June 11th Sermon: Holy Trinity Sunday (Paul Strike)
Sermon 6.11.2017—Holy Trinity Sunday
Matthew 28:16-20; Psalm 8; Genesis 1:1-2:4a; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
“What is in a name?”
In the famous balcony scene in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet,
Juliet has a monologue where she talks about names.
The one that she loves, Romeo, belongs to the Montague family,
Sworn enemies of her own family, the Capulets.
The two are forbidden to love each other
Because of this heated rivalry between the two families.
However, they had just met at a feast and had very quickly fallen in love
Without knowing who the other was.
Both Romeo and Juliet find out that they belong to rival factions, and here we find Juliet.
Juliet is torn up about the fact that Romeo is a Montague,
But despite this, she still desperately wants Romeo.
The monologue begins with “Romeo, o Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo???”
But then Juliet gets philosophical:
She asks, “What’s in a name?
That which you call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
She is right
A rose by any other name would still smell sweet.
But what if I started calling a rose
Would that matter?
First, names are labels we give things that make them
More accessible to us, and to others whom we talk about them with.
So, while a rose might still smell sweet if it is called
And people might eventually understand what it is,
Anyone coming into the sanctuary right now might rightfully ask,
“What on earth is going on right now?”
People don’t get what a “pretty-spiky-reddy-smelly-nicey-dilly-dally” is.
Many do get what a “rose” is.
Also, there are webs of meaning that become tied to names.
The word “rose” has a lot to it.
When you think of a rose, you may be able to
Smell its sweet fragrance,
Picture its deep red petals,
Feel the texture of its thorns and its stem,
Taste the pungent air around it,
And hear things that are related to your memories of roses:
An “aww!” from someone you are giving a rose to,
Or birds chirping joyfully outside as you contemplate it in your hand.
The name “rose” is familiar to us and offers us a way to relate to
Something that we have experienced.
We can understand what a rose is by merely hearing its name.
“Pretty-spiky-smelly-nicey-dilly-dally” might in time come to have the same
Accessibility and offer us a way to experience what we now call a rose,
Through a very dedicated effort from strong supporters of the name,
But, right now, it does not offer us much except maybe a few giggles.
The Day of the Holy Trinity is, in a way, a day about names.
The Trinity is the word we use to talk about God,
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The Trinity is the best name that centuries of early Christians could come up with
To talk about what they had experienced
Of God, the eternal, incomprehensible, mysterious, majestic, intimate,
All-creating, all-redeeming, all-sustaining… and the list of adjectives never ends.
It was probably pretty difficult for these people to figure out
How to describe or name their experience of Jesus,
Especially what to make of Jesus’ resurrection and what he said about himself.
It was also probably tough to make sense of the voice in the Gospels
That seems to come from the sky saying, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased,”
And reconcile it with the God of Israel that they know.
And, of course, what on earth were they to make of the Pentecost story,
Where there are things like tongues of fire and Galileans speaking in all languages?
After centuries, the concept of the Trinity was formed and named
To describe the Christian God.
This may seem like a dusty doctrine, not really useful today.
What, really, is in a name—that is, why are names for God important?
To answer that, let’s start with the ancient peoples.
Especially during the time that the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
Were being written and compiled,
There were many different tribal religions and gods people called on.
The gods were pretty specific to the individual cultures and nations
But were also shared in some instances.
For them, as it is for us now, the names of deities were really important
Because knowing the name of a god
Offered people a way to not just talk about their god,
But to talk with or to the god.
Nations invoked their god’s names
With the hope that this god would act.
They hoped their god would change their fate for the better.
For ancient Israel, coming to know God’s name
Takes place in the story of Moses and the burning bush. Yes, that story.
It’s not just a fun, miraculous children’s story, folks.
Israel has been enslaved in Egypt for a long time
By the time God appears to Moses.
From the bush, God gives Moses a near-impossible task:
Lead the Israelites out of slavery and into freedom.
God assures Moses that God will be with him.
But, Moses is not sold and presses God.
He says, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them,
‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’
And they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
God replies to Moses “I AM WHO I AM.” “I AM has sent me to you.”
“The LORD (in all caps), the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac,
And the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’.”
The Divine Name, the name that Jewish people even today do not speak in order to honor it,
This name will be Moses’ ticket into leadership among the Israelites.
The Israelites are familiar with the God of their ancestors through stories.
Further, Moses will call on this divine name in the coming days,
And through this God will save Israelites from their oppression under Egypt
And finally deliver them.
God has guided and covenanted with Israel’s ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Now, God, through the Divine Name that Moses will speak to these Israelites,
Will again bring Israel into freedom and relationship with God.
That is what is in a name.
What is in a name for the authors of today’s Old Testament readings?
In the Psalm that we sang today,
The Psalmist praises the “name” of God, not simply God.
The Psalmist then describes all the amazing things that God has done,
Both large and small,
Creating the heavens, but also
Caring for the people.
It reads, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and starts that you have established,
What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
Mortals that you care for them?”
The Psalmist recognizes that God
Has a part in everything.
The Psalmist’s mind explodes—
I don’t know how many of you are on the internet much or know much about memes,
But I picture the Psalmist to be like the History Channel professor meme
(A meme is normally a picture with a funny caption).
The professor is sitting with wild hair blown back
And hands like this (gesticulate). He is about to deliver the TRUTH.
In big white letters at the bottom, the truth is revealed: Aliens.
Here, for the Psalmist, the capital-T truth is, “Everything.”
God is the Creator of everything, the biggest things that
The Psalmist can think of.
But, God is known as an intimate God,
Who created and cares for the people.
This care is shown through God giving people the work of God’s hands.
So, the name of God is absolutely pregnant with everything that God does.
The name, therefore, becomes majestically known in the earth.
Likewise, in the Genesis reading, God is Creator of everything, cosmic and tiny.
God’s name is not the subject, but instead God is actually naming things.
God names day and night, sky, earth and the seas. The big, vast things.
But God also creates the small things: vegetation, creatures,
And lastly, humankind.
God takes the care to create and name all these things.
God sees that these things are “good.”
All of these things together are “very good.”
God is wrapped up in their being, their naming, their goodness.
So, God is God over all things, connected to them both through creating and naming them,
As well as caring for them all. God’s name is majestic to these Old Testament writers.
That is what is in a name.
How about the Gospel reading? What is in a name there?
Jesus claims that he has been given all authority by God,
The same God who has created all things and intimately cares for creation.
With this authority, Jesus tells the disciples
To go forth and make disciples of all nations,
Baptizing them in what?
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
First we have the Father.
Jesus uses this term all over the place to denote
The intimate relationship that he has with the God of Israel.
Jesus brings the disciples into this intimacy Jesus has with God
When he teaches them what we call the “Lord’s Prayer” in Matthew 6.
It begins with the endearing words, “Our Father.”
Second, we have the Son.
Jesus calls himself both the Son of God and the Son of Man.
The Son of God term refers to the special relationship he had with God.
Many kings, including the Israelite kings, claimed similar ties to their deity.
The Son of Man reference comes from the book of Daniel, chapter 7,
Where the Son of Man is given dominion by God
Over all the earth—an everlasting dominion.
So, Jesus, as Son, claims a relationship with God and a dominion given by God.
Third, the Holy Spirit comes in the book of Matthew in a few places, too.
Specific to the discussion of baptism,
In chapter 3 John the Baptist claims that Jesus will baptize with Holy Spirit and with fire.
As we heard on Pentecost Sunday,
The Holy Spirit was everywhere in the beginning of the Church.
Furthermore, contextually, the use of Father-Son talk
By Jesus seemed to be used to portray Jesus, not Caesar, as the rightful king,
With the God of Israel, not Jupiter of the pantheon of Roman gods, as the true Father.
But that’s a sermon or a Yale lecture for another time!
So, it is in this group of names that we are baptized.
We are in a way subsumed into this Triune name.
This name becomes part of our identity, our main identity.
Martin Luther says of baptism
That the Trinity acts to bring us into this new identity through baptism.
He quotes Titus 3:5-8:
“God the Father saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
So, we are now marked by the name of the Trinity and all that that entails through baptism.
Baptism also shows us that the Trinity is indeed at work in our lives
In deeply intimate ways.
Indeed, Jesus even says in the Gospel reading that
He will be with the disciples to the end of the age.
Christ is not far away. He is great—he is at the right hand of the Father,
As we recently celebrated at the Feast of the Ascension, where Jesus gave the disciples
The “peace” sign while going to heaven.
But this does not mean that God is not close to us,
Closer than we are to ourselves.
We are marked by the Triune name of God that is both great and oh so near to us,
Beyond our comprehension and yet at work within us.
This, too, is what is in a name.
Finally, what’s in the God, Son, and Holy Spirit names for Paul?
In 2nd Corinthians, Paul has been trying to deal with a
LOT of conflict, between Corinthian factions
And between Corinthian and Paul himself.
There is a ton of discord.
It’s like what you think your family might seem like to outsiders.
Paul ends this tumultuous correspondence with this greeting:
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
Here, Paul is simply saying that grace, love, and communion come from God.
And God comes to us with these gifts,
Paul hopes that God will bring these things into the troubled times
That require reconciliation. This is what is in a name.
So, what is in a name?
In naming God, the Scriptures try to talk about and with God,
Offering many different descriptions of who God is and the amazing things God has done.
For us, may we remember the importance that is bundled up in a name,
The name of God, and what that God has done, is doing, and will do for all of creation,