Trinity Sunday – 2015

Even among the Theologically trained there is uncertainty and perhaps a little dread when it comes to the Trinity.  Last week at the Presbytery retreat, we fretted together around the supper table about children’s stories and worship themes that might help us (as clergy) approach this week’s service.  But we don’t need gimmicks – we don’t need colourful illustrations.  We have surrounded ourselves with evidence and immersed ourselves in living examples/illustrations of what it means to say “God is One, yet Three-in-One”.

The creeds are the response of the church to the questions of the faithful – and so, from these long and occasionally complicated formulas, we learn that

“We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity,

neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.”

Makes perfect sense, right?

Our more common creeds and more recent statements of faith describe three “elements” of God – Three persons of the God-head – without shedding any light on how they came to that conclusion.  How do we tell the difference between God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and the Holy Spirit, whose creative power was responsible for Jesus’ conception?  The search for an answer has filled many libraries and caused otherwise sensible people to present us with such mind bending statements as we find in the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father.

But the church has organized itself around the central idea that God is “Three-in-One”, and the language we use and the way we gather we have answered the riddle of the Trinity in the best possible way.  We have focused on relationship: between and among ourselves; between the Creator and the Creation.  We call ourselves a family of faith, claiming the title “children of God” – and in this, I think, we have found an explanation for how the Trinity works.

The relationship between and among Father – Son – Spirit is the most important thing about any Trinitarian talk.  The Trinity is the model for the family of God.

No one more important than the other – each necessary to the completeness of the other, yet  at the same time independent in their identities.  A complicated relationship, to be sure, but one with great power to support the work of Creating – Redeeming – Sustaining.  It’s not magic, it’s family, and that’s something we understand.

Isaiah approaches that relationship with fear and trembling – in fact, the whole earth trembles.  Fear is the starting point for Nicodemus too, who comes at night, unseen by his colleagues, to ask Jesus for the answer to this most difficult question: “How does your connection with God work?”

“We know you are from God…” he says – but I don’t understand.  And Jesus explanation doesn’t make it any easier; “you must be born of the Spirit” – “born from above” into the family of God.  To be born in the regular way leaves only ‘regular’ options to pursue the tasks assigned to us.  To be born “from above”, to join the family of God, is to gain a different perspective.

Thomas Long, a teacher of preachers at Emory University in Atlanta GA,  puts it this way:

In other words, Jesus Christ…leads us into the joyful and loving life of God. This is why when people choose to follow Jesus and are baptized as new Christians, they are baptized not just in Jesus’ name but in the name of the Trinity. To be baptized is not just a ceremony but a rebirth into a new way of life, into God’s own life. To be a follower of Jesus is not just to ask “What would Jesus do?” but to be drawn into a communion with the fullness of God’s life. Just as a new bride soon realizes that she has not just married a husband but married into his whole family, just so, to belong to Jesus is to belong to his whole family, to be drawn through Jesus the Son into a deep and loving relationship with God the Father in the power of the Spirit.  (from Thomas Long’s sermon “The Start of the trail” – http://day1.org/3823-the_start_of_the_trail)

The same is true of the Sacrament of Communion; we come to the table, not as mourners at a funeral lunch, but as “members of the body looking to take Jesus into ourselves” – looking to be connected to God intimately, by taste and touch.

These Sacraments of ours each try to establish our relationship to this mysterious, three- personed God.  And while there is comfort and security in the familiar words and the common rituals, we should come to the table and font with our knees knocking, for the Sacraments draw us into a relationship of responsibility and power.

Long tells a story of a recently retired Presbyterian minister who remembered baptizing a two-year-old boy. After the child had been baptized with water, the minister, following the directions of the Presbyterian prayer book, put his hand on the little boy’s head and addressed him in Trinitarian language. He said, “You are a child of God, sealed by the Spirit in your baptism, and you belong to Jesus Christ forever.” Unexpectedly, the little boy looked up and responded, “Uh-oh.”

Well, it was an amusing moment, and people in the congregation smiled, of course, but “it was [also] an appropriate response,” wrote [the minister], “… a stunning theological affirmation” from the mouth of this child. And indeed it was. That “uh-oh” was a recognition that everything had changed, that this boy would never be the same.

That is what waits for us at the font and the table; an invitation to be changed – to accept our role in the family of God; to live out in the world the kind of love and self-giving that goes on among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thanks be to God for the mystery and privilege that comes from being in a family such as this.  Amen

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