Monday Matters (June 5, 2023)


The Collect for Trinity Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

God in three persons, blessed Trinity

These days in our culture, words like doctrine and dogma don’t go over so well, as in the bumper sticker: “My karma ran over your dogma.” Associations with words like doctrinaire or dogmatic are hardly positive. They suggest to some that one had better toe the line, no questions asked. Believe it or else. A scan of definitions of dogma underscores the point.

Oxford Language describes dogma as “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.” That’s enough to make many Episcopalians head for the door. Merriam-Webster talks about “a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds, a doctrine or a body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church.” That reminds me of how Mark Twain described faith: “Believing what any fool knows is not true.” (I deleted an expletive or two.) I kind of like the reference to the Greek translation which says that a dogma suggests something that seems to be true.

So how do we respond to a Sunday dedicated to a doctrine, a dogma of the church, the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity? The standard joke for clergy is that this is a Sunday to invite a guest preacher. No two ways about it. The doctrine is mind-bogglingly mysterious.

Yesterday in church we read the collect for Trinity Sunday, printed above. It’s a prayer that speaks of the confession of a true faith by which we acknowledge the glory of a God who is understood (by our pea brains) as both trinity and unity. It became a dogma as it was deduced from what we read in scripture, which references God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in a number of places. I’ve heard plenty of far-fetched sermons (and probably delivered some) that struggle to explain all this, or provide the perfect metaphor. I can’t recall any that totally eliminate the truly mysterious reality of the Holy One. As St. Paul said: We see through a glass darkly. We now know in part. (I Corinthians 13)

I do like what one of my teachers said about the doctrines, the dogmas of the church. He said that they are like buoy markers floating on the surface of the ocean. They indicate depths beyond our perception. They are pointers to deep truths, mysteries beyond our ken. They don’t explain everything. They are not the object of worship themselves. As Evelyn Underhill reminded clergy of her day: “God is the interesting thing about religion.”

So why bother? What truth is conveyed here, even if we can’t fully comprehend? Michael Curry reminds us that if it’s not about love, it’s not about God. The mystery of the Trinity points us to the fact that God is love. God is in God’s self a community. Augustine wrote a lot about this. In my limited understanding of his work on the subject, he presents God as lover, God as beloved, God as the love that goes between lover and beloved. A trinity. A unity. A community.

And perhaps the greatest mystery, the wonder of wonders, is that you and I are invited to participate in that community, to worship the Creator, to follow the Son as Lord and Savior, teacher and friend, to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

And maybe here is the so-what factor: In that participation, we are equipped to extend that love beyond ourselves. The doctrine, the dogma, the buoy marker that is the Trinity gives us a way to move forward in this world, participating in the love that is at the center of all that is. And as Burt Bacharach wrote, as Dionne Warwick sang, that’s what the world needs now. Love, sweet love. How can you enter into the life of the Trinity by sharing that love this week?

How about that for a Monday Matters? Citing Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, Michael Curry, Evelyn Underhill, St. Paul and St. Augustine. Time for a cup of coffee.

-Jay Sidebotham

Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.