(Make sign of the cross) In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There it is. The Trinity. The hand to the forehead may be seen as a prayer to the Father for wisdom; the hand to the stomach, the sign of the earth, as a prayer to the Son who becameincarnate; and the hand to the shoulders, a place of power, as a prayer to the Holy Spirit.
To whom do you pray? Do you say, Dear Jesus, or Dear Father in heaven or even Dear Holy Spirit? Do you just say Dear God or Dear Lord? Have you always prayed the same way, to the same image of God? These are good questions for today, this Trinity Sunday.
Every Sunday we say that we believe in God the Father Almighty, we believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ and we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life. This creed has been a controversial statement of faith since its inception. Some people maintain that the doctrine of the Trinity is not even based on scripture but I think it shows up pretty well in Paul’s very early writing: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” God, Christ and Holy Spirit. Is Paul speaking about three different people or are they all one?
This is a knotty problem and has been debated and fought over for centuries. Whole churches have split over these questions. Augustine, one of the greatest minds of the Western World, took fifteen books to talk about the Trinity, fifteen books that took him over ten years to write. He wrote about the nature of God who comes to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He made seven statements about God: The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. The Son is not the Father. The Father is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Son. And then, after these six statements, Augustine adds one more. There is only one God. Now. Is that clear?
I found this writing by Robert Brown which I thought was the best explanation of the Trinity so let me paraphrase it for you:
Imagine an early Christian, maybe Peter. He is a good, practicing Jew. He prays to the God of his fathers, his Jewish people are the chosen people of God. His people have interacted with God, even wrestled with God throughout much of the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible. Peter has studied, worshipped and experienced this God, in such close relationship that he thinks of him as Father, Abba. He feels close to this God.
BUT, one morning, after fishing all night and catching nothing, while sitting mending his nets, Peter meets a man who seems more than a man. He becomes a follower of this man, Jesus. He just doesn’t seem to fit into any normal, human categories. So when Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter feels that this man is God, and yet, he is still a man.
When the sad time comes that Jesus is no longer with his followers, no longer physically present, somehow, they do not feel that God has left them. He has sent them the Holy Spirit. This is not another God, this is the same God, making himself known to them as a constant presence and the source of their power. With this Spirit they can heal and convert others.
Peter has known God as Father, he has known God as Son, and now he knows God as Spirit. God isn’t to be talked about in the past tense - he is active and at work right now Peter, with the promise that he will continue to be so in the future.
So the question of the trinity isn’t some theological knot we are meant to try to untie this morning. I think that this example clarifies that the Trinity is about relationship. Peter has a relationship with God, with Jesus and then with the Spirit.
As a child I attended Our Lady of Guadalupe Roman Catholic church. I remember thinking that it wasn’t a trinity or a triangle that we worshipped but some sort of square because so many of our prayers were dedicated to the Virgin Mary. I always thought that she was particularly good at intervening and reminding God of our earthly needs. For the most part though, I felt a close relationship with God the father. I prayed to God and confessed to God and thought of God as a friend by my side.
As an adult, and especially as a church school teacher, I’ve developed a much closer relationship with Jesus. I love that I feel so sure of his understanding and forgiveness. I find now that I pray most of the time to Jesus.
As a child I thought of the Holy Spirit as Casper the Friendly Ghost. My awareness of the spirit has grown up with me and I often feel a presence of the spirit during our services here at St. Marks. I’m been moved to tears when our church school kids pray the Lord’s Prayer - I feel that there is a spiritual presence in the room with us, a sense of MORE. I often feel the Spirit when I’m in nature, in beautiful places like the rain forest. There is a spot out on the Lake Quinault Nature trail where I’m involuntarily brought to prayer and praise of God when I hike along. The sense of the Holy Spirit is huge for me in this one place. Jeff and Kevin know that I want my ashes to be spread in that spot after I die.
So, just as Peter defined his understanding of the Trinity as his relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I can also say that my experience of the Trinity has grown up with me. The key here is that the Trinity is relational. We relate to the Father, the son and the spirit in different ways, at different times.
There are all kinds of images to help us try to understand how we can believe that indeed there is one God and in that God are three persons. Here is a famous one which you’ve probably all heard: Water: it can be ice, steam or just wet, wet water. Three things, all water. Here is my NOT famous image: Corby: Mother, Wife, Daughter, three things, all Corby. What I like about this last image is that it defines me by my relationships and I think that the same is true of the trinity. It is all about the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit IN GOD.
The trinity doesn’t explain the nature of God but our relationship with God. Here’s how we experience God: as something beyond us; something among us and something within us. The trinity is God who is love coming to us in whatever way we humans need to receive God’s love.
One of our church school kids never has any other experience of church or prayer. One day, as we finished saying the Lord’s Prayer he made the sign of the cross hastily, the way we’ve all seen athletes do it: He went like this: (sign of the cross, then point to heaven with both fingers, victoriously). Perhaps we should all acknowledge the Trinity with such joy!