It would be hard to stress this too much: Do not attempt to explain the Trinity! Do not. Except perhaps as an exercise in futility, as evidence that every attempt will fall short. Even if you found the perfect metaphor, even if the image you chose seems, in your mind, to sum up the totality of the immensity that is the Trinitarian experience of Almighty God, you’ve limited it somehow. Something will be left out, some nuance, some detail, some glimpse into the mind and activity of God. And you will, by the very nature of the attempt, reduce God to something that our human minds can grasp, and in grasping, we diminish and then ultimately dismiss. Do not attempt to explain the Trinity on this Trinity Sunday.
Instead, sing about it, draw pictures of it, find a poet to throw images into our heads, a storyteller to capture a small truth that points to a larger reality. Use your gifts, dear preacher, to capture the imaginations and hearts of the people longing to experience something of the reality of the God who loves them more than they can even understand.
Tell a story. Better yet, tell the story. Matthew helps us a lot this week. A great story to tell, full of the richness, the humanity, and the divinity of the gospel of grace and yet with a powerful, welcoming poignancy that can’t help but draw us all in. Every verse, every word, pulses with power. Take the first phrase of our text: “Now the eleven disciples.” Pause there for a moment. Eleven. Doesn’t that word just shout at you from the text? Eleven. For chapter after chapter, gospel after gospel, it was twelve. The twelve did this; the twelve did that; Jesus went with the twelve, chose the twelve. Now, it is eleven — a sign and symbol of brokenness, of betrayal and failure. It is a reminder that on our own, without the sustaining presence of the triune God, we won’t make it. We won’t fulfill this or any calling, this or any mission.
Yet, there is hope. Where did they go, this broken now eleven? Home, to Galilee. But not in despair, not because there wasn’t anything else to do, so they might as well go home. No, Matthew says they went because they were directed. They were still following. There’s the hope. We can still follow. In our failure, we can still follow. In our betrayal, we can still follow; in our denial, in our brokenness, in our weakness, in our …, we can still follow. They followed the one who sent them.
They probably didn’t know why, but they didn’t ask. They just went. To the mountain in their own backyards, where he sent them. Then he was there. Matthew wouldn’t make it in Hollywood. He misses too many dramatic moments. There aren’t any special effects, no background music, no drone shots or slow zooms. “When they saw him.” That’s all we get. John has them gasp from the boat. “It’s the Lord!” Which is followed by a loud splash and the rapid creak of oars as they rushed to shore. But not Matthew. “When they saw him.”
When they saw him what? Well, what else? They worshiped. What else would you do when the Resurrected Lord appears on a mountain in your backyard? You worship. They worshiped; they shouted; they broke out the guitars and the drums and they raised their hands and they hugged everyone with tears rolling down their cheeks, as they sang, “It is good to be in the house of the Lord!” Except, they didn’t. Matthew, understating again, says “they worshiped him, but some doubted.”
Wait. What? Doubted? On the mountain next to the resurrected one? The one who walked out of a tomb? Some doubted. What did they doubt? Him? Themselves? This moment? Maybe it was dream, some thought. Maybe they’ll wake up with tear-stained faces and the awful reality of his death will still sit in their guts as if they had swallowed broken glass, as if they had shouldered lead weights. Maybe they doubted that they would walk away without even more scars and wounds, when the one they allowed to die now walks on earth again. Maybe they doubted his disappointment in their failure. Matthew doesn’t say. They worshiped and some doubted. They all worshiped; some doubted. They worshiped as they doubted. They came with their uncertainties, their hesitations. They took their place and wadded their bulletins and mumbled the prayers and bleeped out the parts of the hymns that didn’t seem real to them. But they were there; they worshiped. Doubts are welcome, even in the worship of the Risen Lord.
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Here we go, they must have thought. He’s in charge now; the sword is about to be unsheathed, the white charger is just off stage waiting for him to leap on its back and gallop off to begin the battle, to usher in the new age. All authority has been given to me. All authority. Go, therefore.
Matthew always looks backward as he writes. You’re supposed to hear an echo, as Barbara Brown Taylor says. Another mountain and another hesitant observer. But instead of a shining Resurrected One, there is a blazing bush. The Voice says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And some doubted. You better believe there was doubting going on upon that mountain too. “I have observed the misery of my people, I have heard their cry, indeed I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them” (Ex. 3:6-8). All authority has been given to me. Or all authority is me. I will send you.
“Go therefore” seems like an appropriate response to “all authority has been given me.” It is how God works, how God has always worked. I send you. We have a mission from God. Go, therefore, make disciples, baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teach them, and remember: A fourfold mission. Each is important. Go: We aren’t the church when we sit still. Sitting still is necessary but is only preparation for going and for being the church at work in the world. Go.
Make Disciples. Ah, we could spend a week on this one. And we should. But for now, hear the invitation to create relationships, to build up people, to engage with the world as it is so that we can help people see the world as it could be. This isn’t about tracts on the doorstep, about momentary conversion events; this is the long haul, the narrow way. He doesn’t say, “Go win souls.” He says, “make disciples.” Souls will be won in the process; don’t worry about that. But we’re not the soul winners; we are the disciple-makers.
Baptize, invite into a community, into a lifelong formation of self and soul. Find ways of entry and celebrate, with the whole community, the starting point. Let there be words and symbols and rituals and joy. Let there be joy when anyone starts the journey. And let there be a promise to be the church every step of the way.
Teach. There might be a translation hiccup here. “Teaching them to obey everything I taught you.” The word we’ve translated as obey could also be translated as keep. Teach them to keep everything I commanded you. Keeping sounds different. It sounds more accessible, somehow—like there is a treasure to share, some wisdom, some insight, some joy, and some hope that we received from Jesus, and now he wants us to give it away; to give it so that others can keep it. And what did he command us? “Love one another as I have loved you.” That’s the command we teach others to keep. And we can only teach such a thing by doing it.
Remember. Remember I am with you. OK, you can’t explain that either. You can’t prove it. Preach until you’re blue in the face, and it won’t be proof. Yet it is true. We believe it is true. We sense it is true. We know that we can’t do half of what we have done, a fraction of what we want to do on our own. Only by his presence can we put one foot in front of another. Only by his presence can we issue one more invitation, care for one more soul, one more neighbor. Because we remember, we are not alone.
But how? How do we do all this? The rest of this series is intended to put a frame around the disciple-making process. So, there could be a “coming attractions” moment in your sermon this week. The mission is one of engagement. At its heart, the doctrine of the Trinity is about engagement, somehow, someway. We launch from this moment because we worship a God who lives engaged. Go therefore.