The Holy Trinity, year C (preached 5/22/16)
first reading: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
second reading: Romans 5:1-5
gospel reading: John 16:12-15
I know I say this every year, but just a reminder that this day, Trinity Sunday, is the only feast day we Lutherans have the celebrates a DOCTRINE of the Church. All the other feast days we have in our calendar celebrate events, like Easter, or people, like St. Luke. Trinity Sunday is our only doctrinal Sunday.
The Holy Trinity. It is the way we describe God – our belief that there is ONE God, yet one God in THREE PERSONS: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And it’s easy for pastors to fall into the trap of using this day to try to “explain” the Trinity. Only trouble can come from that. We can describe the Trinity – we do every time we say “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” but to explain it, to define it, is like trying to know the mind of God. It can’t be done.
It’s like trying to explain exactly how Jesus is “in, with and under” the bread and wine of Holy Communion – how splashing someone with water that has been blessed gives them forgiveness and make them God’s child. Can’t be done.
There are some things that just can’t be fully explained. This doesn’t mean we don’t play around with it, to describe what we know as best we can. Faith certainly doesn’t demand ignorance of blind obedience. Our life as disciples is one of life-long learning and growing and questioning and pondering and even doubting in our relationship with the Trinity.
Yet, we should always admit that much of faith can be described in one loaded word: MYSTERY.
It’s part of human nature to rebel against mysteries. We like ANSWERS. We want to KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt. About the only time we like a mystery is when it’s a story – the kind that are neatly summed up at the end – Sherlock Holmes saves the day. We close the book, or get to the end of the movie, feeling perhaps surprised, but satisfied.
But life is seldom resolved so neatly. And if life isn’t so neat, then why should we expect that from faith?
To bring in another Bible passage, when I think of the Holy Trinity, I think of 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
It’s not that we don’t know anything. We can know a little, we can see bits here and there, and we have faith for the rest. Those who, in their wisdom, crafted the lectionary, gave us some wonderful examples of the Holy Trinity today.
In Proverbs we learn about the work of God in creation – “before the beginning of the earth… before the mountains were shaped…” That God, “established the heavens… the fountains of the deep… assigned to the sea its limit…”
In Psalm 8, the writer expresses joy, praising God for creation: “all flocks and cattle, even the wild beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea…” Then the writer asks the question that I have found myself asking at times, usually when I’m looking out over the ocean: “What are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them, human beings that you should care for them?”
This is how we often think of God the Father – as we say in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds – the “creator of heaven and earth.”
In our second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans we learn about the work of God in justifying us and giving us peace and hope through the work of God the Christ. We are “justified” through Jesus, we have “peace” and “grace” with God “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “We boast in our hope” – the hope we find in Jesus. This hope is SO strong that we even are able to “boast in our sufferings.” It is a hope born through God’s love – a suffering sacrificial love that was shown us in Jesus.
This is how we often think of God the Son – the one who for us and for our salvation, suffered, was crucified, died, and rose again.¹
And in the gospel reading Jesus the Christ speaks to us about God the Spirit – the HOLY Spirit. Jesus calls the Spirit, “the Spirit of truth,” who will guide us “into all the truth.” The Spirit “will speak whatever [the Spirit] hears” and “glorify” Jesus. In last week’s gospel, Jesus told us the Spirit would also “teach” us everything, and “remind” us of all that he said.²
This is how we often think of God the Holy Spirit – the one who guides us and sustains our life in faith; who we confess in the Nicene Creed as “the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son… who has spoken through the prophets.”
All these wonderful ways we think of God, and believe in God, are accurate – but still run a certain danger… because the Son and Spirit are ALSO WITH the Father in creation; the Father and Spirit are ALSO WITH the Son in justification; and the Father and Son are ALSO WITH the Spirit in guiding and teaching.
Three distinct persons, yet ONE God. How Jesus is present in creation I don’t know. How the Father is present in the teaching I don’t know. How the Spirit is present in Jesus’ suffering I don’t know.
But somehow, in this wonderful frustrating mystery of the Holy Trinity, all three are separate, yet together, at all times and in all places.
Forming heaven and earth, for you and me. Walking, eating, sleeping, suffering, dying, rising, for you and me. Guiding, teaching, and speaking truth – for you and me.