I have to confess that thinking about the Holy Trinity exhausts me! I mean, seriously, who REALLY wants to talk about the theological significance of God who is revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit? It sounds like a term paper we did in High School. The teacher told us it had to be five pages long. We fiddled with the font size and margin spacing. We stretched it this way and that, until we had five pages of words that had very little to do with the subject matter at hand! You know what I mean? Surely somebody besides me is guilty of doing this!
Way back in the day, St. Augustine, one of the greatest minds of Western thought, had the audacity to write a 15 volume essay on the subject. It was entitled “On the Trinity.” It took him over a decade to write it. Seriously? Did we really need this? Did anybody actually read it? And if they did read it, did it bring them any closer to God or to a deeper understanding of how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together as a whole? I doubt it!
During the 300’s the early church fathers [I say church fathers because they didn’t bother to ask any women about the subject. Maybe that was their first mistake!] The early church fathers began shaping creeds about the Trinity that people had to believe or they were considered to be heretics. The most well known of these creeds is the Apostle’s Creed which we say every week in worship. It was written as early as 390 to the mid 400s. It’s short and to the point! I believe in God the Father, I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, I believe in the Holy Spirit.
But I must confess there are portions of this Creed I say with my fingers crossed behind my back. I can’t say I believe every word of the Apostles’ Creed as it’s written. Most people are relived when I say this because, secretly, they feel the same way!
The Nicene Creed was written in 325. It’s a little bit longer. It includes strange, mysterious phrases like “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” What in the world are they trying to tell us? Do all these words make the Trinity any more understandable? I don’t think so.
Finally the Athanasian Creed same along in the 500’s and took the Creeds to their logical, or insane conclusion, depending upon how we look at it! Lutherans even stopped printing the Athanasian Creed in their worship books because nobody ever used it.
Let me give you a sample of what it says: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that they hold the catholic faith…and the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. for there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.” Trust me, it goes downhill from there! God save us from our need to talk a subject to death!
The cacophony of words has continued for nearly two thousand years. Yet, we are no closer today to understanding the Trinity than when Jesus told us he was going to send us the Advocate, “the Spirit of truth,” who would “guide us into all the truth.” [John 16]
This is why the Holy Trinity is so exhausting to me. Somehow we believe if we just keep talking about it, if we throw enough words at it, we’ll finally get it right. We’ll grasp the true essence of the Trinity. And so the tsunami of words continued from the early church fathers to this present day.
Conservative Lutherans believe if we don’t begin our worship in the specific name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and make the sign of the cross while doing so, we aren’t conducting authentic Lutheran worship. We can feel their stares of disapproval and they try to shine the light on our misguided ways.
Progressive Lutherans will use just about anything in place of these three words! Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Divine Parent, Child of God, Holy Wisdom. The God above us, the God beside us, the God within us. [The last one is mine!] Again, it’s just more words on both sides. It’s exhausting. It doesn’t bring us any closer to God or closer to each other. Do you hear what I’m saying? Somehow I don’t think the Holy Trinity is meant to be a battleground of words, theological concepts, and scholarly opinions. It has to mean more than this!
And so, on this Holy Trinity Sunday, I stand before you like Lady Wisdom, the voice of understanding crying out. I’m taking a stand at the highest place in our sanctuary, [unless I stood on a chair] so that everyone can see me. I’m crying out, “O people! I am calling to you; I have a message for all humanity.” The message is as follows: It’s not about theology. It’s about relationship. Do you hear me? It’s not about theology. It’s about relationship.
The Holy Trinity is NOT something that should be argued about, dissected and debated. The Holy Trinity is something to be experienced, encountered and treasured. It’s not a term paper. It’s a life-changer! Do you understand what I’m saying? The Holy Trinity is not about theology. It’s about relationship. t’s the story of God who loves us so passionately and deeply that God arrived on our doorstep in several different forms. The hope is that at least one of these forms will resonate with us and bring us into a deep, transformational relationship with God. It doesn’t matter what we call the Trinity. It matters that we experience it. Amen?
And so today we celebrate God as FATHER. Eternal Parent, ever watchful over us wayward children. It doesn’t matter whether we had a good father or a bad father, an active father or an absent father. It doesn’t matter whether we prefer to think of God in masculine pronouns, feminine pronouns, or as beyond all gender constraints. What matters is that we know the One who calls us beloved children.
If God had a refrigerator, our photos would be on it! God is always bragging about how wonderful we are and how much potential we have as we grow into our spiritual adulthood. This God created and formed us; and gave us life and breath. It’s the God whom Psalm 139 says “Knows when we sit down and when we rise; who discerns our thoughts from far away; who knows every word on our tongue before we even say it.” That’s not theology. That’s relationship!
This same God so carefully and beautifully formed the heavens and the earth, and all the animals on land, in the sky and in the sea. God told us this beautiful planet was our playground. It’s the place where we will find life and happiness and joy. God told us to share our toys, play well each other, and take good care of all this gift we’ve been given. This is not a hateful, vengeful God with lightning bolts in hand, waiting to smite us for the smallest transgression. This is a God whom the writer of Exodus describes as “gracious and merciful slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
And so, this morning when we say “We believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,” we are not making a theological statement. We are affirming that we desire to be in relationship with the God whom formed us and watches over us, who loves and believe in us, even when we can’t believe in God ourselves. Friends in Christ. It’s not about theology. It’s about relationship. We stand in awe in the presence of the Eternal One who offers us Wonder. Mystery. Nurture. Life.
Today we also celebrate God as SON, the Word who became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth. Jesus is God 2.0. The version of God who is the easiest to understand because he is so much like us. His sense of wonder about God’s kingdom came through in his marvelous parables. His full range of emotions is evident as we read gospel stories describing Jesus’ sadness and peace, pain and joy, love and compassion. This Jesus never met a stranger he didn’t like. He always had the ANNOYING habit of leaving people in a better spiritual place than where he found them.
This Jesus challenges us to be the light of the world and salt for the earth. He told us to be compassionate, as God is compassionate. He laid out for us a three step program for living life in all of its abundance: Love God. Love neighbor. Love self. This version of God loved us so much that he was willing to die for us. He refused to compromise his vision for a world without boundaries; where everyone is welcome at the table; where the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given something to drink, the stranger is welcomed, the naked are clothed, the sick are taken care of and those in prison are visited.
Again, this is NOT a theological statement. It’s all about relationship. Jesus touched, taught, healed, rebuked, encouraged, transformed, and above all, loved those he encountered. He does the same for us today!
And so this morning, when we say “We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,” we are affirming that we desire to be in relationship with the God who loves us, died for us and rose again so we would know that all bets are off the table. Anything is possible! The worst sinner can be redeemed. New life can grow from the poorest of soils and the tiniest of seeds.
Friends in Christ. It’s not about theology. It’s about relationship. We stand in awe in the presence of the Great Shepherd who offers us Grace. Resurrection. Forgiveness. New Life.
Today we also celebrate God as HOLY SPIRIT. The RUACH whose winds troubled the murky waters of creation, bringing forth Light from Darkness, separating Day from Night. This same Spirit was poured out on the disciples at Pentecost with wind and flame, empowering and transforming their lives forever. The Holy Spirit is the Old Testament’s Lady Wisdom and the New Testament’s Sophia.
She is simultaneously the still, small voice that whispered in Elijah’s ear and the Overwhelming Presence of the Holy that shook the thresholds of Isaiah’s Temple and filled it with smoke. The Holy Spirit is the dual pillars of cloud and fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness. She is the force that transformed Paul from persecutor of Christians to defender of the faith.
The Holy Spirit shows up at our baptisms and welcomes us into God’s family. She guides us in the ways of God’s truth and wisdom. She helps us to discern what path we should take when the way ahead is not always clear. The Holy Spirit inspires creativity and visioning. She pushes us out of our comfort zones and calls us to imagine a world where “God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Holy Spirit calls us to be vessels of reconciliation, peacemaking and bridge building. She gives voice to our cries for justice for the poor and oppressed among us. She floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee! She is simultaneously gentle and powerful, graceful yet terrifying.
And so this morning, when we say “We believe in the Holy Spirit,” we are affirming that we desire to be in relationship with the God who lives in our hearts, educates our minds, and moves our bodies into service. Brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s not about theology. It’s about relationship. We stand in awe in the presence of the Wind and Flame who offers us Inspiration. Discernment. Empowerment. Transformation.
As I bring my thoughts on the Trinity to a close. I offer the somewhat unsettling words of Jesus from our Gospel lesson: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth.” This is where our United Church in Christ brothers and sisters get it right when they say, “God is still speaking…” I take this to mean the Holy Trinity is not finished with us yet. The God, who comes to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, cannot be contained by creeds or affirmations of faith. God is “un-boxable” and calls us into a living, dynamic and growing relationship with the One who created us, Redeemed us, and sustains us on the journey. Because in the end, say it with me…”It’s not about theology. It’s about relationship.” Amen!
Copyright ©2016 by David Eck