Sunday, June 3, 2012

Trinity Sunday

When we think about salvation – 
what it is that we mean when we say 
that we are saved through Christ – 
most people probably think in terms of the death of Jesus
and our sins being forgiven.
This is of course true – 
our sins have been forgiven through the death of Jesus – 
but the language of the Bible concerning salvation and
the images used to depict our rescue from the human condition
are much richer than that.

In our second reading, 
from the letter to the Romans, 
Paul uses adoption as an image for salvation.
He says that those who are led by the Spirit of God
are sons and daughters of God:
the Spirit of God he calls a “Spirit of adoption.”
In the ancient world the concept of family 
was wider than our modern notion of the nuclear family.
There were a number of ways 
one could be a part of a family:
families included not only parent and children, 
but also the servants or slaves 
who worked in the household.
In fact, in the Roman world, 
abandoned infants were more likely 
to be taken into families as slaves
than to be adopted as heirs.
So Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome, 
wants to assure them 
that they have been brought into God’s family 
not to be slaves, but to be children and inheritors 
of eternal life in God’s kingdom.
We are not to serve God out of fear, as a slave would,
but out of a love that is a reflection 
of the loving generosity
that God has shown to us in our adoption.
Paul says that this Spirit of adoption makes us
“heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
The Spirit of God, Paul says,  
makes us cry out to God 
using the same name that the Gospels tell us
Jesus himself used: “Abba, Father.”
What Jesus was by his very nature – 
the only begotten child of God 
and heir to God’s kingdom –
we have become 
through the grace of the Holy Spirit,
the Spirit of adoption.
This is what it means to be saved:
to be inheritors with Jesus of eternal life
through our adoption in the Holy Spirit.

I know that a number of people in our parish
know very directly what this says about God’s love.
Whether adoptive parents or adopted children,
they know how deep that bond of love can be,
how gracious and grace-filled this act of generosity is,
how expansive of the bounds of family,
reaching out beyond the bonds of nature
to create new bonds of grace.
Adoptive parents and adopted children
and even those parents who,
entrusting their children to someone else’s care, 
have surrendered their children for adoption,
know in a particular way 
how great is the power of God’s love. 

But why talk about this on Trinity Sunday?
Shouldn’t a Trinity Sunday homily be an attempt
to explain puzzling words in the Creed 
like “consubstantial”
or to find some lame analogy 
for the three persons and one nature of God,
or at least to talk about St. Patrick and shamrocks?
Why talk about adoption?

The doctrine of the Trinity 
is not advanced mathematics for Christians
in which we somehow make one and one and one 
add up to one.
The doctrine of the Trinity 
is the mystery of our gracious adoption 
by the Holy Spirit 
by which we become coheirs with Christ
of eternal life with the one 
whom we can now call “Abba, Father.”
The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that, 
just as children are adopted into the love 
that binds together the members of their adoptive family,
we have been adopted 
into the mystery of interpersonal love
by which the Father, Son and Spirit are one God.
This is why in our Gospel today 
Christ commands his disciples 
to “make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
To become a disciple of Jesus 
is to be adopted into God’s love
and our baptism in the name of the Trinity 
is our ritual of adoption.

So let us on this Trinity Sunday give thanks to God
for the Spirit of adoption that has been given to us,
the mystery of eternal love of which we are heirs.