Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Canticle 13 Romans 5: 1-5
An old guy was working out in the gym when he spotted an attractive young woman. He asked a nearby trainer, “What machine should I use to impress that young lady over there?” The trainer looked him up and down and said, “I believe I would try the ATM in the lobby.”
What do we believe? Our beliefs are shaped and supported by the events in the church year. This is Trinity Sunday, truly one of the least favorite Sundays for us preachers to preach. I missed 2017 and last year I talked about the Creed of St. Athanasius and the doctrine of the Trinity spelled out in it. But this year, here we are. Trinity Sunday – in our daily lives, does it really matter to us that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit? We just want to know that God is God and that God somehow knows who we are, what we are doing, what we are going through, and what we need. How can we understand the doctrine of the Trinity, when we don’t know who God is for us?
With Trinity Sunday, Jesus shares the promise of the coming of the Spirit of truth. Christians see in the moment the arrival of the Holy Spirit, whose task includes the gentle taking of our hands as Christians and leading us into the fullness of the truth. The concept of the Trinity is not a mathematical equation that doesn’t really make sense; instead is an account of how Christianity both reveals the love of God and promises that the full richness of that love will take centuries to unfold.
In the Trinity, we have the Creator God (the Father). We have the Son (the revelation of God, embodied in Jesus of Nazareth). In that revelation we see the basics – the God of love who is calling us all to discover love. And in the Holy Spirit (the connecting aspect of God that inspires, acts in, and reveals to the Church), we have the promise that the full journey of the implications of God’s love will take centuries to unfold. They all preach the same truth to the world in different times, forms and ways.
Trinity Sunday is a time of theological reflection. That’s what the Old Testament reading from Proverbs presents for us. It contains serious reflection on issues closely related to the questions that finally led to the doctrine of the Trinity. In the reading, playful Wisdom delights in being the first product of God’s actions, as one who reveled in the presence of the Maker at creation. The New Testament reading for Trinity Sunday mentions the Trinity, but does little to fully develop the picture of the Triune God. In John’s Gospel reading, we find the parting words of Jesus to his followers and the present word of the risen Christ to his church in the world.
The Gospel reading from The Message – “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said. He will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you. Everything the Father has is mine. That is why I have said, ‘He takes from me and delivers to you.”
In this passage, Jesus continues his teaching and is talking about a new relationship between believer and God. We will be led into the truth. Truth that the Holy Spirit guides us to is the truth about Christ. The spirit also helps us through patient practice to discern right from wrong. The Holy Spirit is to tell us what is to come. The nature of the mission, the opposition they would face and the final outcome of their efforts. But the teaching had to unfold for them. They didn’t fully understand these promises until the Holy Spirit came after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then the Holy Spirit revealed truths to the disciples that they wrote down for others to learn. It celebrates all of us being works in progress.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity can be described as a map charting the Christian journey into the mystery of God. But on this day of the church year, we have to ask…Barbara Brown Taylor poses these questions…”Why does one God need three names? How does one God embody three forms? How can God be both three and one? The Bible often compounds the problem by making it sound as if all three operate independently of one another. Who are all these people? How can God the Father be his own son? And if Jesus is God, then whom is he talking to on so many occasions? And where does the Holy Spirit come in? Is that the spirit of God, the spirit of Jesus, or someone else? If they are all in one, then why do they come and go at different times, and how can one of them send another to them?”
Believers throughout the centuries have tried to describe God, but descriptions don’t satisfy us. The problem is that we rarely experience God twice in the same way. God meets us where we are. Some days we see God in the crossroads of our lives, pointing and guiding us in a certain direction. Other times, we experience God as we are trying to cope and pick up the shattered pieces of our lives. God’s presence becomes the glue to reassemble our brokenness. Other days, God comes as a shepherd, feeding us and leading us beside still waters, offering words of comfort and peace. Some days, God is a whirlwind like we heard about last Sunday, who blows away our doubts and uncertainties, and emboldens our gifts. The list goes on and on - God the teacher, the challenger, the helper, the stranger, God the encourager, the affirmer, the yes, the no, the not yet.
God is many, which is at least one of the mysteries behind the doctrine of the Trinity. That faith statement is our confession that God comes to us in all kinds of ways, as different from one another as they can possibly be. The other mystery is that God is one. There can’t be a fierce God and a loving one, a God of the Old Testament and another of the New Testament. When we experience God in contradictory ways, that’s our problem, not God’s. We can’t solve this dilemma by dissecting the divine being. All we can do is decide whether or not to open ourselves up to a God whose freedom and imagination is limitless – a God who can boggle our minds – a God who can be all for us.
We preachers sometimes tie ourselves in knots to explain what all this means. Some explain that the Trinity is like a three-leaf clover. St. Patrick supposedly used the clover. Others point to H2O in its three incarnations as water, ice and steam. All I know for sure is that if human beings were created in the image of God, then God is wonderfully diverse and we are more alike than we think.
With all of that said, thank goodness, Frederick Buechner suggests a helpful way of thinking about the Holy Trinity. From all eternity, God is God in three persons, just as the creeds affirm. But for our limited human perspective, we experience the Father as God-beyond-us; the Son as God-beside-us;and the Holy Spirit as God-within-us.
When myLeadership Waycross went to the Cornelius Blueberry Farm in 2016, it helped me understand the Trinity in real time. It was an amazing production. I have not been paid for this promotion. We began by taking off all our jewelry and putting on cute red hair nets. Walking down the hall, we looked like fans at a I Love Lucy Convention. We saw this machine that processed the machine picked berries. The hand-picked berries have less debris in them. So, when the berries are dumped into the machine, they move along on a conveyor belt and are shook so the leaves and twigs will fall out. Then they are given a burst of air to get rid of more debris. Then, they are sent down a conveyor line for people on both sides of the belt to hand pick out the things that are not good – twigs, too ripe berries, and such.
I started to think that this could be God beyond us. God is present to provide structure and support during those times of testing – the shaking of our values and the bursts of air that disturb our beliefs, help us grow, and narrow our focus.
God beside us, in the image of Jesus is seen in the workers who work side by side day in and day out. Only a couple of them took their eyes of the berries to smile at us. They were there as a team. If one person misses something, the next person picks it up. Isn’t that what Jesus does with us? Jesus - has our backs, has our hearts, and has our future as we move through life. Jesus is God beside us.
God within usas the Holy Spirit gets a little trickier. In today’s gospel we hear of the Holy Spirit’s relationship with the Father. The activity of the Holy Spirit advances the teachings of Jesus and helps us see Jesus and be Jesus in the community of faith. So, the Holy Spirit could be represented by the chill in the air at the processing plant that helped keep the berries fresh, but also helped keep the focus on the task at hand. As we breathed in the chill, we warmed it up and released it. So, it is wisdom, scripture and experience that leads us into all truth.
Buechner says that the Trinity points toward a balanced and healthy relationship with God. We tend to get into spiritual difficulty when we focus too much on one part of this three-fold relationship and it becomes more prominent than the others. God-beyond-us and God-beside-us, and God-within-usare all needed to grow into mature Christians.
The doctrine of the Trinity helps us avoid pitfalls. Clearly, we need to be in relationship with God the Father, who created us and holds us accountable for obedience to God’s laws; God the Son, who draws near to call, forgive, reconcile, and befriend us; and God the Holy Spirit, who enters the deepest recesses of our souls to renew, transform, and re-create us from within.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is challenging but necessary for us to reexamine each Sunday after Pentecost. God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. God’s love is not static or self-centered; it reaches out and draws others in. God sets the pattern of true love, the basis for all love relationships – when we love someone, we are willing to give freely to the point of self-sacrifice. Jesus accepted God’s will, and offered us new life. God loves the world; God desires that none perish; God gives the Son that all may live; God acted in Christ not to condemn, but to save. To trust in this is to have life anew, life eternal.
On this Sunday, Father’s day, we are reminded of a father’s love. It is that love that we celebrate and acknowledge today, but really everyday when we follow Jesus. For some folks, Father’s Day is hard because of the way their fathers treated them. For others, it is about missing our fathers and appreciating their legacy in us. Today, we are reminded that God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son…. God loves us and today we sincerely express our love for God in worship, praise, prayers and thanksgiving.
When we share the gospel with others, our love must be like Jesus – willingly giving up our own comfort and security so that others might join us in receiving God’s love. Perhaps today on Trinity Sunday and Father’s Day, we should work around the edges of the mystery of God, searching for an experience that has opened us up, has given us new hearts, has forgiven us, has given us hope more that it has given us understanding. On this Trinity Sunday, listen to the stirrings of your heart, to let go of the questions and embrace the mystery of God. What if we committed to talk more withGod and less aboutGod and see what happens in our hearts, in our minds, in our relationships, in our lives? Our lives will be transformed. In the name of the great Triune God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer…Amen.