The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Today I have a riddle for you. Ready? What is three in one and one in three? If you guess “Three in One” machine oil, you lose. If you guess new math or quantum physics, you lose. If you guess the Trinity, you win. That part was pretty easy, wasn’t it? Today is Trinity Sunday, and I’ll bet you could hardly wait to get here: “Oh boy, I get to hear a sermon about an ancient relic from a different world. How great can church get?”
The other day I was visiting at the hospital. A nurse asked me my denomination. I told her I am Episcopalian. She asked if we are Christian. I said, “Yes, I think so. Most days we try.” Then she asked, “Does your church believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?” I told her, “Sure – Our people believe almost anything especially around Happy Hour. Sure.” Now she wants to join us. I did tell her what we stand for and try to believe, including the Creeds, which are structured in the persons of the Trinity. She seemed satisfied we are on the same team. I thought – “Interesting. I am sure we approach worship and faith differently, but the Trinity unites us.”
Trinity is not a hot topic, even for Christians these days. It’s not topping the charts on Facebook where you can see the hottest and most important issues, like: what someone ate for breakfast, what annoying people will be doing today, and who had a mocha cappuccino yesterday.
The concept of the Trinity is confusing, “Are they talking one god or three? Three in one, one in three – those Christians don’t know math.” People who believe God is one have serious problems with a religion that says a human is also divine.
If Jesus even knew the word Trinity, he never let on, as far as we can tell. He didn’t make believing in it a requirement for eternal life. Trinity gets no mention in the New Testament. The word was created by some fifth century church scholars. Bishops at Councils liked and the majority voted it in. And Trinity still hangs around, even if we don’t fully understand it. So there must be something here. The God of scripture is clearly one God. And here’s the mystery: Trinity describes God’s inner life. Christians through time experience three centers of activity in the divine life – God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Think of Trinity not as an ancient doctrine, but as the inner life of the divine – a dance and relationship of love flowing and returning. The Father first gives Jesus all that is His. Jesus gives what he is given to his disciples. But the earth bound Jesus leaves. The Spirit is sent to reveal what the Son and Father share, making the divine life known to us who do not have the same experience with Jesus as the first disciples.
In reading scripture and listening to their hearts and to each other’s experiences, the early church discovered common themes in the divine life. They realized a spirit that overflows into the world seeking to draw all people into God. They named their experience of God as one, in a dynamic action, the Trinity. In their better moments, caught up into the life of the Trinity, they shone as God’s community of love for the world. That same life indwells us as the gift of the Holy Spirit, revealing the Father and Son’s love to us and through us, if we let it. Filled with divine energy we in turn offer back our love, through our worship of God and by loving others with God’s indwelling love.
The church, mirroring God’s life, can never be a private and exclusive club for good people. As the divine fullness comes to us, we are being made into a sign of God’s reign on earth drawing near, and sent out into the world. We bear that good news that the passionate, redeeming power of God’s love conquers sin and death. We see all people as persons of worth, as God’s beloved, and heirs of God’s grace – even if they can’t see themselves that way. When we can see others as God does, that is the Trinity at work in us and flowing through us.
God’s life in the world is the Trinity’s action, not ours. When we embrace the stranger, welcome the outsider, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and claim the rejected, we are not just nice, benevolent people. We are signs the Trinity indwells our lives and our church – relationally, person to person. When we really see others and listen to their stories; when we treat each other as brothers and sisters in relationships of love and respect; when see the alien and enemy as God’s beloved; when we break down walls and barriers that exclude others, that’s the life of Trinity at work through us. Filled with that life we will see the world differently; we are transformed from the inside out, and the bottom, up. Fear, prejudice, and anger no longer rule us. God, unconditional love, rules our lives.
In a unity of love given by the Spirit through us God shares divine life and love to a world in desperate need of love, hope, and to hear some good news for a change. Beneath masks we often wear are lonely, empty, hurting, confused, unloved, and sometimes unloving people. The church doesn’t own God. God indwells us to give away His love freely to all. The love among and between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit draws us into one family. When God raised Jesus from death, he comes bearing the divine spirit to say, “You are forgiven and loved. Welcome home,” even for those who rejected, abused, and killed Jesus.
And the spirit indwelling us fills us with that holy mission. Three centers of divine love, one God, catch us and unite us in love, with God and one another. Anything less is untrue to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All around us is God’s life. Stop, look and be filled. We come to this table, and God, one in three, meets us in gifts of bread and wine. We take in these gifts, and then we go out to proclaim good news, and make sure no one out there has to starve for love – God’s or ours.