A sermon for 31 May 2015 – Trinity Sunday
Click here to read Isaiah 6:1-8 first: http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/isaiah/passage/?q=isaiah+6:1-8
It seems wise to begin today’s sermon on Trinity Sunday with the disclaimer that the Trinity is a mystery. Three energies coming together into one. One energy having three aspects. How can this be? We don’t really know. We just believe it so. Because, in part, God is a mystery – revealed fully in Christ and among us in the Holy Spirit, and still beyond us; not able to be completely understood. . . . Imagine being Isaiah. Minding his own business when suddenly he’s having a vision of the LORD God almighty. Crazy stuff like God on a throne with a great big robe overwhelming the temple. This is the stuff of nighttime dreams – not quite like what we know in waking life. Creatures with six wings flying about, calling out: “Holy, holy, holy! . . . The whole earth is full of God’s glory!” (Is. 6:3). Who can fully make sense of such a vision? . . . Such a vivid, image-packed experience that might leave our minds tied up in knots. We can seek to gain further insight – not only to joyfully profess the Triune God; but also, with the prophet Isaiah, to encounter and in fact stand in absolute, wonder-filled awe of our ancient-and-living, three-and-one, transcendent-and-so-very-with-us-immanent God. Our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Mystery. Holy Mystery, the Trinity is, which need not frustrate our reason-seeking minds, only fill our God-seeking souls.
Now, Christians believe the Trinity, God in three persons, or the One God who is made up of three personas, is from the start. A close read of Genesis chapter one reveals the creating God whose Spirit is hovering over the watery chaos until the Word goes forth. And automatically, creation takes place. Throughout the Old Testament, we see evidence of a God who is giving life like a caring father, and seeking to save the people like a mighty redeemer, and dwelling among the people like a guiding sustainer. . . . The gospels proclaim Jesus as the full revelation of God. By the Spirit; he ever acts, and prays, and has his being. Always he is in complete union with the life-giving God, who he usually calls Abba, Father. And because Christ does not exist without the other two, Jesus, the Word-in-flesh, often goes out to the wilderness to pray, to be connected both with the Father and the Holy Spirit that descended upon him in his baptism. He is the embodied Word of God that has come among us in flesh to know us in full. Because, as Jesus, the Christ, God experienced our life as a human. With an earthly mother and father who certainly had to drive him nuts sometimes. And siblings who must have gotten on his nerves every now and again. As a human he knew the pressures of learning a profession (carpentry), and living as a God-fearing Jew, in an occupied nation no less. In Christ, God came to know fully what it’s like to be us – with all the temptations we face, but without all the mess ups we make in our sins.
Perhaps it’s helpful to consider the Trinity in light of triplets – not the kind in music. But triplets: as in children. Many of us might be familiar with twins. Some of you might be a twin. And thanks to the conveniences of modern fertility treatments, triplets are more common today than in days gone by. Triplets all grow in the same womb. Some even from the very same egg. They are connected in a way that singles are not. Yet, even triplets that look exactly alike, never truly are exactly the same. One might have a birth mark another does not. Or a shade lighter hair. And certainly each has characteristics unlike the others: one is withdrawn. The other out-going. And other incredibly unsure of themselves. Triplets are a set; and yet, they each are unique. . . . You could say the Trinity is a set. Yet each persona or aspect of the Triune God is distinct. One being, with three unique functions.
Somewhere along the way Christianity – at least the branch from which we come in the West – went a little bit astray regarding the Trinity. We start off as concrete literal thinkers, which from childhood on really can do a number on our images of God so that we can take things like Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple as a literal picture of the divine. . . . The limits of our language and of our minds ended up leaving many of our Christian ancestors thinking that there’s some sort of pecking order in the Trinity – we see it everywhere else. Why not in God? Before you know it, we start to believe that one persona of God is more important, or above the other. Like a hierarchy where one is over the other – more powerful, more ancient, just more. In our minds and in some of our church architecture, we started drawing triangles for the Triune God instead of circles. I think the idea was that the top point of the triangle represented the all-powerful Father-God, the oldest and most important. In this thinking, the Son and the Spirit come later in the story and so get represented at the lower points of the triangle. Hear me now: centuries ago the church declared such thinking un-biblical heresy, though this hierarchal image of God still lingers in some. . . . Thankfully a part of the tradition preserved another picture of God. The perichoresis of our three-in-one God. Three interconnected circles, distinct in their own function, but equal. Always, all together existing even from beyond time. The image is of three interconnected, equal circles. The perichoresis of God is the dancing around together in relationship as the life-giving, life-redeeming, life-sustaining God. An energy like a three-fold cord that cannot be unbound. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, blessed Trinity! . . . Christians believe it’s the we referred to by God here in Isaiah’s vision. As in “who will go for us?” (Is. 6:8). . . . It’s the we proclaimed in Genesis chapter one when God says: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). And like our Triune God, we too are made for relationship. Connections of equality where we all may not have the same function, the same gifts and abilities. Still we’re made for relationships of mutuality in which life for us all is promoted.
I’m not sure we all fully appreciate each aspect of our Triune God. I’m guessing most of us gravitate towards one aspect of God over the others. I mean, let’s face it: Presbyterians haven’t been known for monumental focus upon the Holy Spirit. Though I’m encouraged that our latest confession, A Brief Statement of Faith, gives equal billing to God the Holy Spirit: everywhere the giver and re-newer of life. It’s high time all of us welcome a little bit more of that part of God into our individual and collective lives because each part of the Trinity is necessary for us. Like all those years of perfect musical chords our retiring organist has played here in this sanctuary. One note of the chord isn’t more important than the other. They’re all needed for the beautiful, inspiring music they make. It’s like that in God. . . . Think about it: are you feeling kinda fragile? Like you really need to know someone cares and seeks to protect, nurture, and provide? God our Creator, the persona of God often named Father, might be just the encounter with God that you need. . . . At times we need to know someone understands. Someone will stand by us no matter what – even take a bullet for us if it all comes to that. Christ Jesus our Redeemer, often called the Son, might be exactly our guy. . . . We all experience those times when we need to be guided. Sustained by something beyond us, which strengthens and burns, and moves in us the ways we need to be, even beyond our own wills. God the Holy Spirit, the Sustainer, is the persona of the Trinity we cannot live without.
I could remind us of the egg: shell, yoke, white stuff. Or roots, trunk, leaves. Someone once suggested to me Neapolitan ice cream – chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Decide for yourself which part of the Trinity is the chocolate, which the vanilla, and which the strawberry. . . . All sorts of images are out there to help us wrap our minds around this holy Triune mystery. In the end, perhaps it’s best just to be alongside the prophet Isaiah: filled with incredible awe as we encounter One we cannot fully comprehend. Ready to respond when God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit calls. Our Triune Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. . . . Whether or not we fully can wrap our minds around it, today – and every day – our spirits can join in the chorus: Holy! Holy! Holy! Blessed is the amazing Holy Mystery!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Alleluia and Amen!
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