S. Trinity Sunday.14 “With You, Always” Matt. 28:16-20
The doctrine of the Trinity, confessed pretty thoroughly in the Athanasian Creed we say this morning, is a mystery. No one understands it (and after saying that really long Creed, you probably understand it even less well, right? That’s okay. We’ll discuss it in bible class and I’ll give you a hint: I think this is the point of the Athanasian Creed—not to explain the Trinity, but to problematize it for you, puzzle you, to get you to ponder in such a Way that you might be drawn into the Mystery most deeply, yourself).
Our Gospel reading this morning can be similarly problematic. The old church fathers saw in these verses the central text on the Mystery of the Trinity. We tend to see it as a program for the church’s mission(al) activity, a simple action plan. In a way, both readings are right, though I suspect that if you see it as the old fathers saw it, you’ll have a little different idea of the “action” of the church. But let’s look more closely together, shall we?
As the fathers like Irenaeus, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, and others grappled with the doctrine of the Trinity, they all drew (in different ways) toward the same conclusion: the doctrine of the Trinity is not something to understand, or explain, or teach to others—as if having right ideas in your head about the Triune Nature of God will win you some prize. Nah. The Holy Trinity is not an idea to expound, but a Life to be drawn into, the only Life there is that matters, that lasts, that is eternal, that is a joy to live. There is a lovely paradox here: the more those early Christians studied, and thought and pondered over the Mystery of the Trinity, the less confident they became of their knowledge and the more they began to actually live a new Life, a Life they slowly recognized was divine, holy, Trinitarian. They started by looking for ideas, at first, and ended up finding a Lord, a Life, a Love that was beyond expectation…
Their search did not go in straight lines. They circled round, went wrong directions, chased one thing, found Another. We hate stuff like that, today. We go seeking a Lord, a Life, our one, true Love, but find only confused ideas and stratagems and mission(al) models. Our direct line quest only gets us lost. They, by contrast, (Athanasius et. al.) got lost in the most heady and lofty ideas, creeds, confessions, and so found their way to the Lord, the Life, the Love they never imagined they could or would find, that they weren’t even searching for, really. It’s like God told Isaiah, a long time ago: the people who looked for Me never found Me, and those who never looked for Me, found Me!
Put another way: we think that practical plans, mission models, action orientation will give us a practical, mission(al), active life. The direct approach! But the story of the Christian Church is the story of the triumph of indirection: by getting lost in heavenly places, they found their way on earth. Losing their life, it was saved, forever. By the most complex and metaphysical philosophies, they discovered the most simple, practical Way of Life. To become wise in the ways of the world, they became thoroughly foolish in Christ! To discover a practical, sensible life, they studied the most impractical, inscrutable mysteries! They stumbled on the Way to the true West by sailing due East!
It went something like this…
There are three verbs in the short address of Jesus to the disciples that concludes the Gospel of St. Matthew. (“Go”, by the way, as in “Go!, therefore, and make disciples” is not one of them, because, in the original Greek, it’s not a verb at all, but a participle of attendant circumstances. In English, it’s actually more like “as you’re going…”) It is the little Trinity of these three verbs that provide a clue to the Big Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The three verbs are “gifted, discipled, AM”. For you linguistic geeks, they are an aorist passive, aorist imperative, and present active, respectively, (and, possibly, significantly!).
Jesus came and spoke to the disciples on a mountain in Galilee. (By the way: it says they worshiped Him, but even as they did so, some doubted. And I like that! Where we think we need to be dedicated, diligent, doubt-free, Jesus seems quite happy to do His best stuff with the least likely suspects. There is room for you, for me, in this group!)
To the worshipful (but doubtful!) one-short-of-a-full-dozen Jesus says: “All authority has been gifted to Me, in heaven and on earth…” That’s the first verb right there, gifted, literally in Greek, aorist passive. The Greek aorist is past tense, simple, already completed action. It’s not a given, this authority of Jesus’. It’s a Gift, from the Father. Jesus takes nothing for granted—even though He is God the everlasting Son! He does not assume authority, but takes it up every day as a surprising Gift from the Father—something He’s literally dying to share with the world—that’s His idea of what authority is for: to give it up, give it away to those who need it more…
The second verb is discipled. It’s an aorist imperative and impossible to translate in English, this sentence without sounding like Yoda we will. But is that so bad? Work with me. Here’s how it goes literally, “Going therefore, discipled! all the nations, baptizing them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to see all things I have commanded you…” I think the gist if you say it like Yoda makes sense. As you’re going, you’re discipled, past imperative and as discipled you are so the nations will be by baptizing in the Name and teaching of Jesus. Discipled you are so baptizing you do and teaching, My teaching you will be.
Only when it happens to you is the Church’s mission fulfilled!
AM is the last verb. As in “I AM WHO I AM” the divine Name. It’s not something to think, it’s something to be, a life to live and what a Life! Jesus’ life which turns out to be God’s the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s almost too much that we could be as He is but if He the I AM is with us always, then it just might happen right? Discipled we are to be with the I AM who is!
Thinking and pondering these mysteries got the first disciples going, hither and yon but always chasing after Jesus and they wouldn’t be chasing Him if He hadn’t first already found them and made them his own. Not a thought to think but a life to live, right?
With you, always… isn’t that the way every really good Love Story ends, what real lovers want? To share a Life, a love, forever? But why would the Almighty God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit want that with the likes of you and me? We aren’t worthy to share the Triune God’s life, His authority, power, grace, mercy, are we?
We are not; and yet, this is what Jesus is dying (and rising!) to share with a world of lost souls—for His love does not find what is pleasing to Him, but creates it, from nothing, for doubtful, distressed types, the one-short-of-a-dozen who will worship Him anyway and in that worship find what we’ve been missing.
And that’s the Holy Trinity, really. Not an idea to ponder or parse, but a Life to live, a love to share: a Lord who’ll look out for you, go to the ends of the world to find you, to share what He has with the Father and the Spirit with you, always.
I AM, with you, always; and hey, with that, you won’t need explanations of the Trinity—nah; you could simply live IT. In the Name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Amen.