven and his disciples are feeling like they are being left behind, Jesus promises: I am with you always.
John, there’s what we need to know about this great mystery we call God, the one into whom you are being baptized. God is with us. Always. That promise will be made with water today. You will taste that promise every time you come to the table and share in the feast of God’s presence. You will experience that promise as you grow in faith with your family and in a community of faith in which you will hear other witnesses telling of God’s presence in their lives. You may have some stories to tell one day. There will be days when you need to listen to the stories of others for reassurance. There will be days when you will lead the chorus of thankful rejoicing.
But no matter what your days bring you, John. God is with you. You are a child of God. You are saved by God’s mercy and grace made known in Jesus the Christ. You are filled with the Spirit of God. Of this there is no mystery. I know, for I, too, am a witness. Come, now, and witness this life in the loving mystery of God.
The Rev. Mark E. Erson,