In the Name…
A non-religious family sent their son to a church school because it had a good reputation. One day, the boy came home and said, "Guess what, Dad. I learned that Trinity means God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three equals one." At once, his father replied, "Son, three equals one is bad math. God is one and not divided. And besides, we don't believe in him."
This is always a Sunday that most clergy dread as we try to prepare sermons on the doctrine of the Trinity that are not guaranteed to put everyone to sleep, preacher included. Well, how many sermons on the Trinity can you remember? Exactly. It's a pity, though, because the doctrine of the Trinity is uniquely Christian. No other religion has ever had a concept of God anything like it. In fact, defining it took almost three hundred years.
The story involved emperors and bishops, councils and schisms, saints and heretics, all culminating in the adoption of the Nicene Creed in 325. And yet, fascinating as all that history may be, the fact is that the doctrine of the Trinity was not an abstract "top down" theology that began with some isolated academics. Rather, it grew out of the experience of the very first Christians as a way to understand the God of our salvation history.
The Trinity is at the root of all we celebrate. Consider our liturgical calendar. On Christmas, we celebrated the love of the Father who sent us His Son. On Easter, we celebrated the saving work of the Son in the Cross and Resurrection. On Pentecost, we celebrated the descent of the Holy Spirit. And today, we celebrate the great mystery of One God, eternal, unchanging, in Three Persons.
From Advent through Pentecost we focus all of our attention on Jesus. We live the drama of Christ, Sunday by Sunday, from birth to Ascension, But, now comes the hard part, the season of Sundays after Pentecost in which, having known Christ and been given the power of the Spirit, we take what we've learned, and use what we've been given, for the work of our personal ministry. This has always been the challenge of the Christian community from the very beginning. In fact, you might say that every Sunday of the past 2,000 years has, in fact, been a Sunday after Pentecost. Our liturgical seasons are just repeated each year so that we don't forget from whence we came. Well, the earliest Christians knew from whence they came. They knew God created all that was and is, as reflected in the Genesis reading for today. But, they understood that God was more than just a creator. They read the stories where God hears the cries of the people and brings them out of bondage, where God calls Israel "my children", and weeps over their misfortunes. No, this God is not a distant spirit from high up and far away. He is a loving and gracious Father. Then, God became flesh and dwelt among us. The Incarnate Word. Thus, in Jesus, the community understood that God had lived as one of us and it experienced the resurrected Christ as Saviour and Redeemer.
And finally the Christian community understood God as the Holy Spirit when the Spirit came to the whole community and not just to a select few as in the Old Covenant he had only come to prophets. Now Moses' great wish, "would that all God's people were prophets" was fulfilled. The community now experienced God as the sanctifier of the faithful.
Trinity Sunday is the liturgical moment in time when we begin the struggle to understand how it is we live in this community of Trinitarian faith. The dramas of Jesus' life are over and we are the ones left to tell the story. We are the ones who go out into the world to proclaim the good news, to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore, we must understand how the Trinity acts and lives in our lives.
People are not converted because we can articulate a theological doctrine. They are converted because we can share how God has acted in our lives as life-giving Father, salvation-giving Redeemer, and empowering Sanctifier. By the way, I know people who say they have trouble talking about God as a Father because their fathers were not very nice. And we all know people who have been there. But, it doesn't help to call God a "mother", because, as we are often tragically reminded on the evening news, in a lot of households mothers aren't all that nice, either. We just have to accept that God chose to be revealed as a father, but in the most perfect sense.
And how do we understand and share God the Son, the Redeemer? By realizing that we are Jesus' hands, feet and heart in the world today. As we eat Christ's body and drink his cup week after week and year after year we become, as the saying goes, what we eat and, through the Holy Eucharist we become Christ in the world. As a great saint once noted, we may be the only Christian that someone who does not know Christ may ever encounter. What will they see?
For, we have been empowered by the spirit of God to go into the world to exercise the Gifts of the Spirit. Too often the phrase "Spirit-filled" has been narrowly defined to mean a certain type of charismatic when the truth is that we are all Spirit-filled. How we exercise and live out our lives in the Spirit is, of course, up to us, but we should always try to do our best.
Trinity Sunday, then, is a day for the community to celebrate how it understands God and how it can live out that understanding. It is an opportunity for us to reflect upon and struggle with the meaning of God in our own lives and as a church. And, it is the day we reflect upon who we were, who we are, and who we will be.
Three does equal one. Bad math, perhaps, but good theology. And, we not only believe in it. We live it. In the Name....