As I prepare to enter my 8th and final year of seminary study, I can safely say that I’ve been thoroughly ruined as a human being. I will probably never be able to listen to a sermon without wondering what I would have preached instead. Even with seven years of dad jokes in my bag-o-tricks, I’ll never be able to fully break free from the niche market of church jokes. Worst of all, I’ll never attend a worship service without an ongoing and sometimes brutal Mystery-Science-Theater-3000-esque stream of criticism running through my mind. After all, we all know there is only one difference between a terrorist and a liturgist. You can negotiate with a terrorist.
In preparing to preach one of the most difficult Sundays of the church year, my liturgical training is trying to overpower my theological training which is trying to stamp out my homeltical training that is based on the very solid Biblical training I received at VTS, and that might be a good thing. Reading the lessons appointed for Trinity Sunday, Year C, I’m noticing a strong Holy Spirit theme. The Father gets a nod, the Son does some speaking and some saving, but the texts really seem focused less on the doctrine of the Trinity and more on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. With my liturgy senses tingling, I noticed that the title for this Sunday isn’t just “Trinity Sunday,” but rather “The First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday.” If you buy into the primacy of place rule of Prayer Book studies, then the more important title for this day is “The First Sunday after Pentecost,” or as I call it “Pentecost 2.0.”
The truth of the matter is that most of western Christianity is pretty strongly Binitarian.
We have a pretty decent understanding of God the Father who created heaven and earth. We’ve got the Gospels to tell us about Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. The key to becoming fully Trinitarian Christians is a deeper understanding and experience of the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, but even our foundational creed, the Apostles’ Creed, does nothing more than mention the Spirit as something we believe in on par with the holy catholic Church, the communion of saint, and the forgiveness of sins.
Maybe the key to a strong Trinity Sunday sermon would be to unpack what Paul and Jesus have to say about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the world. The sermon need not dig to the level of the perichoretic dance to be a fruitful teaching on the Trinity. Instead, it seems like in a world that lacks Biblical and theological literacy, a fuller understanding of all three Persons would suffice.