Out From the Center

A Sermon based on Psalm 8 and Matthew 28:16-20 preached on May 31st, 2015

Holy, Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty…God in three persons, blessed Trinity

I believe in God, the Father Almighty…and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord…I believe in the Holy Spirit…

I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all…

These words are central to our faith. They’ve echoed off of church walls, and have been heard by the heavens for centuries upon centuries as faithful followers of Christ have gathered together to shout their praises to our Triune God. Some we say or sing every week in worship—all of them pointing to a God who had revealed himself to us in 3 ways—who is present with us in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who keeps opening our minds and the eyes of our hearts to the continuing witness and presence of our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

So, today we come to lend our voices to the ongoing song of praise that all of creation sings to our awe-inspiring God. And whatever praise we offer will come from the center of our being and flow outward until, with the praise of others who worship with us, praise of our God packs the heavens with our voices.

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Jill Shargaa is a comedian who got her start back in the 1970’s. She sold her first one-liner to Joan Rivers for $9. She’s been writing and performing ever since. Just 2 years ago, she gave a TED Talk to a small audience in New York City, titled: Please, please people, let’s put the ‘awe’ back in ‘awesome.’ Her talk was video recorded as most TED Talks are and has been viewed 1.2 million times. You can watch it on TED.com. In her frustrated and anxious way, kinda like the female version of Lewis Black, Jill Shargaa says that we’re using the word awesome wrong.

She starts with a story about dining at an outdoor café and her server came up to her and she asked her,

Have you ever dined here before?

Jill said, Yes, I have!

and the server said, Awesome!

Really? Awesome? She argues that the overuse of the word awesome has replaced words like great and thank you.

The definition of the word awe is: fear mingled with admiration or reverence. A feeling produced by something majestic or sublime. So, Jill asks us, with that in mind, was that milkshake you got at Sonic or that burger you had at 5 Guys really awesome? How about your favorite soccer teams’ new uniforms? Or that parking space you got at the mall? She thinks not. Milkshakes are delicious. So are Five Guy’s burgers. New uniforms are nice. Nearby parking spaces are, well…nearby. But none of those things are awesome. Not everything can be awesome. She argues that when we use the word awesome to describe everything, we take away the very power of the word.

She goes on to list a few things that are truly awesome: the invention of the wheel, the great pyramids, childbirth, the Grand Canyon—80 million years old, how about landing on the moon?

And here’s a question for us who are Christian: If everything is awesome, where does that leave God? The fact is, in the face of that kind of awesome, I’ve never eaten an awesome meal, or taken an awesome vacation. I’ve never heard an awesome song, or seen an awesome movie. If everything is awesome, then nothing is. We need something left to describe the breathtaking, and the grandiose, and the divine. We lack language to articulate the fullness of our Triune God—the 3-in-1, the 1-in-3. Try to wrap your heads around that: our God has come to us in 3 persons. That’s awesome.

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Today is Trinity Sunday, and we could get caught up talking about the fuzzy arithmetic of it all—3-in-1, 1-in-3. How does that work? We could get caught up in the geometry of it all. If we were to diagram this Triune God, would we draw and Triangle with God at the top and God’s “junior partners” (Jesus and the Holy Spirit) below?

There have come plenty before us who have had these arguments and discussed among one another these finer points. In the 4th Century, some Trinitarian Fathers sentenced other Trinitarian Fathers to death because their ideas about how the Trinity worked were off by a little. All those particularities and arguments and diagrams are noise. We can’t figure God out with arithmetic or geometry. To this day, we can get overly precise about these things and drive each other and ourselves up the wall. We talk the Trinity and think the Trinity to pieces when what we should do is try our best to live and love into the image of it. Anything more than that drives us farther and farther away from the wonder of our Triune God and the real reason why call ourselves Christians in the first place: because we have a God who, from the very beginning of time, has pursued us relentlessly, who loves us immensely, and who has revealed Himself and is with us in Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. And that, friends, is truly awesome.

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St. John of Damascus was known as the “Golden Speaker.” He was a Syrian monk and priest in the Eastern Orthodox tradition who was born somewhere around 675 A.D. He’s the one who gave us the image we have on our bulletin covers this morning.

While we in the West tend to celebrate and assert our power through hierarchical power-plays where the point of it all—life, career, you name it, is to climb higher and become more powerful than the other—the East tends to celebrate and desire something flatter, more equal. So instead of thinking of the Trinity as a triangle where God seems to be higher than Jesus or the Holy Spirit, shouting down orders to them and us from above, St. John of Damascus wanted us to think about our Triune God like an interlaced, interconnected whole where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are like dancers in a circle dance—their very existence bound up in one another—not one separate in any way from each other, all three one in being and purpose. No one above or below, no one in control or being controlled, no 1st, 2nd, or 3rd. That’s how is it with God. And as we talked about two weeks ago, that is how it’s to be with us—not one of us more important than the other. The very being of God is an invitation into relationship and is a model of unity for us.

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And, as you can see, each person of the Trinity in this picture on your bulletin cover is like a spiral. They start in the center and they radiate outward into ever-widening circles. That’s the message from Matthew for us on this Trinity Sunday. We are people who are called out from the center to go into the world and make disciples of all peoples—all nations. To draw them into relationship with God just as God has drawn us into relationship with Him.

We are being called through this Great Commission to go out and widen the circles of God’s Kingdom by sharing our stories—our lives—with others, so that they may know what love really is: it’s living in, staying connected to, and centering ourselves in the God who has come to us through Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—to give witness to the awe and wonder of God and to point it out to others so they can see it all around them. We have been commissioned out from the center to embody God’s love and grace and radiate it outward for all to witness.

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This is the only time in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus comes to His disciples after His Easter resurrection. The disciples get one glimpse and that’s it. And in order to see Jesus at all, they have to travel all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee—way out there. Jerusalem was where their fellow Jews were. Galilee was out of bounds—full of gentiles. But that’s where Jesus wanted them. That’s where their task of making Jesus-followers would begin. Among those unlikely people.

Jesus calls us out from the center and into the world. He promises His presence and His power will stay with us no matter where we go, but Jesus commissions us outward so that we can give witness to the awe and wonder of our God, promising no matter how far out we go, He will be with us every day and everywhere.

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In just a little while, we will sing a Trinitarian hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy! It’s full of some of the most beautiful images in our hymnal.

Holy, Holy, Holy! All the saints adore Thee, casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.

We are invited to circle up around the Triune God, who is the Center of Unbroken Praise, and give our greatest to this God.

Holy, Holy, Holy! Cherubim and Seraphim falling down before Thee, who wert and art and evermore shalt be.

God is our past, present, and future. 

Perfect in power, love, and purity. Everything happens in 3’s! God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

These words, they radiate outward for all to hear. Holy, Holy, Holy!

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Friends, we have an awesome God, and we have been given an awesome task: to call one another into relationship, to move out from the center, and be living witnesses to the Awesome One who is 3-in-1.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

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