Sermon June 16, 2019
On Friday evening, our daughter and her family came and stayed with us. Saturday morning, I drove them to the airport so they could board a plane to Texas. We will join them this evening, as we are all going to a family wedding in Corpus Christi. While we will see them soon, the parting is still sad. We seek ways to ease the pain of separation. One way is to remember when we will next be together. We also remind each other of the love that we share even when we are apart. I ask you to think about times when you have said good-bye. How do you maintain a relationship with a loved one who has gone somewhere else? In today’s gospel, Jesus knew that he would be leaving his followers soon. Jesus helped the apostles deal with the separation. He spoke about the Holy Spirit coming to be with them and to bring them truth. This was his way of dealing with the loss of a friend.
Today is Trinity Sunday. I find the Trinity to be our way of dealing with the fact that Jesus has gone to heaven. On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate all three Persons of God. Clergy usually consider this the most difficult sermon to give. The theology of the Trinity is complex and easily misunderstood. How do we make sense of one God and three Persons of God? I encourage you to do so by focusing on the unity of God, not the three individual Persons of God.
The early Christian church took a long time to clearly describe the concept of the Trinity. Debates raged in the early church and it was not until the first two councils of the church in 325 and 381 that our Trinitarian theology was clearly defined and recognized as the belief of the whole church.
The theology of the Trinity is not clearly stated in Scripture. But Scripture frequently mentions the three Persons. We recently discussed the many times we read about God’s Spirit, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures. As I said last week, it is called the breath of God as well. In today’s gospel, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would come after he left. The Gospel of John mentions this coming of the Holy Spirit five different times, each one an offering from Jesus. I believe that Jesus was seeking a way for his apostles to deal with his departure. Reminding them that the Holy Spirit would come and be with them is his way of helping them to survive the loss of his presence. Many have experienced God’s presence in their lives but Jesus is not physically present today. So we all lean on the power of the Holy Spirit that we may know that God is present with us.
While our New Testament Scripture doesn’t refer to the Trinity specifically, we often have references to the three. Today’s reading from Romans is a good example. In just five short verses, it described God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Jesus brings us God’s peace and the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. We also read about the Trinity in this passage from the Gospel of Matthew, “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 (Matthew 28:19).
As humans, we look for ways to describe the Trinity. I have heard people use the analogy of the three-legged stool. There is only one stool but three legs. Saint Patrick taught the Irish about the Trinity by using the tiny shamrock plant. Three leaves but only one plant. I like to think about the elements found in the periodic table. Each element has a certain number of electrons or protons or neutrons. A carbon atom is only carbon when it has a certain number of each. God is only God when God has three persons completing all that it is in one.
I also like to think about how each one of us have several different personas. I am a father, a husband, a grandfather, a priest, a friend and several other things. My daughter calls me dad, Evelyn calls me grandpa, Jan calls me her husband, some of you call me father and my friends call me to play golf. I am all of those personas and only one person. That is the best explanation of the Trinity a human can offer.
Our readings describe several characteristics of God today. In proverbs, God is described as Wisdom. It even states that Wisdom existed as part of God forever. Wisdom is found in the Word of God. Jesus is the Word of God. In the Psalm God is called the Governor. God is the Creator, and the All Powerful One. In Romans, God is referred to as Peace, as well as the one who gives us grace and love. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the gift of truth. All of these attributes are part of one God and sometimes in our humanity we think of those attributes describing just one of the Three Persons of God.
But all of those descriptions fall short. For the Trinity is truly a mystery to us. It is something we wish to understand and cannot explain logically. For the Trinity is best understood when we think of the Trinity as our relationship with God.
I am blessed that people often share their own learnings about spirituality with me. This week, someone loaned me a book about the Trinity. It was written in 2013 by a lady named Cynthia Bourgeault. Talented theologians still seek to understand the Trinity. I think there is always more to learn. The book is titled the Holy Trinity and the Law of Three. I am not able to fully describe all that this book teaches us. I appreciate the potential femininity found in the Spirit. I learned that three is a powerful number. We usually put things in twos: night or day, male or female, yes or no. But three creates an opportunity for so much more. Three can create balance. A good example is the imbalance found in agreement or disagreement. But reconciliation can balance those two opposites. Three can create new energy. A seed is placed in the earth. But without the sun and water it will not grow. Flour and water are necessary but without heat they will not make bread. A plaintiff and a defendant can argue about who is right but a judge is needed to come to a decision.
Ms. Bourgeault encourages us to open our hearts to the possibility that we will be changed by the power of the Trinity, by the strength of three. Let us pray that we will be made alive in the strength, the love and the peace of God.
Scripture today tells us the Son is the eternal word. God the Father is the creator and the One who sent Jesus to be with us. And we experience God as the Holy Spirit, who opens our hearts and minds. I find that we do our best when we don’t try to explain exactly what the Trinity is or how the three Persons work together. I find it better to simply accept the mystery of the Trinity and allow the three Persons to work in our lives. We don’t need to explain that they are different and yet the same. We simply accept that the Three work together in all things, in perfect unity. We wish that we too will find unity and peace in ourselves.
A Presbyterian minister named William Dixon Gray wrote that “Rather than explaining the Trinity, let the Trinity explain us. We are always changing from what we are to what we are becoming. The Trinity does not allow things to be static. God is active and we must be too.”
So, rather than think about the Trinity, I suggest that we feel the Trinity working in our lives. I suggest that we don’t try to put the three Persons into one category or another. I, myself, have used the names Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier as a way to describe the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But I think that God is bigger than any names we place on any Member of the Trinity. Jesus is no longer physically here. But we still have the Trinity. I prefer to live in the words of Paul who said that we receive the power, the grace and the peace of God working as One. Amen.
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