Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday – June 16, 2019
Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I just happened to be listening to the radio while I was in the car wash this past week when I heard part of an interview with Father Richard Rohr that grabbed my attention. He was talking about the fourteen years he spent as a chaplain at a jail in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Father Rohr said that it was rare to find anyone in jail who had a good father. He said while this was true for the women he met in jail, it was especially true for the men – who make up the vast majority of the jail population. It was rare to find anyone in jail – especially among the men – who had a good father. Father Rohr went on to say that (quoting now from a transcript of the interview), “We’ve got to start growing up men because the male of the species does not know how to hand on his identity, his intimacy, his caring to his children.”
Father Rohr then described the consequences of NOT growing up men to do these things. He said, “The rage in the young male who never had a dad or had an alcoholic father or emotionally unavailable father or abusive father is bottomless. It’s just — it moves out toward all of society.” The statistics for drug abuse and crime and teen pregnancies and suicides and dropping out of school certainly bear this out. The correlation between fatherlessness and these societal problems is undeniable, and it is a problem that has only been getting worse.
This is not to say that fatherlessness is an excuse for destructive behavior. There have been plenty of fatherless people who have risen above their circumstances and built good lives for themselves. Neither is it to blame all fathers for every wayward child. There are plenty of good fathers who have had children go astray for other reasons.
But I absolutely believe Father Rohr is on to something. I think his description of what fathers are called to do is especially profound. He says a father is to hand on his identity, his intimacy, and his caring to his children. Fathers are meant to be more than sperm donors, bringing children into existence and then going on their merry way. They are meant to give themselves to their children, to be present for their children, to be caring and loving towards their children.
You might be wondering what any of this had to do with either the Holy Trinity or with our scripture readings for today. You might be wondering if I’m using the occasion of Father’s Day to get on a soap box. That might be a little bit true, but I think this interview with Father Rohr actually has a lot to do with the Holy Trinity. I think it has a lot to do with a couple of our readings for this Holy Trinity Sunday. I think it has a lot to do with all of us here today.
The Holy Trinity is important for several reasons. It is a complex theological formula confessed in the creeds which both proclaims and safeguards the divinity of Christ. It is a doctrine gleaned from scripture (particularly John’s gospel) which describes the mystery of God being three distinct persons while remaining one God. The Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is also the proper name for God, given to us by Jesus himself as the name in which we baptize.
All of this is important. Every Christian adult should have some basic knowledge of the doctrine of the Trinity, if for no other reason than to know when that language is being used by other religious groups in different and non-Christian ways – which it often is!
But as important as it is to know what the Trinity is, it is also important to know what the Trinity does. God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – exists as a relationship. The three persons of the Trinity have eternally coexisted in a relationship of intimacy, a relationship of closeness, of love. And God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is always at work to draw us into this relationship. God is always at work among us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to give us precisely what Father Rohr describes as being so very important for all of us as human beings – to give us his identity, to give us his intimacy, to care for us as his children.
In our gospel reading for today, Jesus says that when the Spirit of truth comes, “he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The word “declare” in this verse is much more than merely saying something. To “declare” here is to impute, it is to give, it is to sign over. Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit’s job will be to take what belongs to Christ and give it to us, to transfer it all to us, to make it ours!
When Jesus was baptized, God the Father sent the Holy Spirit and said, “This is my beloved Son!” God gave Jesus his identity. Likewise, when we are baptized into Christ we are claimed, we are reborn as children of God, we are given our identity as beloved daughters and sons of God. It happens just as Jesus said: “The Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.” With that also comes Jesus’ righteousness, his standing before God, his eternal life! It is all given to us!
Jesus enjoyed an intimate relationship with God the Father, and he invites us into that same intimate relationship. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus taught them to call God their Father in heaven. This was not to make some point about God being male, it was an invitation for them to share the same relationship with God that he enjoyed. And as we pray to our Father in heaven, that’s precisely what happens. We have that same closeness to God that Jesus had. Again, just as Jesus said: “The Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
In our reading from Romans, St. Paul writes beautifully and powerfully of how God cares for us in the midst of our suffering. God doesn’t magically take away all our suffering, but God is present with us in the midst of it to give us endurance. God is present to use that suffering to cultivate godly character in us. Most importantly, God is present to fill us with hope. “And hope does not disappoint us,” Paul writes, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” God cares for us! God loves us!
All of us as human beings have a need to be given an identity, to be claimed by another. We have a need for intimacy, to live in close relationship. We have a need to be cared for and loved. Without these things we are lost! And God, who exists as a Holy Trinity, who has relationship at the very heart of his being, is constantly at work as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to draw us into relationship with him, so that we might know that we are claimed and close and cared for.
In my previous congregation there was a kid named Andy. Andy’s birth mother used drugs throughout her pregnancy, and so Andy was born addicted to cocaine. His biological father was nowhere in the picture. Andy could easily have ended up like so many of the young men Father Rohr encountered during his time as a jail chaplain, full of bottomless rage. But Andy was eventually adopted. He was claimed. He was given a new last name. He knew the intimacy not only of a very involved father, but also that of a mother and a big sister. He was well cared for and deeply loved. He was a toddler when he was adopted, and on the first Sunday after his adoption was finalized he came up into the chancel during the announcements and shouted, “I’m adopted! I’m adopted!” He said it over and over again, beaming with joy! Believe me, there wasn’t a dry eye in the sanctuary.
This is what God has done for you – for each and every one of you. God is not a Father who merely brought you into existence and went on his merry way. The God who has revealed himself to us as a Holy Trinity, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, has come to us in whatever circumstances we might find ourselves in to adopt us, to give us a new name, a new family, and a new future.
God has come to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to draw us into this holy relationship, that we would be filled with joy and peace, so that we would know who and whose we are, so that he might pour his love into our hearts.
God is at work among us even now as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit to give us all what we need the most: his identity, his intimacy, and his caring.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church