Sunday, January 07, 2018

Baptized in Trinitarian Love: A Sermon on the Trinity

Genesis 1:1-5; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
The Sunday of the Baptism of Our Lord

Happy New Year! I know that our church year begins on the first Sunday of Advent, but I love that our calendar year begins in January, just as the days start getting longer again, and as our part of the earth begins its journey closer to the sun. A few days ago, I received a seed catalogue in the mail, and I thought about how lovely it is to look forward to spring, to seeds sprouting and leaves budding and all of the signs of new life.

Our readings this morning, carefully chosen to honour today as the Baptism of Our Lord, are full of new life. Which is, after all, the central claim of Christians––that our God is the God of new life. In Creation, in baptism, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, the new life of God saturates the Christian life, from birth to death, and, most importantly, past death. In baptism, God draws us into a new way of living, where death is just one step along the eternal journey of life.
What sometimes gets lost, though, is our understanding of the way in which this new life is centered and grounded in Trinitarian love. The love that is encompassed in the Trinity, that is generated by the Trinity, that overflows from the Trinity to us, is what gives us new life. Trinitarian love determines and shapes the kind of new life we receive. Christians baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit because we have come to an awareness that the Trinity is central to our faith.

Now if you are sitting there thinking to yourself, “I’m probably the only person here who still has no idea what the Trinity is,” you are not alone. I guarantee it. Most of us can define the Trinity as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but that’s about it. We might even go so far as to say the Father created the world, the Son redeemed the world, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies the world, like it says in our Apostles’ and Nicene Creed. And yet, the Trinity doesn’t appear explicitly in our Bible, Jesus never talks about it using the words we use, and as you can see clearly from our readings for this morning, baptisms in the Bible didn’t use the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit formula that we do today. In fact, the Trinity is a distinctly Christian belief that emerged only within the first century after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The understanding of God as a Trinity developed as Christians tried to make sense of the relationship between the God of Abraham and Moses and Isaac, who created the world and delivered Israel from slavery, and Jesus, the beloved Son of God who was given new life after death, and the Holy Spirit, who was present at Creation and inspired the prophets and came to the disciples at Pentecost. If we are confused about the Trinity, it may be because it’s a part of our faith that is less than two thousand years old. 

And yet the Trinity, or rather the relationship that defines the Trinity, and the new life that is generated from that relationship, is the ground of our baptism. Without the Trinity, Christian baptism is empty and meaningless. So what, exactly, is that Trinitarian relationship, and what kind of new life does it give us?

Love. Inclusive, life-generating love. The relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is defined by inclusive and life-generating love. When we say that God is love, that’s actually shorthand for saying that God is the love of the Father for the Son, the love of the Son for the Father, and the Holy Spirit that is the manifestation of that love in our world. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo in the fourth century, whose theology was foundational for our own understandings, said that the Trinity could be understood as the lover, the beloved, and the love between the two of them. The Trinity is a circle of ever-flowing love between Father and Son and Holy Spirit. God the Father’s first words to God the Son were, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The first words were words of love. There are some theologians who have said that the love of God in the Trinity is so abundant and over-flowing that God created life in order for love to flourish even more. We are created so that we might be included, and include others, in that love.

And through baptism, we are drawn into the center of this Trinitarian love. Imagine that! When you were baptized, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, you were baptized into that ever-flowing circle of love. On that day, God drew you into the midst of God, so that perfect, divine, holy love might fully surround you and engage you and give you new life. On that day, you become God’s beloved child, with whom God––Father, Son, and Holy Spirit––is well-pleased. 

The Trinitarian love into which you were baptized is a life-generating love. Out of that love, God created the world, and the Spirit of God moved on the waters and light emerged, and all life on earth. Out of that love, God took on the body of a human and lived among us and suffered with us and died rather than kill, so that we might be healed. Out of that love, God comes to us in the Holy Spirit and gives us hope and the strength to do what is right and life-giving for others––in essence, to be holy. That is the power of our baptism, actually, the power that gives us and others new life: The power of the Trinity to create, and to heal, and to live holy lives for the sake of others.

Through baptism, we are drawn into the center of the Trinity, into the center of Trinitarian love. At the same time, that love is placed into us. It becomes our center. And every time we remember our baptism, whether it is once a year, or every time we come to church, or every morning, we recenter ourselves in that Trinitarian love. We recenter ourselves in the love that creates, and heals, and shares new life with others. We remind ourselves that we are grounded in and encircled by the inclusive and life-generating love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

And the effects of this baptism, and of this reminder to ourselves of our baptism, the effects of being placed in the center of Trinitarian love and having that love as our own center, are astounding. Because as we are drawn into that perfect love of God for God and God for us, we are transformed to love in that same way. And our love, as a manifestation of God’s love, creates new life, and heals, and is holy. It is astounding. As astounding as watching the snow-covered ground around us turn into beautiful green grass and flowers in the spring, as astounding as watching the leafless trees sprout buds and unfurl bright green leaves. As astounding as new life after death.

As we enter this New Year, I want to invite you to share a New Year’s Resolution with me. I invite you to resolve that every morning when you get up, the first time you look in the mirror as you are washing your face or brushing your teeth, that you will make the sign of the cross on your forehead and say to yourself, “I have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I am baptized into Trinitarian love.” And remember that that love has created you, and heals you, and makes you holy, and that you are empowered to do likewise for others. Whether you say it aloud or just in your head, I invite you to do this every morning, from now until Trinity Sunday, which is at the end of May, and we will see what new life emerges, whether it is the creation of something new, or the healing of some old wound, or a deepened capacity to share new life with others. And we will say then, as we do every day, Thanks be to God. Amen.

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