This is Holy Trinity Sunday--the first Sunday after Pentecost in the church year--Trinity Sunday is a Feast Day to name, celebrate, and remember the mystery of the Holy Trinity:
The Creator, The Redeemer and The Sustainer. The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.
Three mysteries: one in three and three in one. each a unique representation of the holy: separate, but whole. Holy and Undivided. Eternally bound together in relationship.
The Holy Trinity is one of the most accessible and recognizable symbols of the Christian faith.
St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover to explain the trinity, three leaves from one stem
There is a shield sometimes used in catechism class to teach the meaning of the trinity: The father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father: but all are God.
And, every time we make the sign of the cross we invoke the strong name of the Trinity: Father Son and Holy Spirit.
Holy. And Undivided. Unifying. Eternal. Binding. Relational.
But for the first three hundred years of Christianity, there was no doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity.
The doctrine of the holy trinity emerged out of the Ecumenical council of Nicaea, convened in the year 325.
Prior to the council of Nicaea, Christianity was identified by its’ plurality. Not its’ doctrine.
There weren’t a lot of rules.
There was certainly no doctrine by which heretics were defined or saints named.
Paul wrote letters to emerging communities on how best to live as a Christian community.
The canon of scriptures was solidified.
But plurality in belief, practice, and leadership remained constant.
And over time--three hundred years--followers of Jesus slowly became The Christian Church--in the East and the West--in Africa and throughout Europe.
Around this time, Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire.
And as Christian leaders began to dance with questions of authority and knowledge, Christian doctrine began to take shape:
Who is in charge? Who decides what is true and how do they decide?
Importantly, early church thinkers integrated Greek philosophy in their understanding of God and Church.
Reason--philosophy--became essential in the pursuit of knowledge of God.
In the year 325 the Roman Emperor Constantine convened and supervised the Ecumenical Council of Nicea.
The council lasted for months.
There was considerable quarreling, name calling, and general rancor between the bishops assembled at the council – all under the watchful eye of the Roman Emperor.
There is even a legend that St. Nicholas (yes, Old St. Nick) punched Priest Arius in the face for what he perceived to be a heretical idea about the trinity--
Can you imagine being slapped in the face at a church meeting by St. Nicholas?!
Listen, the church has always been a messy bunch.
Eventually, the council agreed on the words of the Nicaean Creed, cementing the doctrine of the holy trinity--one in three and three in one as a foundational Christian Truth.
And still, almost two thousand years later, Christians around the world recite the Nicaean creed every Sunday.
It is the creed that binds Christians together as one, undivided body of Christ--we are many, but we are one--
Bound in relationship with each other through God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
Now, the question is: What does any of this have to do with any of us today--here and now.
Well, the way I see it is this:
These first generations of Christians were telling the story, keeping the feast, and trying to understand the truth of what had been revealed to them.
They had been through something and they were trying to understand.
It takes the time it takes. To understand. To see. To articulate. To find clarity.
It takes the time it takes for ideas to sift and settle and be considered. For new ideas and interpretations of old ideas to emerge.
It’s Messy. Hard. Confusing. We act strange during times of great shifting and change and transistion.
We’ve been through something, too, friends. And we’re trying to understand.
Trying to make sense of the last fourteen months. COVID. George Floyd. Black Lives Matter. The Insurrection at the US Capitol.
Something is happening in America.
Gaslighting. Conspiracy. Obfuscation of truth. Division.
Something is happening in America.
It takes the time it takes. To understand. To see. To articulate.
For reason, informed by our faith, to be revealed.
It’s messy. Hard. Confusing.
We act strange when ideas around us are threatened or are shifting.
And everything is shifting all around us all the time right now.
Around the time of the Council of Nicaea, reason--philosophy--logic became essential in the pursuit of knowledge and truth. Faith informed reason during the Council of Nicaea and the Holy Trinity was revealed.
Revelation takes time.
Faith and Reason.
Reason, informed by faith, remains the tradition of the church. New theology is always emerging to reveal new expansive unexpected truth about God.
We are a people of faith, yes. But we are also a people of reason. Science. Inquiry. Knowledge.
Reason Informed by Faith is the revelation our democracy is waiting for.
We’ve lost our way. But we will not stay lost. We will not meander outside the realm of reason forever.
In the meantime, know that God remains. Love remains. Unity remains. Community remains. The Trinity remains. The great revelation of God’s truth: Three in one and one in three.
We will keep the feast and tell the story. We will continue to try and understand the truth that is being revealed to us—here and now through a reason informed by the Creator, Redeemer and Holy Spirit.
It won’t be like this forever. We will find our way back.
But the Revelation takes the time it takes.
The Rev Anne K. Ellsworth
May 30, 2021
Trinity Sunday, Year B
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church
My Sermons (and other thoughts)
a sampling of sermons preached in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a sprinkling of other writings