Genesis 1:1-2, 4a Canticle 13 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 Matthew 28:16-20
If someone asks you – “What do we believe?” what is your response? With most of us there would be a period of silence. Our beliefs are supported by the events in the church year. This is Trinity Sunday, and we gather to try to understand this mystery of one God in three divine persons. Is it possible for us to truly understand the majesty of God? Perhaps, we could better acknowledge God as an incomprehensible mystery, love beyond our ability to grasp. The message is heard throughout Canticle 13 as it gives forth the reasons for our praising God. Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers; *you are worthy of praise; glory to you.
Truly, the Trinity and our participation in this loving relationship of persons are very important for our daily living. In the Trinity we discover the model of perfect love. God as Trinity is an eternal exchange of love. The love of Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. What we celebrate and believe is a communion of love enabling us to become the community of God’s love. We know and believe that Scripture has told us the story of God, who breaks into our history sharing divine life with us. Scripture introduces us to God who creates us in God’s own image and likeness (Genesis 1).
In the Word we encounter God who became like us and gave us the divine self as the Son of God who promised to make his divine home in us and send us the Spirit who will teach us everything. The whole cosmos reflects the reality of the relationship of the Trinity; yet in all of this, we only get a glimpse into the mystery we call God. We resort to talking in images, sometimes from Scripture, sometimes from our ordinary lives, to be able to capture, if only for a moment, that which by faith we believe.
The New Testament readings for Trinity Sunday focus on Paul’s instructions for the church and how they can be present for each other.
He says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” Wow, all of us…no matter who we are, or where we live, or how much we give to the church. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” Isn’t that what we all want to have all of our bases covered? Don’t we hope and pray that God will be with us in the decisions and challenges of our lives. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity can cover all our bases! The church that Paul addresses in 2 Corinthians offers the comforting assurance that today’s church didn’t invent congregational conflict. We hear frightening stories of churches in conflict and communities in conflict. Paul calls for order, mutual agreement and peace, qualities much needed in the community in Corinth and in our community today. He links the presence of the “God of love and peace” to that community with their movement toward such goals.
It would be easy to miss the link between these short verses, Paul’s closing exhortations and closing benediction. It seems clear that they are linked, in that the very qualities that are to characterize the Christian community already characterize the relations that exist within the Trinity: order, mutual agreement and peace. I think Paul would agree with Bishop Neil Alexander when he says, “It is not necessary that we all stand in the same place, but it is essential that we all stand together.” Order, mutual agreement and peace.
But on this day of the church year, we have to ask…Why does one God need three names? 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. Believers throughout the centuries have tried to describe God, but descriptions don’t satisfy us. The problem is that we rarely experience God the same way twice. Depending on the circumstances and the need, we see God in different ways. We see God the teacher, the challenger, the helper, the stranger, God the encourager, the affirmer, the adversary, 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 cannot be a fierce God and a loving one, a God of the Old Testament and another of the New. When we experience God in contradictory ways, that’s our problem, not God’s. We can’t solve this dilemma by dissecting the divine self. 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.
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. We saw that yesterday as we stood at the steps of the courthouse asking for justice for all people. We stood there listening to folks tell their story of fear and uncertainty and could feel their pain. Change has to happen and it will begin with us. It is time for an honest conversation about our involvement in oppression and injustice and to seek forgiveness and reconciliation so we can move forward.
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.
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. Many people seem to focus on the first person of the Trinity – God-beyond-us. In God the Father, we experience God’s holiness, righteousness, power, majesty and greatness, which encourages our worship. But we also struggle with seeing God as the law giver and judge. So, then we focus on obeying the rules. Rules are good, but fear and angst can hold us back, can scare us away from developing our relationship.
So, we need to know not only God-beyond-us, but also God-beside-us. The good news is that in Jesus Christ, God has drawn near to forgive us and reconcile us to the Father. Jesus offers himself to us as our mediator, intercessor, companion, and friend. Jesus is the bridge of reconciliation from the world to God. But if we focus only on our relationship with Jesus and exclude the others, we may get ourselves into trouble. Many Christians like to talk about a personal relationship with Jesus – as friend, a non-threatening, accepting and affirming presence. That’s wonderful, but such a friendship can easily become a cozy, and comfortable relationship that makes no demands on us and doesn’t challenge us in any way to grow or change. It is wonderful to be comforted, but it is necessary for us to continue to grow in our faith.
So, in addition to God-beyond-us and God-beside-us, we also need God-within-us. The Holy Spirit is the divine agent of inner renewal and transformation, working mysteriously within to reform us and transform us into who God has created us to be. But, to focus only on God-within-us, to neglect God-beyond-us and God-beside-us, can be disastrous too. So much of what is considered spirituality today consists exclusively of a quest for “the God-within.” This kind of spirituality assumes that everything we discover about ourselves, including our own dysfunction, comes from God. So, we end up worshiping a God made in our own image, instead of the reverse. Any spirituality focused solely on the experience of God-within-us can become totally self-centered and self-absorbed. This ends up mistaking ourselves for God, and we are back to worshipping idols.
The doctrine of the Trinity helps us avoid these 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 marks the journey toward the fullness of the Christian life. 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.
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, we should work around the edges of the mystery of God, searching for something closer to an experience, 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, our earnest human efforts to describe something that cannot ever be described, which is the nature of God. What if we committed to talk more with God and less about God 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.