Year B, Trinity Sunday Romans 8:12-17
One of the parts of my job I have always enjoyed is talking with parents and Godparents before a baptism. It’s one of my few opportunities to talk to people in a small group about the very basic tenets of our faith. What I typically do is walk them through the liturgy itself as pretty much everything we believe about baptism is in the words of the service itself. I usually end by admitting that while there are many prayers and words in the baptismal service, you could, if you really needed to, skip them all and simply say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” I always feel a bit sheepish admitting this, as if I have just pulled a fast one over on the family. Yet as I reflected on that particular line this week, in anticipation of Trinity Sunday, it had a different effect on me.
I rarely preach on the Trinity. Most preaching professors warn their students not to try to preach the Trinity. It gets too complicated and almost any explanation of the Trinity ends up being labeled as heretical. Trinity Sunday is one of the few feast days that celebrates a doctrine rather than an event, which means it’s kind of easy to ignore, because who wants to celebrate doctrine? But it’s more than just doctrine. And it’s more than an elaborate cliff note to our baptismal liturgy.
Over 10 years ago, a book called “The Shack” was written. The Shack wasn’t a perfect book, but there was one thing I really loved about that book. It brought the Trinity alive in a way I had never experienced before. It made me want to hang out with every member of the Trinity….live with the Trinity. Intellectually I knew what the Trinity was. I am not saying I have ever claimed to understand it, but I had the working definition. Yet this book made me want to have a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And at its very essence, that is what the Trinity is about—relationship—their relationship with one another and our relationship with the triune God.
Paul had a unique relationship with God, different than the disciples who had actually met Jesus in the flesh. Jesus spoke to Paul after his Ascension into heaven which is what led Paul to transforming his life. He went from persecuting Christians to becoming one of the greatest Christian theologians and evangelists of all time. This is amazing when you consider he never met Jesus. His experience with Jesus was limited to a bright light and a voice from heaven. It was over in a few minutes.
The fact that Paul was able to address God as “Abba” (which is essentially Daddy) is remarkable because it means he had an intimate relationship with God. In his Letter to the Romans he wrote, “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” Consider that moment when a child (or maybe an adult) calls out to a parent after having a nightmare. It’s a moment of desperation and instinct, when you call on the person you know will always protect you, always come to you. That was Paul’s relationship with God. His relationship wasn’t merely lovely prayers and exquisite theological arguments. It was made up of cries in the night to the one he knew was listening.
That is the relationship we are all meant to have with God—the kind of relationship we can’t always define but also can’t live without. I believe that at our very base level almost all humans have personal relationship with God. Even when self-proclaimed atheists are desperate, they call out to God. Some might consider that insincere, maybe even delusional, but I think it’s proof that we are (at our very core) God’s children– even those of us who don’t believe in him are still God’s children.
I have to admit that I have never dwelled on this part of this passage, because I am always a little uncomfortable when people pray to God as Daddy or Mommy. Perhaps it’s because I am accustomed to the formality of the Episcopal Church, but it just seems unnatural to me. Yet what struck me this time was the astonishing fact that this was Paul calling God Daddy. Paul was not the warm and fuzzy type. He had been a Pharisee, a keeper of the rules. He followed the letter of the law. I am not saying his faith was insincere. It was very sincere. But before he heard the voice of Jesus, he definitely wasn’t calling God Daddy. In fact, before Jesus came to the earth and embodied God, Jews were not even able to say the name of God. Even when writing the name of God, they would leave the vowels out because to say or write the name of God was forbidden. Yet here Paul is telling the Romans that as children of God, we call God Abba.
This wasn’t Paul merely repeating church doctrine. His letter to the Romans was written before the Gospels were written. Surely he had been taught about Jesus, but it’s clear that he wasn’t merely repeating something someone told him. He knew God intimately. And if a Pharisee who once persecuted Christians can know God this well, then we all can. Paul wasn’t trying to explain the Trinity here, but he was showing what it is to be in a relationship with God.
We have a baptism at the later service…which is a very appropriate thing to do on Trinity Sunday, not merely because we baptize the child in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but because we are blessing a relationship. Our catechism says that in baptism we are adopted as God’s children and made members of Christ’s body, the church.
We are all born to a human family. Some of us are adopted into a human family. But every single one of us has the opportunity to be adopted into God’s family. That family is far from perfect, but it is enveloped in God’s perfect and unconditional love. My very favorite part of the baptismal service is the end where the priest makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the baptismal candidate with oil and says, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” The oil will wash off, but God’s promise will be with that child of God for all time.
All of you who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are marked as Christ’s own forever. And once you are marked, you can never escape God’s tenacious love. He will find you wherever you go. Even in your darkest time when you are certain God is nowhere near, I encourage you to touch your forehead, make the sign of the cross and remember what it is to be sealed by the Holy Spirit. Remember what it is to know God and be known by him.