11 June 2017 – Trinity Sunday
A reading from the gospel of Matthew 28:16-20. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
What’s so intriguing about a mystery novel? Some of you may like to read them, so you know better than me. Why is it that in 2016, for the third year in a row, James Patterson was the highest paid author with earnings of $95 million pretax dollars? (Forbes.com, August 23, 2016) Why is it three of the top five highest paid authors are the mystery masters: Stephen King, John Grisham, and James Patterson – with J.K. Rowling in spot three for her kind of wizarding, mysterious adventures? (www.forbes.com/pictures/578d3ba531358e0aa22e29b0/) Something about a good mystery leaves us unable to put it down. I still remember the night I went to Kroger at midnight to get me a copy of the last book of the Harry Potter series, then went home and read for something like 30 hours in a row just to see how it all would turn out. . . . Good mysteries reel us in . . . making our hearts race and our minds spin with twists and turns we never could anticipate. Good mysteries suck us into the story of characters we find ourselves pulling for and plot lines we desperately try to figure out. Good mysteries leave us dangling so that we have to turn the page, just to see what happens next! Intrigue, suspense, surprise weave together to leave us on the edge of our seats begging for more!
Mystery is a good word on this liturgical day called Trinity Sunday. This week, the daily devotional app D365 summarized it well: “Our God is one – unity. Our God is three – diversity. Our God is three in one – mystery. . . . Therefore, “work for unity. Engage diversity. Welcome mystery.” . . . I keep hearing in my mind the words to that 18th Century Trinity hymn: “Holy God, We Praise Your Name.” Stanza four reads: “Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit: three we name you, while in essence only one; undivided God we claim you, and adoring, bend the knee while we own the mystery” (Glory to God, #4, Text attr. Ignaz Franz). . . . Seventeen hundred years ago, the church was fighting about the Mystery. Though the Great Commission from the gospel of Matthew makes reference to baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; it doesn’t explain the relationship between these three. Nor does it seem to worry about delicately holding the tension of the three-yet-Oneness of God. To make matters worse, the Trinity’s not clearly explained anywhere in scripture. In fact, the word Trinity never is used. The gospel of John’s farewell discourse of Jesus (chapters 14-17) might be the closest attempt to talk about this God that is in us even as we are in God, and Jesus is in God, and Jesus is in us, and another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will be among us forever. But that whole section can be more trouble than help. . . . We do have the second letter to the Christians in Corinth which closes with the message: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor. 13:13); though the benediction isn’t really explaining Trinity as much as it is naming for the first followers of Christ’s Way the experience of the grace, love, and companionship of God – the various aspects of God that can be real in our lives.
Just what can we say about the mystery of the Triune God? God: the One creating like a loving father, Christ the One among us as the Way, and Holy Spirit the One in us and all living things. . . . Way back in the Fourth Century when esteemed Church Theologian Saint Augustine tried to explain the Trinity; all he could think of was a tree. “The root is wood; the trunk is wood; the branches are wood,” Augustine explained. “One wood, one substance but three different entities” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3, Steven P. Eason, p. 46). . . . Certainly, you’ve heard for Trinity the egg illustration: shell, egg white, yoke. Three different parts, but all one egg. Pinterest suggests using an apple in Sunday School today to describe the Trinity to children. The peel is like God the Father, who protects us. The flesh is like God the Son, because Jesus is God in-fleshed. And the seeds are like the Holy Spirit, who helps us grow into all God wants us to be. . . . There’s always the three-leaf clover example, though that one doesn’t really make any sense for the Triune God, because it’s just one thing with the same three leaves – not one thing with three distinct persons or personas as the Greek often reminds. . . . I was taught as a child to draw God as a triangle – three equal sides. But it never seemed just right because one point always ended up on top; and that never seemed quite fair.
Eastern Christianity depicts Trinity differently. Three circles of the same size are intertwined to represent what’s been named the perichoresis of God: the dancing around in great delight of three mutual beings. God, the perichoresis, is the never-ending circle where the God beyond, among, and in us exists in joyous right-relationship. Almost like a synergy or living sphere of powerful energy. A God who is plural, yet one. A mutuality. A shared being, like a water wheel that just keeps on pouring itself out into the other. The Triune God is an inter-dependence where three co-exist in beautiful harmony with one another – like a perfect musical chord. One’s not more important than the other; they’re all necessary. Distinct, yet equal. One never without the others.
Presbyterian Systematic Theologian Shirley Guthrie wrote of the Trinity: “The same God who is God over us as God the Father and Creator, and God with and for us as the incarnate Word and Son, is also God in and among us as God the Holy Spirit” (Ibid.). To embody it each morning, I’ve made it a practice to get my body a little limber by stretching my arms as high as I can overhead to greet the God that is beyond us. Then I bend at my waist to touch my toes in honor of the God who lives among us in Jesus, the Christ. Then I open wide my arms to encompass everything around as I greet the God who lives in all things. . . . Some say: God the Creator, Christ the Redeemer, and Spirit the Sustainer of us all. Others stick closely to the language recorded on Jesus’ lips by the gospel of Matthew. Go into all the world to baptize and teach in the name of the “Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – or Holy Ghost if you still prefer the King James Version of the bible.
Whichever way we think about it, the Triune God is like a captivating mystery. Like that novel we just cannot put down. One encounter, and who really can resist the urge to keep at it until we know just where the twists and turns might lead? . . . Maybe God intended it that way – to suck us in to the very relationship that is the Triune God. To engage us as witnesses to the process of seeing how Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer will work it all out. . . . Reeled in, we find ourselves along for a wild ride as God keeps on seeking to recreate this world through ones such as you and me. Intrigue, suspense, surprise weave together so that we just have to find out what happens next. . . . Maybe, just maybe Trinity wanted it like that so you and I will join in the joyous dance of right-relationship; shared being in a powerful synergy that pours itself out for others too to be brought in.
Mystery: holy Mystery, this God that is one: unity. This God that is three: diversity. This God that is three in one. . . . Together we are sent in the name of the Triune God until all embrace the Mystery.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2017 (All rights reserved.)