I was privileged to give the sermon at my church for Trinity Sunday.
The readings are at the bottom of the post.
I wrote three completely different versions of this sermon for this Trinity Sunday.
The less said about the first version of this sermon the better.
The second version of this sermon was all about paradox and mystery, it mentioned Lady Gaga, and the building of the Pyramids of Egypt – but after I read it to my wife Darlene – she said that’s great, but what does that have to do with the Trinity?
Nothing gets past Darlene.
Those of us who grew up in the Christian church learn our basic theology along with everything else. I don’t remember when I learned the word ‘rutabaga’. While still very young, I’m pretty sure I knew that it was something that you could eat – that is if you were hungry enough – but I really did not know what it was. Later on as you grow up you fill in the details. The Trinity is another word and concept that I absorbed as a child – learning what it was about from the context of how and when it was used.
The Trinity is something to do with God.
The Trinity is mysterious – The idea of the Trinity is a logical paradox.
It turns out that the Trinity is not that complicated an idea, it can be stated very simply. In fact, we define and affirm our belief in the Most Holy Trinity every Sunday when we recite the Nicene creed with it’s three sections for the three persons of God.
How and why did the first Christians arrive at this understanding of the nature of God?
There is a latin phrase “omne trium perfectum” which means that everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete.
We human beings really like to group things into groups of threes.
The past, the present, the future.
The executive, the legislative, the judicial,
The poor, the rich, the middle class.
Heaven, Earth, and Hell.
Small, medium, and large – or for people who go to Starbucks (trademark): tall, grande, and venti.
Grouping objects and events into groups of threes was as natural for the first Christians as it is for us today.
I believe the theology of Holy Trinity was inevitable from the experiences of the first Christian community – the Christians who had known Jesus Christ as a man.
These first Christians were for the most part Jews and Samaritans who were very familiar with the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Moses – God the Father, and Creator. In our lesson today from Genesis we are reminded of the traditional story of how God created the heavens and the earth. These first Christians’ view of God was that of a parent; rewarding them for good behavior, punishing them for bad behavior, helping them when they get into trouble. In one of the commentaries I read preparing for this sermon – I learned about something else God had done which I’d never noticed before.
From Genesis chapter 3 verse 21:
And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.
Earlier in Chapter 3 of Genesis, we have the story of the fall of man and woman – the original disobedience to God. Adam and Eve while hiding from God had made some leaf aprons to cover themselves, and I had always thought that in the story of the fall, Adam and Eve were still wearing their leaf aprons as they were driven from the garden. I had never realized that after God had pronounced punishment – to the serpent, to Eve, and to Adam that God then took time to make clothes for Adam and Eve.
God the Creator of the Universe, and Chief Justice, then switches roles to God the Father who even when his children fall from His grace, still loves them and provides for them even as he sends them on their way into the world.
The first Christians were very familiar with God’s first Aspect in the Holy Trinity: Creator and Father.
These early Christians had became a Christian community, because they came to know Jesus Christ as a man during his ministry. Who did they think he was at first? A prophet like the great prophets of old, like Elijah, or Moses. Only some during his ministry seemed to recognize his divinity – like John the Baptist, or the Samaritan woman at the well, or the Centurion who commanded the detachment of soldiers at the Crucifixion. Even after all the miracles, and signs, the disciples of Jesus were definitely still in the dark as to his divine nature, the Word made flesh, at the Last Supper. What a difference we see in the Apostles between the time Jesus was condemned and crucified and Jesus Christ’s Ascension into Heaven as related in our Gospel reading. On the initial sightings of Jesus they are unbelieving, but later as they are given proofs that Jesus has actually risen, that having died Jesus is once again a living breathing man – most come to believe.
This first community in Christ had experienced the incarnation of God as a Man, a man as all men and women are meant to be, in full communion with everything that is good – one being with God. This first Christian community now had new stories of Jesus Christ, a personal savior and redeemer to add to their existing body of stories of God as Creator, and Father.
50 days after the Crucifixion, a group of about 120 believers in Jesus from all over the Jerusalem region had gathered together – it was the Jewish Feast of Weeks – to celebrate Moses receiving the law from God at mount Sinai. These 120believers became the first Christians when the Spirit of God descended from heaven onto all of them like a rushing wind, causing them to hear the word of God in their own languages. The event we have come to know as Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came to everyone: Jew and Gentile, Men and Women, all those present, not just the original disciples. Only the disciples had been told by Jesus of the promise that he would send the gift of God’s spirit – although they had no idea what form it would take – so to everyone present it was a bewildering experience, and perhaps to many even a frightening one.
This shared experience of this Christian community in this event; this happening: the receiving of the Holy Spirit, along with their stories of Jesus Christ, their savior, and God the Father, I believe naturally developed into this first and greatest of Christian theological ideas – the Most Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity was a natural response of ordinary people who had directly experienced extraordinary events. The Holy Trinity was not something that scholars invented, it wasn’t based on esoteric theories or some arcane analysis of Jesus’ words. The first Christians simply grouped these three ways of experiencing God – and formulated the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
I am grateful for the many scholars and theologians who have studied the Holy Trinity through the ages. I have only begun to scratch the surface of this massive body of scholarship. As I am only an amateur theologian, there are only two additional points about the Most Holy Trinity that I feel qualified to make.
As fallible, human beings, we must never embrace these ideas about the nature of God like the Holy Trinity so strongly that we raise them up like graven images and worship the ideas – the theology about God – rather than God Himself. These ideas, are just tools, created by imperfect men and women through centuries of prayer, and thought. These ideas, we might even call them theories, about God are to be used prayerfully, and in humility to bring us closer to God and to each other.
If we use them to exclude each other,
If we use them to condemn each other,
If we use them to, in any way, hurt our fellow men and women we are _not_ living as Christians in the way that Jesus Christ taught us to live.
To make my second point about the Most Holy Trinity – please bear with me – I need to do a Trinitarian analysis of an ordinary person. There is only one person I know well enough to use as my example – myself.
I have three major roles in my family.
I am Doug, the father of Olivia, my daughter.
I am Doug, the son of John and Carol, my parents.
I am Doug, the husband of Darlene, my wife.
I have these three roles in my family – as one person – however, I am not completely defined by these three roles.
I am also Doug the systems engineer who works for Optionshop in Chicago.
I am also Doug the dyer of cloth.
I am also Doug who has many other interests, aspirations and dreams.
If this relational Trinitarian description of Doug the man is incomplete, how can any description of the Most Holy Trinity – that we fallible human beings are capable of making – completely describe the immensity, the perfection, the eternal, limitless goodness that is God?
There is a legend about a Theologian of the Church St. Augustine of Hippo.
St. Augustine spent 30 years working on his treatise De Trinitate [about the Holy Trinity] – he lived from 354-430 AD. This legend – which is _not_ part of his official biography – has non-the-less circulated for hundreds of years.
Bishop Augustine of Hippo dressed in his episcopal robes was walking by the seashore, pondering with difficulty the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. He approached a small child running back and forth between the sea and a pool on the beach with a seashell full of seawater. Augustine asked the child what he was doing.
“Can’t you see?” said the child. “I’m emptying the sea into this pool!”
“You can’t empty the sea into this tiny pool.”, Augustine said.
The child replied, “I will sooner empty the sea into this pool than you will manage to get the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity into your head!”
Upon saying that, the child, who was an angel according to legend, quickly disappeared, leaving Augustine alone, with the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.
God is too big, too powerful, too wise, for us to comprehend. Yet at the same time God is as personal as our fellow men and women we meet every day. To me, this is the true mystery of the Most Holy Trinity – how this immensely powerful being also is so immensely humble and respectful to we lowly, limited, human beings. Allowing us to make our own mistakes, always hoping that we will return to His fellowship, only providing His help to us when we ask Him, in Jesus’ name.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights– the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night– and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”