Trinity Sunday/Peace with Justice Sunday/Father's Day
A pulpit sounding board in Delft, The Netherlands, illustrating the Holy Trinity.
The book held by Father and Son, and from which the Spirit proceeds, reads (translated from Latin)
“I am Alpha and Omega.”
Used by permission. CC BY-SA 3.0
Revised Common Lectionary Prayersfor this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
The maker of heaven and earth is God-in-community who calls the totality of creation "very good."
Psalm Response: Psalm 8 (UMH 743).
A song of wonder to the creator who made all things and gave us a special place in it. For recent arrangements of chant (solo or congregational) to accompany each of the musical responses in the hymnal, see Psalm 8 (Psalms for Singing). See also suggestions below from Worship & Song.
2 Corinthians 13:11-13.
Paul concludes this letter to the Christian community in Corinth by calling for peace and blessing them with the Trinitarian blessing widely known as "the apostolic blessing."
The Great Commission of our Lord—as you are going, disciple people of every nationality— also involves baptizing them in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Through baptism, those seeking to be disciples of Jesus are not only invited but initiated into the Life of the Divine Community.
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Church Calendar: This is Trinity Sunday, the only Sunday of the year focused on a doctrine. It would be most appropriate to incorporate the most ecumenically shared statement of the Trinitarian faith in worship today—The Nicene Creed (UMH 880). With this also being Peace with Justice Sunday and Father’s Day, it could also be appropriate to include the Social Creed (see below) or its accompanying Litany.
Trinity Sunday functions as the “opening bookend” for the Season after Pentecost. (The closing bookend is Christ the King.) The missional focus of the Season after Pentecost is to strengthen and support one another in the ministries you were commissioned to begin or continue at Pentecost. This Season accounts for roughly half of the entire liturgical year.
Why do we devote so much time to this Season? Because discipleship to Jesus is far more than about preparing for discipleship whether in terms of learning the basic practices (Advent and Lent) or celebrating and learning key doctrines (Christmas Season and Easter Season). It’s primarily about responding to his call to discipleship and living as his disciples in the world in the power of the Holy Spirit (Season after Epiphany, Season after Pentecost).
As the opening bookend of this season, Trinity Sunday is intended to launch us into living out our ministries and, in worship, to get us moving in directions that support that work.
As with any “launch Sunday” for any series, how you launch should be indicative of where the series to follow is going. Starting next week, the Revised Common Lectionary provides three distinctive pathways to follow. The Old Testament readings trace the story of Abraham and Sarah and three generations of their descendents: Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The Epistle readings carry us in depth into Romans. And the gospel picks up in the middle of Jesus' earthly ministry and leads us to its end, beginning with the reminder for all of us in our discipleship and ministries that “A disciple is not above the teacher… it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher” (Matthew 10:24-25).
Remember, starting next week, pick just one of these tracks to follow at a time. By all means, read all of the Scriptures in worship; but focus the theming of art, songs, confessions, preaching, and prayers to support the single stream of texts you will be following, starting next week. (For more specifics on these streams, see Think Series! Worship Planning after Pentecost Year A).
You should plan to focus your energies in this week, the “energetic launch” with Trinity Sunday, so it points in the direction you’ll be going for the next several weeks to come.
Denominational and Civic Calendar: Today is also Father’s Day on the U.S. Civil calendar and Peace with Justice Sunday (Discipleship Ministries Resources), one of six denomination-wide Special Sundays with a designated offering, on the denominational calendar.
As always, start with the Scriptures and the emphasis of the Christian Year (Trinity Sunday) and work in other emphases as they may fit. Again, since this is also a “launch Sunday,” however you work in additional emphases, be sure they strengthen and do not dilute the effectiveness of the launch of your series to come.
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Atmospherics: The Day
The Christian teaching that God is One in Three and Three in One is not a math, biology, or physics problem to be solved, but a mystery into which we are invited to live and move and have our being.
That may sound like a cop-out to people who expect Christianity to offer the same kinds of answers one might expect from math or biology or physics. But even physics, which had been the most empirical of the sciences, has been forced by the facts of our universe to embrace a certain degree of uncertainty at its core. Newton’s models described physics very well on the level of creatures our size. But when we move to the scales of the nano or the macro, Newtonian mechanics seems no longer to apply in the same way. Probabilities replace observable certainties, some of what is now understood to be impossible is now seen to be the only plausible explanation. Light can be a particle or a wave at the same time, all depending not on light, but on the observer. A change in orbit of an electron on one side of the universe can alter the orbit of an electron on the other. And the universe itself is understood to consist primarily of something called “dark energy,” a something we can barely explain and only infer as an explanation for why gravity has not restrained the universe from continuously accelerated expansion.
Mystery abounds in what science now routinely considers plausible.
As Christians, we claim the mystery we embrace about the Triune nature of God is not only plausible, but true.
Further, we consider the doctrine of the Trinity to be a first order truth. That is, Trinity is not a conclusion we come to based on other truths. Instead, we embrace it as firmly as we embrace the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, or his resurrection and ascension, or, as we celebrated last week, the coming of the Holy Spirit with power. The doctrine of the Trinity for us is foundational to everything we know or may ever come to know about God, one another, and even the universe.
The role of this day in the church year is to invite our worshiping communities more deeply into the life and mission of the Holy Trinity around us, in us, and through us—beginning, but by no means ending, in worship.
This Trinity Sunday is also Peace with Justice Sunday in The United Methodist Church. The peace, justice, and love we know in this Triune God cannot be contained in any place of worship. It demands to be let out, to roll down like waters, to flow like a mighty stream.
So let justice flow in your worship today! Pray it down! Pray it fervently, with full voice. This week, don't just collect an offering! Be the offering in your congregational time of prayer and in the Great Thanksgiving at Table. Give plenty of place for prayer today for justice and peace with our whole church. And do not neglect the deepest experience of the Triune God we are regularly offered — the Table — where we meet Jesus, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells, and are sent forth by the Spirit as his prophets, leaders, and faithful people. For lots of information to inform your prayers and your offerings this day, see not only the Peace with Justice Sunday website, but the issues and justice campaigns on the General Board of Church and Society website.
For Father’s Day, see the linked resources. Do not neglect recognizing this day in some way if you are in the United States, but be careful how you connect Father’s Day with the person of God the Father as part of Trinity Sunday, the main focus of this day.
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In Your Planning Team: Overall
Plan to help your worshiping community become particularly aware of signs of Trinity in worship and your worship space in song, ritual, gesture, Scripture, font, Table, and beyond. Point out everything already in place. Look in stained glass, or on the chancel furniture, or maybe in embroidery or on the sides of pews. Look in banners, or on the processional cross you carry, or table cross you may display. How does your worship space already proclaim that you are surrounded in and by our Triune God?
Above all, look in the three "Great Places" that order all our life in worship — the Font, the Table, and the space for the assembly of the people.
Font: Using the traditional language, we would say that by the Father's blessing, the Spirit is poured out upon water to birth us anew into Jesus Christ.
Table: By the Father's blessing, the Spirit is poured out upon bread and wine to transform it and — through it — us into the living body of Christ, renewed by the Spirit and redeemed by the blood of Jesus.
Assembly around the Word: What is this space in which we gather but a sign of our life together as the body of Jesus Christ, listening for the Word of the Father, the Teaching of the Son, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as we travel from font, to Table, to the world to bear witness to all that we have known and seen and experienced in the deep fellowship of this Triune God.
If you look around your worship space and do not see these signs all around you, begin thinking now what you can add or rearrange to enrich your worshiping community’s experience of life in the Holy Trinity where you worship.
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Atmospherics: Launching Your Series with These Texts
All of today’s readings celebrate the mystery of the Trinity, each in a different way. Genesis portrays God as the one who says “Let there be,” “Let us make” and ultimately, “It is very good.” 2 Corinthians offers a Trinitarian blessing. And Matthew 28 (the Great Commission) sends disciples forth to disciple people of every nationality into the way of Jesus Christ and the life of the Triune God. Creation, blessing and ministry all flow from and in Trinity,
While all three should be addressed today in song, prayer, praise, sacrament(s), sermon and sending, how you address them should depend on which stream of texts, or which series outside of the lectionary, you will be pursuing next so that you can best fulfill the purpose of this Season—supporting one another in your ministries, whether launched last week or continued from the past-- where you are.
For example, if you’re going to pursue the stories of the first four generations of the covenant (Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph), the fact that Father’s Day also falls today may lead you to focus today on how creation, blessing and ministry in the name of the Trinity have been expressed through many of our spiritual forbears.
If you’re heading into the extended study of Romans, probably the most intentionally theological letter in the New Testament, you may want to focus more today on the theology of the Trinity as expressed in creation, how we bless others, and how we understand our ministry to be empowered and exercised.
Or if you’re heading into the gospel readings from Matthew, you may want to focus especially on the Great Commission (Jesus’s “last words”), which invokes the Triune Name for the first time in that gospel and how the coming weeks will help unpack what life, discipleship and ministry in the Triune God looks and feels like.
So again, today, celebrate Trinity in all three aspects these texts offer (creation, blessing, and discipleship and ministry in the Trinity), while pitching your celebration toward where you’re going next. For truly, wherever you go next in this Season after Pentecost, if you’re true to the purpose of this season, it will be about supporting one another and seeking the Spirit’s guidance for your life and ministry in the Triune God.
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Additional Commentary on the Individual Texts
On this day, Genesis invites us to see in creation the signs of the blessing and power of our Triune God who calls each act of creation “good” and its completion “very good.” We have conditioned ourselves in Western cultures to have what Martin Buber would have called an “I-it” relationship with the world around us. That is not an entirely bad thing. Having such a perspective has been critical to our ability to survive and grow on the planet, and in particular to our advances in science and medicine. If we looked at the creation ONLY in wonder and awe, as something we were too reverent to touch or change in any way, our species may not have survived, much less thrived.
The impending crisis of global warming, however, is a stark reminder that we cannot have only an I-it relationship with the environment around us and expect to thrive or survive. We are called in this reading from Genesis, on this day especially, back into the “I-thou.” We are called into a relationship not only of observing and taking, but of giving, receiving, and sharing, one that more closely models the image of the Triune God in which we have been created, all creatures great and small.
The reading from 2 Corinthians is almost too short to read. By the time folks will start settling into the text, it is over. Consider reading it multiple times, maybe in three cycles of three, each cycle adding new dimensions of sound and visuals as illustrations of the what life well-ordered looks like , what a life of peace can entail, what the depth of fellowship with one another in our Triune God can be. And on the third cycle of three, invite the congregation to repeat the Trinitarian blessing, first at a whisper, then at a normal tone of voice, and then as a shout of praise.
Matthew 28 brings us what has come to be known as the “Great Commission.” We may think of it typically in connection with sending missionaries or evangelism. In these contexts, we probably hear it as something like “go and get people into the church to do what Jesus taught.”
But today we are invited to hear it more deeply, and differently. The first word of this text in Greek is not an imperative. It is a participle. That is, the idea of going somewhere else is not commanded, but rather assumed. “As you go,” Jesus says, not “GO!”
The only independent verb in the commission is often translated “make disciples.” However, to our ears perhaps more attuned to production lines and business models, this may easily sound as if disciples are widgets we produce! In Greek, “to disciple” is a verb, and the command here might be better understood as “disciple people of every nationality.”
Discipling means to do with others what Jesus has done with his own disciples, and with us. It’s not about putting people through classes or programs. It’s not even about getting them to agree to become professing members of your congregation. It’s about walking with people, in the power of the Spirit and the confidence of the kingdom of God, so they, and you, learn to live the way of Jesus, the way of God’s reign. And not just live it—participate in it, announce it to others, go where the Spirit sends you, and act fully as Christ’s representatives in the world. Put another way, discipling others is inviting them to experience and respond to the fullness of the Triune God alive and active always, everywhere.
The participles that follow specify parts of what discipling involves. The first is “baptizing people in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Baptism primarily means immersion, though it can be and is enacted in other ways as well. Baptism is the drowning of death and sin and the raising again to life freed from the power of sin and death to walk in newness of life in Trinity.
This is not a call to baptize everyone we see, offering no instruction or relationship prior. To baptize someone into the name of our Triune God implies at least some process of helping them understand the nature of the Three-in-One who gives them new life and new birth in baptism.
And so the second participle is “teaching them to live out what I have instructed you.” The act of teaching here is not a synonym for the verb “discipling” above, but it is one part of the way discipling happens. The verb here especially means to help people learn the content and get the details right. We get our word “didactic” from it.
But note even here, the content to be passed on faithfully is about how they live as much as it is what they know. Jesus asks them, and us, to teach others “to live out” to “to commit to practice” what he has instructed us. There is content to be learned. The stories, parables and other teachings of Jesus and the church that continues to express that teaching are part of that. But the reason those stories, parables and other teachings are there is not simply so we’ll know them, but so we’ll live them.
So here Jesus commissions his own disciples to disciple others—not simply to teach them about Jesus, but rather how to live fully as citizens and agents of the kingdom of our Triune God, in whose name we are baptized.
Who are the best teachers of the way of Jesus that you know—not just teachers about Jesus, but teachers who teach people how to follow him? Who are the best practical Trinitarian theologians you know, people who do not simply teach about the doctrine of the Trinity, but who invite people to live full into and from the Divine Community? Get in touch with these people, and draw wisdom, images and soundscapes from their lives and testimony to share as this reading is offered or preached today.
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Embodying the Word: The Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed has been the most regularly confessed creed in Sunday Christian worship since its development in the late fourth century. It was indeed THE creed for the Mass, East and West, and has retained that place in much of Protestant Christianity as well. The Apostles Creed, while important, is understood to be the creed for baptism — a beginning point. In the Nicene Creed, the church more fully confesses its faith in our Triune God.
John Wesley deleted the article on the Creeds from the Church of England's 39 Articles when he developed the Articles of Religion for the Methodists in North America. He also deleted the Nicene Creed from the services he sent over for use by the Methodists, using instead the Apostles Creed. We know something of why he deleted the article on the creeds. Wesley did not want the new American church to be beholden to creeds which, in his day, were being used as much to divide people as to unite them in common cause with Christ. Why he eliminated the Nicene Creed altogether, however, remains unknown.
The United Methodist Hymnal in a small way reclaims the primary role of the Nicene Creed for the confessional life of our church by placing it first among the Affirmations of Faith (#880). If your congregation does not ordinarily use the Nicene Creed in worship, Trinity Sunday is an excellent day to do so.
But do not simply read it. Help your congregation confess it. Lead the reading enthusiastically, boldly. Encourage your congregation to do the same. Help them to hear the power of the mystery they confess. Maker of all that is, seen and unseen. God from God, light from light, true God from true God. The Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. The Three-in-One conspiring in baptism to deliver us from slavery to sin and death, and bring us to everlasting life, life we look for and find now and in the age to come.
And having so confessed, pray, make peace with God and neighbor, and feast at the heavenly banquet Christ offers us at his Table.
A Complete Order of Worship: A Feast with the Trinity
- 411, UMBOW (Trinity)
- 306, UMBOW
- 373, UMBOW (Creation)
Opening Prayer: 412, UMBOW. Also see 76 in The United Methodist Hymnal.
- UMBOW 520, 521 (Peace with Justice)
- UMBOW 527 (combines Creation and Peace with Justice)
- UMBOW 426 (Heritage Sunday Litany)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Brazil
The Great Thanksgiving (Communion): UMBOW, 70-71
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion: UMBOW, 550, 552
Dismissal: The United Methodist Hymnal, 669 ("The Apostolic Blessing")
From Worship&Song, Pew Edition
3013, “Sing the Praise of God Our Maker-- ” A rich new text from United Methodist pastor and hymnwriter, John Thornburgh. If the tune is too unfamiliar, try singing it to RESTORATION (UMH 340). Sing this as a reponse to the first reading.
3017, “Come, Join the Dance of Trinity” -- This would make a marvelous opening hymn for Trinity Sunday, a call to prayer, or a frame for praying, using each line as a sung prayer, as follows.
Verse 1: Sung by all
Prayers for creation as the verse is played
Verse 2: Female Voices
Prayers for all who are being born, all who suffer, all who face death, and those who have died
Verse 3: Male Voices
Prayers for the mission of the church, for boldness in proclaiming and living the kingdom of God and the saving power of Jesus
Verse 4: Sung by all.
3129, “Touch the Earth Lightly,” could be a response to the reading of Genesis or a sermon that focuses on restoring the I-thou relationship between ourselves and the creation.
3145, “Breath of God, Breath of Peace,” captures and plays with the image of the Spirit (Breath) of God moving on the face of the waters and God breathing life into human beings. This could be used with an act of healing, or as a frame for congregational praying (as above, 3017), or as a hymn during Communion today.
3158, “Go to the World,” is a new expression of the Great Commission set to a familiar Ralph Vaughn Williams tune (SINE NOMINE) often used in “For All the Saints.” Consider using this for the sending today.
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