Commenting on Holy Trinity Sunday in Homily Service (2006), Stephen Crippen shared a colleague’s caution about the substance of the sermon:
Melissa Skelton, priest of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Seattle, offered these warnings in her sermon on Trinity Sunday last year: “Preaching on Trinity Sunday is a daunting task fraught with three dangers: the danger of getting lost in church history, the danger of getting lost in abstract concepts of God, and the danger of getting lost in only talking about God and forgetting what God cares about—us, our lives, this world. And so let’s resist the temptation to talk much about the Council of Nicaea and the heresies of the early church; let’s abandon the abstract symbolism of triangles or intersecting circles; and let’s turn our backs on discussions of homoousia and perichoresis, both arcane terms used to describe the inner life of the Trinity.” – Stephen Crippen
We do not have to abandon theological talk or historical context altogether on this Sunday. But all words need to lead toward the main point which is the hope we have because of God’s power to renew all things.
The mission of God is not a human project, capable of being accomplished by “flesh.” Rather, it requires the intervention of God and a new life in the Spirit. Contrary to the manner in which human power and will are exercised, life in the Spirit is received by trusting in the Son of Man who is “lifted up.” Although at this point in the story Nicodemus is unable to understand this allusion to the cross, the reader understands that Jesus speaks of the mystery through which God gives life to the world. – Aaron Couch
This renewal transcends all time and all places. It is not always polite and comfortable. For Nicodemus, it involved stealthy sneaking through the dark. For Isaiah, it was fear-inducing.
Isaiah recounts his experience of being called to serve the LORD. It involved a terrifying glimpse of God’s transcendent holiness, attended by strange heavenly beings. The greatness of God reveals the smallness and insubstantiality of the created order. The holiness of God reveals Isaiah’s sinfulness. Yet the prophet recounts how God removes his guilt, making it possible for Isaiah to offer himself for the sake of God’s mission. – Aaron Couch
Paul writes about suffering with Christ, the pull of the desires of the flesh, and of being adopted to live as children of God. The church struggles with these realities all the time, but we are accompanied by the power beyond ourselves.
The Spirit, like rain, moves not in a celestial sphere, but right here in our messy, conflicted and hard-to-control communities. We find ourselves in parishes and neighborhoods with plenty of problems and challenges. We’re sometimes delighted to work alongside others in the activities and challenges of the group, but we’re also confronted by—no, irritated and annoyed by—the sometimes cranky and often troublesome people who surround us. The Spirit finds its way in and around communities that aren’t exactly winsome and attractive. Yet it is here, in our ordinary sanctuaries and parish halls, committee rooms and kitchens, that the work of ministry is begun and sent outward, like rain, in all directions, to all places. Dreary work? Sometimes. But delightful, too. So, if we imagine Spirit as Rain, let us by doing so bring life to a parched world. – Stephen Crippen
Aaron Couch is co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.
Stephen Crippen is a psychotherapist and a deacon in the episcopal Diocese of Olympia, Washington.
Homily Service 39, no. 7 (2006): 20-30.