Unholy Trinity

Ahhhh. Trinity Sunday. That day in the church year when we celebrate the mystery of the “one in three and three in one” that embodies the fullness of God. And the day when every rector in all of Christendom scrambles to find a seminarian to preach. Or a curate. Or anyone who is closer to the theological gymnastics of the seminary experience.

This year, as I anticipate the imminent (but not-soon-enough-to-preach-on-Trinity-Sunday) arrival of our newly-hired curate I decided to try something different. So I asked my Facebook friends to send me key phrases of Trinitarian minutia that often wind up in sermons preached on Trinity Sunday by seminarians. It’s your lucky day because I have prayerfully combined them into a Trinity Sunday Homilette. As they like to say in seminary (but really nowhere else), “That’ll preach!”

Before I share the text, I should note that the key to good preaching on Trinity Sunday is linguistic sleight of hand. If you distract the congregation enough with props they won’t pay attention to the heresy you’re undoubtedly spewing. This lowers the potential of being reported to the bishop. As does holding the liturgy during Memorial Day weekend.

Trinity Sunday Sermon

“The New Paradigm of Homoousious”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (And I really mean it this time).

The Trinity [three intertwined circles appear on a giant projection screen]. It’s a confusing topic; one that I am not qualified to speak about because I failed the systematic theology portion of the General Ordination Exam. [Three circles morph into a green three-leaf clover] St. Patrick converted the King of Ireland to the Christian faith by using the clover [use awkward hand gesture to point to the screen]. As he held up the clover he enumerated (or is that renumerated?) about the Trinity telling the king that…[choir sings St. Patrick’s Breastplate to drown out the next few phrases. Twelve minutes later when the hymn ends and everyone has processed around the church nine times, the preacher continues].

The interplay between the Persons of the Trinity is like a dance. But not just any dance — a perichoretic dance of love. I once danced this way at a wedding of a good friend. My date left with a groomsman while I was doing my interpretive dance of the Trinity. It was at that moment that I decided to go to seminary.

But I digress. Where was I? Oh, the interpenetration of modality. Which sounds vaguely obscene until you remember that God loves you. Like a fox. But in a co-eternal, co-equal, co-habitating kind of way.

Did I mention I used to be a horrible acolyte back in the day? [After laughing at his own joke, preacher picks up three tapers and attempts to bring them together and then pull them apart. Unfortunately he lights the pulpit hanging on fire and puts them out with the three glasses of water he brought up to supplement the fire illustration in case it fell flat. He recovers by singing an a capella version of “Holy, Holy, Holy,”  dramatically miming the line “Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.”]

In sum, we are all called to a hermeneutic of being immortal and invisible while still being led by faith and not by sight. Let me end by quoting from the well-loved Athanasian Creed; so beloved in church lore that it’s relegated to page 846 of the Book of Common Prayer. In the “Historical Documents” section that you may have covertly perused earlier in the sermon. “Blah, blah, blah Unity, blah, blah, blah Godhead, blah, blah, blah Essence.”



13 Comments on “Unholy Trinity”

  1. AKMA says:

    I’m remembering with a degree of relief that I wasn’t your professor in Early Churh History.

  2. Father Tim says:

    Nor can you take credit for my mad preaching skills.

  3. Peter Carey+ says:

    Wow, just another reason that I would support your re-consecration as patriarch of North America…a title which, I believe, you held about 11 months ago while the whole Episcopal Church (or at least anyone who is ANYONE) was in LA at GC…

    Brilliant, I will be re-enacting this sermon this weekend…


    Peter Carey+

  4. Bob Chapman says:

    Could an infinite God be understood by finite humans?

    Being serious for a moment (and only a moment), about the best I’ve ever heard anyone do is explain what the Trinity isn’t. This means one gets to explain the Arian heresy (and how it shows up in Mormonism and Islam). One also gets to explain modalism and possibly a bit on the two natures of Christ.

    Isn’t there one of the homilies (whose requirement of reading have been suspended) that you could use on this day?

    Here are my favorite phrases from the Athanasian Creed.

    “That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;” [No where does it say “understand,” but “worship.”]

    “One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by assumption of the Manhood into God.”

    (To have favorite phrases means I have heard more than one substandard sermon since the advent of the current BCP. Before that I could only read the Articles of Religion.)

  5. Father Tim says:

    Peter — If you use this sermon verbatim on Sunday I don’t need you to credit me. Really. I’m not kidding. That’s a threat!

    And thank you for your kind words. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I am, of course, plotting me re-takover bid for the next GC.

  6. Father Tim says:

    Bob — that’s precisely it in my mind: human language is inadequate to describe the mystery and fullness of God. We try, because it’s what we do, but it’s always going to fall short. In my mind that’s okay because it forces us to let go of our death grip on control. We don’t have any other choice! As John says (a lot) “God is Love.” I think that beyond all the words and doctrine that’s the essence of the Trinity. We’re pretty good at overcomplicating things.

  7. What are you serving at the social hour?

  8. Father Tim says:

    Three musketeers bars and triple sec.

  9. Bob Chapman says:

    If done as a really sensuous tango, I’m sure a perichoretic dance of love could turn into a pyrotechnic dance of love.

    Come on baby, light my fire.

  10. Bob Chapman says:

    My partner plays in a Lutheran Church on Sunday morning. The preacher spoke on the Trinity as being like a Greek dance–the type where everyone has their hands on the shoulders of the person next to them and everyone is going in a circle.

    It’s a good thing I wasn’t there; at that point all could have thought about was interpenetration. I doubt I would have remembered to add the word modality.

    My rector compared studying the Trinity to drinking wine. Really.

    And got away with it

    It was not because he was preaching at an 8:00 service in a chapel in a gated community. He drew a connection on how wine lovers study the right way to store, open, serve, and drink a particular bottle of wine.

    “You don’t drink wine when you are thirsty.”

    He then connected the dots of how appropriate it is for theologians to study the Trinity, but most of us are thirsty most of the time.

    I almost fell off my pew in the choir in laughter when he began his sermon saying something about needing a deacon, curate, or seminarian preach on Trinity Sunday.

    (Then he reminded us that our deacon goes to a tiny church in Darrington, Washington, on the fifth Sunday of the month. We don’t have a curate. And there are no Episcopal seminaries in our area.)

    Clearly my rector isn’t afraid to take one for the team.

  11. […] jokes by preachers about preaching on Trinity Sunday can be summed up simply. It is impossible to preach on the subject of the Trinity for more than 5 […]

  12. Father Tim says:

    Interesting — The Trinity as the reception from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

    My new curate arrives in August. Too late for this year!

    And for what it’s worth, here’s what I said this morning: http://frtim.com/uploads/Trinity_Sunday__2010.pdf

  13. Mapman says:

    Very funny! A clergywoman friend sent your link to me.

    I sent the link off to a friend from college who is now the ELCA Bish of East Texas and Northern Louisiana.

    Today the deacon-in-training we had last year, and was ordained at our parish, visited and talked about how looking at the Trinity is like looking into the kaleidoscope she got when she was a child (and still has). She said that the patterns are always different, but there’s always a pattern.

    BTW, our church has a slate roof, and when it’s hot & sunny you can bring in dough to the 10am service and it’s bread by communion, so we did on verses 1,2,6,and 7.

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