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“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
Sometimes first things go first. Sometimes first things go last.
Think of the lessons we hear today as circles – with endings and beginnings that circle back to beginnings and endings.
We hear the opening verses of the Bible: the Genesis story of how God created all that there is and will be. God said, “let there be light” and called it good.
And we hear the closing lines from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus tells his disciples to go forth and baptize “all the nations” – all the peoples of the earth – and that he will be with them “to the end of the age.”
The creation story of Genesis continues in the new creation of story of Christ, the story circling back to the beginning.
And in the middle is a farewell from Paul to the community in Corinth, imploring to keep their circle alive by living in love and peace.
All of this is wrapped inside of the circle of the hard-to-understand concept of the Trinity.
This is Trinity Sunday, and on this Sunday preachers like me are supposed to explain the Trinity.
Some will compare the Trinity to a tree with roots, a trunk and leaves, or to water, ice and steam, or to a three-sided diamond.
We will recite the ancient Nicene Creed in a little while, that formula of the Trinity written in the 4th century. We will hear again the Trinity proclaimed in the words of our Eucharistic prayer.
Many words and much blood have been spilled over explanations and defenses of the Trinity, and truthfully most of it leaves me very cold.
What is often lacking in this talk of the Trinity is an explanation of why we should care a wit about it. It gets awfully abstract in a hurry, kind of like 9th grade algebra.
We may fairly ask, what does understanding the Trinity – or algebra – possibly have to do with my daily life?
What does the Trinity have to do with war and unrest, climate change and a tottering economy, or a friend who is in the hospital?
It is important to know that those who came up with the concept of the Trinity were trying very hard to grasp how God could be present in the world with them yet feel so distant at times. They, too, faced warfare and plague, and life was perhaps more precarious for them than it is for us.
At its root, the Trinity is fundamentally a statement of the infinity of God and God’s infinite ways.
To hold the idea of the Trinity is to grasp that God has infinite ways of being understood.
Among my favorite ancient symbols of the Trinity is three circles that interlock. Circles, after all, have no end and no beginning and are symbols of infinity.
The God of the Trinity is the Infinite One who is the spark that creates all things, and calls it good; the Infinite One who came in a particular time and place as a man called Jesus to show us how to love each other; and the Infinite One who is still a holy spark living within us and among us and going infinitely where she will.
God as male, God as female, God as a living being who is capable of reaching all people everywhere infinitely.
Instead of a God who is a monolithic stone distant from us, we hear and see expressions of God who is dynamic, relational, here with us, and has infinite love for us.
I can’t see all of God and neither can you. The Trinity is another way of saying that all people are capable of experiencing God, each in our limited way, yet God is bigger than any of us can experience as alone.
These lessons today bring us full circle to our own beginnings as individuals and as a faith community by touching once again on our baptism.
In this final passage of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus calls us to go forth and baptize the people of the world in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in the name of this infinitely knowable God.
The passage is known as “the great commission.”
Jesus’ great commission is a preposterous notion on the face of it.
There he was with his handful of disciples one last time, telling them to leave their hiding places and get out into the world and change it.
Heal the sick, feed the hungry, and baptize them in water and spirit into the good news of God’s kingdom bursting forth all around us and inside us. Go into lands that are foreign to you. Get out of your comfort zone, big time. Go to all the nations of the world and I will fill them with love and grace and healing – and baptize them into this new life.
They must have said, who us? There are only a handful of us. How can we possibly do anything of the sort?
Yet they did, and could because the Christ who they knew sustained them and was with them to the end of all ages.
It is important we see baptism as something more than the milestone of “christening” of a baby. Baptism is foundational to all that we do as a faith community.
Baptism is a starting line in the circle of faith for us as individuals and for the faith community with us.
Baptism is the initiation into the Church and that makes it about all of us. And once you are in, you are in, and nothing can take your baptism away from you. That is why we baptize someone only once. In the words of the Prayer Book, you are “Christ’s own forever.”
You are not just in the body of Christ in one locale, or in one parish, or even in one branch of Christianity. You aren’t baptized an “Episcopalian” or a “Catholic” or “Lutheran.”
You are baptized in the name of the father, son and Holy Spirit, and like the Trinity itself, that makes your baptism infinitely large.
You are a member of the entire body of Christ, all over the world, in every place and in every time. It doesn’t matter whether you change locations or even change church brands. You are Christ’s own forever, no matter where you go.
Think of baptism as the center of the circle. Think of Jesus, standing at the center of the circle, at the water, pointing us in new ways to reach beyond this circle and into the world.
The symbol of our baptism is the font at center of this house of prayer. It is a reminder to us every time we come here of our own baptism, and it is our gateway to this Holy Table to be sustained with the bread and wine of our Holy Eucharist.
And there is one more thing: Our baptism compels us to leave here, and do those things Jesus called those first disciples to do: Heal the sick, be with the lonely, work to repair this broken earth, and proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom bursting in the open for all to see, and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.