God Becomes Who We Need
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today is Trinity Sunday. It is the only Sunday of the year that we dedicate to a doctrine, the doctrine of the Trinity. In the Trinity, we believe that God is three in one: 1) God the Father, 2) God the Son and 3) God the Holy Spirit, all God, all the time.
The Rev. Dr. Kimberleigh Buchanan writes “maybe God is a shape-shifter, one minute holy parent, another holy child, another holy spirit. Jesus didn't talk about the Trinity; neither did Paul, not really. It wasn't until the fourth century, 300 years after Jesus that Christian leaders formalized the idea of the Trinity. They did it at the Council of Nicaea in the year 325. The result was the Nicene Creed. Then some more Christian leaders in the fifth century wrote another creed trying once again to clarify the Trinity for folks, particularly the Jesus part. That Council resulted in the Apostles' Creed.”
Listen for the trinity in these words of the Nicene Creed:
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.”
So we have the doctrine of the Trinity and we have the creed but where does it all come from? The word “trinity” may not appear in the Bible, but there are twenty three Bible verses about the Trinity in the New Testament. Here are a few:
II Corinthians 13:13 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” All three Trinitarian words are there in that Bible verse: Son, Father and Holy Spirit.
I Corinthians 12:4-6. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.”
Ephesians 4:4-6. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
Matthew 28:19 “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.”.
The word “trinity” is a short hand formula for Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I confess that I’m always a bit confused about one thing here: if Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit are all one, then who is Jesus praying to all the time? Himself? My best explanation is this: Jesus’ prayer is like when I say to myself, “Come on, Corby, you can do it!” I appeal to my better nature all the time - maybe that’s what Jesus is doing!
When Jeff was younger, my primary identity was “Jeff’s mom” - so much so that kids would address me as such: “Jeff’s mom, could you please make me something to eat?” As he has grown up and moved on, nobody is calling me “Jeff’s mom” anymore. When I was needed most as a mom, that was my primary identity.
When my Dad was getting older and I was spending a lot of time trying to help him, I was “Walter’s daughter”, and was seen as such by doctors, nurses and folks at Channel Point. When I was most needed as a daughter, that was my primary identity.
When I first moved to Montesano and married Kevin, it seemed the whole town knew me only as “Kevin’s wife”. Now that Jeff is gone and Kevin is retired, I’m finding myself again identifying as Kevin’s wife.
My dearest friend Margaret is here today. When I recently attended her mom’s funeral, I was proud to be introduced to everyone as “Margaret’s friend.”
“Jeff’s mom, Walter’s daughter, Kevin’s wife, Margaret’s friend”: Corby. I am one person and I am all of these things. This is my understanding of the Trinity. We pray to God, the Father, God, the Son or God, the Holy Spirit as our needs change. God becomes who we need. We know God as the all powerful father, we know God as the loving son, our friend, we know God as the spirit that surrounds us always.
God is God when God creates the universe. God is God when God lives in the presence of Jesus. God is God when God surrounds us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Tertullian, a very cranky theologian of the Early Church, used a beautiful metaphor for the Trinity as a plant with the Father as the deep root, the Son as the shoot that breaks forth into the world, and the Spirit as the force which spreads beauty and fragrance on the earth.
And if the doctrine of the Trinity is still confusing, Augustine once taught this to people studying it: “Lest you become discouraged, known that when you love, you know more about who God is than you could ever know with your intellect.” If it’s not about love, it’s not about God!
I think we need a Trinity joke now:
Several centuries ago, the Pope decreed that all the Jews had to leave Italy. There was, of course, a huge outcry from the Jewish community, so the Pope offered a deal. He would have a religious debate with a leader of the Jewish community. If the Jewish leader won the debate, the Jews would be permitted to stay in Italy. If the Pope won, the Jews would have to leave.
The Jewish community met and picked an aged Rabbi, Moishe, to represent them in the debate. Rabbi Moishe, however, could not speak Latin and the Pope could not speak Yiddish. So it was decided that this would be a "silent" debate.
On the day of the great debate, the Pope and Rabbi Moishe sat opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers. Rabbi Moishe looked back and raised one finger.
Next, the Pope waved his finger around his head. Rabbi Moishe pointed to the ground where he sat. The Pope then brought out a communion wafer and chalice of wine. Rabbi Moishe pulled out an apple.
With that, the Pope stood up and said, "I concede the debate. This man has bested me. The Jews can stay.”
Later, the Cardinals gathered around the Pope, asking him what had happened. The Pope said, "First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was still one God common to both our religions.
Then I waved my finger around me to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground to show that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and the wafer to show that God absolves us of our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?"
Meanwhile, the Jewish community crowded around Rabbi Moishe, asking what happened. "Well," said Moishe, "first he said to me, 'You Jews have three days to get out of here.' So I said to him, 'forget it’. Then he tells me the whole city would be cleared of Jews. So I said to him, 'Listen here Mr. Pope, the Jews ... we stay right here!”
"And then?" asked a woman. "Who knows?" said Rabbi Moishe. "We broke for lunch."