Sermon: The Feast of the Strangeness of God

Trinity Sunday, Year A • Preached at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco • 11 June 2017

Genesis 1:1-2:4a • 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 • Matthew 28:16-20

Make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.

Love is strange.

It is beautiful and it is painful and it is glorious and it is dangerous.

If you have ever been in love, you will know why so many songs and poems and novels and movies and works of art have been made in the hope of expressing some small fraction of the experience of love.

If you have ever loved a parent or a child or a friend, you will know how powerful and demanding and rewarding and exhausting and necessary love can be.

Love is strange.

It is all these things at once, and it is unforgiving in this insistance on being unwilling to be reduced and unwilling to be understood in the conventional way that we understand.

This is Trinity Sunday, or as we might call it: the Feast of the Strangeness of God.

From Advent through Christmas and the season of Epiphany, we experienced the birth of Jesus, our friend and God taking on a human life. Through Lent and Easter, we walked with Jesus through his life, death and glorious Resurrection.

This is the story of God drawing close to our life. It is the story of God becoming known to us in ways as familiar as speaking and eating and drinking and laying his hands on our heads.

Last week at Pentecost, we returned with Jesus’ first followers to the day on which we received God’s Holy Spirit, as close to us as our breath, when God’s own self filled us with her fire and her power.

For five seasons of our year we remember and rehearse God’s drawing near to us, and then today, after it seems as though the story is finished, we are reminded that though God is with us always, she is never just as we imagine.

On this day of the year, the week after Pentecost, we sit in wonder as we contemplate the mystery of God’s revealing herself to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: three in one and one in three.

If this does not make sense to you, then I would like to congratualte you on your skills of observation and your unwillingness just to believe what you’re told.

Because whatever else we learn as we contemplate the Trinity, we learn that God is strange. God does not fit neatly into our understanding or our categories.

The passage we just heard comes at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel. It is the last thing Matthew wants us to know about the story of God’s revelation of herself in Jesus. Mark’s gospel leaves us wondering what it means that the disciples find the tomb embpty. Luke leaves us wondering what it could mean that Jesus has ascended into heaven. But Matthew leaves us with this: everything I have told you about Jesus is true, and yet there is more.

Jesus’ final instruction to his disciples is to continue his work and to go out into the world not only proclaiming the good news of his life, death, and resurrection, but to do it in the name of the Trinity, to enact that good news in the name of of God revealed not as a solitary self, but as a relationship.

This would have been especially strange to Matthew’s community. The community for whom Matthew was writing were predominantly Jewish in outlook: he spends the most time of any of the four Gospel-writers relating Jesus to the prophecies and expectations of the Hebrew Bible. And so as the Jewish imagination more than any other culture of the ancient world was focused on the singular one-ness of God, it is remarkable that Matthew of all writers would be the first draw our gaze to the relationships within God’s single identity.

In the light of the Trinity, God is not a remote figure locked in his unknowable singularity.

In the light of the Trinity, God is in his very identity a relationship. And like all relationships built on love, it is a relationship of vulnerability and sharing. It is a relationship that has the ability to surprise and always, always the promise of new depths.

Within God’s one-ness we find many-ness, and within God’s many-ness there is always one-ness.

This is only the beginning of the strangeness of God.

My students at Stanford ask me about the Trinity a lot. Bright as they are, they want to *understand* this central claim of Christianity.

And in the end, after I have pointed them to the controversies of the third and fourth centuries in which our beloved Gregory was an active participant, in the end all I can tell them is that whatever else the Trinity is, it is a revelation of love.

Whever else was going on in the incarnation, it was a revelation of God’s love for her creation. Whatever else it is that we mean by the Holy Spirit, it is a manifestation of God’s love for her people and the power of the Father’s love for the Son.

When Jesus tell his disciples, there at the end, that they are to baptise the world in the name of the Trinity and that those who are baptized are to observe the commands that he gave, it is easy for us, who love our egalitarian ideals and resist hierarchy on principle, to bristle at this call to obedience.

But then we remember that Jesus’ really only gave one command: love on another.

To be his disciple is to learn how to love the world. To be a follower of Jesus is to learn how to love one another and to love what we have been told is unlovable.

This is the obedience to which we are called.

The strangeness of God points us toward a love that is unburdened by any sense of deserving or merit: the love of God revealed in the Trinity is unearned and always flowing.

And we who would be Christ’s followers are invited into nothing less than that strange, dancing love so that we might share it and be it everywhere.


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