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Romans 8.12-17

I John 5.1-8

3 + 1 = ∞

Trinity Sunday

A few years ago I was sitting at a red light when I noticed on the car in front of me this clever vanity plate from New Hampshire.  I knew from experience it was going to be a long red, so I grabbed my phone and took a photo of it.  Here it is, it reads, “+ Beyond.” (And beyond).  Take a look at it, can you tell me what it’s trying to say?  I puzzled at it while I sat at the light, until it finally came to me that I was sitting behind a Nissan Infinity, so what I was looking at was Infinity and Beyond.  Those of you who are fans of the Disney Pixar film, “Toy Story,” will recognize this as Buzz Lightyear’s signature rallying cry, “To infinity and beyond!”   It has always struck me as a clever turn of phrase: I mean, since infinity is, well, infinite, what can possibly be beyond it?

            Infinity.  I wonder what would happen if we woke up one morning – either as individuals or as a church – and found that a rich old uncle we never knew we had left us an inheritance whose size is simply unimaginable – infinite, perhaps.  That we had suddenly become possessors of such wealth that we would never have to go to work to earn any more income for the rest of our days.  What would we do with such wealth?  Or more to the point, what, if anything, would we do differently?  How would we employ our newfound windfall?  How much would we invest – although we would already have so much that investing would be a purely redundant exercise?  How much would we share?  How much would we give away?  If we knew our future were absolutely secure with no possibility of financial worry or want, how would that affect our attitude and behavior and understanding of this bequest?

            The apostle Paul suggests that this scenario is anything but an impossible dream.  I know you all talked about the Holy Spirit last Sunday, where the old dreamed dreams and the young saw visions.  These are the things God’s Holy Spirit, which poured down as tongues of fire in a one-of-a-kind baptism, make possible.  In our reading this morning from Romans 8, Paul reveals to us that the dreams and the visions are real.  “Everyone who is led by the Spirit is a child of God… When we cry Abba! Father!, it is the very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs, heirs to God and joint heirs with Christ.”  You and I are the children of God – we are God’s heirs, the inheritance is already ours, spiritual riches beyond imagination, and more durable than any fungible good.  We are not heirs to the flesh, as Paul insists, but rather heirs to the Spirit.  At Pentecost, the church – that’s you and me - received the gift that keeps on giving, the Spirit that brings life and community.

            Today, the Sunday after Pentecost, is considered by the church to be Trinity Sunday.  That is, since we celebrated the coming of the Spirit last week, today we have the leisure to consider what it means that God the Creator, Christ the Redeemer and the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, our community and our strength, work together as one.  Actually, the whole notion of the trinity is something that the church formulated only retroactively.  The idea itself only occurs twice in scripture, once in John’s first letter, a reference that was clearly shoehorned into the text years after it was written:  I John 5.7 originally read, “There are three that testify:  the Spirit and the water and the blood and these three agree.”  But some early editors this would be a wonderful place to insert some unambiguously trinitarian language, so they inserted the words, “The Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.”  It was such an obvious edit that most contemporary Bibles either consign it to a footnote or omit it entirely.

It is in our Call to Worship this morning, the great commission at the end of Matthew, that is more realistic.  The words are so foundational to the subsequent mission of the church that we include them in our baptismal formulas:  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have taught you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

            Now I recognize, the Trinity is one of those things most church members don’t lose a lot of sleep over; in fact, if any sermon topic is guaranteed to cure insomnia, it is a sermon on the Trinity.  Millions of words have been written about it, thousands of books have tried to parse and explain it, yet it still remains one of the more inscrutable yet foundational theories of Christian theology.  How can God be God, Jesus be Jesus, the Spirit be the Spirit, and yet the three are at the same time one and the same and unique and different?  Kenn Storck, a retired pastor and sometimes poet, admits to the absurdity of the whole idea in a poem he calls simply “The Holy Trinity,” part of which reads, “Go ahead:  draw your pictures / color your triangles / Speak of the Three-in-One / And the One-in-Three. / Use the Athanasian Creed litmus test / of Father / Son / Spirit / But all the while do not trust / the limit of language / the confinement of metaphor / the simplicity of simile.”  If anything tests the limit of language, the confinement of metaphor and the simplicity of simile, it is the church’s doctrine of the Trinity.

            I think there’s an easier way though, and we may have talked of this before.  The trinity is at its root simply a picture of God in relationship.  God in relationship.  Here’s what I mean.  I’m a Dad, right?  I have two beautiful daughters, and they have two wonderful men in their lives – I’m a father-in-law to them both.  And thanks to my elder daughter and her husband, I’m also a grandfather.  I’m a husband:  a glance in the balcony confirms that.  I’m a son!  You all know my Dad.  I’m a brother twice, a nephew twice, a cousin thrice and an uncle many times over.  I’m your pastor.  I’m your friend.  I’m a colleague to folks like Rabbi Marci and Father Peter, with whom I’ll be sharing tomorrow’s Memorial Day observances, weather permitting.  So does this mean there are twelve different Alans for all the different roles I play? Good Lord, deliver us!  No; it simply means I have different relationships with different people in different circumstances.  Now this is, I admit, a degree of oversimplification, but not too much so.  God is Creator in relationship to Creation, which includes you and me; Jesus is brother, savior and friend, and provides another avenue to God distinct from God’s creating; the Holy Spirit is that which binds you and me together as the church, as brothers and sisters to every one of God’s children, and opens up avenues to God that are unique to the Spirit – I’d say some of those avenues are prayer, song, meditation, and the heartfelt joy that comes from loving God and living in community.  As Lutheran Theological Seminary President David Lose writes, “You can’t fully or finally understand God without talking about relationship – that God is so full of love that there has to be some way of talking about that love shared in and through profound relationships.”

            But it is not just about God’s relationship with Godself, or God’s relationship with us, but our relationships with others that is one of the sure marks of the spirit’s presence and work among us.   We are a people in community; tomorrow’s Memorial Day celebrations in cities and towns across America are surely testimony to the power of community.  At the US Naval Academy in Annapolis on Friday, Vice President Harris became the first woman to deliver the commencement address in the academy’s history, and her topic was the ways in which the world is ineluctably community:  “The global pandemic, you see, of course, has accelerated our world into a new era,” the Vice President said.  “If we weren’t clear before, we know now:  Our world is interconnected.  Our world is interdependent.  Our world is fragile.  A deadly pandemic can spread throughout the globe in just a matter of months….  One country’s carbon emissions can threaten the sustainability of the whole Earth…  You are the next links in the chain,” she told the graduates.  We are a people in community, and as the church, the steel that links us together is the Holy Spirit of God.

         Last Sunday Rev. Toni Smith described how the Spirit brought people together from all around the region – from Cappadocia and Phrygia and Pamphylia and all those other unpronounceable places – and made them one body, one community.  It describes how the Holy Spirit of God creates community and relationship.  If it is the love of God that brings us together – if it is our love for Christ that brings us together – if it is the love that is breathed into our hearts by God’s Holy Spirit that brings us together, then everything we do wants to be about sharing that love.  As David Lose put it so simply yet profoundly, “It is simply impossible to think about love that is not shared.”  You and I are the heirs to an incredible fortune, an embarrassment of riches of love, of compassion, of redemption, an embarrassment of opportunities to build the same kind of spirit-filled community that same spirit built in the second chapter of Acts.  The over-abundant inheritance of the spirit releases us from any and all self-imposed or self-inflicted confinement and frees us to look beyond ourselves with the love that cannot not be shared with those around us.  When the Spirit is present in this community, this is what the Spirit does.

            Knowing this, how will the things we do and the decisions we make this week reflect this boundless and irrepressible wealth of love that has been gifted to us?  How might our relationships with the people around us be transformed – our family, our friends, our co-workers, the next stranger we meet?  How might this boundless and irrepressible inheritance of love shape and transform our dreams and visions for the United Church of Chester?  And what kind of risks will be willing to take once we know that we are heirs to a fortune that is inexhaustible?

            The prophet Isaiah once heard a voice a long time ago; it was the voice of God, asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  And Isaiah said, “Here I am – send me!”  The power of the triune God – the three – coupled with the conviction of even one person of faith – Isaiah, or you, or me – results in a community-creating, compassionate power of love that is greater than all our combined abilities and imagination put together.  Or, to put it into an equation, three plus one equals infinity – and beyond.

            Let us pray.

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