You’d think with four priests, I wouldn’t have to preach Trinity Sunday five straight years. But I did. Trust me – explaining what the Trinity means is not as easy as it sounds. God in three persons; three in one, one in three – in a world where for many God isn’t even one – it’s pretty interesting territory.
Jesus sends his disciples to make disciples of all – everyone, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Paul stumbles into the same trinity of names. Yet the word “Trinity” never appears in scripture. Theologians named it centuries later. We’ve been scratching our heads ever since, trying to figure out what they didn’t make clear.
The Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit participate in Jesus’ baptism. Maybe that’s where the church recognized a three-fold divine interaction. Perhaps early Christians sat around campfires sharing their daily experiences with a divine presence they encountered in differing ways. Eventually common experiences are written down. They become doctrines, normative for all just as they are stated.
But does the Trinity really matter to a person dying of cancer, to someone drowning in grief, to the person who keeps looking for a job and comes up empty? They just want assurance God is and remembers their name. They want to know God is for them, not against them.
Naming our experience of the divine fullness is vital to the life of faith. Even when we cannot see evidence of God, the church reminds us God is present in many ways. People just may be in too much pain or overwhelmed to believe it at that moment.
The church says the same God appears in three ways. Augustine in the 5th Century gives a simple analogy. Think of a tree, with roots, a trunk and branches. That tree exists in three forms, but one substance – tree. There you have it, plain and simple. One God comes among us as three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thus Trinity. Only be not too easily deceived. Augustine also wrote a collection of 15 volumes called On Trinity. So you expect me to explain the Trinity in a 12 minute sermon?
The Bible doesn’t help. Jesus talks to the Father. They send the Spirit. Is each a separate entity? – Sounds like it. And we thought God loves us enough to send a person, not a committee. The last thing the church needs is one more committee. Yet the Father, Son and Spirit are the same – one and three, at least. Think about it: You are one person: a female, a sister, maybe a mother, an aunt, a niece, perhaps an employee, or a boss. One role cannot explain our fullness, or God’s. God is Creator/Father – from whom we and all creation are made. God is Son, revealing as much of God as we can understand. God is Holy Spirit, the energy that empowers our belief and trust, weaves and dances among us bringing God’s life into ours and through us into the world. As Episcopal Bishop and my professor, Mark Dyer says, when you experience one, the other two are also present. They travel as a group, not alone.
Think how many ways we might experience God. Sometimes God may feel like an absence. If so, what do you miss? If God is a presence in your life, what is God like for you? Is God terrifying or comforting? Is God judge or redeemer? Can God hold us accountable and love us unconditionally at the same time? Some encounter God in nature; others over a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread. Where do we get help in naming and understanding our experiences of God? Do not the aspects of God’s presence we call “Trinity” help? Is the divine like Jesus – a healer, a relentless lover of sinners, a poker of clergy, a boundary breaker? Is the Holy Spirit a force that transforms you – affirming your trust in God, helping you bear witness of God’s love in your life? And still God is far greater than roles and names we experience.
Think of the Trinity this way. God loves us so much to never leave us alone or stops reaching for us. The Trinity may be just a word, but it’s also a powerful sign to help us glimpse the fullness of divine love present in all. Made in God’s image, the divine must be as diverse as we are. Think about that – how wonderful and fully marvelous that is. And at the same time we are one – the object of God’s initiative of love. As in the life of the divine three abiding in us and we in the divine, the fullness of love that knows no end, is being given through us for the sake of the world that God loves so much, and all who dwell therein. We, too, are a presence of God’s love. That’s Trinity so we can thank those ancient theologians who also counted angels on the head of a pin.
How many of you know who Jimmy Fallon is? I’m having a moment of Fallon inspiration – and I just happen to have a Thank You Card, and my fountain pen. Let’s see – (and I did write): Thank you ancient scholars of theology, for teaching us three in one, and one in three; for fuzzy math and physics, and for starting religious chaos theory. Three in one, one in three – Thanks for leaving us a baffling, Blessed Trinity.