June 11, 2017
I love outgoing people. I appreciate hearing what they are thinking, often as soon as it pops into their mind. I enjoy the security of knowing where I stand with them. The down side of hanging out with some extroverts is that if they are not happy, nobody gets to be happy. They can wear their hearts on their sleeves, as an old saying describes it, and their feelings can infect others around them.
As you may have guessed from my preceding remarks, I do not consider myself outgoing. I like to think long and hard about most things before commenting on them. I enjoy solitude and silence more than most people seem to.
The central irony of my life is that God used my beloved solitude and silence to propel me into the ministry. I say this because I learned many years ago, that ministry is all about relationships.
Some people go into ministry because they love the expressions of their denomination, the services, the music, the symbols and occasionally, the politics. But even the ministers who delight in planning liturgies, beginning new programs, promoting social justice or creating lovely worship spaces find that these often take a back seat to relationships.
When we describe God as Trinity, we are saying that God’s essence is relationship. God did not create like a child plays with a set of blocks, he breathed over the waters in an outflowing of himself that changed the formless void. Through his intention, rather than specific action, all of creation came into being. God creates through the energy of his Spirit.
Our first reading, the lovely creation poem from the book of Genesis, dates from the time of the Babylonian exile, hundreds of years before the time of Jesus. While God’s spirit flows from him like a wind, in Jewish thought God remains a single entity, one Lord.
As Christians, we look back at it and see the beginning of our doctrine of the Trinity. Since Jesus had not yet been born, it was more like a Dinitry, with di- meaning two substituted for tri- denoting three, but that is only in retrospect.
Along came Jesus, who showed and taught such compassion and such goodness that his disciples recognized him first as a great teacher, then, as they got to know him better, a son of God. A son of God was a term that described a very good person, faithful, just and compassionate. Some of them came to regard him as a Messiah, a leader anointed by God to return Israel to its glory days.
Jesus’ crucifixion seemed to rule out the Messiah role. Then his resurrection showed him to be way beyond the earthly expectations of his followers. He had transcended human mortality, which meant he was …what…?
Jesus’ early followers weren’t exactly sure how to describe him, so they began by telling the story of his ministry and teaching to as many people as possible. Paul never met Jesus except in a vision on the road to Damascus, yet he was at least as impressed as Peter, James, John and the rest of the twelve had been. As to who Jesus really was or what, well, they couldn’t quite say, except that he was of God and very important.
Their eye witness testimony, passionately proclaimed, drew people to the Way and made them want to become part of the Jesus Movement. People sought baptism to be washed free from their sin, to give them a new start in their relationship with God. Getting to know Jesus as he was described by the early disciples was their entryway into a closer relationship with a deity who had once seemed so distant and frighteningly powerful.
The presence of God in the man Jesus helped people understand God differently. Rather than distant and demanding he became warm, human and loving. Rather than the author of one more set of rules for them to try to obey, he took on the aspect of a wise and giving companion, willing to forgive their imperfections and sacrifice himself for their well-being.
To the Jewish understanding that God is one, whose spirit ranging far and wide can bring life and wisdom to people, was added another, more human side. The idea of a god appearing in human form was not new, but that this person would then sacrifice himself for the sake of others was truly amazing.
So the church, as it grew, puzzled and debated, discussed and reflected for almost three hundred years until it hammered out the doctrine of the Trinity, which remains the standard for Christian belief today. Islam, the third of the monotheistic religions to develop in the Middle East, moved away from a three-in-one God back to the God-is-one stance of Judaism. Islam, like Judaism, sees all human mediators of God’s word as prophets.
There are lots of metaphors and similes that can be used to helped us grasp the idea of the Trinity: the three leaves of the shamrock; the three states of matter, solid, liquid and gas; or marriage consisting of two people and the bond between them.
While these may be helpful, none of them fully describes or explains the nature of the Trinity, which tells us that God is relational. God existed in relationship before creation and will even if creation ceases to exist. All that we know, as physical beings, passes away. God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer; as Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, as Lover, Beloved, Love is eternal. This central truth will never cease to exist, whether we understand it or not.
This brings me to the final thing I would like to say about the Trinity. It remains beyond our full understanding. We catch glimpses of the truth of it sometimes through the various expositions, examples and descriptions, but its fullness remains a mystery to our human minds. It is a fundamental tenet of theology that God is beyond our understanding. God loves beyond our comprehension and forgives beyond our imagination. The doctrine of the Trinity is one way that people have tried to understand the mystery of God. Like any creed or doctrine, it is only a tool to increase our understanding.
The important thing is that we are called to live out those glimpses of God’s love, God’s compassion and forgiveness because that is what Jesus asked of his followers.
We are their followers, many generations later. The Jesus Movement then was a group of people who tried to love God with their whole heart, soul and mind and to love other people as Jesus had loved his disciples. That remains all that Jesus asks of us today here in Lancaster on this Trinity Sunday in 2017.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.