Sermons 2005
Trinity: A Theological Exploration, 22 May 2005, Matthew 28:16-20

Home | "The One who is coming after me", Advent 2B, 4 December 2005, Mark 1:1-8 | "Stay awake. Be alert" Advent 1B, 27 November 2005, Mark13:24-37 | "Black Hat vs White Hat" Proper 26A, 30 October 2005, Matthew 23:1-12 | "Sheep and Goats -- again!" Proper 29A, 20 November 2005, Matthew 25:31-46 | "The Greatest Commandment" Proper 25A, 23 October 2005 Matthew 22: 34-46 | God and Caesar, Proper 24A, 16 October 2005, Matthew 22:15-22 | The Wedding Banquet, Proper 23A, 9 October 2005, Matthew 22:1-14 | The Landlord and the Tenants, Proper 22A , 2 October 2005, Matthew 21:33-43 | "Who will go?" Proper 21A, 25 September 2005, Matthew 21:28-32 | "The Last shall be first", Proper 20A, 18 September 2005, Matthew 20:1-16 | "Forgiveness, grace, and mercy", Proper 19A, 11 September 2005, Matthew 18:21-35 | "But who do YOU say that I am?" Proper 16A, 21 August 2005, Matthew 16:13-20 | "O God, how can we sing to you...." Katrina Relief, 4 September 2005 | "The kingdom of heaven is like...." Proper 12A, 24 July 2005, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a | "The wheat and the tares", Proper 11A, 17 July 2005, Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 | "Ears to listen", Proper 10A, 10 July 2005, Matthew 15:1-9, 18-23 | "A cup of cold water", Proper 8A, 26 June 2005, Matthew 10:34-42 | "Heseth: lovingkindness, not sacrifice", Proper 5A , 5 June 2005, Matthew 9:9-13; Hosea 6:6 | Trinity: A Theological Exploration, 22 May 2005, Matthew 28:16-20 | The Baptism of Parker Benjamin Throckmorton, Pentecost Sunday, 15 May 2005 | "Receive the Holy Spirit" Pentecost , 15 May 2005, John 20: 19-23 | "Unity or schism?" Easter 7A, 8 May 2005, John 17:1-11 | "Abide in me", Easter 6A, 1 May 2005, John 15:1-8 | "The Way, the Truth, and the Life", Easter 5A , 24 April 2005, John 14:1-14 | "Saint Thomas the Doubter", Easter 2A, 3 April 2005, John 20:19-31 | "The Lord is Risen Indeed!", Easter A , 27 March 2005, Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:1-18 | "The Shadow of the Cross", Passion Sunday A, 20 March 2005, Matthew 26:36-27:66 | Raising of Lazarus", Lent 5A, 13 March 2005, Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-44 | "Who are the blind?" Lent 4A, 6 March 2005, John 9:1-38 | "Water and Living Water", Lent 3A, 27 February 2005, John 4:5-42 | Baptized and Born Again", Lent 2A, 20 February 2005, John 3:1-17 | Temptation and the Kingdom of God, Lent 1A, 13 February 2005, Matthew 4:1-11 | "'Tis good to be here, " Epiphany Last A, 6 February 2005, Matthew 17:1-9 | "Follow me!" Epiphany 3A, 23 January 2005, Matthew 4:12-23 | "Come and See!" Epiphany 2A, 16 January 2005, John 1:29-41 | The Baptism of our Lord -- and Ours, Epiphany 1A, 9 January 2005, Matthew 3:13-17 | Christmas 2A: The Tsunami, God, and our Neighbor", Matthew 2, 2 January 2005 | Next Sunday to be posted soon

Trinity A 2005 Matthew 28:16-20

There’s a story about a certain two beggars who were standing at the gate of a mansion house. They are trying to enter and beg. But in front of the gate is a huge, ferocious, growling watchdog.

The two beggars hesitate, afraid of what the dog might do. "Go ahead," one encourages the other, "see there the dog is barking but he also is wagging his tail. Why don’t you go on in." The other replies, "That's my problem. I don't know which end to believe."

Often, as we watch the contradicting signs in life's arena -- rejection and reconciliation; destruction and healing; violence and gentility, poverty and wealth; we wonder which end we should believe.

We hesitate, we wonder, we ask: "How can we expect to enrich our lives in the middle of such contradictions?

We cry out, "Why doesn't somebody do something to about it all?"

That somebody is we! We have been given the task for our time and place.

A sparrow is sent to do a sparrow's work, so to speak. An elephant is sent to do an elephant's work. But humans are sent to do a divine work, the work that God has called us to do.

We have in this world of ours an animal level, a human level and a divine level. If we choose to live on the animal level of brute strength and gratification of physical needs, we will not be long content with such a way of life. It is all right at times, but we are moral and spiritual beings whose longings cannot be satisfied forever in animal ways.

If we choose to live on the human level, depending on human resources for our fulfillment, much help will be given us. Other people will help. Institutions and organizations will help. But human effort alone is both limited and insufficient at best.

If we choose to live on the divine level, depending on God for our fulfillment, we will have the help of God the Triune, the One-in-Three, whose strength never fails.

And so that is one analogous way to begin to think about the great mystery of the Trinity. Granted, a poor analogy, but a beginning. And in the end all analogies fail to help us understand completely that which can not be understood at all. But which end to believe?

Another analogy: the nature of human beings has been compared to a milking stool. A milking stool is three-legged. If one leg is shorter than the others, the stool will be out of balance and will topple. It cannot stand erect. An unbalanced milking stool cannot do its thing.

We human beings also need to be in balance if we are to stand erect and do the work we have been given to do. We devote much attention to mental development, acquiring knowledge, getting an education. We devote much attention to physical development. But do we devote enough attention to the third leg of our stool: our spiritual development? If we do not, our human nature is out of balance and teetering, in danger of toppling over. (1)

It was the great Anglican divine Richard Hooker who immortalized this analogy of the stool for classical Anglicanism. Scripture, tradition, and reason were the three legs of the stool by which Anglicans – Episcopalians – understand God, pursue theological inquiry, and govern the Church. Like Father Son, and Holy Spirit, in the Trinity, scripture, tradition, and reason each have validity. Each acted as a balance and support for the others. So when we Episcopalians hear Biblical texts used as the only necessary proof of the correctness of a position, we rightfully are skeptical of motive and outcome. Even though Scripture was the most important leg for Hooker, its interpretation depended one more than just the literal text – the text had to be understood and tested by the tradition and God-given human reason. Not for Hooker and not for true Anglicans can it be sola scriptura: Scripture alone and only scripture.

Hooker, like the great late medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas, built upon the work left them by Augustine of Hippo. De Trinitate is Augustine’s brilliant statement of the Western understanding of the Trinity which has shaped our theological enterprise for over a millennium and a half.

Augustine stressed unity of essence and Trinity of Persons. Each Person of the Trinity possesses the entire essence of the Triune God. And thus each is in this way identical with the essence and with each one of the other two. Moreover each one is not and can never be separate from each of the others. (2) One essence in three Persons.

The classical modern analogy to explain the Augustinian description is that of the most commonplace substance on the planet: water. Water has three physical forms: vapor, liquid, and ice. Each is physically different but chemically the same H2O. One essence – H2O – in three forms of vapor, liquid, and ice.

Augustine himself used analogies to explain what he meant. His most valuable contribution was that of the Vestigia Trinitatis. From the beginning of humankind there were vestiges of the divine Trinity in humankind. Although usually called Augustine’s psychological analogy, it draws its inspiration from Augustine’s understanding of the structure of the human soul.

Insofar as creatures exist at all they exist by participating in the ideas of God. Everything therefore must reflect, however faintly, the Trinity which created it. In humanity this finds its highest expression in a creature. In the human process of perception, for example, there are three distinct elements which are at the same time closely united and of which the first in a sense begets the second while the third binds the other two together. Augustine understood these three as the external object (that which is perceived), the mind’s sensible representation of it, and the act of focusing the mind – the perception itself.

Even when the external object is removed, Augustine believed there to be another, more superior, Vestigia Trinitatis., located entirely within the mind and therefore of one and the same substance. There is the memory impression, the internal memory image or mental visualization of the object that was perceived, and lastly the focusing of the mind or will upon the memory itself. But for the actual image of the Triune God Augustine looked to the human soul and in the soul to its rational nature which Augustine considered the most lofty and God-like part of a human being.

Augustine pondered Trinitarian analogies until the end of his days. One of the two most familiar involve love: the lover (the one who loves), the beloved (that which is loved), and love itself which strives to unite them. He also gave various analogies involving the triad of being, knowing, and willing. He concluded that only when the mind has focused itself with all its powers of remembering, loving and understanding upon its Creator, it is only then that the image the mind or soul has of God, corrupted as it is by human weakness and sin, can be fully restored.

Augustine knew that any analogy fails ultimately because no human effort is ever perfect, ever holy. God alone – and only God – is perfect and holy. But in the theological enterprise it is like stained glass, mosaics, or paintings: at best they can only represent or be symbols of the ultimate reality; they can never become that reality in fact. (3)

And so we have come to another Trinity Sunday, knowing a little more, perhaps, understanding a little more, hopefully, but humble creatures who know that we shall never get it all in this life.


1. Adapted by an essay by C.V. Emory entitled, "Levels of Living." In “Which end to believe”, Voicings Sunday Sermon for 22 May 2005.
2. Louis Berkhoff, the History of Christian Doctrines, Baker, p. 92.
3. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed., Harper-Collins, pp. 271-278.

Wicomico Parish Church, Wicomico Church, Virginia 22579