This is a sermon for Trinity Sunday as well as for a church anniversary. It is based on the Trinity Sunday reading Matthew 28:16-20.
There is an African saying that goes ‘I am because we are’. Today we’re celebrating both our church anniversary as well as Trinity Sunday and I thought that this saying was relevant to both of these celebrations.
Today’s Gospel reading comes from the very last verses of the very last chapter of Matthew. Matthew ends his Gospel with Jesus’ command to the disciples: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ So here we have the Trinitarian formula – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the only time this formula appears in the New Testament.
The formula makes this verse an obvious choice for Trinity Sunday but I think that Jesus’ commissioning of the eleven to make disciples of all nations also has a lot to say to us about the Kingdom of God and the important of fellowship and community in God’s Kingdom.
God is a Community
The first thing I want to think about this morning is the idea of God as community. I want to think about how the phrase ‘I am because we are’ might apply to God.
The bible tells us – in the 1st letter of John – that ‘God is love’. This was the belief and testimony of one of Jesus’ closest disciples as he came to reflect on the nature of Jesus and on his divinity: that God is love. We also know that Jesus showed God’s love to be something that was entirely selfless and dedicated to service of God’s good creation.
God’s love is not directed toward admiring himself and God’s holiness is not a self-obsessed focus on his own goodness and purity. God’s love goes outward. God’s love results in God’s good creation: universes and planets, nature and all living things. And God’s love results in our salvation: God’s love is a force for hope, a force for forgiveness and a force for reconciliation. God’s love points humanity toward his Kingdom, when heaven and earth will meet. God’s holiness is a force for goodness and justice, it is a force that brings good news to the poor and that sets the captives free.
In other words – God’s love and godly love – are focussed on the needs of the other. Godly love – in a Christian context – is not a sentiment. Godly love is an act and it is an act that can only be directed at another person.
So the argument goes that God could not be love, he could not be the essence of love, unless that love were directed outward. So, in this way of explaining the Trinity the Father is seen as loving the Son and the Spirit, the Son as loving the Father and the Spirit and Spirit as loving the Father and the Son. Therefore, even within God himself, God’s perfection means that his love is always directed outward. God’s love is never self-focussed or self-obsessed.
A well-known 20th century theologian has said that doctrine is the human attempt to explain a mystery and so we do need to keep in mind that this idea of God as a community is a metaphor and that it is just a feeble human attempt to explain something unexplainable.
But as metaphors go, I personally find this metaphor incredibly useful and inspiring. It tells me that God is a relationship and t hat the phrase ‘I am because we are’ is not something that applies just to human beings or to human society, but to God himself. It tells me that if, Christian discipleship is about ‘striving for holiness’ that there is something about the state of perfection that has to do with communities. With forgiving, healing, reconciling communities.
Holiness or Christian perfection is not something individualistic or lonely. Rather, it is about community. It is about ‘I am because we are’. And it is about ‘You are because we are’.
Human Beings and Community
So ‘God as a community’ is a useful metaphor for the Trinity. I just want to take an imaginative step for a moment and think what would happen if every single human being were three persons in one being.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’m imagining one person saying: ‘I want to go out with my colleagues for a drink after work’ And another saying: ‘No, I need to stay late to get this report done.’ And a third saying: ‘No! I need to get home to make dinner for my husband and children!’ And then that would be when the trouble starts: ‘You’re no fun! You can’t ever relax, can you?’ ‘Why are you so irresponsible? Don’t know how hard it is to get a job at the moment?’ ‘Hold on! The job might be important, but isn’t it obvious that the children should come first?’
Let’s not even go to places where we’re imagining one person being jealous of the other or being competitive with the other.
It’s hard to imagine three people in one human being, but I imagine that the potential could be there for a three-in-one personality to work out something like that: jealously, competition, envy, competing priorities. Because these emotions are something that we have observed all throughout human history between people and nations. And this is exactly what God is calling us to stop.
God’s way, as we know, is based on forgiveness, reconciliation and self-giving love. At the core of the Gospel message is God’s forgiveness to us and his reconciliation with us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God calls us love others in the same way that he has loved us. Just as his concern is directed outward and toward others, so too should our concerns be directed outward and toward others. We will know that God’s Kingdom has come on earth as it is in heaven when human beings are able to live peacefully and contentedly in communities where self-giving love, and forgiveness and reconciliation are of first importance.
And in this morning’s Gospel reading, we are being commanded along with the eleven disciples, to baptise ‘all nations’ into this kind of community. Earthly kingdoms often call upon their armies to conquer people who are different so that there might be peace through fear of a strong imperial power. But the Great Commission is actually commanding us to make all nations part of God’s community.
The Good News of the Kingdom of God is that peace does not come through the wielding of power, but through making common cause. Peace comes through forgiveness and reconciliation and by working for the welfare of the other. This is the Kingdom that Jesus is commanding us to proclaim and this is the Kingdom into which we are commanded baptise all nations.
This is ‘I am because we are’ writ large: not just at the level of an individual person or local community but also at a global level.
We love because God first loved us. The Kingdom of God is a forgiving, reconciling, outward-looking community because God himself is a forgiving, reconciling, outward-looking community. It’s God’s intention for all people to be baptised into this community.
In a few minutes, we will come to the table of the Lord. This is God’s celebration meal, to which all people are invited: those in the streets as well as the posh invited guests. As we come to the table, we’ll celebrate with our Lord that he is the God of reconciliation, forgiveness and community. I pray that, in this holy meal, we will also find the grace and strength to continue to be a congregation where God’s love and forgiveness are proclaimed. And I pray that we can be a community where the Gospel is preached in both word and deed. Amen