Preached at St.Andrew’s-by-the-lake (Turkey Point) on Sunday June 15, 2014.
I speak to you in the name of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am not a fan of logic games or so-called ‘brain teasers’.
Here’s one for you – the more it dries, the wetter it gets. What is it? (A towel).
While some people enjoy intellectual gymnastics, I prefer immediate and straightforward answers that don’t make my brain hurt.
Today is Trinity Sunday. This is the day the Church Calendar designates for reflection upon the Trinity.
In other words, it is the day where preachers do their best to avoid boring their congregations to death as they valiantly attempt to explain the Trinity – a word that never occurs in the Bible. Moreover, they are to do so without using heretical analogies, such as “the Trinity is like an egg” or relying on theological jargon, such as ‘substance’ or homoousios. And they are to do all this in 15 minutes.
Your prayers are appreciated.
Who am I to attempt such a daunting feat? Am I even qualified to talk about the Trinity? After all there are people who are far more intelligent than I that have been discussing and debating the Trinity for nearly 2000 years!
Although I am training to be a priest in Christ’s church, which requires three years of rigorous theological education, none of this qualifies me to talk about the Trinity.
Talking about the Trinity does not require years of academic study or a degree from seminary.
What qualifies me to talk about the Trinity is the simple fact that I am baptized member of Christ’s church.
What qualifies me to talk about the Trinity is the simple fact that I confess the words of one of the creeds every Sunday.
And, I might add, these things qualify the majority, if not all, of us who are here this morning to talk about the Trinity.
However, this does not make my task, and yours, to speak about the Trinity any less daunting.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the primary tenet, the main building block, of all Christian belief. It is basic Christian grammar.
Christian grammar is primarily the language of prayer and worship rooted in the testimony of Scripture and the Creeds of the Church. If Christian grammar is not Trinitarian, it ceases to be properly Christian speech.
The language of Christian prayer and worship does not refer to an unknown deity or merely point the way to a god that is ultimately worshipped by all religions.
Despite how popular this belief is in our politically correct culture, where the greatest sin is to offend someone else, all paths do not lead to the same god who stands above all religions and spiritualities.
All paths cannot lead to the same god because at the end of the path that claims that all paths lead to God, we find a god of our own making. A god who acts like us and thinks like us and even shares our name.
At the end of this path, we find ourselves staring in a mirror, and of course, we like what we see.
But the god in the mirror, as we know, can be a tyrant, destroying others, including itself, in order to get what it wants. This god who is ultimately selfish, despite its attempts to appear to the contrary.
This is a god who will tell the lie that all paths lead to the same god in order to further its own agenda and preferences.
This is a god who worships itself; of course it will insist that all paths lead to it – that is exactly what it wants – to be the sole centre of the universe.
Christian grammar has a direct referent; it speaks of a particular God. Christian grammar refers to this God, that is to say, the God who reveals himself and names himself. This revelation and naming occur in the book that belongs to the Church – Holy Scripture.
So the primary question we ask when reading Scripture is Who? More specifically, who is this God?
This means that the Church does not read Scripture primarily to gather scientific or historical facts. It does not read it for cultural information about ancient cultures. Scripture is not a textbook.
Rather, the Church reads Scripture theologically. We read it with the question ‘Who is this God?’. In reading theologically, we read in order to be formed by the God who reveals himself through the text and invites us to respond in faith.
Therefore, we do not read Scripture in an attempt to justify our faith, in order to convince ourselves into believing based on whether or not the Bible meets our criteria or that or our culture.
Rather, we read Scripture with the attitude of faith seeking understanding, with a posture of humility and an expectation that the Triune God will reveal himself through the text.
We start in the beginning.
In the beginning there is nothing; nothing except darkness and God.
Who is this God?
The God who creates everything out of nothing;
The God who has a spirit;
The God who refers to itself in the first person plural – listen again to verse 26: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness”.
The God who has a unique relationship with humans.
The God who has unique expectations for humans – to care for creation.
Now of course, this is hardly enough information to suggest that the God we meet in Genesis 1 is Triune. However, we are not reading for information; we are faithfully seeking to understand, to be formed by the God who reveals himself through the text and invites us to respond.
So, how are we to respond when faced with the sheer immensity of creation, the vastness of the universe, the fact humans are created in the image of this Creator God?
Our response is the same as David in Psalm 8 – we respond in worship.
But, who do we worship?
Not ourselves or other humans.
And certainly not or some vague or unknown deity ‘out there somewhere’.
Listen again to the opening and closing words of Psalm 8: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
We worship this God – the God who creates; the God who is named.
This name is not secret knowledge known by a privileged few. It is not a name that renders all religions and their gods equal, uniting them in the name of shared human experience.
Rather, the name of this God, as Jesus tells us in our Gospel reading, is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
This is not a name that we give God; this is the name that God gives Godself.
A name confers and denotes a specific and particular identity. God’s name does not refer to any god, but to this God, the God whose name is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ, the Son, the second person of the Trinity, has the authority to reveal God’s name. He reveals it to his disciples and to his Church in commissioning them to be his representatives on earth as they preach the gospel, proclaim the forgiveness of sins, and invite others to participate in the kingdom.
The Church does these things not based on its own power and authority and not in the name of a general feeling of ‘love’ or altruism.
The Church does these things on the authority of and in the name of this God – the Triune God who is love, in the name of the one who is the embodiment of perfect love, Jesus Christ.
The good news is that God does not remain fully hidden or unknown.
The good news, as scandalous as it may be for our culture, is that this God, the Triune God, most fully reveals himself in the Son, Jesus Christ, in order to offer and share divine love with the world.
The good news is that we no longer have to be enslaved to the gods of our own making because Jesus Christ has set us free from the power of sin and death.
The good news is that the Triune God, will restore everything and redeem all things. It is this God, and this God alone, who do this.
What is our response?
Like the disciples on the mountaintop in our Gospel reading, we worship. Worship is our primary response to this God.
The fullest way we can faithfully seek to understand the Triune God is through worship.
This God is the one to whom all Christian prayer and worship are directed.
It is through worship that we participate in the life of the Triune God, the God whose very being is an eternal self-giving relationship of three divine persons united in love.
It is through our worship that we come to understand the Trinity – spiritually and relationally. We do not come to merely know about God; in worship, we come to know the God of love, the God in whose image we are created.
It is through our worship that we are propelled to participate in the Son’s mission from the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit to go into the world to proclaim the good news and to make disciples of this God.
In seeking to faithfully understand the Trinity, we need not worry about cooking our brains; rather, we need to simply focus on Jesus, the one through whom the Triune God is made known for our sake and the sake of the world. As Julian of Norwich said, “Where Jesus appears, the blessed Trinity is understood”.
Jesus comes to meet us, to unite himself with us, in the sacraments – through baptism and Communion. The word sacrament is a Latin translation of the Greek word ‘mysterion’, where we get the English word ‘mystery’.
It is a mystery how Christ meets us in the sacraments, but he assures us of his presence in them and with us until he comes again.
Therefore, we can speak of the Triune God as a Sacramental reality – a revealed mystery who gives of himself to bring us into relationship with him.
God is not a riddle or brain teaser to be solved, or something that we can rationally comprehend. St. Augustine once remarked “If you do understand, it is not God”. If we claim that all roads lead to God, then they most certainly do not for we have imposed our own understanding and created a god in our image.
So, how do we talk about the Trinity as those who are baptized and confess Jesus is Lord?
How do we seek to understand the revealed mystery?
We baptize, we eat bread and drink wine, we pray and we worship in the name of the Triune God. And in so doing, we participate in the fellowship and self-giving love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, refreshed and equipped to share this love with the world.
Come, let us worship this God.