Sermon delivered at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cromwell, CT
Listen to an audio recording of the sermon.
Yes, it’s very strange to be up here. But here I am! And Pastor Paul has given me the wonderfully easy job of greeting you my home congregation, of thanking you, of saying goodbye to you, and preaching the Gospel to you. And all under 10 minutes.
And on Trinity Sunday! so easy…!
So, yes, today is Trinity Sunday. The one day of the year where preachers get a crack at explaining the ageless mystery of the 3-in-1 make up of our God. Father and Son, we all know pretty well I’m sure… no problem there. But, this Sunday and last Sunday, Pentecost, are the 2 Sundays out of the year where that thing—actually that person—called the Holy Spirit gets mentioned.
You might remember this Holy Spirit from old religious paintings. It usually is depicted as a tiny, white dove somewhere in the top of the picture. Or you might know it as the Holy Ghost, which I’m sure brought to mind images of sheets with holes cut in them.
The Lutheran tradition, specifically, is often accused of overlooking the Holy Spirit. And this is an awful shame, because it’s just not true. We say robustly in our creeds that The Holy Spirit is God. Doves and Sheets aside.
And our reading from John’s Gospel today reminds us of this. John’s Jesus tells us that he, himself, is the Father, as he is healing, and especially as he is dying and rising. Our reading from John today continues to make clear this equality of persons in the trinity—to put it in fancy theological terms.
The Holy Spirit, John tells us, speaks to us everything that Jesus and the Father are and will be.
The passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans for today makes this even a little more clear, and reminds us Lutheran’s how important the Holy Spirit is to our unique understanding of the faith.
The first verse there, Paul’s words, is THE (sort of) Lutheran “tag-line.” Even though as a teenager in confirmation class I couldn’t have cared less about what Pastor Wogman was teaching me, I still remember that we Lutherans believe we are—and I quote from Paul—“justified by faith.”
In other words: Everything is OK. Not because we can do very excellent things to look good in God’s eyes and earn our assurance that Everything is OK. Or make Everything OK ourselves.
No. Absolutely not.
Instead, Everything will be OK because we believe God when God tells us that it is so.
Ok, so…back to the Holy Spirit. Where am I going… Hear Paul’s words again as he talks how Faith turns to Hope, “…hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (X2)
So, this is interesting!
Paul says, we are justified by faith (in other words, Everything is OK because we believe it will be), not because we are able to believe or hope on our own, but because God as Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts.
Keeping in mind how the Spirit works in John, it seems like Scripture is saying The Spirit is what enables us to hope and believe in the first place.
Let me say that I really like Trinity Sunday, because I like it when God gives my faith a jolt and shows me how amazing and how tricky God really is. Because:
Who doesn’t think that their faith—and their hope—is something that they do themselves?
“I have hope,” we say, “I have faith.” Seems intuitive. But to confess that we have a Trinitarian God, however, is to say it’s not that simple.
Take me for example. [Hi! Remember me?]
Do you think that I, Joshua Sullivan, the once long-haired weirdo (now the bald-headed weirdo), am standing up here because of your riveting Sunday School classes, and youth-group, and charismatic pastor, and the whole nine-yards?
Trinity Sunday says, “No, not exactly.”
Trinity Sunday wants us to realize, “It’s much more wonderful.”
God’s Spirit moves through this congregation, just like Wisdom moves through creation in this morning’s reading from Proverbs. In the Old Testament this Spirit, “Raised Her Voice,” and “Cried Out.” For me, this spirit raised her voice and cried out through you, not Because of you. But was Poured out Through you.
Poured from the water of baptism over my infant head, poured from the wine of communion into my mouth, poured from the words of your preachers, speakers, pray-ers, readers, and Sunday school teachers to my ears.
Not Because of you, Through you. And how wonderful and freeing is that?
Let me stop for a second. In case this wasn’t clear I’m trying to thank you all. I thank you for your service to God, for your warmth, for just being you, from the bottom of my heart, Thank you! I give my thanks to God who so graciously moved through you!
But I’m scared that thanking you is a little dangerous. Especially nowadays when things in the ELCA seem so dicey. If it was because of you that I am here, then you might begin to say to yourself, “Yes, indeed, what a wonderful church we have made.”
That leads to, “Who will be next, and why aren’t any other lost youth stepping up?” Then you might ask yourselves, “Wait, why are the numbers going down?”
“Are we doing something wrong?”
Or you say, “Oh, good, isn’t Pastor Paul great. He has made the numbers go up!”
Our readings today are reminding us—Trinity Sunday is reminding us—when God moves through you not because of you: You are Free.
You are free to feel the faith poured into you. Free to not have to save the church all by yourself.
And as Paul notes in Romans, free to feel that faith transform into Hope. And in that way you yourselves are caught up in the 3-fold windy and wild movement of God. Always one God, indistinguishable as John’s Gospel tells us. The Son saving, is the Father creating, is the Spirit moving and guiding.
And God moves. Literally. The Holy Spirit stirred in me, yanked me up out of New York City, sat me down for Three years at Yale and now is drop-kicking me off to Seattle.
In the midst of all this Trinity and Holy Spirit talk, maybe you think, “I dunno… nothing so extraordinary happens in Cromwell, CT.” So, what has God as Holy Spirit done to you?Where is the Trinitarian God in your life?
Well, our Gospel says that, you don’t have to go cuckoo and become a pastor. God moves in so many wonderful, simple ways in our lives:
If you have every come to church, for any reason,
If you ever feel like things might just be OK when the whole says it won’t,
If you ever wanted to pray,
If you ever have felt that God is actually really real,
If you have been baptized,
If you have ever taken communion,
If any of these things and a million more have happened inside you, then The Holy Spirit, the God we worship here today, has taken hold of you and is permanently in you and is moving through you, and affecting others.
God is here, in your prayers, in my words, in the bread and wine, not because you have earned it, but because as Proverbs puts it:
“God rejoices in God’s inhabited world and delights in the human race.”