Holy Trinity—Year C—May 26, 2013
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
So on this, the first Sunday after Pentecost, after focusing on Jesus throughout the Easter season, and hearing about the Holy Spirit last week, we set aside this Sunday every year as Holy Trinity Sunday. It is the one Sunday a year centered on a doctrine instead of commemorating a specific event.
And what a better doctrine to set aside a Sunday for than the doctrine of the Trinity, which is one of the most complex, complicated, confusing. On the surface it seems so simple, but when you start doing the math, 1+1+1=1, but also 3, things get hard to explain. Anytime I think that I have got it down, am now easily able to explain the Trinity, I soon realize that I have actually been explaining a heresy, that I have strayed from orthodoxy, the proclaimed right teaching.
This week on Facebook, there have been cartoons and questions going around among my friends who are also preaching this week, jokingly asking, “which heresy are you going to preach?”
Over the centuries, there have been many explanations on the Trinity that have been declared heresy, so we preachers had plenty to choose from. Some on them are easier to avoid. There are the schools of thought that say that the Holy Spirit is lesser than the Father and is not eternal. There are those that same the same about Jesus, that he was a made, that was perfect, and blameless, but not divine at all or at least not until his Baptism. Believers of those were thrown out of the church and commonly even burned at the stake in order to keep order within the still young and fragile church.
From all of these attempts at accurately explaining the Trinity, came not only heretical words, but all heretical metaphors:
- Sun: star/heat/light
- Egg: shell/White/yolk
- 3 leaf clover
- Apple: skin/core/pulp
- Water: ice/steam/liquid
- Man: worker/husband/father
However, none of these matches the handy dandy diagram of the Trinity we have. The Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, the Holy Spirit is fully God, but the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father. But what does that really mean? How does that really work?
And so we go back to words, and we are left with three creeds that try to explain it. The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed state the doctrine of the Trinity, but do not try to explain it really. But we also confess the Anthansian Creed, that really long one. If churches ever use it in the midst of worship, they tend to use it in this Sunday, Trinity Sunday, as we will today, because it takes the time to try to explain it. But I expect than when we finish reciting it in a bit, you might be even more confused about the Trinity than before we started.
In addition to the various metaphors and diagrams that we use to try to capture the mystery of the Trinity, there are also various name sets that are used. Normally we hear Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but I have also heard creator, redeemer, sanctifier or creator, savior, sustainer, and the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer has an alternate version of the Lord’s Prayer which names God as Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver.
But what is the point of all these attempts to explain the doctrine of the Trinity? They all seem to fall short. They all seem to lead us back to the mystery of God. We are left trying to do creative math…trying to figure out how does 100%+100%=1 let alone how 1+1+1=1, but also still 3.
The important thing isn’t really the math, or finding the perfect metaphor, or condemning and killing off everyone who uses different words than you to talk about God, or even being able to clearly articulate what you believe about God.
If it were all up to our limited words, our finite minds, and our flawed logic, we would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
So why not focus on what we know of sure, what is truly important? Instead of making our heads hurt by attempting brain summersaults, we can simply sit with the mystery and focus on the only way we can live with that mystery, through experience, through relationship, through community, through the hope that comes from the mystery.
We know that “we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.” And Paul also reminds us in Romans that, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” If we know that God, the Trinity interact with each other and us in the awesome way, then what more do we need? Why do we need to spend any more time trying and failing to adequately talk about God, the profound mystery of God with words, when we have the actions of relationship before us as concrete proof of the Trinity’s love and care for us?
Why spend time arguing about who has the right words or the wrong words? Why spend playing judge and killing one another over something that we cannot ourselves fully understand and articulate?
Why not simply say the orthodox yet lacking words we have, be okay with the “huh?” at the end, and move on to the community part, the enacting part. If the point of trying to explain the Trinity is so that we can save ourselves or gain eternal life for others, than we can definitely stop, because we are not responsible for that; God the Son, Jesus, Our Lord and Savior, has already taken care of that.
And if the point of trying to explain the Trinity to so that we can delineate between ourselves and others, than we can definitely stop, because that is contrary to the unity that the Trinity intends for creation and models as well.
I’m not suggesting that we stop continually working on understand God better, coming into closer relationship through study and sharing; I’m simply suggesting that we worry just as much about not letting it overshadow the love that is communicated and shared through that mystery. God, the Trinity, is bigger and more complex than I will ever be able to understand or begin to articulate, but so is God’s grace, love, power, and unity, and I thank God for that! Amen.