May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I speak to you today in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . this is a traditional Trinitarian opening for sermons, and it seems to be especially appropriate for today: Trinity Sunday. When I make this opening proclamation, I’m picking up the words that we use often in our worship together. Remember last Sunday when Sadie and Simon were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The beginning of most every Eucharist starts: “Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” And the creed that we say every Sunday – that’s where the doctrine of the Trinity is spelled out most clearly and completely.
But actually, in the Gospels, the only direct reference to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit comes in the very last two verses Matthew – where Jesus commissions the disciples when he says: “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 teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This reference in Matthew is about the closest we come to Trinitarian Doctrine in the bible. The word Trinity isn’t used in the bible at all. The whole doctrine of the Trinity as we know it is an interpretation of the early church – it was argued about, twisted around, turned upside down and inside out over a period of hundreds of years. Part of the wonder of this whole process is that we are left with a unified statement of our Christian faith, the Nicene Creed that we’ll be saying together in a few minutes. When you think about it, isn’t it amazing that this statement of faith, has kept the Christian church hanging together for over 1600 years?
But aside from all this history and all the theological nitty-gritty, is it really necessary for us to try to understand the doctrine of the Trinity? Does this idea of the Trinity make any difference to who we are and how we live and how we deal with living our lives day to day?
To flesh out some kind of answer to that – take a minute to reflect on what comes to mind or to heart when you hear the phrase “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” And if it brings to mind stuffy, boring Trinity Sunday sermons of years gone by – that’s OK, perfectly understandable. In most parishes the Trinity Sunday sermon is the all-time low point of the whole year of sermons . . .
But let me throw out a couple of images – these are metaphors that various people over the years have used to express their experience of God as Trinity. Maybe one of these will jump-start your thought process:
— St. Augustine in the 4th century related to God in three persons as . . . creator, redeemer, sanctifier.
— Likewise Dame Julian of Norwich the English mystic of the 14th century knew God as her . . . “Maker, Lover and Keeper.”
— If you’re inspired by nature you may relate to this image – God the Father is the sun, reigning over the earth from the heavens above – Jesus Christ is the sunlight that comes down from heaven to earth, reflecting and radiating the glory of God – the Holy Spirit is the heat and life-giving energy given off by the sun. We have the Trinitarian God as the sun – light – and heat.
— If you like working with your hands, there’s the image of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as the two arms and hands of God the Father – this image comes from the Christian interpretation of the prophet Isaiah who speaks of the arm of the Lord.
All these images are metaphors that are intended to help us get involved with God on a deeper level, help us get a feel of who God is. But as metaphors they can only reveal a partial sense of who God is. They mustn’t limit God . . . God can’t be limited. They aren’t meant to put God in a box. No matter how much we know or say about God, God is always much, much more – more than we can ever know or imagine.
This is what makes God – God. That’s means God remains a mystery – and that’s what the Trinity is: a mystery . . . a mystery that you can never totally understand but that you can live into . . . a mystery of the heart, not the intellect. . . . a mystery of faith.
The bottom line is that the Trinity, God in three persons, can’t be understood. In the Gospel reading Jesus says as much: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” He’s saying we can’t understand God, but he goes on to say “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” So we will come to know God. The Holy Spirit will continue to guide us into truth, into relationship, with God, the Father, through God the Son. The way we grow spiritually is in love, in relationship – not by acquiring an understanding. It’s not what’s in your head that counts, it’s what’s in your heart.
And the thing that really matters most to us about the idea of the Trinity is that it is all about how God relates. When we say God is love, we’re talking about relationship. Love is how the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit relate to each other. The self-given Love that flows among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the model for us of perfect love, a model of how we can come to love each other.
Most important: the Love of the Holy Trinity draws us into itself. This is the good news of the gospel, the good news of the Trinity – we are all invited to share in the Holy relationship, the Holy Love flowing in, through and among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
But there is another truth to be had this Trinity Sunday, one that comes from Jesus’ words:
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. For all that the Father has is mine.”
In another place in John’s Gospel, Jesus says,
“Do you not know that the Father is in me and I in the Father?”
And in another place he prays that his disciples may be one “even as the Father and I are one.”
These are not words of intellectual understanding. In fact, these words seem to make no sense at all!! No, these are words about relationship, words about mutual devotion, about Love, a love that cannot be self contained. It overflows from Father to Son to Spirit and back again.
The love of God, the love that IS God, is like a divine Dance. It is relationship and it is movement – dynamic and graceful and joyful movement. In this movement, God is not alone, He’s never alone, because the very essence of God is relationship. What we see in the Trinity is a dance of Persons who are mutually affirming, mutually caring. The very essence of God is relationship . . . community . . . unconditional love.
The Good News revealed in all this is: God chose to create and redeem humanity. He chose to create and redeem you and me – and each and every individual we encounter. The reason we were created is so that we might join in the Dance.
The invitations have been issued. There are no mere spectators on the dance floor . . . and no outcasts, no outsiders, no wallflowers. God calls us to see ourselves as He sees each of us, and in the dance we find ourselves to be truly loved – just like the Father, the Son and the Spirit of the Trinity.
The invitation has been offered to each of us . . . Shall we dance?