The First Sunday after Pentecost on our Christian calendar every year is designated Trinity Sunday.
I can never prepare a sermon or teaching about the Trinity without remembering a story from my childhood, which I told 14 years ago, at a clergy retreat.
All of the priests were broken into small groups, and one of the topics for discussion in the small group setting was about experiences from our early childhood awareness of God.
When it came to my turn, I shared about the time I was sitting on my front porch trying to explain the Trinity to some fellow first graders. None of them could understand how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit could be one God. It came up because one of them said that her father didn’t believe because in God or church, and that God could be three in one. It seemed clear to me, because I never knew anything else, so I did my best to explain it, and I shared with the clergy group what I said in that early teaching session.
After I shared this story, one of the other priests, Mother Carola Von Wrangle, quipped, “Ah, and from there you went on to the hard stuff.” Of course, everyone at the table broke into laughter. We laughed because after years of seminary study, and quite a few years of collective ministry experience among the group, and the writings of theologians over a span of 2,000 years, we still find ourselves at a loss to adequately explain the Trinity, yet as a precocious six-year old, I held forth.
Perhaps this is the reason that Jesus, prior to leaving his disciples, goes to great lengths to tell the disciples about the Holy Spirit who will come to them. God made sense to them, and they had learned who Jesus was, and were still learning why he came and what his coming meant to them. But the notion of a Spirit, another aspect of God that would be present to them and dwell within them, must have been a lot harder to understand, that is, until they experienced Pentecost, the actual first anointing of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ Ascension.
Last week we celebrated Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit who empowers, imparts understanding of spiritual mysteries, and draws God’s people together into oneness. And in John’s gospel today, Jesus tells the disciples that he still has many things to tell them, but they cannot bear it all at once. Rather the Spirit of truth will come and guide them into all the truth.
Well, today we aren’t going to attempt to understand all truth, but I thought we might look at some aspects of truth as they apply to what we understand about the Trinity. One way of explaining Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as you know, is as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. God as creator is our parent, who has brought us, and everything in the world, into being. This creator parent loves us as none other and endows us with personality, talents and abilities. We are created Imago Dei, in God’s image, to reflect the very nature of God and to express and extend God’s creative genius.
Jesus as Redeemer is God’s total and ultimate revelation of sacrificial love. In Jesus the divine becomes human, so that through faith in him, humanity can become divine. Jesus loves us back to God when we are far from God, when our spirits are estranged from God. Jesus conquers death, ushering in eternal spiritual life with God for all who believe in him, for all who accept and internalize this divine mystery.
Then the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity who comforts, strengthens, empowers, and sustains our faith, hope and ability to love others with the love of God. The Spirit leads us into truth and makes the person of Jesus real to us, so that the very life and nature of Jesus dwells within us. The Spirit guides the Church, enabling us to live into the Kingdom of God, here and now.
A second way of understanding the Trinity is in relationship. The Father and Son share a bond of love and divine purpose that is so indissoluble, so intimate, so intense, so unified that it becomes a separate entity. The energy and light that surround this union is, expressing it through the weakness of finite language, atomic, and it takes on a life and persona of its own. As C. S. Lewis writes in The Joyful Christian, “The union between the Father and Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person.”
I don’t think I understood this concept until about 25 years ago when I was in a relationship with a very special man. Kim and I shared an amazing bond in our spiritual lives, similar intellectual pursuits, sense of humor, compatible physical energy, and common interests.
I remember telling my spiritual director about him. “Something happens between us. It’s as if what he and I have together becomes a third party, something so tangible and real that it is not only within us and between us, but in a way standing outside of us, taking on its own essence or being.” She looked at me and replied, “Isn’t that Trinity?” Her comment sent chills through me.
It was only after I heard myself explaining our relationship to my spiritual director that I realized just how amazing, supernatural, and God given was our relationship. I believe that my personal experience in that relationship was a tiny microcosm of what happens between the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is that force in and between and among them such that the Spirit is the third personality of the Godhead that draws us into unity and love in and between and among the God-head.
The Trinity is the model for Christian love and unity here on earth, as together we live and serve God’s purposes, for God’s glory and for God’s Kingdom. Tom Beaudoin wrote in the U.S. Catholic that “Trinitarian life is also our life. The doctrine of the Trinity is not ultimately a teaching about God, but a teaching about God’s life with us and our life with each other—God in us, we in God, all of us in each other.” Sounds a lot like our gospel readings of the past few weeks as Jesus has been teaching.
And just as the Trinity is so indissoluble that it cannot be broken down or split apart, we, too, are to be one in divine love and purpose. This is Jesus’ desire for us when he says that we are to be one, even as he and the Father are one. Understanding this can provide great hope and comfort in knowing that as Christians who disagree on great and small matters in the church and in society at large, God is not going to let us break down the Church or God’s working out of God’s purposes in the world.
Jesus left the earth in his physical presence, but the Holy Spirit indwells us and reveals the almighty plan of God to us and through us. Jesus doesn’t sit isolated from us in the heavens, directing our behavior by remote control as if we are robots. Before Jesus ascended he said to his disciples, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18). After commissioning them to go and make disciples of all nations, he assured them, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Verse 20)
The relationship we share with God is personal. God’s love for each and every one of us is personal. If that wasn’t so, we wouldn’t be unique and different. We’d be cookie cutter stamped, all alike, all functioning in only two dimensions.
Which brings us to a third truth about the Trinity that might appeal to those of you who are scientifically minded. And, by the way, there is no conflict between science and religion. It’s all energy, regardless of how it is explained. Theologian and author Ravi Zacharias in his book
Can Man Live Without God? explains it this way:
“You know that in space you can move in three ways—to left or right, backwards or forwards, up or down. Every direction is either one of these three or a compromise between them. They are called the three Dimensions. Now notice this. If you’re using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you’re using two, you could draw a figure, say, a square. And a square is made up of four straight lines. Now a step further. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body, say, a cube—a thing like a dice (sic) or a lump of sugar. And a cube is made up of six squares.
“Do you see the point? A world of one dimension would be a world of straight lines. In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you don’t leave behind the things you found on the simpler levels: you can still have them, but combined in new ways—in ways you couldn’t imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.”
The Holy Spirit provides the third dimension, giving wings to our faith, understanding of the Father and the Son, and our spiritual lives in general, lifting us up into the arms of love of God the Father and God the Son.
I started this sermon by telling you of a childhood memory and I end it with another of my favorite very early childhood memories (I might have been about 4 years old): that of being scooped up by my Dad and being held by both my mother and father as they danced to a song on the radio.
I felt safe and secure and oh so happy, because I knew how much they loved each other and me. I would laugh and laugh as we swirled around the room. At that moment it was just the three of us held together in that special embrace as they danced as one unit, and I danced even though my feet never touched the floor.
This story leads me to the fourth and final truth I want to share with you about the life of the Trinity, something theologians call in the Greek, perichoresis, which has been explained as an eternal energy of movement, a kind of intertwined, inextricable dance, among the persons of the Godhead.
Have you danced recently? Has your faith danced? Or has everything in your mind and heart and spirit been serious, dead serious? Have you been weighed down by frustration over the state of the Church or the state of our nation?
Is your spirit crushed and made lifeless by unresolved conflict in personal relationships? Have you neglected your relationship with our loving Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer—God?
God in three persons, three divine roles, three dimensions—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—wants to sweep us off our feet, scoop us up, hold us safely in an eternal embrace, secure in Divine love, and then dance! Are we ready to dance? Amen.