“God: Three in One and One in Three” (June 15, 2014–The First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday; Canterbury Episcopal Chapel, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama)

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”—II Corinthians 13.14[1]

In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Of all the Church’s Principal Feasts, Major Feasts, Holy Days, and Days of Special Devotion, Trinity Sunday is my least favorite. It’s not so much that I don’t like Trinity Sunday, itself, but, rather, feel that every time I’m the one assigned the task of preaching about this doctrine so mysterious, highly confusing, and utterly complex, I make the people I’m preaching to even more confused about the Trinity than they were before. So by the end of this sermon, if I cause any of you further confusion, I offer you my advance apologies. At the heart of my frustration with this day is the knowledge that, for the analytical human mind, I’m making a very tough sale. “God: Three in One and One in Three.” I know; it’s confounding!

Roman Catholic theologian Robert Barron puts forth the idea that the language of Trinitarian theology is purposely meant to confound us and the more I think about that idea, the more I find the possibility of such thought being true. Perhaps that is God’s modus operandi. Perhaps it is God’s purpose that we be intentionally confused, blocked, and shielded from fully understanding the Trinity. From the prophet Isaiah, we hear this declaration about God: “…My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…”[2] Why is that? Why doesn’t God want us to know every complete detail about Him? The answer, I feel, has to do with relationship.

By intentionally blocking us from coming to the full knowledge of His Trinitarian nature, God preserves His relationship with us through our want to know everything. We humans are an inquisitive type of being. We are naturally attracted towards things that spark our interest. As Christians, God is the source of our attraction, for He is the very foundation from which all that we believe in comes. So by shielding our minds from the fullness of His nature, God keeps drawing us more and more to Himself. The more we are drawn to Him, the more we come to know of God’s goodness. The more knowledgeable we become of God’s goodness, the greater our attraction to Him gets. The more we come to know about God, the even more there is that remains to be known.

So by God intentionally shrouding our minds from the full knowledge of His nature, causing us to draw more and more into Him, God, in turn, is also able to preserve His relationship with us out of the simple, yet amazing fact that He actually wants to be in relationship with us. What we learn from our first lesson from Genesis 1 and 2 is that God is relational. Everything that was created on Earth and in Heaven sprang forth from God’s speaking it into existence: “Let there be…,” of which God saw that everything He created “was good.” But of humankind, we hear that “…God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them…and indeed, it was very good.”[3]What we learn about God is that He wants to be relationship with us because He created us. In addition to our Genesis reading, the entire Biblical narrative is the story of God’s persistent pursuit of us. God simply cannot leave us alone. He just cannot do it.

You would think that after the constant going back and forth—of God using prophets to call His people back, the people coming back (for a time), then going away again—God would have eventually come to His senses, said, “To heck with them,” and left us to our own devices. But the love of God is strong—stronger than all the various kinds of love combined. The love of God is an intense love, so much so that it points to God’s very Being as unique and unlike any other. The most extraordinary way in which God showed and proved His love for us was by coming into our own time, making Himself human, and dwelling among us. Jesus is God’s ultimate proof of His pursuit to be in continuous relationship with us. Is Jesus truly God? Yes! Is Jesus really human? Yes! Scripture attests to these facts: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which means, GOD with us).”[4] Was Jesus there from the very beginning? Yes! Scripture also attests to this fact: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”[5]

So there it is—Jesus is God Himself, in the flesh! In the words of Saint Paul, Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created through him and for him.”[6] Apart from the fact that He composes part of the Trinity, the dual nature of Jesus—in that, in His one Self, He is both human and divine—is bewildering, but is a duality that was necessary and essential for the salvation of all humanity. Jesus encompasses all time that is past, is part of that which is the present, and, by His actions, has set the course of the time that is to come. By taking on our humanity, Christ caused us to become adopted as children of God, thus making us heirs of God’s kingdom.[7] Through His divinity, Christ made the offering for our sins that we could not make, redeemed us from the law of sin and death, and has forever reconciled us to God the Father.[8] The resurrection of Jesus from the grave brought forth life out of the depths of death for all who have faith and believe: “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[9] Of course, the crucial factor of Jesus being able to do what He did was that as God, He was totally without sin. Jesus is God’s all encompassing, fully unconditional love personified, in human form, from whom we receive the gift of grace—the free and unmerited favor of God, through which we receive forgiveness of sin, amendment of life, and relationship with Him. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away…everything has become new!”[10]

Jesus was God’s love that walked and talked with us on Earth. As Roman Catholic theologian Gerhard Lohfink notes:

“At the center of the Church’s faith stands Jesus Christ…In Jesus Christ, the Son, God has said everything. In Him God has fully and finally spoken the innermost divine essence. But God has also done everything in Jesus. In Him God has given God’s own self to the world in the ultimate act of love. In the risen and exalted Christ…the world has already reached its perfection.”[11]

When you have something good (or, in this case, extremely good) with you, why would you want it to end? But, as Geoffrey Chaucer (of Canterbury Tales fame) once said, “All good things must come to an end.” So Jesus, after spending a season of time among us on Earth, both before His death and after His resurrection, had to leave us, returning to His Father, our Father, in Heaven. Jesus, Himself, said, “…It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”[12] The ascension of Jesus into Heaven was pivotal for the human race, for when Jesus ascended into Heaven, He took our humanity with Him, thereby causing our humanity to dwell at the right hand of God the Father in the Person of Jesus, forever holding together the relationship between God the Father and the human family.

But just as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, came, opening up the way to salvation to the people of every land with every different style of language. In addition that our humanity would be taken up into Heaven, Jesus’ ascension occurred so that the Holy Spirit could come, helping us to live into Jesus and as His people in the world. Just as God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ, have been in existence from the very beginning, so has the Holy Spirit, revealed throughout the Old Testament as the Giver of life and the One who spoke through the prophets and the New Testament as the One who helps us grow in Christ’s likeness. The Holy Spirit is present among us, the Body of Christ, the Church, and lives within each of us and all others who sincerely confess the truth that is above all truth: Jesus is Lord!

“The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. God is the Father. God is the Son. God is the Holy Spirit. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Father. The Father is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Father. The Son is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Son.”[13] As confounding, complex, and mysterious the Trinity is, I have faith that it works. Despite the fact that I can’t figure it out, I have faith in the Trinity’s perfection because I trust God. From the Trinity, I feel God’s grace, which sought me out, ransomed and sustains me. Because of the Trinity, I find myself continuously drawing closer to God and I can’t get enough of His goodness. In the words of Saint Patrick: “I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three.”[14]

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God: O come, let us adore Him. Amen!

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version Bible, Old Testament Section, Copyright 1952, New Testament Section, Copyright 1946 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Isaiah 55.8

[3] Genesis 1.27, 31 (NRSV)

[4] Matthew 1.23; cf. Isaiah 7.14

[5] John 1.1-3

[6] Colossians 1.15-16

[7] Romans 8.14, 17

[8] Galatians 4.5

[9] I Corinthians 15.55, 57

[10] II Corinthians 5.17

[11] Lohfink, Gerhard. No Irrelevant Jesus: On Jesus and the Church Today (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2014), 144.

[12] John 16.7

[13] The twelve propositions from the “Shield of the Trinity,” a traditional Christian visual symbol expressing aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity in the first part of the Athanasian Creed, found on pp. 864-865 of The Book of Common Prayer (1979).

[14] Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, translation by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: