(Preached at AFUMC on 6/31/2015)
Trinity Sunday, Year B. Scriptures: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:11-17; John 3:1-17
Here we are, O holy One, who comes to us as Creator, Savior, and Sustainer. We are listening as your Spirit speaks in equally novel ways to each of us. Grant us the boldness to be ready and to come forward with a “Yes!” May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Speak through or in spite of me to these, your people.
Well this Sunday is Trinity Sunday, the day that we as a universal church worship in the mystery of our Triune, three-in-one God. I realize that for some of you, the concept of the Trinity might be a little foreign. So if you don’t know what the Trinity is, Trinity is the name for a concept or belief or doctrine held by most Christian churches that says that our one God is made up of three persons or personalities, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We’ll talk about that in more detail in a minute, but that’s the basic premise.
Now, I realize that whenever a preacher starts talking about high Trinitarian theology or anything else that contains a lot of big words and these big, transcendent concepts, the tendency is to check out because it’s hard to see how talking about bland doctrine affects our lives. But the concept of the Trinity is so important for us to talk about because this is who our God is. This is an essential part of God’s nature, and we need to know who our God is before we can truly worship that God. This can truly affect and impact our lives in ways that we probably haven’t realized.
So like I said, the basic idea of the Trinity is that God is three distinct persons in one. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This concept is something that has mystified the church for generations, so I just want to say now that I’m going to try to describe this concept, but any and all of the words I use are going to fall short and not be completely correct. Hopefully we can get close.
So let me start by describing each person of the Trinity. God the Father, the first person of the Trinity, created the earth and the universe at the very beginning of the Bible and brought the Israelites out of Egypt and claimed them as his own people. This part of the Trinity is concerned with creating and claiming-God the Father creates us and claims us as God’s own and fights for us. That’s what God the Father does.
God the Son, or Jesus, is the saving and redeeming part of the Trinity. God the Son works to save us from ourselves. God the Son brings us back to God the Father so that God the Father can re-create us. Everything to do with saving, redeeming, freeing, bringing back, all of that is done by God the Son, Jesus.
God the Spirit is what we talked about last week on Pentecost. It’s the sustaining power of God. Sustaining means to make something stronger or support something so that it doesn’t collapse. That’s what the Spirit does in us. The Spirit is the one who supports us, strengthens us, maintains us, nourishes us, helps us to stand up against anything.
That’s an incredibly brief sketch of the three persons-God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are all equal, no part is more or less important than the others. They are all eternal, no part existed before or after the other parts. And this is not a hierarchical chain of command either. Each part is independent and dependent at the same time. BUT they make up the one God. It’s confusing and strange, I know.
Let me give you a metaphor to help you understand. The Trinity is kind of like an egg. An egg has three basic parts-the shell, the egg white, and the egg yolk. Three separate parts, but one concept, make sense? That’s kind of what the Trinity’s like. Remember, that might be helpful, but the metaphor falls short of fully describing the Trinity and does not do it justice. No metaphor does.
So one of the big lessons that we need to learn from the Trinity is that our God is far bigger and higher and more holy and separate from us than we could imagine, so much so that we can’t hope to describe our God fully, any language that exists on Earth is inadequate. In our Scripture reading from Isaiah, we heard about this vision Isaiah had of the throne room of God. It’s this magnificent vision that he saw, of a God that is too great for words, too holy for a dirty human like Isaiah to look at. Isaiah says that even the angels there had to cover their faces before this three-in-one God because this God is too holy even for angels to understand completely, let alone humans.
We also heard in our passage from John about a conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus, one of the religious authorities in Israel. Basically, Nicodemus is having a hard time understanding what Jesus is saying and with understanding Jesus himself. He says “What do you mean, I have to be born again? How is anything you’re saying possible?” He’s saying “I don’t know you. I have all of these categories that I try to fit everyone into so that they can make sense to me, but you, Jesus, don’t fit into any of those categories.”
And sometimes, especially today, when we’re confronted with this mystery of the Trinity, don’t we say the same thing? God, the somehow three-in-one God who I supposedly worship, I don’t understand you. You don’t fit neatly into any category or box that I have. I don’t know who you are.
You see, this God that we worship is a God who defies our understanding. We can’t really understand this God, God is too big, magnificent, separate. This God is too OTHER for us to really understand. And honestly, I find comfort in not understanding. Because I do not want a God who I can fully understand. I do not want a God who never surprises me; I do not want a God who never makes me change the way I think or the way I treat people. Because if I can understand God completely and know exactly what box to put God in, we have a problem. Because I know how little I can actually understand and grasp and if God is one of those things, then we need to find a better God because that God is not worthy to be worshiped.
However, even though we can’t fully understand this mysterious three-in-one God, there’s part of this that we CAN understand. I think we can understand that this three-in-one God is a relational God. One of the great truths about our belief in the Trinity is that we believe that at the core of God’s own being and the core of God’s essence, God is in relationship with the persons of the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are in this mysterious, spiritual relationship, which means that God, at God’s core, is relational. If I may use a very big churchy word, this Trinitarian relationship, the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is what makes God, God. God is all about relationships.
And what THAT means is that God wants to be known by us. This almighty and mysterious and mystical three-in-one God wants to be known by us and be in a relationship with us. That is the great truth of the Bible-God is always reaching out, wanting us to know God, because our three-in-one God is all about relationships.
In the passage from Romans you heard earlier, we get some great language for what this might look like. In verse 15 of Romans 8, Paul says “You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” Do you know what “Abba” means? It’s not the pop group from the ‘70s. And it doesn’t just mean “Father.” That’s way too formal. Do you actually call your dad “Father?” Abba means roughly the same thing as “Papa,” “Daddy.” That level of intimacy is what Paul is talking about here. This is how close God wants to be with us, so close that we can call him “Dad.”
When we call God “Father,” I think that’s too formal. Now sometimes, we need that distance because sometimes we do need to recognize the authority and sovereignty of God. But that’s not the only way to look at God, that’s not the only way that our relationship with God plays out. God loves us so much and wants to be in relationship with us so much that God is even willing to break down the barriers of authority and sovereignty and fear and get so close to us that we can greet God with a childlike “What’s next Papa? Where are we going now? Are we there yet Dad?” That’s the relationship that God wants to be in with us. That is how much this mystical and incomprehensible three-in-one God loves us wants to be known by us.
You see, the great thing about the Trinity is that within the Trinity itself, we see the grand story of God endlessly pulling us closer and closer to Godself. God the Father, the Dad, created us and gave us everything we could ever ask for or hope for, claimed us as God’s own and fought for our wellbeing. But we forgot about this creating and claiming God, and we left God. We ran away from this God and everything good that God the Father had given us. But God the Son, Jesus, calls us back. God the Redeemer gives us a clean slate and turns us around to face God the Father again so that we may be created anew, ever closer to God’s image. But we can’t continue walking toward God the Father on our own. God the Son, the Redeemer might set us walking on the right path toward God, but all of these side roads look so much more fun and interesting than the road back to God the Father. So God the Spirit sustains us and gives us the strength to resist the temptation of the side roads and keeps us moving closer and closer to God. Eventually, we will turn back, it’s inevitable. Eventually we will forget again all of the good things God has given to us and done for us. We will forget the great love that is showered on us each and every day. And when that happens, when we leave again, this Trinitarian cycle starts all over again.
No matter where you are or where anyone else is, no matter how bad you might look and no matter how bad someone else might look, you somewhere in this cycle. And through this cycle of the Trinity, the One God in Three Persons is bringing you closer and closer in the loving relationship with God.
So what can we take away from this? I think the first thing is that we cannot totally understand God. We just aren’t able to. This God that we believe in, the three-in-one God, is incomprehensible. To our rational minds, three cannot be one. One God cannot contain all of that. But the truth is that our system of rationality, upon which our whole culture is built and upon which we place almost all of our trust, this system of rationality that we have cultivated in our own minds is imperfect. We cannot really make rational sense of God-and that’s ok. As products of the Western culture that stretches all the way back to the philosophers who lived a couple centuries before Christ who tried to reason out every little thing in the world, we are uncomfortable with a God who cannot be totally understood. We are not comfortable with a God who cannot be picked apart, dissected and figured out. We cannot wrap our heads around this God. People have tried and none have succeeded. So the first takeaway from this is that we need to be ok with this tension of wanting to understand God but being unable to fully understand God. And we cannot act like we do have this God figured out just so we don’t make a fool of ourselves to the world. We cannot explain away all of the mysteries of God to the unbelieving world just so we look like we know what we’re talking about. The truth of God will confound and confuse the best wisdom that the world has to offer, and we need to rest in that.
Second, while we can’t really hope to fully understand our God, our God still wants to be known by us. This three-in-one God wants to know you and be known by you. No matter how unworthy you think you are, God still calls you back to the point where you’re standing before him like a little kid with your arms raised up to God and saying “Daddy” so that God will pick you up and hold you close. God loves you and wants to be loved by you, even if you can’t understand this God. And the great truth of the Trinity is that even though we can’t understand this God, we can still believe and hope and trust and love this God. Because that’s what God wants.
Finally, God wants to be known by everyone. God wants the world to know who this three-in-one God is. Literally everyone. God loves and wants to know each of your neighbors, each of your coworkers, your whole family. Everyone. And as the body of Christ, it is our job to make this God known to everyone around us. Our job as the church has always been to expose the world to this kind of earth-shattering, life-altering, head-spinning love that this three-in-one, incomprehensible God has for everyone. It is our job to show the world that kind of love and invite them into a relationship with this God. Let’s pray.