Reconciliation in the Name of the Trinity

Trinity Sunday, 2015 – joint service of Trinity Lutheran Church and Holy Trinity Anglican Church

I am grateful for the opportunity to be in this pulpit today, on a Trinity Sunday which holds special meaning for me. I have had many years of close association with the ELCiC, including the privilege of preaching and participating in the laying-on-of-hands at my sister-in-law’s ordination to the Lutheran pastorate. More recently, I have developed a closer relationship with some members of Trinity Lutheran, including Pastor Ingrid. The date is significant because I was ordained a deacon on May 31, and preached my first sermon as an ordained person on Trinity Sunday, 1987.

About a year before that, I was beginning Clinical Pastoral Education at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. One of the nursing units to which I was assigned was in maternity, where I made one of my very first pastoral visits. When I introduced myself to a young woman seated on her bed, she first said she was just waiting to be discharged, and then said, “What church do you belong to?” I gave her the standard hospital answer: hospital chaplains served everyone without denominational distinction. That wasn’t good enough for her: she demanded to know what church I was associated with when I wasn’t in the hospital. When I told her “Anglican,” her response was immediate and negative, something like “That’s one of those churches who believe in the Trinity! It’s not in the Bible, so you can just leave.” I started to argue with her (major mistake!), but quickly realized that nothing would be gained by proceeding.

It was a real surprise to me that there were people who called themselves Christians who denied the Trinity, something I had understood as an essential tenet of the faith. In the decades since, then, those few minutes by a hospital bed became foundational as I strove to understand what we mean by “I believe.”

Our faith is Trinitarian in shape: the Nicene Creed which we will recite in a few minutes has a three-part structure: we believe in God the Father; we believe in his Son Jesus Christ; we believe in the Holy Spirit. But what do we mean by the word “believe,” and where is that belief grounded? Lutherans and Anglicans share a history of being rooted in Scripture as well as the traditional teachings of the Church, going back to the time of the Church Fathers, who were expounding doctrine well before the Canon of the Bible was agreed upon. Don’t get me wrong: scripture is important, but we should remember that the Church came before the Bible, not vice versa.

As members of two congregations dedicated to the Trinity, we are reminded of the doctrine’s centrality every time we enter one of our buildings—you can’t escape the name. I don’t recall hearing of either congregation spending much (if any) time debating the nuances of the doctrine, but members of both certainly devote ample time to living out the faith in church activities, and in ministries beyond our walls.

We tend to understand belief as a kind of “head exercise,” giving intellectual assent to propositions about God and God’s works. The question asked of the church is often “What do we believe?” In her ground-breaking book “Christianity After Religion,” Diana Butler Bass has suggested that we rephrase the question as “How do we believe?” Pointing to the German root of the verb, she says that belief is less about the head than the heart—what we believe is where place our trust, as we set our hearts to follow God in the divine mission.

How do we live into a Trinitarian faith? That’s a huge, life-changing, and life-long question, because it encompasses the whole of God’s being. St. Augustine wrote:

“If we speak of God, what wonder is it is you do not comprehend. For, if you comprehend, He is not God. Let there be a pious profession of ignorance rather than a rash profession of knowledge. That one’s mind only touch God a little is great happiness; to comprehend Him is utterly impossible.”
St. Augustine, Sermon 67 on the New Testament –

Seeking to know God and to follow God’s ways is the task of a lifetime, the ongoing process called progressive sanctification, the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in making us ever more holy.

There are many aspects to growth in holiness. Let me focus today on only one: the work of reconciliation. Paul expressed the importance of this ministry in these words:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,
2 Corinthians 5:18-19a NRSV

This week in Ottawa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada will deliver its final report on the Residential Schools. The Anglican Church has been deeply involved in this process for years. I note that the ELCiC has held some recent events focusing on the on-going work of reconciliation with our indigenous brothers and sisters. At the TRC’s event last year in Edmonton, Mayor Don Iveson proclaimed the next year to be a “Year of Reconciliation.” Well and good, but a year is a short time to work on a century-old issue. It’s very tempting to take shortcuts, like the person who responded to an appeal for the Residential Schools Settlement Fund by walking into my office, slapping a large cheque on my desk and saying, “There! I hope that’s the last we hear of this.” Not by a long shot! Justice Murray Sinclair, the chair of the TRC, has said

Reconciliation is about forging and maintaining respectful relationships.
There are no shortcuts.

The Residential Schools created a gulf between indigenous and non-indigenous people in this country. I heard a great deal of that pain in my time in Brandon, which brought me into contact with many survivors and their families. Reconciliation—building respectful relationships—will take time in listening, in walking together, in working together. It is important work for our nation and for our churches.

Reconciliation goes against the flow of human behavior. We’re very good at building walls and creating enclaves in which to live. We’re less good at reaching out across those walls, and learning to see those on the other side as God’s children deserving of every bit as much respect as we are.

One sign of the ongoing work of reconciliation is the continuing and developing relationship between our two congregations. It is truly the work of the Holy Spirit as we seek to build and maintain a respectful relationship.

There are no shortcuts to the Kingdom: relationships must be carefully fostered and lovingly maintained, whether between Lutherans and Anglicans or between indigenous and non-indigenous people. We have been entrusted in the name of the Trinity with the ministry of reconciliation, hearing the call of the God who called Isaiah, seeking to follow the one who reconciled us to God through his death on the cross, and always and ever empowered by the Holy Spirit.

May it be so.

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Retired priest of the Anglican Church of Canada, living in Edmonton AB, and serving as an Honorary Assistant at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Old Strathcona.

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