Today is that time of the church year we celebrate the Trinity of God called Trinity Sunday. I gave this sermon two years ago and talked all about the history of the Trinity as a Christian faith principle, and also provided a lot of examples of how we profess our belief in the Trinity in our worship service—especially in the Nicene Creed said each Sunday. I also claimed clearly not to be an expert on this topic of the Trinity, one of the toughest items to explain about our Christian faith.
Lucy Lind Hogan, from the Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, started her sermon for Trinity Sunday this way: “I suspect that most of you in this congregation will not appreciate a sermon that begins like this: “There are things that are essential to our faith, but I can’t speak about them because you will not be able to understand. They are far too complicated and way over your head.” She is referring to what Jesus said to his disciples as told in our Gospel reading today from John 16.12—“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” She goes on to say that, of course, the reality is that there are many dimensions of our life in God that we don’t understand and we may not understand until we are seated at the heavenly banquet.
This week leading up to Trinity Sunday, there were several writings on the internet, pointing out how not to explain the Trinity. Here are some examples of some bad analogies:
- Different forms of the same thing—water with its three forms, ice, liquid, and steam/vapor (but not all at the same time!)
- Different part of one thing—three leaves of a clover (but not distinct independently functioning parts at the same time).
- Different aspects that come from one thing—a star, has heat and light.
- Or even different roles of one person—a father, a husband, and a worker.
These all fall short of explaining who and what the Trinity of God really is.
However confusing it is, the principle of the Trinity is this--it is one God comprising three distinct, eternally co-existing persons; the Father, the Son (incarnate in Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Together, these three persons are sometimes called the Godhead, although there is no single term in use in Scripture to denote the unified Godhead. They are distinct from each other: the Father has no source, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father. Though distinct, the three persons cannot be divided from one another in being or in operation.
Catherine Mowry LaCugna, explains in her book, God For Us, the practical view of the Trinity. “The Trinity is “ultimately a practical doctrine with radical consequences for Christian life . . . [it] is the specifically Christian way of speaking about God, [and] what it means toparticipate in the life of God through Jesus Christ in the Spirit.””
Back to Lucy Hogan, she says that, “The Holy Trinity is about relationship and indwelling. It is about collaboration and the self-communication of God. The Trinity is about the mutuality of God within the God-head, about our invitation into the God-head by Jesus. And it is about our mutuality with each other--guiding, speaking, and declaring to one another the glory of God--Father/Creator, Jesus/Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is our way of life made possible by God.” (Now that really explained things well—not!!)
In our 2nd reading from Romans, it only took 5 verses to get in all three parts of the Trinity: Peace with God (verse 1). This peace, as well as access to grace, has come through Jesus Christ (verse 2). And, God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (verse 5). The Son gives us access to God’s glory and the Spirit pours out God’s love for us. This writer might not have been totally clear that he was describing the Trinity, as it supposedly took almost 4 centuries to arrive at this doctrine as officially stated for the Church. But here we have a writer basically describing the Trinity in the late first century.
In the synoptic Gospels the baptism of Jesus is often interpreted as a representation of all three persons of the Trinity: "And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'" And in our sacrament of Baptism we bless "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
We have the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit", and also Paul the Apostle's blessing: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all".
In John’s Gospel today, Jesus says he will send to the Apostles from the Father, the Advocate/the Spirit of truth, when Jesus himself leaves to be with the Father. But here is a very important thing for us to understand: Verse 13—“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
On Pentecost Sunday last week, Corby spoke to us about the Spirit this way: “We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, not only to the disciples but to all of God’s people. It can be hard to understand the workings of this invisible, powerful force. The Holy Spirit is present in our lives in a vague, amorphous, undefinable way. We can no more wrap our hands around it than we can capture the wind…Think of the Holy Spirit as the wind of God blowing around in our lives…Let’s allow the mighty wind of the Spirit to blow us out into the world to do the will of God.”
For me, this whole business of the Trinity is very challenging to understand. But, is mastering the Trinity really the goal? Are we to become experts about all things Godly, and Christian, and religious? Or are we just called to understand God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit better—to learn what is asked of each of us with our lives. To me our lives means:
- Our own personal lives and relationship with the Trinity through prayer, praise and action
- With our families
- With our fellow Christians (especially here at St. Mark’s) but also other Christians around us
- With those we meet in our worldly activities daily (at work, at school, at the store, at the library)--even on the streets!
We have the Holy Spirit available to us now to help us—let’s use it (him/her). As Corby said, and we now say on our church message board—“Let the Holy Spirit Set Us Free!”