from St Anselms Chapel Center @ USF
St Catherine’s Episcopal Church
June 15, 2014
Today is Father’s Day but according to the church calendar it is also Trinity Sunday, one of the seven principal feast days in the Episcopal Church. Trinity Sunday always occurs one week after Pentecost. It was approved by Pope John XXII in 1334 but it is probably more frequently associated with Thomas Becket, who was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on Trinity Sunday in 1162.
Some Catholic churches recite the Athanasian Creed on this day. This creed was written to combat Arian heresy which denied the divinity of Christ and the idea of three in one which we honor in the Trinity. The Athanasian Creed is in the Episcopal Prayer Book. (Check in the historical documents section on page 864-865.) If you look it up, you will probably be relieved to know that we don’t recite this creed in our Trinity Sunday service. It is quite long and not easily understood.
I’ve heard for a long time that writing a sermon for Trinity Sunday can be quite problematic as well. One reason might be that Trinity Sunday is the only feast day that does not honor an event but instead celebrates a dogma. And, as one author puts it:
The Trinity is one of the most fascinating – and controversial – Christian dogmas. The Trinity is a mystery. By mystery the Church does not mean a riddle, but rather the Trinity is a reality above our human comprehension that we may begin to grasp, but ultimately must know through worship, symbol, and faith. It has been said that mystery is not a wall to run up against, but an ocean in which to swim. The common wisdom is that if you talk about the Trinity for longer than a few minutes you will slip into heresy because you are probing the depths of God too deeply.
Which may a good reminder to keep my homily brief today….
And then there is today’s Gospel reading.
I winced just a little when I read the Great Commission again this week, only because I feel that throughout history it has been used to justify some very unChrist-like behavior in creating disciples by subjugating native populations. If you overlook some of the ways we have misused Jesus’ final words to his disciples, you might grasp the climactic message in this very short passage.
Matthew repeats the word “all” and stresses Jesus’ authority. The disciples are given universal mission based on Jesus’ universal authority. This commission echoes the original mandate in Genesis to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.”
The command to “go” is not just about people you happen to meet in daily life but about reaching out to unreached people–what we might call the “unchurched.” We are asked to make disciples, to bring people into relationship with Jesus as students are in relationship with a teacher.
Whereas John the Baptist baptized the Israelites in preparation for the coming of Jesus, we are asked as disciples to baptize all people–a universal outreach–to finish the work of Christ.
The disciples were asked to teach what Jesus commanded, not just the Old Testament laws. The Old Testament has been fulfilled through Jesus, who is now the source of revelation.
On this Trinity Sunday, we remember that Jesus places himself in the midst of the Trinity. We are charged to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
And Matthew’s Gospel ends with the promise that Jesus will be with us in this endeavor, to the end of the age, or as one translation puts it: “the whole of every day.”
So, what does this mean for us today? I would hazard a guess that most of us here today do not have plans to travel the world as missionaries for Christ.
What does a Trinitarian congregation look like?
What is our vision for moving forward in the mission and ministry entrusted to us by the triune God?
I’d like to toss out one possible idea about Jesus’ Great Commission for us today.
I was fortunate enough to attend an E-formation conference recently at Virginia Theological Seminary. The conference focused on digital technology in today’s church and how we might use our church websites, Facebook pages, and other technology to support Christian formation.
In the first session I attended, author Meredith Gould opened with the disclaimer that if you had come to the conference wondering if the Church should be using Facebook and other social media at all, you were in the wrong place. You should probably just leave. That question has already been answered in the affirmative. The question is how and when we should use these tools most effectively to reach outside our church walls.
It was in one of the closing sessions that Meredith Gould talked a little about primary and secondary audiences in social media. She does a lot of consulting with churches and said that she usually asks churches who they hope to reach through platforms like Facebook.
They usually will respond with some comment about outreach and new potential members.
Gould said she tells them this is not correct. A church Facebook page is for that church community, maintained as a way to promote upcoming events and to publish photos of happenings for the church family.
However, for example, when you as a member of the St Catherine’s congregation choose to “like” our Facebook page and comment on church news and share this information on your own pages…..
It is at this point that your friends and contacts (and sometimes their friends and contacts) will see and hear about the impact of your church on you and your community and some will be drawn closer to learn more.
Does this sound a little silly? Perhaps. We use tools like Facebook to publish pictures of what we ate for dinner last night and the latest best picture of our cats and dogs. But these platforms are also new communities building new relationships. These are communities that rejoice with you in graduations, weddings, and births. They celebrate the times when the medical report brings good news and they offer prayers for you and encouragement when the going seems rough.
So I challenge you today to go be and make disciples in your daily walk, but also to go be and make disciples in this new online world. In this new world, Jesus’ ministry and teaching are ongoing. And Jesus will be with us “the whole of every day.”