By the Rev. Lizzie McManus-Dail
Gospel text: Matthew 28:16-20
Today is Trinity Sunday, the feast in the church year where we honor our Triune God and task preachers, like myself, to explicate just exactly how we worship One God in Three Persons.
And the most elegant way I’ve ever heard the Trinity explained was by my liturgy professor, Nathan Jennings, who said: “God is one, but never alone.”
God is one, but never alone. God is a diverse, distinct community, and God is one.
So what does this doctrine that God is one and a community at the same time have to teach us? What does this doctrine mean when I stand here, in an empty sanctuary, talking to you as you shelter-in-place in the middle of an actual plague? In the thousand miles I drove to get here from Texas, we passed city after city where smashed windows were being boarded up as grief and rage and pain poured out in our streets in protest. I’ve seen tear gas and bullets tear through people and communities – again – this week.
So what exactly does the doctrine of the Trinity have to say right now?
My friends, the Trinity has everything to say right now: and it comes when Jesus tells his battered and doubtful disciples to go and make disciples of all nations.
Our Gospel text picks up after Jesus has been raised from the dead, and the disciples – who have just witnessed their Messiah being executed at the hands of the state – stand in wonder and doubt on a mountaintop, surveying all that is behind and all that is before and Jesus says:
“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.”
Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations.
This text has been abused in the two thousand years since Jesus spoke these words to justify all kind of colonial horrors – claiming that it was God’s will, for example, that black people be kidnapped and trafficked into slavery for hundreds of years.
So what do we now do with Jesus standing on a mountain telling us to go make disciples of all nations?
I think we first need to understand: our salvation is not individual. God is one but never alone – and neither are we.
Though Christianity is often the first to forget, we are a religion that is to the root about being communal over and against being individuals, we are interwoven – our identity is in Christ, and Christ is also in and is the Trinity. Our Triune God is a God of messy, inexplicably intertangled connection.
And so, therefore, are we. Jesus taught us we are the BODY of Christ. We are blood and bone and skin and sinew connected to one another.
When one person cannot breathe, the whole Body is suffocating. The Black Lives Matter movement is teaching us that beloved children of God are suffocating. And if white folks like myself do not feel this pain – if we cannot understand how black suffering demands our disarmament, surrender, and solidarity – than we have forgotten what the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians:
“the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary.”
God loves us as a body.
And because God loves us corporately, as a body, as individuals whom God made in community and to be community, that also means our responsibility is shared. We are not just expected to love our neighbors and enemies, we are held accountable for their actions and inactions, too.
There is nothing about being a Christian that is merely “personal” or “private.” Jesus does not say convert individual souls, Jesus says go to the nation – to the powers and structures that claim autonomy, go to the borders drawn between my children – go there because what God is doing is bigger than any one person.
And this is why our antiracism commitments right now cannot merely be about sentiment or the idea of loving people.
Because after telling the disciples to go to all nations, Jesus says, tell them to OBEY my commandments.
There is a simplicity to the commandments Jesus tells the disciples – and us – to obey: love each other and love God.
But if that simple commandment were easy, the whole Bible would be about 3 lines. The rest of the story – the messy tales of prostitutes and criminals and ethnic minorities being invited into the heart of God’s purpose and mission, the stories of the worst sinners being the most faithful disciples, the story of Jesus dying for his friends – that’s where love has feet. That is where sentiment turns into solidarity.
That’s where the messy reality of love incarnates in the Body of Christ breathing here on earth.
To love someone is not an abstract, distant action. Love is fleshly, loving someone can hurt us because love makes us vulnerable, and love means we invest in people – our time, our money, our hearts, our stories, our concerns, our joys, our lives.
Just as GOD is one but never alone, a diverse community but one God, we are a diverse one Body.
Jesus did not say, go ye therefore into all nations and say you love people, turn around, and leave before you offend anyone. No. Jesus said go ye therefore into all nations and MAKE DISCIPLES.
Being a disciple of Jesus involved a lot of things for the eleven to whom Jesus first spoke these words: giving up your money to the collective cause of redemption. Hosting dirty strangers in your houses. Washing feet. Befriending and lauding people whom your mother and father had raised you to be fearful of.
My friends, if love does not cost us something, then we are probably not being the disciples Jesus calls us to be.
Love is costly. And that is why we need God. As much as we are a religion of community, we also still need to talk to God, ourselves, in prayer. When love costs us – when we feel shame, anger, pain, grief – that is when you turn to the Spirit and say “I need your help.”
And we see this specifically in antiracism work – whether it is internalized racism against yourself as a black person or person of color, or the work of us white folks to undo the systems of oppression we create and benefit from – antiracism work will make you feel shameful, ugly, guilty, and pained.
Racism – and all the evil of this world, all the forces of oppression thrive off of the lie that we are alone. That you are uniquely awful, uniquely unwanted, and therefore you by yourself must fix it.
God tells us we are loved, we are interconnected, and that God will be with you through the end of the age. God is with us corporately and God is with you – as you are, right now.
Yes, we are all sinners. But sinning does not make us special. We carry this together. We confess our sins together. God is one, but never alone.
Some of us – especially us white folks – we need to carry more to unburden our black siblings and our siblings of color. We need to confess our sins of racism. We need to sit in the harm we’ve caused, lament for it, reckon with our own power and our own immense capacity for harming one another.
And then, we need to get to the work of reparation.
I don’t think God wants you to stay in a place of shame, partially because shame brings all the focus in on ourselves, and the work we are called to do is about others. But more deeply still, our Triune God is a liberator. God breaks down the prisons we put ourselves into in our minds and God will break open actual prison doors to set captive people free.
And, ultimately, remember what Jesus says: all power and all authority in heaven and on earth rests in God.
All power ultimately is God’s.
We are called to do justice, now. We are called to love mercy, now. We are called to walk humbly with God, now. But we do this in the knowledge that the evils of racism, misogyny, heteronormativity, transphobia, classism – these are veneers of power. These evils will crumble in the hands of our almighty God even though right now they are putting up one hell of a fight.
But we know. We know who has the ultimate authority, the Three-in-One who will bring all worldly power to its knees.
And that is our God. And isn’t that good.