A Sermon on the Trinity: Doomed from the Start?

Icon by Andrei Rublev, three angels hosted by Abraham. Some imagine the three angels as the Persons of the Trinity. Via Wikimedia Commons

Preaching on the Trinity—is this sermon doomed from the start? Is it even possible to talk about the Trinity in 20 minutes and have it be relevant to a congregation?

I preached on the Trinity this past Sunday, May 31, at Webster Groves Baptist Church. I went beyond the lectionary passage in Romans, using Romans 8:12-25. You can listen to the sermon here, beginning at around 25:00 minutes. Here’s some points I highlighted:

  • We need to make sure that we don’t use words like “flesh” and “body” as only sinful. Failure to do so can be harmful to bodies and reify the mind/spirit dualism. Our bodies are good, because they are created by God. Therefore, I interpreted Paul’s use of flesh as something narcissistic—living as if others did not exist. An opposite of loving your neighbor as yourself, so to speak.
  • I attempted to look at how our lives reflect the Trinity—we are the imago trinitatis, after all. In particular, I looked at community, hospitality (including adoption), and groaning/suffering. I connected each theme to the Romans passage, to the experience of the Triune persons, and to our own experiences. We realized the congregation already reflected the image of the Trinity in how they were practicing community, hospitality, and supporting one another in suffering and grief.
  • In the benediction, I called Jesus our brother (based on the adoption motifs in Romans), and the Holy Spirit our companion. Someone came up to me and asked about it. I got to thinking—what does it mean that Jesus is our brother? The Baptist hymnal in the church, in its topical organization, had topics such as “Jesus as Friend,” “Jesus as Savior” and “Jesus as Triumphant,” but not “Jesus our Brother.” I imagine most hymnals are similar. How might emphasizing Jesus as brother make a difference in how we think (and act) on Christology and the doctrine of the Trinity? (I have some ideas, connected to perichoresis, participation, and divinization).

My Great Cloud of Witnesses (aka, resources used for the sermon):

  • Kasemann, Ernst. Commentary on Romans. Translated and edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980. The reason why I used this commentary is that Kasemann emphasizes Paul’s connection of creation with anthropology (177), implying that Paul’s notion of the person is not the modern “I”. Plus, he highlights Paul’s attention to paradoxes.
  • This commentary from Working Preacher. Working Preacher offers commentary on the lectionary passages usually from seminary professors. Audrey West encouraged me to think about the dualisms present and to focus on the “nitty-gritty realities of life.”
  • Shannon Johnson Kersher, “Slanted Truth,” on Day 1. I appreciate her honesty in describing the mysteriousness of the Trinity.
  • Craig C. Hill, “Romans,” in John Muddiman et al., eds., The Pauline Epistles, updated selection. ed., Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford England: Oxford University Press, 2010). His brief explanation about the purpose of writing Romans, and some details about the city of Rome itself, were helpful.
  • Having helped teach on the doctrine of the Trinity more than once, I had many theologians who were my “great cloud of witnesses” swirling in the background as I wrote: Leonardo Boff, Julian of Norwich, Jürgen Moltmann, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Augustine, Paul Fiddes, and of course, my mentors from my MDiv and PhD studies.

I’ve enjoyed preaching at Webster Groves Baptist Church.  I find preaching as one of the more difficult tasks for someone studying theology, as it forces me to make sure I can communicate what I’ve learned in an accessible and meaningful way. I’m not serving as pulpit supply in the near future, so I’ll be writing on what I’m reading.

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An Ascension Day Sermon

Ascension Sunday

This past Sunday, I was the supply preacher at Webster Groves Baptist Church, MO (suburban St. Louis). I preached on John 17:9-20. My grandmother and cousin came, and the church welcomed us all warmly—and even greeted me on their sign! (This was a first for me, so naturally I was excited.)

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Here are some things I learned and some points about the text and the Ascension that I found interesting:

  • Not many people speak about the ascension. I remember listening to a sermon by Danielle Shroyer, who made this point. (Unfortunately, I cannot find the link to that sermon!) The challenge then is why the Ascension is important theologically and in our faith.
  • The giving of the word is interesting. The Gospel writer uses “logos” for the singular forms of “word” in the text. The plural form of “words” in the prayer is a different Greek word. I wonder if the giving of the word is Jesus giving of himself.
  • Eugene Rogers sees this prayer in John as a prayer of humility. Using Julian of Norwich’s concept of homely courtesy, he claims that Jesus’ prayer and Ascension gives room for the Spirit to act. Jesus’ ascension becomes an act of love. He would say that this is not a move that would affirm Joachim of Fiore’s notion of the epochs (Father is one age, Son is another, Spirit is another); rather, this move affirms that the Spirit and the Son work together. The Pentecost does not happen without the Ascension.
  • This means, that through the Spirit, we are to do what Jesus would do.
  • It is hard to preach on this prayer and not go 10 different ways—this text is rich. I probably included too much, and also left a lot out!

Resources used in formulating this sermon:

Batchelor, Mary, compiler. The Doubleday Prayer Collection. New York: Bantam Doulbeday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1996. I’ve used this prayer collection quite a bit, from devotionals to teaching, as it contains prayers from a variety of the great cloud of witnesses around the world.

Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. The Feasting on the Word series is a commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary. It contains theological, pastoral, exegetical, and homiletical reflections for each of the Scriptures.

Julian of Norwich. Showings. Edited by James Walsh and Edmund Colledge. New York: Paulist Press, 1978. This is from the series Classics of Western Spirituality, which includes critical introductions and notes on translation. If you are interested in Christian mysticism, this would be the series to check out. (Julian’s one of my favorite theologians, by the way.)

Rogers, Eugene F. After the Spirit: A Constructive Pneumatology from Resources Outside the Modern West. London: SCM, 2006. He wants to affirm that the Spirit and the Son always work together; thus, he explores the Spirit’s role in the narrative of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, Ascension, and the Pentecost in conversation with Eastern and Western theologians.

You can access the audio of the sermon here. It begins around 29 minutes.

I’ll be preaching there again on May 31st—Trinity Sunday!

Why is the Ascension important for our faith? What happens when we overlook the Ascension?

 

Photo credit

Beginnings

After conversations, prayer, and lots of stalling, I’ve decided to get back into the blogging world again. Here’s why:

1. Learning. Through social media and the blogosphere, I’ve learned a lot about subjects I’ve not necessarily had the chance or time to explore. I’ve read some sermons that caused me to rethink presuppositions. I’ve been convicted to confess my sin and repent. Hopefully that can and will continue. In addition, I’ll be learning how to become a better writer through this practice.

2. Accountability. If someone does read this, and is wondering how I’m progressing in my program, they can see reviews or snippets of books I’ve been reading. If one asks a question about a book or my work, I hope to respond thoroughly and compassionately. The external pressure of accountability to a larger group of people is helpful–case in point, sermon-writing. One does not finish a PhD by one’s effort alone–it does take a great cloud of witnesses.

3. Fellowship. As someone who is living a distance from my school (about a 6 hour train ride), fellowship can be difficult to cultivate and maintain. I see this blog as a way to connect with others who are interested in theology. I’ve already been able to connect with some thoughtful people through my writing, and I hope to see that continue.

As a confessional theologian, my goal in pursuing a PhD in theology is to seek and know God, and help others do so. My primary work is in theology, studying humility and pneumatology. I believe that all of life is theological, in that everything we do can be connected to how we view God, creation (including humanity), and God’s relationship to creation. Thus, I’d like to think that theology can speak to the mundane and global issues.

To be honest, I have some anxiety about beginning a blog. The fears are multiple: What if I don’t post regularly enough, what if someone rejects me for a job based on the blog, what if I hate what I’ve written in the past, what if my writing is subpar, what if I’m unable to respond to critique, etc. I imagine that most, if not all, of those fears will happen at some point. I expect to make mistakes, and hope to learn from them.

If I had to model this blog after any other blog, it would probably be Brian Leport’s work. He models what it means to be both a teacher and a student, to be a faithful Christian and a critique of harmful ideologies, and I’ve learned much from his work, both in content and methodology.

So, here are my questions for you, the reader and hopeful dialogue partner:

1. Any advice on the title? Much to my advisor’s chagrin, I’m horrible at titles. “Learning from a Great Cloud of Witnesses” expresses my intention that theology is always in conversation, whether with the theological giants, such as Augustine; or with the unknown saints, such as my grandmothers; or with those who may even be antagonistic or apathetic to theological discourse, yet provide us with valuable insights and critiques. I imagine, however, that the title may be too long. What do you think? Do you have any suggestions?

2. Who should I be following? I’ve begun to compile a list of blogs I want to follow that reflect upon theology and the church. Who would you include? What’s your blog link?

3. For those of you who already blog, what tips do you have? What should I do, and what should I avoid? What rules am I already breaking?

I’m still learning WordPress’ platform, and it will probably take a while–I’m somewhat of a Luddite.

Regardless, I’m grateful to begin this journey with you, the great cloud of witnesses.