__”The Great Commission” and Trinity Sunday__
_What’s a good and honest fit for May 22, 2005?_
First Congregational United Church of Christ (an Open and Affirming Congregation), Santa Rosa, California. The Rev. Robert F. Cramer, Eucharistic Minister.
__Trinity in traditional theology__
_”God [is] a community of Three Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) united in divine love.”_
Such a simple-sounding statement! I have very slightly adapted the above from the Revs. John Trigilio, Jr., and Kenneth Brighenti, authors of _Catholicism for Dummies_ (in that ubiquitous series of books on just about everything under the sun).
The two priests are holders of multiple scholarly degrees. They are famous as teachers on Mother Angelica’s almost unbelievably conservative evangelical Eternal World Television Network, EWTN.
They take 414 pages to tell us everything of importance about Roman Catholic tradition. There is very, very little in the whole volume about the Holy Trinity. It is simply assumed as a bedrock belief that doesn’t easily yield to rational discourse. I imagine we can all agree on that!
Today, after thinking a whole lot more about Trinity than I might have if it were not Trinity Sunday, I offer a few thoughts from various people who’ve thought about Trinity. In particular, I offer the work of John Dominic Crossan, who has no quarrel personally, I think, with Trinity, except that he worries about Jesus himself never having heard of it. Jesus almost surely wouldn’t believe it.
_Trinity is a biblical concept, isn’t it?_ That would make it very authoritative for Protestants. The answer is, yes, it’s in the New Testament; but is it — as in our gospel reading for this morning, from Matthew 28 — to be understood as something Jesus himself said and believed?
The Gospel of Matthew says Jesus sent his disciples out to teach and convert all nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
In his 1994 book, _The Essential Jesus,_ Prof. J.D. Crossan writes, “In this book … the essential Jesus means not the canonical but the historical Jesus.”
In explanation, Crossan says, “One possible interpretation of the term, ‘essential,’ would mean that official Jesus as portrayed in [the approved biblical] texts.
“But I have chosen, instead, to interpret ‘essential’ as meaning historical, as designating not the Jesus described by Christian believers in gospels written forty to sixty years after his death but rather that Jesus you might have seen in Lower Galilee during his actual life.”
Crossan and many other scholars over the past two and a half centuries have managed to bring almost as deep a division among, and within, churches as Luther and Calvin did in the sixteenth century. His word isn’t gospel, but it does serve to warn us that critical scholars for a long time have maintained that most, if not all, of Matthew 28 is post-resurrection theology, not Jesus’.
Just because by Matthew’s time it could be imagined that Jesus had used “the Trinitarian Formula” and sought conversions doesn’t mean that all tradition was initiated by Jesus. What do you think? How is the Bible to be understood when it comes to questions like this?
_Does it matter?_ Ask state, national and world church councils. In all of them, to be members, a church must be Trinitarian. Tradition –supposedly biblical — rules, regardless of whether quote marks in Matthew are accurate. Very clearly, the Trinity came into the minds of theologians not all that long after the resurrection of Jesus. That’s understandable. So is scholars’ consensus that much theology ascribed to Jesus, with quotation marks, is very likely _not_ his. Again, does it matter?
_Another ‘Dummies’ book_ weighs in more heavily on Trinity than the one above. _Religion for Dummies_ says:
“Christians believe in one God, as do Jews and Muslims, but they describe God as being made up of three persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit.
“To the Jewish community, the idea of the Trinity looked like a belief in three separate gods, and it enlarged the break between early Christianity and Judaism.
“Muslims have the same problem with the concept of the Trinity: They believe the Trinity compromises Christianity’s belief in one God.” [Authors are Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman, the ‘God Squad’ teachers on cable television, “Imus in the Morning,” and “Good Morning America.”
_Church as missionary movement:_ Granted that ‘selling’ the idea of Jesus as part of the Godhead became established as early as Paul, well before even the gospels were written … does it seem to such scholars as Crossan that Jesus intended to convert those to whom he ministered? This is a huge question.
“The Essential Jesus” is a brief summary of Crossan’s life work on who the pre-resurrection Jesus actually was. It is the third in a monumental trilogy which has its critics but is unmatched in its honesty and courageous clarity.
And HarperCollins, summarizing that summary, points to a unique feature of Crossan’s work — the analysis of Christian art in the second and third centuries, which accompanies Crossan’s lively and succinct translations of the essence of what Jesus likely said.
“Crossan’s fresh translation of Jesus’ [most authentic] sayings shows Jesus to be a teacher whose radical message that all are equal before God is as timely today as it was two thousand years ago. This picture,” HarperCollins goes on to say, “is dramatically confirmed by the pre-Constantinian, Christian renderings of Jesus, which show that he was remembered by the first Christians not as God but as a revolutionary healer and leader.”
__Jesus’ actual mission trinity [Crossan]__
_There was, Crossan says, a different ‘trinity’ for Jesus._
Citing ancient reports by Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus (neither of them Christian), Crossan says both agree (1) there was some sort of a movement connected with Jesus; (2) he was executed by official authority presumably to stop the movement; (3) but rather than being stopped, the movement continued to spread. [This is a very-near quote from Crossan, adapted by myself.]
“There remain, therefore,” Crossan writes, “these three: movement, execution, continuation. But the greatest of these is continuation.”
_So what does it mean to celebrate Christian mission on Trinity Sunday._ I’d love to see our adult class take this on. __Amen.__