Friday, December 5, 2014

Trinitarian Preaching

Jennifer Lord’s essay, “Preaching and the Holy Trinity: Dwelling in God,” in the latest issue of Liturgy on Trinity and Liturgy, focuses on the preacher’s task to make present the Trinity rather than to speak about the triune God. She binds her remarks to Henri Nouwen’s reflections on iconic representations of the Trinity that visually depict what it is to live in “the house of love, where God resides.” Vital to the sermon’s manifestation of this house of love is the need for all three “persons” of the Trinity to find a home in the sermon.

It is always a good thing for those of us who preach to immerse ourselves in history and theology and refresh our thinking on doctrinal matters. This review helps us know that theologies of the Holy Trinity are complex but indispensable because they underscore that it is not enough, in Christian preaching, to speak of one person of the Trinity. There might be exceptions but they should never be the rule. If sermons only speak of God or Jesus or the Spirit, a great imbalance is communicated. A quick cautionary list includes sermons emphasizing God as creator in a way that describes a god who is distant and uninterested in our daily lives. Jesus can be preached in such a way that we have no need of God who names him the beloved Son, or of the presence of the Spirit of the risen Christ, or any understanding that his titles, like Messiah and Lord, take their meanings from the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit can devolve into one of many spirits, spirituality without relation to creation, covenant, death, and resurrection. The ways we tell the names and stories and actions of God in our sermons demonstrate the eternal interrelatedness of God in three persons. Of course we can't preach everything in one sermon. But we can review our preaching with some helpful questions: Even if we prioritize one name for God, are we speaking the fullness of the Trinity? Do our sermons over time proclaim the nature, work, and purposes of God the Holy One, Holy Three? 
 I want preachers to think of trinitarian preaching more broadly than preaching that is about the Trinity. It is not enough to think we only preach the Trinity once a year, on Trinity Sunday. Every Sunday, whether it is a feast day (holiday) or a standard (ordinary time) Sunday, is not just about the theme of the day but about the theme in relation to the paschal mystery, the entire revelation of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Who is this triune God? It is the God we know in the Crucified-Risen One. It is the God who created the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land, and who gathered a covenant people. It is the Spirit of God who is a treasury of blessings, ever life-giving for the healing of the nations.   . . .

When emphasis on one of the three overshadows the other two, the house of love, we might say, is out of kilter. The author encourages preachers to consider the triune God in all fullness so that the assembly is given the opportunity to regularly ponder this rich identity, mysterious imagery, of God.

Preachers pay attention to what names we use for God and what we say theologically by the choice of names. Preachers work to keep perspective, holding together present angst, confusion, and grief with the merciful presence and promise of God for the whole world. Preachers honestly name both houses but preach the truth that keeps and protects us all. Preaching, alongside reading and praying, washing and eating, continually invites us to life in the Holy Trinity. It invites us again and again to see that we are kept and protected by God the Three in One. 

In addition to Prof. Lord’s advice to preachers, the essays in this issue on Trinity and Liturgy set help us to see how and where liturgical practice itself invites the assembly into the life of the triune God. The essays cover the language we use for the Holy Three, the trinitarian focus of the baptismal creed, Orthodox use of water to depict life in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit’s role in worship focusing on God rather than on the assembly, how music expresses the Trinity, how gender issues shape trinitarian conceptions, and the roles of each member of the Trinity in deepening liturgical practice.

Jennifer L. Lord, “Preaching and the Holy Trinity: Dwelling in God,” Liturgy 30, no. 1 (2015): 11-17.

Jennifer Lord is the Dorothy B. Vickery professor of homiletics and liturgical studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

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