The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

God-for-us, God-with-us, God-in-us—A Sermon for Trinity Wednesday

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always. 

Here we are, at the end of the year. And what a year it has been!  Last September seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? We’ve celebrated together and we’ve mourned together, singing and praying and eating and laughing our way through. We’ve learned new things—some we like, some we don’t like—about who we are and what we’re capable of. You’ve studied so hard you can’t believe any more information can fit into your brain, or that you can type any more words than you already have, or work any more hours than you already have. And yet, somehow, you will. 

Shall we take some of our patented finals week deep breaths?

Okay, so, this week, our liturgical calendar brings the focus to the Holy Trinity, our favorite Christian paradox. God the three in one, one in three. We name God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. We name God the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. We have countless names that could go on this list—Savior, Rock, Shepherd, Prince of Peace, King of Kings, Source of Life, Fountain of Mercy, Wisdom, Healer, Mother, Advocate, I imagine you have a favorite or two. Our scripture and our hymns are full of these images and metaphors and names for God. Are there any I left out that you love?

Trinitarian monotheism is a critical component of our Lutheran Christian theological heritage. Councils have been called, creeds have been written, heretics have been burned, and wars have been fought over this and other doctrines of our church. You may be a person who is very concerned with orthodoxy—and you are not alone—and so you are committed to understanding the sticking point of the Son being “begotten, not made, of one being with the father” in the words of our Nicene Creed. Or perhaps you are drawn to the Gospel According to John, in which it is written than “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the word was God” (John 1:1).

You may be unsure what any of that is that I’ve just said, and are pretty okay wrapping your head around this—God the Creator, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit are fine by you. Tonight, I find myself closer to this camp. Yes, I have a seminary education and so am technically proficient in explaining that the Holy Trinity is consubstantial, and that the words “person” and “substance” in their ancient languages are not quite direct translations to our clumsy English. I could point you toward the writings of Martin Luther and many others about the delicate intricacies of this divine dance.

But several years ago, a pastor of mine reminded me that the Holy Trinity is not merely a complex theological concept to be comprehended, but a relational reality to be lived. God-for-us, God-with-us, God-in-us. [1]

And so I wonder about how this three-in-one and one-in-three thing really works. Is it like a high school group project, where everyone gets the same grade even though only one member of the group really did any work? Or is it like a 3-on-3 basketball team, where each player has distinct roles toward the same ends? There’s an old quotation, often erroneously attributed to Benjamin Franklin, that “the best committee is a committee of three, where two are absent.” Is this how the persons of the Trinity feel about one another? Or are they like singers, harmonizing beautifully in three parts? Perhaps. 

It is awesome—and by that I mean the slang of my Southern California home and the literal inspiring of awe—that God relates to us in these varied ways. God created this universe and everything in it. God came among us, his beloved creation, as one of us. God continues to move through us and inspire us.

We need not be able to explain why or how this is so in order to respond to it.

This week’s gospel text is from Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus; we often call this story the Great Commission. The risen Christ stands before the disciples, once again, and says, “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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20a). But just a moment before, the text tells us that, upon seeing the risen Christ, the disciples did two things: worshipped him, and doubted. Classic. 

Even these 11 men, who had spent years with Jesus, are not 100% sure what they’re seeing and hearing. They know him, and when he says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” they exchange glances like, “is this real life?”

But here’s the thing. They still do it. They go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them.

They remember the commandments that were given to them in the Torah and emphasized by Jesus. They remember the way he healed the broken and bleeding; they remember the way he preached good news to the poor and liberation to the captive; they remember the way he led them through the storm; they remember the way he cast out demons and raised people from the dead; they remember his life, death, and resurrection. They eat and drink together, in remembrance of him.

For the disciples, and so for us, being a member of the body of Christ is not an intellectual exercise, but a way of life. Yes, we are called to love our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind—here at UC Davis there is no question that you are reveling in this deep usage of our minds. The task set before us, dear ones, is not to “fashion a homiletical proof of the Trinity...but rather to profess the love of God in Christ.” [2]

Trinity Sunday—or in our case, Trinity Wednesday—isn’t about diving into deep, convoluted complexities. We’re headed back to basics.

Our scripture this week draws us back to the creation of the universe, when God called it all good. And when God, in the plural, said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” and called each of us forth, in turn, beloved.

As we go out into the world, we need not affix a button to our lapel that says “official trinitarian” on it. We need not prove our theological chops by dissecting the creeds, line by line. We are called, much more directly, to love our God, and love our neighbors as ourselves. We are called to be co-creators with God the Father, co-conspirators with our lady Wisdom.

Our sending hymn tonight is one that is near and dear to my heart. It’s not a traditional Trinity hymn, but it’s a traditional “see you later” hymn—when people graduated from seminary at PLTS and moved out of the student apartments, we would all gather in the parking lot to send them off and sing this song. Sometimes at 6:00 in the morning. Sometimes it was more beautiful than others. Tonight, we’re going to sing it because we are going our separate ways. Some of us will see each other again very soon. Some of us will see each other again in a long while. Some of us may never see each other again in this life.

But the song is called “God Be With You ‘Till We Meet Again” for a reason. We will all meet again, whether that’s tomorrow morning when you meet in the kitchen because you are housemates; whether that’s this weekend when you see each other downtown; whether that’s next fall when you come back to Davis for a new school year; whether that’s many months from now, when you come home to Davis after a year abroad; whether that’s in several years when you plan a reunion; whether that’s, as the song goes, when “we meet at Jesus’s feet.”

God will be with us until we meet again. God will always be with us. Jesus promised us, in this story from Matthew, that he is always with us, “even to the end of the age.” Whatever comes our way, wherever we go, whoever we become, the Holy Trinity is the promise that God is for us, God is with us, God is in us.

Hallelujah! Amen.

The (Good) News—A Sermon on Preaching and Power

Happy Birthday, Church!—A Sermon on the Power of Pentecost