Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Trinity Explained

The Trinity.. Explained – Isaiah 6:1-8; John 3:1-10
Second Presbyterian Church, Albuquerque, NM June 7, 2009

Today is Trinity Sunday—So “now I guess is a good time to explain the Trinity doctrine…”[1]
“We in the Christian church affirm as an essential part of our faith belief in a Triune God…The Trinity doctrine basically says that there is one God. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Hence God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Three, but they make up one God. Each is co-equal and co-eternal.” [2] Blessed Trinity!

Does that make sense? Maybe some of you would like to add to this a bit….
Oh right, that’s my job. Well, Rob and I both agreed that we have tried for such a long time with our respective congregations to explain the Trinity, and you still didn’t get it… that we just had to exchange churches this Sunday, so that we could try to explain the Trinity to each other’s congregations. So now I guess is a good time to explain the Trinity doctrine…

In April of this year, I was put to the test. I visited a Muslim country, Morocco, on an interfaith trip with other religious leaders, and our leader was the Imam at the Mosque in Santa Fe, who also happened to be a native of Morocco. There I found myself in a very lively; non-threatening discussion about faith with a committed Muslim. He, very graciously, pointed out that there were so many similarities between Christianity and Islam: Belief in the virgin birth (another difficult thing to explain); belief in the crucifixion of Jesus, and even in his ascension into heaven and that he will return. I did not know these things about Islam before.
And then he squinted his eyes a bit, shifted in his seat, and closed his mouth before he said, You know what a big difference is between your religion and ours: The Trinity. How can you believe in three Gods Or one God that is Three? This just doesn’t make sense.
Had I had adequate time at that moment, it would have been a good time to have explained the doctrine of the trinity. But I guess now is a good time to explain the Trinity doctrine…
Recently I had a conversation with someone who told me that the pastor at her church strictly preached the bible. And so he didn’t preach things that people have “made up” over the years…like the trinity. He’s right, “The doctrine of the Trinity itself cannot be found explicitly in scripture. Yet, it is scriptural to its core.”[3] There are passages about the divinity of Jesus: though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. About the Spirit: Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday, and our scripture was Acts 2- the day of Pentecost, where the Spirit descended on the disciples like tongues of fire and gave them the ability to speak in other languages. And about a relationship of three: Another passage from last Sunday, John 16, where Jesus says he must return to the Holy Father, so that the Advocate will come. Paul will often open or close his letters using some Trinitarian formula like: Que la gracia del Señor Jesucristo, el amor de Dios y la comunión del Espíritu Santo sean con todos ustedes. There are three, that the Western Church has traditionally called “persons,” “not to differentiate them as individual gods, but to identify them as the three different ways God has revealed God's self to us, as well as the three different ways the three are related to one another within the unity of God's being: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” [4]
And of course God is ONE! “God is one: shema yisrael, adoni eloheynu, adoni echod, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord." This ancient confession from Deuteronomy is foundational to all that we say about God—God is one in essence, unity, being, power, holiness and purpose. We talk so much about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that we need to remember that they are three [modes of being] of the one reality we call God--the One the prophet Isaiah encounters in the temple in Jerusalem.”[5]
A fascinating passage is that found in Isaiah? Six winged Seraphs are flying around the One Holy God. They sing the song that we sing during communion:
“Santo Santo Santo, es el Señor. Heaven and Earth are full of your Glory.”
The one God is holy—other, separate. Isaiah can only catch “a glimpse of the hem of God's robe, and even at that Isaiah must turn his eyes as he cries out, "Woe is me." God within God's self is so separate from everything else in existence, so different, that we simply have no reference for God--no analogy will completely do. No catapilar, or toothpaste. I heard this one: The holy spirit is the wireless connection to the Father and to the Son who are the hard-wire.[6] Every metaphor for God eventually breaks down.
And yet at the same time, we know that God, revealed most fully in Jesus Christ is a personal God. Our passage from Romans tells us that we may cry out, "Abba! Father!" With that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit we are children of God. Jesus referred to God as Father, not because God is male—God is beyond all gender, yet God created in the divine image, male and female—Jesus called out to God as Abba Father to show relationship. It is this personal God that is one, in three.
Are you confused yet? Of course we Christians are confused, which is why I guess now is a good time for me to explain the trinity doctrine: “It has been said that every Christian heresy is, [in its foundation], a Trinitarian heresy, which has resulted from our separating the will and the work of the one member of the Godhead from the other two.”[7]
Do you think that because we don’t understand really the relationship of Three in One, that sometimes we simply choose one of the three to worship? Let’s take a survey. To whom do you say your prayers?
Is it God the Father, the first person. My God is the “first principle of the universe, the origin of things.”[8] The big man up stairs. The big Cojuna, that’s who’ll answer my prayers. But, what about Jesus? Who’s a Jesus Freak! WWJD? Jesus rules! Got Jesus? He’s my hero, who I want to be, and it is Jesus who lives inside me. Have you accepted Jesus into your heart? Now, who’s a Holy Ghost Christian? Spirit filled. Raise your hands, that shouldn’t be a problem for you. You got the holy Ghost? I got the Holy Ghost. You been baptized by the Holy Spirit? Can you speak in tongues? If you don’t know the Spirit, you don’t know God.
So, since neither Rob, nor I want any of you good Presbyterians; any of you good Christian folks to be labeled heretics…I suppose now would be a good time to explain to you the Trinity doctrine….
You’ve probably heard of St. Augustine of Hippo, a great church father, who lived during the early years of Christianity and was a major part of the conversation about this doctrine of the Trinity. He wrote many things about the Trinity and his writings and thoughts on this subject continue to be a major influence of our Trinitarian understanding. There’s a story that says he was standing at the seashore, and he saw a little girl running to the water, collecting it in a bucket, and then dumping running to a hole that she had dug into the sand. She would run back to the sea and get more water and then dump it into the sand and it of course disappeared. He watched her doing this for some time and then finally he went to her and said what are you doing? She said, “I am emptying the sea.”
He laughed and then she said, “I will do that sooner than you will be able to explain the Trinity.”[9]
So I guess by now you you’ve figured out that I’m not going to be able to explain to you the Trinity, sorry. But that is the beauty of this complicated incomprehensible God whom we worship! God is Mystery, and it is absolutely essential that we not turn the Godhead into something that is manageable to us. Instead, we affirm One God, a three in one God, who will forever remain a mystery—not something to be understood or explained—not some simplistic truth. But, at the same time what’s awesome about this doctrine is that this God, One in Three, Three in One is personal, and one of the greatest things that we can grasp about God, and about life in this personal God: Perfect relationship.
A few years ago I was at a lecture given by a Jewish ethicist from the University of Virginia. Much of what he said was over my head, but something really stuck out. He talked about the conflict between Jews and Palestinians in Israel and the difficulty that these groups were having with each other. He said that in many ways he wished the God of the Jews was Triune like the Christian God. [Huh? That sticks out.] As an ethicist he looked for ways in which people could model relationships with one another…imitate relationships that they held in high esteem…and what if that relationship existed in the God whom you worshipped. The Christian God, the Triune God, one yet three co-equals in one, models perfectly a relationship of unity even in diversity worthy of our imitation. In God’s very nature, there exists difference and unity. Life in Communion; in Community is established and maintained. God models how relationships with others should and could be. It’s perfect. Because there are no power struggles.
There is no competition and trying to out do the other. There is only love and acceptance and freedom experienced in Relationship. I and my Father are one, said Jesus. It is not my will, but God’s will. The Spirit will come to do the will of the source of all being.
And this is how our relationship with one another could be. Our God is our example, as we recognized our connectedness and oneness with one another and with all of humanity, and at the same time affirm and acknowledge our diversity!
So as we worship this God who is mystery and who is personal relationship with friends, with family, and especially within our church community, where we all uphold this God, whom we can emulate in order to become an inclusive community of free and equal persons. relationships of domination are replaced by relationships of honor and respect among equals.
Hold hands or put hands around each other (have them stand as they are able. You are connected, You are one. yet you are unique. This isn’t about power, or prestige or pride, but about love and grace and forgiveness.
It is good that we from WPC join you from Second in worship this morning, and that Roberto and your choir are at our church in Santa Fe. Another way we can explore what relationship looks like, Diversity in our congregations, but unity in God. We open ourselves up to the possibility of being in relationship. We recognize our connectedness, not only as people from Presbyterian churches who share a similar history, but more importantly, as brothers and sisters united by the One God, in three persons.
So, we’ll keep praying in Trinitarian language, Baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the holy Ghost. Singing Trinitarian hymns. Gloria demos al Padre, al hijo, y al santo espiritu. And searching to know God within the mystery, while we are invited to belong in relationship with this God; In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

[1] This is what is said at:

[2] This is what is said at:

[3] Fred R. Anderson
[4] Fred R. Anderson, “The Threefold Nature of God,” Sermon preached on, for Trinity Sunday 2009.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Again, Fred R. Anderson.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 73
[9] Again told by Anderson on interview

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