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The Gospel of Atheism: A Trinity Sunday Sermon

It is perhaps supremely odd that we have in our calendar one day devoted to the Triune God. Generally all of our holidays that we celebrate in our rehearsal of God’s story are rememberings of divine saving events. We celebrate the incarnation of the Son at Christmas, the manifestation of the Jesus’ glory at Epiphany, the sufferings of Jesus during Lent, the Resurrection of Jesus’ during Easter and the coming of the Spirit of God to create us anew during Pentecost. All of these are divine events, glorious events in the history of God’s salvation of the world. However, Trinity Sunday is not, or does not seem to be such a holiday. Instead it seems to be the celebration of an idea, of a concept, of a notion of God. That seems weird and foreign to our imaginations. If worship is supposed to be a recounting of the great deeds of the Lord, of giving thanks to God for all that God has done for us, why then would we devote a Sunday to abstract speculation about a concept or idea?

But let us back up for a moment and think further about this. We are gathered here together to praise God, but we are here to do so precisely by proclaiming the gospel. What is central about our gathering as the people of God is that we gather together to speak truth to one another. We speak the truth about God, ourselves, and the world when we gather together. This is how we praise God, by speaking according to the way things truly are. By enacting through our words a way of seeing the world that is truthful rather than false we praise God. For God’s glory is the appearance and acknowledgement of the truth. To praise is to do truth. To worship God is to take on the practice of what Marva Dawn calls “truthing”. What we come together to do today is to say truth, to celebrate truth, to love truth, and by doing so to be made true, to enter into the truth, into the ultimate meaning of the world.

This is why it is so significant that Jesus proclaimed himself as the Truth. If we believe Jesus’ statement that he is the Truth, then we are identifying Jesus in a very particular and very radical way. Jesus’ statement that he is the Truth is indeed, very closely related to his claim in our Scripture passage today that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him and to his promise that he will be with us always, even to the end of the age. The identity of Jesus is inextricably tied up with the ultimate questions of God. The questions of Truth, Authority, and Presence, all of these divine realities, are, according to Jesus, located in his person. If the gospel, which we are here to proclaim today, is true, then the identity of the one true God is part and parcel of what we must talk about in our worship if we are to be true to our task as the people of God. Since we are coming together to proclaim the Truth about God, to thus glorify God, and since the story of Jesus – which we have recounted all year from Advent to Pentecost – defines the very shape of the one, true , authoritative and ever-present God, we must, in order to proclaim the gospel, tell one another over and over again about the identity of God revealed in Jesus. And this brings us to the threshold – nay, to the center – of the mystery of the Trinity.

Let us back up again and think more about this. What we are here to do today is to proclaim the truth about God, ourselves, and the world, thereby glorifying God. In order for us to do this we have to talk about Jesus, since according to the gospel he is the Truth, and in him the very reality of God has come among us. So, proclaiming the truth about God, speaking truth to one another, becoming a people of truth, all of these things require us to speak about who the God manifest for us in Jesus Christ is. The gospel in the invitation – and demand – to find the truth about God in the face of Jesus Christ. The point is this: We cannot proclaim the gospel truly, we cannot worship the God of the gospel truly, we cannot be a people of the truth together unless we have indeed identified God in and through Jesus Christ. This is what the doctrine of the Trinity is all about. The doctrine of the Trinity is our way as Christians of learning to speak about the God revealed in Jesus as the one true God. To say that God is Trinity is to say that there are no gods. There is only Jesus, the one he called Father, and the Spirit of their love, all of whom we have experienced as the one God, the source of all being, meaning, truth, and community.

In a very real way the fact that we dedicate one Sunday to the Triune God is simply silly. Since every Sunday is for us the day to gather together and proclaim the truth of the gospel, every Sunday is Trinity Sunday, for we cannot rightly do our job of gathering together to proclaim the truth without proclaiming the identity of God revealed in Jesus. However, that is perhaps precisely why a Sunday dedicated specifically to the Trinity exists. It is here to remind us, at the culmination of the festal cycle of the Christian year that all of our holidays, all of our recountings of the deeds of God reach their completion and fullness in our truth-telling, in our acknowledgement of the identity of the one True God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The flip side of this proclamation of the truth of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the condemnation of all idols, indeed of all gods. In a very real sense the biblical identification of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the proclamation of atheism. As we are invited to contemplate, worship, proclaim, and adore the true God, we are compelled, required, and indeed, commanded to forsake and abandon any and all gods. The God of Abraham, of Moses, of Mary, of Israel and of the church is fundamentally un-godlike. Gods are powerful beings who intervene in the world, who are invoked and placated by humankind. Gods are worshiped and served so that they will become our allies, our helpers, and protectors. Gods are beings that we call upon and pray to to help us out of our problems, to give us solutions, to keep us in the positions we want to be in. However, these gods, these powers, do not save, they dominate, enslave, and oppress. Christianity, from its earliest beginnings with Abraham and Moses constitutes a rejection of the gods.

Herbert McCabe has rightly pointed out that, the first words of the biblical story center on the reality of the Voice, of the one true Reality, calling men and women away from the gods into liberation, into communion, into hope. The message of Israel’s gospel is the proclamation “I brought you out of slavery…you shall have no gods.” At the heart of the gospel’s affirmation that the One, the Truth, and the Real is found in the God of Israel and Jesus is the claim that all other gods, and any idea of Yahweh as a god must be done away with.

The one true God is not a god. The Triune one is not an inhabitant of the universe who happens to be more powerful than everyone else. God is not a “top person”, not a big man upstairs. God is the reason that there is anything at all. The Triune God sustains everything and upholds all creation within Godself. This is the first truth of Israel’s experience of Yahweh’s liberation. Yahweh is not a god, rather Yahweh is the creator of all things, the reason for all things, the sustainer and upholder of everything. God is not simply the biggest being in the heavens, Yahweh is the creator of the heavens. Indeed, sin is the very failure to recognize this truth, sin means to think that God is just a being that we can stand over against, rather than the reason for all being and for our very existence. Sin is our self-delusion, our daring to think that God is a creature and that therefore we can become “like gods” ourselves. The devil’s lie in the garden was not that we would become like gods. That is true and that is, tragically, what we have become. We have become like gods, the false gods, the false powers. That was not his lie. His lie was that we should want to be like that. That we should want to be like gods rather than simply be creatures of Yahweh.

This message of Yahweh as the end of all gods is central to how we understand the fullness of Yahweh’s revelation in Jesus. What we see in Jesus is that God is not just the creator and sustainer of all things over against all other gods and powers, though God is indeed that. What we see in Jesus is that God is not just the creator but the lover of humanity in Jesus. What we see in Jesus is that God identifies Godself with us lowly creatures, condescending to us, becoming what we are so that we might participate in the fullness of who God is in Godself. This is the great wonder of the gospel. It would already be a glorious and liberating mystery to know that all the gods and powers of this world are false pretenders and the true God of liberation and creation offers us freedom from such lies. But the gospel of the Triune God is even more glorious.

That is why the gospel is not just good news, it is more than good news. The gospel would be good news even if all it said was that the one true God holds us all together, that he sustains us, upholds us, forgives us and gives us life. That would still be good news. But the gospel is more than this, ever so much more. The gospel is that God does not merely create, sustain and forgive us, but that God takes us, in Jesus into Gods own life. That he unites us to Godself. God does not merely sustain us and liberate us from false masters. God give us God’s very own self, so that we, his finite and flawed creatures can become participants in the very life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As Herbert McCabe has reminded us,

With Jesus we come to a new vision of God, of the same God who was the God of Moses. Now, though, God is not seen primarily as making, acting, doing, not primarily as holding the universe in being, but primarily as [the] eternal lover of Jesus. The life of God is not primarily the life of sustaining the existence of all creatures: the life of God within the Godhead is ultimately the life of love between Father and Son, and this life of loving and delight we call the Holy Spirit. We could put it by saying that with Jesus we come to see that God the Creator is first of all, and before that, God the lover; that, as John finally puts it, God is love. Even beyond creating, there is loving. (Herbert McCabe, God Still Matters, 236)

The good news, no, the great news of the Christian proclamation of the Triune God is that the God who creates, sustains and liberates all things does even more. The Triune God revealed in Jesus takes all of us sorry creatures into God’s own life. God makes us into persons in Jesus. Persons who live from, by, and to the eternal love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is not content merely to create and sustain us. God will not rest until God has become our Father, our Mother, our sister, our brother, and our friend.

That is why Trinity Sunday lies at the end of the festal cycle of the Christian year. The God of creation and covenant, of Easter and Pentecost is the God who takes us into Gods own life through Jesus and the Spirit. That is the reality we experience here today in proclaiming the truth about God to one another. Through song and sermon, through bread and wine, we proclaim that this is God and the God looks like this. We proclaim the truth of the Triune God by celebrating the much more of grace, the sheer abundance of gift that is poured out into our lives by the Holy Spirit. We all come together as those who have been created, sustained, liberated, and called into eternal communion with God through Jesus Christ. We are here to celebrate this reality. We are here to dance for joy in the rhythms of the Trinitarian life of God which we have experienced in the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Today we remember our Triune Lord so that we might remember this holy God every day, rejoicing in the abundance of the true God. The proclamation of the Triune God is not a call to philosophical speculation or theological abstraction. It is a call to rejoice in the one who opens God’s own life to us, calling us further up and further in.

In sin we have lost everything. In the Triune God we have been given infinitely more than everything. The message that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are the one true God, and that this one true God is how all things will turn out is our great and holy gospel. We are summoned by this God, this God who is love from beginning to end to rejoice with one another, to speak truth to one another, the work with one another, and to find in one another the life of the Holy Spirit whom God has poured out into us all as his holy church. We have been saved indeed, in a manner we could not have imagined. Our gospel is not just good news, it is great news. Christ, our Lamb has conquered, let us follow him. The Spirit who searches all things, even the depths of God has been given to us, let us be led by him. The Father who created all things has given all of himself to us that we might know his love, let us worship him. The Lord alone is God. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain. Behold I am with you always, even to the very end of the world. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit is with us all. These holy promises are true. Let us not forget the greatness of our Triune Lord who calls us into discipleship with one another. Blessed by the name of the Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

8 Comments

  1. Thomas wrote:

    nice sermon. did it actually get preached somewhere?

    Monday, May 19, 2008 at 7:44 am | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Oh yeah, I preached it yesterday for gathered worship.

    Monday, May 19, 2008 at 8:38 am | Permalink
  3. Aspentroll wrote:

    What a befuddling load of crap.
    We are supposed to believe this
    stuff? I guess xtians are smarter
    than I thought they were, because they
    they understand all this…..don’t
    they?

    Monday, May 19, 2008 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  4. Jason Oliver wrote:

    Beautiful sermon, Halden.

    Monday, May 19, 2008 at 11:41 am | Permalink
  5. Jon wrote:

    This reminds me of some of my thinking on the Incarnation recently, that it’s not that I worship Jesus because He’s “God-like” it’s the reverse, I worship God precisely because He’s “Jesus-like”. I do not apprehend the Divine Reality apart from Jesus, to see Him is to see God because in Him is the fullness of Deity in bodily form. This doesn’t mean Jesus is “super powerful”, but rather that God is Godself precisely because He kenotically becomes less than powerful. God is God precisely because of Who He is in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

    Thus we do not become like God to become like Jesus; rather we become like Jesus to become like God, being “conformed to the image of His Son”.

    Monday, May 19, 2008 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  6. Jon Trott wrote:

    I well recall Jean Vanier, at Cornerstone Festival, saying something that rived my heart. “Jesus is so human,” he said, “so tender in his suffering, so fragile…”

    I know God is Love in my mind. But to encounter that God, my absolute finitude next to his Absolute Infinitude, I am so glad the God/Man Christ is the mediator!

    Monday, May 19, 2008 at 4:14 pm | Permalink
  7. Sam wrote:

    Halden, wonderful post. I agree that God’s nature and identity as Triune should be celebrated more regularly in the church calendar. Our priest preached on the Trinity on Trinity Sunday (shocking), using the icon as his “text” (refreshing).

    Thanks for the tip about the Reciprocal Self. I bumped into it a few years back and a reputable source turned me off of it, although he could have easily been misled. I am wanting to use Robert Kegan’s Evolving Self as my primary developmental source (I met with him a few weeks back to talk about it), and Zizioulas and probably Gunton as my trinitarian sources. But I feel like I should interact with Reciprocal Self as well, so thanks again for the tip.

    Tuesday, May 20, 2008 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  8. v. russo wrote:

    I have a book I would like to send you for review, please contact me.

    Monday, June 2, 2008 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

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