(Originally preached at Alger First UMC on 5/22/2016)
Trinity Sunday, Year C
In addition to the Scripture below, you’re invited to read Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 & Romans 5:1-5.
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15)
Most of you know that my Dad is a pastor. He’s actually our District Superintendent right now, but for most of my life, he’s been my pastor. So after hearing him preach every week for the first 18 years of my life, I picked up on some of the phrases and stories that he would repeat every so often, the ways of talking about God he would fall back on because he knew his congregation could understand them.
I remember specifically how Dad would talk about how mysterious and incomprehensible God is. Every so often, he would say something like “I need a God who I can’t understand. Because if I can understand God completely, then we have a problem; we should look for a better God if that’s the case.”
It’s something I’ve been thinking of pretty often lately. Even though I’m in seminary, taking classes and reading books on theology, the Bible, Christian history, all of that, it seems that the more I learn about God, the more I don’t know about God.
Have any of you had that realization? Have any of you experienced the mystery of God? So often, we think that we have God in this nice little box: we think we can know exactly what God is going to do, where God is going to go, and who God is going to bless; only find that our box has exploded, our neat little understandable God has escaped, and we find that we have been worshiping a false God of our own creation all this time.
This Sunday is the perfect Sunday to think about this. Because today is Trinity Sunday, and we’re focusing our minds and hearts on the Trinity. But before I go on, I’d like to know what you think – what is the Trinity? What does that mean? [For my online-only readers: At this point, the congregation offered their answers to the question.]
In essence the Trinity is how we talk about our Three – in – one God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Now, I do want to preface this before I go on. There are some who say that as soon as you start talking about the Trinity, as soon as you start to use human words to describe our Triune God, you’re already speaking heresy. This is where words really fall short in describing our God.
Because the doctrine or concept or teaching of the Trinity says that our one God is made up of three persons, but is still one God. If you only think about this on a surface level, that might not sound very confusing because if you’ve grown up in church, you’ve heard this everywhere. But think about it. The Trinity is not one God who just acts in three different ways. The Father, Son, and Spirit are not just three parts of one God. The Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct persons, separate from each other, but still one God.
That’s confusing. And it’s ok. Because this is the incomprehensible part of our faith. St. Augustine, one of the great theologians of the early church and the guy who came up with a lot of the theology that we all still believe today, he’s credited with saying something like this (I’m sure the actual words were different): “If you comprehend something, it is not God.” If you can understand something, if you get it, then it ain’t God. Look somewhere else.
BUT even though it’s confusing, we still have several ways that history has given us for understanding the Trinity. One way of understanding it is what we all recognize-calling God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We could also call God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. St. Augustine, the same guy as I quoted earlier, liked to talk about the three persons of the Trinity in this way: the Lover, the Beloved, and the love that they both have for each that binds them together.
But even with that, there is something about this idea of the Trinity that doesn’t make sense. You see, throughout the last several months, since the First Sunday of Advent back in December, we’ve been following the lectionary through all the liturgical seasons-Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter. Throughout those season, the Scriptures we read were all focused on stories and prophecies from the Old Testament, stories and teachings of Jesus, teachings from the letters in the New Testament and stories from the book of Acts.
But this Sunday, today, we turn our gaze onto God in Godself.
We are not talking about some story of God, it’s not some doing of God or an event in the life of God’s people.
Today, we turn our eyes upon God in Godself, to take a stab at fathoming the depths of this God who created everything, from the furthest stars and galaxies down to the smallest insect on earth, all in a deep, rich, uncontainable love.
Really, all we can do is praise and worship and wonder at this God who escapes our understanding, yet can still be known by us.
One of the best ways we can do this is through music. There’s a hymn called “Holy, Holy, Holy” that I’m sure you all know. We’ll actually sing it together later in the service. But for right now, I’d like us to listen to a version of this hymn recorded by Audrey Assad and take these few minutes to revel in wonder at our Triune God.
[Check out the song here]
Now, let me confuse you a little bit more. Talking about the Trinity is so difficult that theologians had to create a new word, and I want to teach it to you. The word is Perichoresis. Can you say that? Perichoresis. It’s a Greek word that we can use to describe the relationship of God to Godself, the relationship between each person of the Trinity-the relational ties between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It means that there is a mutual indwelling of the persons of the Trinity, that each person of the Trinity-the Father, Son, and Spirit-is an individual entity, but they all share in the life of the other two persons so closely that they become one God, without losing their individual natures.
But here’s the crazy truth of today. This is what I really want you to understand: our God exists in community. We worship one God, but that God is not alone. Our one God is a community of persons.
Do you know what that means? We have been created, saved, and are being transformed by this same God who lives in community. Therefore, we are called into the same kind of life.
God’s own being is community, and this could be a model for us in our own communities. It could show us how to be a community that defines itself by its own diversity instead of forcing everyone to be the same and driving out those who are different. It could show us how to live a life of deep community instead of living as a group of individuals.
Our mysterious and incomprehensible Triune God calls us to a life of radical community. The Trinity calls us to realize that we are not solitary beings, floating through life on our own. We are connected to each and every person in this room, in our community, and in this world.
I am because we are. Can you say that with me? I am because we are. Now everybody turn to the person next to you and say it.
Realize what a profound statement we are saying. I am because we are. I live because we live. You exist because the person sitting next to you in the pew exists. Do you hear how profound that is?
That’s the truth we take out into the world on Trinity Sunday. Because this is true everywhere.
Just think about it: what would it look like for you to take this truth out into the world? How would that change your interactions with everyone around you?
If you can, imagine that you’re at work and a coworker or your boss or a client or partner or somebody is really getting on your nerves. What if you said to yourself “I am because they are. I exist because they exist.”
Imagine yourself at home. Your spouse or your parents or your kids or your siblings are rubbing you the wrong way and you feel an argument brewing. What if you paused and said to yourself, “I am because they are. I live because they live”?
Picture in your mind someone you really don’t like. We all have them-someone who will get on our nerves, who will make us angry, someone who has a tendency to drive our blood pressure up just by walking into the room. I have people like this in my life, I’m sure you do to. What if the next time you saw them, you said “I am because you are”? How would that change you?
I challenge you this week with this. Go through your life with that phrase as your mantra. I am because you are. Everyone you see-I am because they are.
We believe in a God whose very existence is in community, a God who exists as three persons in one God.
Maybe the reason we have such a hard time understanding this God is because we have no example on this earth of a community that is so deep and so loving and so caring and so intimate as God is in Godself. We long for this kind of community. We know that we are better together. But we are separated from each other.
What if we went through life with that as our guiding phrase? I am because you are. How deep of a community could we create? How close would we get to each other.
Our God exists in this type of community and can give us the ability to say that phrase – I am because you are – and mean it, and follow it.