Sermon: Trinity Sunday Year A
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I really do pray that I speak to you in the name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Today is Trinity Sunday. I don’t want to talk about the Trinity. It’s not that it’s not an important doctrine. But it’s not really something that we can talk about without immediately saying something heretical. One of the “fun” activities we did as seminarians was to name the heresies in sermons that tried to explain the trinity. Preaching trinity sunday is like a booby-trapped obstacle course in an Indiana Jones movie. There’s a new heresy with every move you make.
Like St. Patrick, we could say that the trinity is like three leaves of a clover. But that is making each person of the trinity just a part of God and not each one fully God themselves. We could describe God as “creator, redeemer, sustainer” but that’s dividing God out into different jobs as if only one person creates or redeems. We could go with the traditional formula that Jesus himself gives us in the Gospel according to Matthew: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But that one seems to emphasize maleness over the completeness of God.
I don’t know what the best way to talk about the Trinity is. Maybe explicitly stating that all language fails to capture the fullness of the trinity is the best I can say today. I can’t say more than that about the trinity. But I do want to talk more about language.
In the field of linguistics, we talk about “speech acts” as words that accomplish something when they are spoken. The stereotypical example is when an officiant pronounces a couple to be married. Speaking the words accomplishes the act.
It is with language that God creates. Our God speaks and there is light.
“Let the earth put forth vegetation” and it was so.
“Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so.
That’s a speech act on a different scale!
God has a little conversation at this point in the creation story. But with whom? It seems like God has been going along just fine just speaking everything into existence. But God says “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” Let us make. Our image. Our likeness. God is talking amongst…themselves? in the plural? Is God using the royal we? Or maybe it is just a trick of the language, the translation from a word that has a plural form in Hebrew, but really means a singular God. Like how “data” is the plural form of the word, but we usually talk about data as a singular set. Or maybe this is a description of the Trinity, a unity of purpose in creation, and also a plurality that can have a conversation.
How we talk about things matters. The words we use really do things. When I say “baby elephant”, the words don’t literally form into an elephant in this church like they did for God on that 6th day of creation. But I bet I can create an image in your mind of a baby elephant rolling in the mud just by saying that. The words we say actually do things.
How we talk about God matters. When we use metaphors to describe aspects of the trinity, we are really doing things with our words. We are at the very least creating images in each other’s minds. Hopefully those images enrich and deepen and widen our conception of God. Hopefully we are not creating limits and misconceptions about who God is. Because God is without limit.
Our language has limits. And even in chapter one of our entire Bible, God is breaking the limits our language sets. We’re about to say the Nicene creed. “We believe in one God.” Singular. But God uses “us” and “our” pronouns. Plural. This is what happens when we reach the limits of language to describe a God who is without limit. We get one verse of the Bible where God is plural, and the following verse where God is singular. And that’s not even bringing gender into it. The wind of God’s spirit at the very beginning is a feminine noun. And God is called “he” when he names day and night on that first day. Male, female, plural, singular. God is not limited by what our language can express.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness”
In the image of God, God created us. Our language has limits and boundaries like “male” and “female”, “singular” and “plural”. But we are created in the image of a God who has no limits. A God whose very description defies the boundaries of language. We were created in God’s own language-defying image.
When we talk about people, we are speaking about an image of God. What we say matters.
Yesterday was the Fresno Pride festival. I spoke with several people who were happily surprised to learn that St. James Cathedral would even have a presence at Pride. They remembered the days when LGBTQ people were either not talked about at all here, or talked about negatively. What was said mattered. The image created by saying “St. James Cathedral” was not one of love and welcome.
That image of “St. James Cathedral” is changing. It changes when we go beyond the limits of what’s comfortable in order to welcome someone different. Each time we push past the linguistic boundaries of “singular” and “male” when talking about God, we expand our conception of God. Each time we use someone’s correct pronouns and name, we are creating, with our very words, a truer image of that person in people’s minds. What we say matters.
We might not be able to bring matter into being with our words like God can. But our words do matter because we are created in the image and likeness of God. How we talk about the image of God matters. How we talk about people matters.
If we talk about a person negatively, the image that is created by our words is negative. If we use positive language, we create a positive image. It sounds like magical thinking, but truly, language is that powerful, even with all the limits of humanity. We can change the image in someone’s mind with our words. What we say really does matter.
And as powerful as our language is, what *God* says is beyond all limitations of human language. When God speaks, there is light. When God speaks, it’s not just an image that’s created. When God speaks, reality is created. What God says matters.
And what is it that God says about us? God says that we are good. “God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Everything was very good. All of us, all of creation, without limit. That’s the image that was created when God spoke. “God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.”