Finding the Trinity in the Sacraments and in Our Brother, George Floyd

A sermon based on Matthew 28:16-20
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on June 6, 2020
by Rev. Scott Elliott

In our last two worship services we discussed the Luke/Acts narratives of the Ascension and Pentecost. You may recall that the end story for Jesus – as a resurrected man– in that narrative is quite different than the one we heard Laura just read so nicely from Matthew. In Luke and Acts Jesus meets the disciples in Jerusalem, leads them to nearby Bethany and then ascends to heaven. Then on Pentecost– ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven– the Holy Spirit returned descending from heaven like wind and flames to make the church out of Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem.
Matthew does not have the Ascension or the Pentecost stories. Matthew concludes with a different ending to Jesus’ resurrection. As we heard, in Matthew the resurrected Jesus meets the disciples on a mountain in Galilee (far from Jerusalem) and instead of the Ascension and Pentecost, the story ends with Jesus’ final words which declare Jesus’ authority; command a response to that authority; and finish with an astounding promise. Listen to those words again, we are told,
Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Today is Trinity Sunday on the church calendar and since it is the first Sunday of the month we also have the sacrament of communion today. Protestants have two Sacraments– communion and baptism. As we heard, our Lectionary text refers to baptism in the name of the three aspects of God, which church doctrines later label “The Trinity.” Those three aspects, personas, are the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, or as we also often call them today: Creator, Christ and Spirit.
One of the most interesting aspects of Matthew’s ending is that the resurrected Jesus does not ascend, but remains with his followers. The last thing Jesus says is “remember I am with you always, to the end of this age.” That end is a fulfillment of the beginning of Matthew where the angel of the Lord predicted that the Christ child would be called“Emmanuel which means, ‘God is with us.’” Christ – God incarnate– is with us always to the end of the age. That’s the astounding promise in Jesus’ last words. And we know the risen Jesus has been experienced as the Christ– God incarnate– because we are told “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [him].” Because of that, Jesus followers – Christians– are supposed to make more disciples, baptize and teach what Jesus taught and to get folks to follow those teachings.
Since both baptism and communion come up today on this Trinity Sunday I thought I’d suggest connections of the Trinity to those Sacraments, and a tragic event that is on the minds of the world. I am asking and suggesting answers to these two questions. Where can we find the Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit in baptism and communion? Where can we find that Trinity in our brother, George Floyd’s, tragic death.
Well let’s start with how the Trinity might be found symbolically, metaphorically, in our Sacraments. The Trinity, as a doctrine and concept, did not exist until the third century, but it came out of language like Jesus uses at the end of Matthew. So we can retrofit Creator, Christ and Spirit into baptisms in that respect already. But where might those aspects of God be beyond the universal declaration of baptism in the “name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?” One way is to find them symbolized in the Holy Water; the vessel holding the Holy Water; and in each participant. Water represents the Spirit, as form of essential ingredient for life. Water is the lifeblood of existence needed to animate us. Like water the Spirit animates creation– including us– toward an ever evolving existence, to just live for sure, but also to move toward our best living. The spirit is constantly beckoning us to well being of all.
While the Spirit is metaphorically represented in the “lifeblood” of Holy Water, The Creator is metaphorically represented in whatever contains that Holy Water for delivery. Whether it is an earthen bowl or a shell, or a large baptismal pool or a huge river channel or the ocean shores. It is the Creator’s creation that cradles and contains the spirit flowing forth to animate us.
And we can understand the Christ part of the Trinity to be present in the people at baptism. Those who remember and promise to be Christ-like in existence. We promise that to the baptized, to one another and to God. We are necessary to create the experiential reality of Christ.
To use the names Jesus uses in the reading, the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit unite in more than name at a baptism, they unite in the coming together of the water, the vessel and the gathered. They help us experience God who is everywhere all the time, and can be understood to be symbolized in the water, the baptismal and the gathered. All three are present and remain with us always.
We can find wonderful metaphors for the Trinity in communion too. At first glance it seems there are only two elements in communion, the bread and the cup, but there is a third element that must be added to make God’s presence known. Again . . . it is . . . us . . . the human participants. Just like at baptism we are an essential element to the experience of God incarnate (CHRIST!) at the Table.
That is not to say that God does not exist without humankind, but rather that without our presence at the Sacraments, they are not effective . . . We must be there to make God known to us. It’s sort of fundamental, that God – who IS everywhere all the time– is not perceived without our taking the action of being at the Table. We must be present to perceive.
A sacrament is defined by theologians as “an outward sign instituted by God to convey an inward OR spiritual grace.” The “convey” part indicates that humans MUST BE THERE TO RECEIVE THE GRACE. God is not perceived without perception, without our awareness. Sacraments are a means for us to convey . . . perceive . . . grace and God, all three aspects of the Trinity, Creator, Christ and Spirit.
There are many ways to understand the Sacrament of Communion. One way is to think of Communion bread representing not just the physical body of Jesus made of dust like the rest of humanity, but also the physical part of God in creation, the Creator’s work –and the Creator part of God, named “Father” in our lesson today.
And a way to think of the communion drink, the wine or juice –what we have in our cup today– is not just as the blood of Jesus poured out for us, but as the lifeblood of existence, the Spirit that is God’s very own breath coursing in the fluid that conveys that Holy breath to, and through, our hearts. That Spirit poured out for us moves us toward an ever evolving existence to our best being. The fluid in the cup can be understood to symbolize that, like water in baptism.
When we gather at the Lord’s Table and partake of the physical and spiritual aspects of God we do not just remember Christ, but have the promise of becoming Christ in word and deed, alone and together. We are – just as in baptism– the third element of communion which is necessary to create an experiential reality of Christ who is with us always whether we perceive it or not. We can understand that “the Son” is in us and acts through US!!!
In this way the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit unite as we mindfully gather and partake of the Lord’s Supper. The Creator, Christ and Spirit make us all– as Paul put it– one in Christ. This serves to allow us to experience Christ with and in us at the table, and can serve to empower us to take Christ out in the world in word and deed. One way Christ is with us always to the end of time is in those words and deeds – as we obey Jesus’ teachings and teach others to too. The Creator is in all the physical world. The Spirit is in all life and the beckoning to best-ness. Christ is in our awareness of, and response to the awe, wonder and love of God out there, but also in each human whether or not we are aware of it. Genesis can be heard to sum this all up, we are all made in God’s image. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 25 that Christ is with us not just in OUR responsive words and deeds, but actually in all people– equally. Again as Genesis puts it, we are all made in God’s image. In Matthew 25 Jesus focused on Christ’s presence in the least among us.
With all that has gone on these past two weeks in our nation, we must now turn to somberly discuss and remember that Jesus specifically mentions Christ is present in those who are imprisoned, those rightly or wrongly in the custody of the law. Whatever we do to the least among us including those marginalized by the culture, including those in the custody of the law we do to Christ. I want to end this sermon making sure we ponder where the Trinity in reality was, and is, in the terrible loss of the life of George Floyd, how we treated him is how we treated Christ, how we treated the image of God– and it was awful.
Jesus repeatedly refers to the Creator part of God as “Father.” Jesus did this get us to understand that humanity is family, all of us are brothers and sisters. Jesus meant this to be taken literally. Our brother George Floyd, was Christ in the custody of the law. God’s very image being brutally mistreated. Horrifically this brother and bearer of Christ and God’s very own image HAD a color of skin that caused him to be treated as least among us, as less than the equal human the Creator made him to be and the Creator loved him.
Because of the horrific continuing sinful existence of racism, Jesus’ teachings were not followed and George Floyd was treated as less than our brother, and less that the bearer of Christ Jesus whom taught us he was. Jesus pointed out that nations are judged by how they treat Christ in those the culture treats as less than, as least among us. Those who are poor, hungry, sick and imprisoned. Christ, in our brother George Floyd, was treated as horribly as possible because he was in custody of the law and because our culture wrongfully –sinfully- allowed him to be considered as a least among us. The Spirit of life, God’s very own breath was cut off, as our brother George Floyd cried “I can’t breathe.”
God’s very own creation in the person and body of our brother George Floyd was callously pinned to a street, cuffed and knelt upon by three armed men indifferent to George Floyd being a goodly part of THE Creator and creation. Just as indifferent as they were to the Holy Spirit within George Floyd being cut off. Just as indifferent as to how they were mistreating Christ in George Floyd, our brother. Just as indifferent as our nation as a whole has continued to allow systemic and cultural racism to exist as we turn a blind eye to the ungodly, unjust, unloving, unequal, manner in which our brothers and sisters– brothers and sisters– are treated when their skin color (skin color!) is of a darker hue.
Reading and hearing and seeing images of our brother George Floyd being abused and murdered caused Christ in all of us to be appalled. Christ who is with us always is crying out and has been heard in our very souls. And Christ in us is now crying out in words and deeds from the mass majority of souls in our nation and a good part of the world. Christ in humankind is crying out against injustice – and for justice NOW!
Justice means to provide what is due. What is due, simply put, is a full and equal honoring of the Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit – THE IMAGE OF GOD– in every human being, so there are no least among us. So there is no more ungodly mistreatment of people because their skin is Black. Jesus taught us that all our brothers and sisters, most especially maginalized and captive people like George Floyd, must be understood and treated as no less than our siblings, as no less than Christ among us! See, what we do to others, we do to Christ and Creator and Holy Spirit. WE. DO. TO. THE. ENTIRE. IMAGE. OF. GOD!!!!
And I please note I said “understood AND treat,” nodding that we understand is not enough, the doing part of equal and just treatment of everyone must be our response. We must insist on it. We must treat all humans as beloved siblings. We must treat all humans as having the whole of the Trinity in their being and breath. We must insist that our culture and institutions treat every human life as an equal image of God. All lives must matter, which means – without question– that Black lives must matter.
The sacraments are “an outward sign instituted by God to convey an inward OR spiritual grace.” On Jesus’ Way we are to strive to make the outward presence of God in our understandings and actions that work to bring grace to every single one of our brother and sister humans. Jesus taught that our nation will be judged by whether we succeed.
The good news, is that in words and deeds from the mass majority of souls in this nation and a good part of the world, much of humankind is crying out for justice. Now we must act so that those cries are heard and acted upon by our nation as a whole, so that no brother or sister of ours, no person with the presence of Christ within, no one goodly made by the Creator and filled with the breath of God’s Spirit is mistreated again because of skin color. Ever. Anywhere. By anyone.
May we hear and act upon those cries and be apart of Christ with–us now to the end of the ages!!! AMEN.