June 12

“Trinity Affinity”

By Marsh Chapel

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John 16:12-15

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Today is Trinity Sunday.  Today we celebrate our God who is Triune, a Trinity in a Unity, Three in One and One in Three, One God in Holy Community, co-equal, co-eternal, distinct as Persons and of one essence, nature, power, action, and will.  Where one Person of the Trinity is active, the other two are always present.

This is a lot to explore in one Sunday of the year, even more so a lot to explore in one sermon. So the lectionary compilers have chosen three texts for this morning to describe a particular activity of each Person of the Trinity.  And, these texts together also suggest the unity of the Trinity’s activity, to promote the expansion of love and justice in our everyday life of faith.  In the particularities of the texts and in their togetherness, the lectionary compilers invite us to consider the affinity that we as people of faith do have with the Trinity of God.

“Affinity”, from the Latin ad fini, “to border”.  Its current usage is now diverse in a number of areas of human life.  For our purposes this morning the most applicable definitions are four: (1) understanding or close connection because of similar interests, ideas, or qualities; (2) kinship, either by blood or adoption; (3) a natural attraction to or liking for someone or something; (4) a likeness based on relationship or causal connection.  Our “Trinity Affinity”, our connections/likenesses/attraction – kinship even – with each Person of the Trinity can be seen in specific ways from our texts this morning.

The Psalmist praises God as Creator:  creator of the universe, of human beings, of earthly creation, of human dignity and purpose.  God as Creator has given human beings everything that they need, from daily provision to the beauty of creation to divine mindfulness and care.  And while some of us no longer claim dominion over creation, just as God does not claim dominion over us, we experience affinity with God the Creator:  in the satisfaction of being creators ourselves, in the appreciation of the great benefits of all kinds provided by the diversity inherent in the earth itself and in our companion creatures, and in the mutual caring and being cared for in our relationships with God, self, neighbor, and creation,

Paul in his letter to the church at Rome describes the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as “obtaining for us” – the grace of God in which we stand, and the peace with God we experience, as people of faith in Christ.  Our affinities with Jesus are based in his sharing of our human life and body, and in the transformation of our human slavery to sin and death to a life of hope.  So we can even boast of our hope of our sharing in God’s glory.  We can even boast of our sufferings, our affinities with Jesus in his sufferings.  Because with him we come to know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.  And the hope we have, in grace and peace, does not disappoint, because we have been given the Holy Spirit, who pours God’s love into our hearts toward new life and possibility.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth, who will guide us as people of faith into all of the truth that we have from Jesus, and through Jesus all of the truth that we have from the Person that Jesus called “father”.  For us, just as for the first believers, that truth will be revealed as we can bear it.  Our affinity with the Spirit lies in its truthfulness – we have explored before the evils of falsehood, and truth is something we increasingly need and are drawn to, for our personal lives, for our communities, for our nation – even if it is hard to bear and it often seems so unbelievable in its having no precedent.  Our affinity with the Spirit lies also in Its promise of guidance, and thus Its promise of companion-

ship, of close connection, of continuing communication with God in faith and trust, of continuing empowerment.

These three texts each describe a particular activity of one of the Persons of the Trinity.

Each person, of course, also manifests many other activities in our lives of faith.  So how do these individual qualities suggest the unity of the Trinity’s activity in our lives?  What does this unity look like in relation to us?

We are now in a preaching series on Lukan Biblical Theology, in case you didn’t know.  Luke’s Book of Acts is an account of the life of the very early church, which was made up first of the first Jewish followers of Jesus, and then began to expand to include Gentiles – that would be most of us.  And while our text from Acts is not part of the lectionary readings for this morning, it is Lukan, and it serves as one example of the Trinity’s activity in Peter’s life and in the lives of a number of others at the time.

Our text is Peter’s summary of what happened:  first, of what led him to visit with uncircumcised men and their community, ie., Gentiles, and to eat food with them, from who-knew-where it had been; and then second, of what led him to have to give an account as to why he had done these things.  The details of these events are in the previous chapter of Acts 10.  In our text this morning Peter describes what he was asked to do, and how he was asked to do it.

First, as he prayed, he was given a vision, the same vision three times, so it was important:  a sheet came down from heaven, holding all kinds of animals, birds, and reptiles.  A voice told Peter to get up, kill one or some of the animals, and eat.  Peter refused, as he had never eaten anything unclean.  But the voice told him that if God has made something clean, Peter must not call it profane, unclean in the sense of not holy or unsanctified.  Immediately after the three-time vision, three strangers arrived from Caesarea in Judea, which was a major port city that served as an administrative hub for the occupying Roman Empire.  Peter very matter-of-factly states here that the Spirit told him to go with them, and not to make any distinction

Between them and Peter and his six companions.  They all went to Caesarea and ended up at the house of Cornelius, not only a Gentile but a Roman centurion of the occupying forces.  There they met him, his relatives, and his close friends.  As Peter began to witness to them about the life and work of Jesus, the Holy Spirit came to these Gentiles just as it had to the Jewish believers at Pentecost.  Peter then remembered the words of Jesus, that believers in him would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  Peter then realized that God was at work in giving these Gentiles the same gift of the Spirit that the apostles and brothers and sisters and uncircumcised believers and their families had been given.  He acted on what he had learned, and baptized Cornelius and his family and friends.  He even stayed with them for a while longer, and continued to eat their food.  For, as he said, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”  Peter and his companions had learned that God now intended to expand the fellowship of believers even to the Gentiles, that new experiences across societal and cultural boundaries await them.  And at the end of the story, those who called Peter to account were silenced, and in that silence chose to learn too, and praised God for their new reality of Gentiles as companions in faith in the church.

In this text, all three Persons are present, and while again there are particular aspects of each of their Person active and recognizable, they all also are present as the Unity in what they invite Peter and his companions to do.  And by extension, they are present as the Unity in what they invite those who questioned Peter’s actions to do.  The Creator is present with Peter as he prays, and in a three-time version of the diversity of creation in food that previously Peter would never have considered as acceptable nourishment.  The Creator is present in a voice inviting him to accept this diversity as good and nourishing, because God by creating it as edible had declared it to be so.  Jesus is present with Peter, alive again with him in Peter’s witness to Cornelius and

his family and friends of Jesus’ life and work, and alive again with him in Peter’s memory of what Jesus taught him about the Spirit – helping him to trust that what was happening with Cornelius and his family was indeed of God the unity of God, and that what Peter was moved to do was the right response.  The Holy Spirit is present with Peter, in prayer, in the guidance through vision and strangers and direct communication, in Cornelius’ witness to what was happening in his life, and unmistakably in the Spirit’s gift of its baptism to Gentiles.  The Unity of the Three Persons of God is at work with one purpose:  to expand the fellowship of believers to include the Gentiles, to create a new unity that would be strengthened and enriched by the diversity now included in the new reality of the Church.

The Triune God in this text, one God in Holy Community, shows itself both as Persons and as Unity to have one character as well.  That character in this text is one of invitation and inclusion: of individuals and of communities, across societal, cultural, even religious and political, boundaries.  In that invitation and inclusion, The Trinity’s presence and activity, in Persons and in Unity, often lead to consequences.  Two of them are particularly noticeable in this text.

One is disagreement, even conflict.  Those who called Peter to account were upset not only because he visited with Gentiles – Romans, even.  But because Peter visited with them and ate Gentile food, they also saw Peter as violating the dietary and ritual laws of their culture and society and their view of their religion.  And while these particular believers in the end also chose to learn what Peter had learned about the purposes of God, and chose to accept the inclusion of Gentiles into the fellowship, these disagreements about the necessity of circumcision and food taboos for Gentile believers lasted in the rest of the church for a long time, as noted in the letters of Paul.

The other consequence, more far-ranging even than disagreement, is change.  In order to continue in the life of faith, everyone in this text is facing change to a rather high degree.  Cornelius and his family and friends are entering a new life of faith, with all the disconnects from their familiar religious, societal, cultural, and even political surroundings that that new life will entail.  It will take time and persistence to become a part of this new community, and some of it will not be easy.  And, there are also the possibilities and opportunities such change brings with it:  the peace and grace that Jesus has obtained for them; the truth, guidance, companionship, communication, and empowerment of the Holy Spirit; the expanded vision of God’s creation and their place and purpose in it.  Peter and the apostles and the first Jewish believers must face change too.  With the inclusion of Gentiles into the fellowship, they are invited to welcome these strangers who God has given, and help them to integrate into the community.  At the same time, they must make their own changes:  as to what they may have thought was possible, as to what they now must learn to get along and to appreciate these strangers and the different perspectives they bring, as to how they see themselves now in relationship to an expanding inclusive God and their own place and purpose in the world, and as to how to move into sudden uncertainty from sure and certain familiarity.  And, there are also the possibilities and opportunities that such change brings with it:  the power and possibilities that just more people can bring; new ideas and experiences that increase the wonder of God, self, neighbor, creation; a shaking of stodgy ways into new enthusiasm and creativity; an expanded vision of creation and their place and purpose in it.

Of course, our world now is very different from the world of Peter and the early church and its changes.  And, it is not different at all.  God still invites and includes, and that presence and activity of invitation and inclusion still has consequences:  of conflict and change, and of opportunity and joy.  As people of faith, we are still asked to do what Peter did:  to pray, to be open to and learn from visions given by God in their many forms, to respond to strangers and make no distinctions between us and them, to get up, to go, to visit, to listen, to witness, to look for the signs of creation, incarnation, and truth in the world – signs of the Three and the One of God, to learn from them and act on them, to expand our thinking and cross boundaries, to continue to expand God’s work of invitation and inclusion.

And we still celebrate the Triune God on Trinity Sunday.  Because with all of this, not only does God in the Three and the One invite us to accept them into our lives.  God in the Three and the One invites us into Their lives too, into the diversity of their glory as Persons, and into their Unity which is the great paradox of holy freedom.  On this Trinity Sunday of 2022, as people of faith surrounded by holy and not so holy consequences of conflict and change, may we relax into both these invitations.  May we accept with renewed intent God’s invitation to accept them into our lives as Persons and Unity, with trust and confidence in their creativity, understanding of our human life, and continuing provision, companionship, and empowerment.

And may we accept with renewed intent God’s invitation to join Their life in its glory of diversity and its paradox of freedom in unity, to join in the dignity and purpose of their work of love and justice in the world and take it for our own as well, with thanksgiving and joy.


-The Rev. Dr. Victoria Hart Gaskell, Minister for Visitation

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