Trinity Sunday – Year C

America has always had a particular fascination with exploring new frontiers. Whether it was Robert Perry’s expedition to the North Pole in 1909, or Richard Byrd’s efforts to fly over the South Pole 20 years later, or the race to put a person on the moon only 40 years after that, Americans have always had a particular zest for exploring new lands. But perhaps America’s first great adventure into uncharted territories occurred 100 years before Perry and his expedition made it to the North Pole at the beginning of the 20th century.

Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when the United States acquired over 800 million square miles of land from France (thereby doubling the size of the country), President Thomas Jefferson organized a party to explore that vast territory, with the express purpose of finding the most expedient route to the Pacific Ocean. This “Corps of Discovery” was to be led by two men whose names have gone down in history, and have become synonymous with the spirit of exploration, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

Both Lewis and Clark with extraordinary men in their own right. Each of them had already had successful careers before taking leadership of this select group of explorers. But what set them apart from other pioneers… and what ultimately led to the success and the survival of this 3-year adventure from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back, was the unique bond between the two men, and the ways in which – together – they led this Corps of Discovery. Stephen Ambrose, whose biography Undaunted Courage is the quintessential text describing this epic journey, described their relationship and their leadership style as “lewisandclark” – one thirteen-letter word… “lewisandclark.” When plans were being drawn up… when justice had to be meted out… when difficult decisions along the way had to be made… it was “lewisandclark” who led the way. To this day, it is still difficult to separate the two men, so intertwined are they with one another, and with the mission which they led. As individuals, they were two talented, courageous, and heroic leaders. But together, they were something different entirely. Together, they were so much more than simply a sum of their individual parts. Together, they were a different kind of creature altogether. Together, they were “lewisandclark.”

Today is Trinity Sunday, which, according to our Book of Common Prayer, is one of the seven principal feast days in the life of the church. I thought about having a little quiz today to see if we could collectively generate the list of those seven feast days… but I know our time is somewhat limited this morning, and I don’t want you to have to re-arrange your plans for the rest of the day. So… let me go through those seven days really briefly with you, in the order in which they fall during our church year.

We begin on December 25 with Christmas Day: followed only 12 days later by Epiphany on January 6: then we have Easter: 40 days later there is Ascension Day: 10 days after that is Pentecost (that was last Sunday): one week later is Trinity Sunday (that’s today): and finally on November 1st is All Saints Day – the seven principal feasts of the church. (Check it all out on page 15 of the prayer book if you want to.)

As Principal Feast Days go, Trinity Sunday is the new kid on the block. It wasn’t until the 14th century, in the year 1343, when Pope John 22nd introduced the Feast of Trinity Sunday to the universal church calendar. Of course, the idea of a Holy Trinity had been around long before that. Although there is very little scriptural reference as such to the Trinity, it’s a concept which has found itself at the heart of the church since its earliest days.

We began our service this morning with those familiar words: “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” And we rattle them off almost as though we know what we’re saying when those words come out of our mouths. But the exact relationship between those three unique characteristics of God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – the Trinity – are probably no clearer in our minds now than they have ever been in minds of churchgoers ever since there has been a church.

In the first few hundred years of the church’s existence following the death and resurrection of Jesus there were varying understandings of the connection between those three aspects of God. Did God, the one who created the universe, exist before Jesus or the Holy Spirit? Or were all three dimensions of God always present? Was Jesus fully God… or fully human… or fully both… or fully neither? And what difference did it make? Is the Holy Spirit an extension of the Creator, or an extension of Jesus, or an extension of both of them, or something different altogether? Different early Christian communities in different locations had different understandings. And it wasn’t until the 4th century, after the emperor Constantine had declared that Christianity was to be the official religion of the Roman Empire, that the church said it needed to settle some of these core theological understandings.

And what better way to come to a meeting of the minds than to have a meeting? And so the church in the 4th century had lots of meetings – they called them Ecumenical Councils – just so they could hash out their different understandings of the nature of God. Let there be no misunderstanding, however. These were not your typical church meetings where people sat blank-faced, wondering whether they’d get out in time to get home for the start of the ball game. These meetings were more like the Democratic caucus event in Nevada last week – with lots of name-calling and chaos reigning. In fact, they were far worse than that. At these Ecumenical Councils, blood was shed. People were branded heretics and tossed out of the church. The winners celebrated their victories, and the losers were sent home to lick their wounds.

Three of those creedal statements – all from the 4th century – are still a part of our Episcopal liturgy to this day: the Nicene Creed, which we’ll say together in a couple of minutes (which was formulated by the Council of Nicea in the year 325); the Apostle’s Creed, a form of which we use when we do baptisms here at St. Mary’s; and the Creed of St. Athanasius, who was the bishop of Alexandria in Egypt. If you’ve never heard of the Creed of St. Athanasius, you can find it in the back of the Prayer Book on page 864, if you’re looking for some stimulating reading to keep you awake during a sermon some time.

As you read any of those three creeds, however, it quickly becomes clear that they sound a lot like carefully worded legal documents… where the individual words make sense, but the phrases and sentences are far less easy to dissect and discern. I mean, what exactly does it mean when we say that we believe in God who is the maker “of all that is, seen and unseen”? Or what is it to believe in Jesus, who was “begotten, not made”? Or how is it that the Holy Spirit is “the giver of life”? And does it make any difference that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son”?

…All of which brings me back around to Lewis and Clark…

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were two distinct individuals. But their greatest distinctiveness, their greatest power, their greatest influence grew not out of their individuality, but rather out of their collective, collaborative, cooperative, collegial relationship with one another. Lewis and Clark – together – could do far more than either of them could have done as individuals. As Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, they may have done some great things. But as “lewisandclark” they changed the world.

I don’t pretend that I will ever have a firm grasp on the three unique manifestations of God as represented in the Holy Trinity. I guess that is just, as is sometime said, above my pay grade. But if we can look at the Holy Trinity as more than simply three distinct and separate aspects of God – and rather look at it as a web of relationships – where any one part can only fully be itself when it is connected to and in conversation with the other parts – then we discover that God is not some kind of static, unmoving, unbendable “thing” whose feet are set in concrete. Rather, God becomes a living, breathing, evolving, dynamic, vital, and active presence in our lives. And even better, we are invited into that same kind of relationship with God – a relationship built not on what “is”, but on what “might be”; a relationship built on possibilities; a relationship built on hopes and dreams and visions. And better yet, we are invited into that same kind of relationship with one another as well.

Think for a minute, if you will, about those people in your life who are most important to you – those folks to whom you are most strongly, most intimately, connected. And think about how those people not only know you… not only are known by you… by at some deep level, those people are you – for you are only fully “you” when you are connected to those around you. And I am only fully “me” when I am connected to those around me. And God is only fully “God” when God is connected to all of this creation. And when you and I are connected one to another, we are somehow more powerfully connected to God, and God to us. Think of the church. We are not simply a gathering of individuals who all happened to show up at the same time, and at the same place this morning. Who we are is somehow substantively different not only when we are together, but because we are together.

About 15 years ago now, the U.S. Army unveiled a new advertising slogan. After years of proclaiming, “Be all that you can be,” they must have decided that they needed a fresh, new message. So, from 2001 to 2006, the Army slogan was, “Be an army of one.” Their marketing strategy was an utter failure. If there’s anything that Trinity Sunday teaches us, it is that there’s no such thing as “an army of one.” We are in this mess called “life” together – or we’re not really in it at all.

With their interdependent, interrelated, interconnected leadership style, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led not just a corps, but a Corps of Discovery. With the interdependent, interrelated, and interconnected nature of the Holy Trinity, God leads this corps – this Body (for that’s what the word “corps” means) – called the Church into a new era of discovery… as together with one another, and together with God, we step into the future, and become the people – become the church – become the corps – that God is inviting us to become. Amen.