Last year I followed the tradition of all wise rectors and I asked my assistant priest to preach on Trinity Sunday. But then Fr. Guill called and asked if I would supply for him so I ended up having to write a sermon on the Trinity nonetheless. Trust me it’s a daunting task. As our choirmaster put it in an email, “1+1+1 = 1, what’s so hard to understand about that?”
So this year I purposed to dodge that bullet and once again asked my assistant priest to preach on Trinity Sunday. Perfect. But then Fr. Guill called and asked if I could supply for him and before looking at the calendar I agreed. He got me again! I’m beginning to feel like Elmer Fudd being out smarted by that Wascally Wabbit, Fr. Guill.
But to be honest it is as much of an honor as it is daunting to speak on this great Truth because this truth is the core of our faith. You were baptized in the Name of the Trinity, you spend your life worshipping the Holy Trinity and when you die the priest will say last rites over you with these words, “Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world; In the Name of God the Father who created you; In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you; in the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you…” We are from cradle to grave Trinitarians. To paraphrase a passage of Scripture, it is in this Truth that we live and move and have our being. If we are wrong about this understanding of God then we are wrong about everything and so St. Athanasius is spot on when he said that we must keep this truth whole and undefiled or we will perish everlastingly. But the $64,000 question is how we go about keeping this Truth whole and undefiled when it is such a great mystery? How do we wrap our minds around 1+1+1 = 1?
First we need to clarify some history. Cults and DaVinci Code type revisionists argue that the doctrine of the Trinity is an artificial doctrine that was imposed on the Church in the 4th century by Constantine and a council of Bishops. I once had a man sit in my office and argue that their actions introduced this heresy in the Church and it has been downhill ever since. That is of course until their cult leader or Dan Brown came along to make things right again.
While it is true that a complete teaching of the Trinity evolved over several centuries in the life of the Church, but it is erroneous to state that it came about as a result of a conference or because some Grand Pubah said we should believe it. The truth is that the Church EXPERIENCED the Trinity way before she could articulate it.
Both Old and New Testaments are clear that there is only one God. Of that there can be no doubt. But at the very beginning we read in Genesis God saying, “let US make man in OUR own image.” The “us” does not refer to the angels because man is creature that is distinct from angels; and yet there is only one God. The very word for God in Hebrew, Elohim, is plural noun; but there is only one God. When God appears to Abraham at Mamre, He does so in the form of three angels; but there is only One God. The Father promises through the prophets to send the Son. And how does the Son come to us? The Son comes to us because the Spirit will overshadow a Virgin; but there is only one God. At Jesus’ baptism the Father speaks from heaven while the Spirit descends like a dove upon the Son; but there is only one God. Jesus says that He was before Abraham, therefore claiming to be God, and yet he speaks of doing the will of the Father and sending us the Spirit; but there is only one God. When Thomas touches Jesus wounds after Jesus is raised from the dead, Thomas worships Jesus and cries out “My Lord and my God”; but there is only one God. In the heavens the angels and archangels and all of the company of heaven cry out not “Holy” and not “Holy, Holy” but “Holy, Holy, Holy;” and yet there is only one God. Jesus has sent the Church into the world preaching and baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; but there is only one God.
So you see the Church experienced the Trinity way before she could even articulate the truth of it. Is it a problem that we still can’t quite wrap our minds around this truth? No. We can’t wrap our minds around an Infinite God any more than an ant can comprehend mankind, and yet we still love, worship and obey Him. The doctrine of the Trinity is indeed a mystery but it is a mystery not to try to solve, rather it is a mystery to celebrate.
One of the many reasons to celebrate it is because it answers the universal question, “Why am I here?” I have heard various Sunday Schools teaching and sermons that attempt to answer that question. One very popular theory is that God created us for fellowship. Here God had made this perfect world in six days and He had no one to share it with so He made man and woman and put them in the garden to enjoy it along with Him.
That sounds lovely but the doctrine of the Trinity points out how very wrong that theory is. From a time before there was time, that is to say from eternity, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have been in perfect communion with one another. For eternity the Father has delighted in the Son who has delighted in the Sprit who has delighted in the Father. So the image of God getting tired of going out to dinner alone so He created us should be dismissed. He did not create us out of some need for fellowship.
Some offer another suggestion. I have heard a couple of sermons about how God has a plan for His world but He can’t get it done without us, so we have been created to serve Him. The idea is that God is the coach and we are the team and so there is no victory without both God and man.
At first glance that may make us feel pretty important but upon further investigation it becomes a scary thought. What kind of God would He be if He is depending on me to accomplish His will?
Because God exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, He is perfect not only in His being but also in His ways. There is nothing God needs or lacks. As He almost sarcastically puts it in the Psalm 50, “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills….If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.” We don’t serve God because He has a need for our service. We serve God because we have a need to serve. God uses us, without a doubt, but there is a difference between God using us and God needing us. Jesus once told a crowd that they shouldn’t get too full of themselves in claiming to be God’s children, because God can make children out of stones. (Mt 3:9). No, God didn’t create us because He needed us.
So if God did not make us because He was lonely or because He needed us to serve Him, then why did He make us? Why am I here?
I believe that the answer comes as we look to the relationship of the Blessed Trinity. God, as the Scriptures tell us, is love. And He did not have to wait until He created something to start to love. Because there has always been Father, Son and Spirit, there has always been love. Creation is the natural expression of His love. Therefore we can say that we were created out of love for love. That is why we are here.
How do we test this theory? What did Jesus say was the summation of all of the law and all of the prophets? We are to love God and love our neighbor. What was the New Commandment that Jesus gave us? It is that we are to love one another. Or listen to this from Jesus, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love…I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (Jn 15:9-12). Why are you here? You were created out of love for love.
Another reason to celebrate the mystery is that it gives us insights into ourselves. Since we have been created in the image of a Triune God, it should not surprise us that there is an interrelationship in us of mind and body and spirit. We are to cultivate all three because when we ignore any one of them we suffer.
If the spirit leaves the body it dies. If the body gets ill it affects the spirit. For example have you ever tried to be spiritual when you have the flu? If we ignore the spirit our minds become darkened. It is no coincidence that as our culture has moved further and further away from God that we descend into a national debate about transgendered bathrooms. Even five years ago who would have predicted that Bruce Jenner would be honored as “woman of the year” in spite of the fact that he hasn’t even had the surgery? Ignoring our spirits has darkened our minds and it is why we are falling apart as a nation. It is why the Millennials, who have abandoned the Church by the droves, are so enamored with socialism. They now look to the government instead of God to give them their daily bread. When we ignore our spirits are minds are darkened.
But armed with this insight of the interrelationship of body, mind and spirit we can see the importance of caring for all three. We can be whole and balanced people, a reflection of the Blessed Trinity. That is how we become salt and light to the world.
Celebrating the Trinity gives us insight into why friendship and community and family are so important. God Himself exists in community and so like it or not, as much as we might want to be John Wayne and ride off into the sunset, we need one another. That is not neurotic or codependent, it is just the way we were created. Friendship is a part of this. Family is part of this. The Church is a part of this. We may think that we are deeply spiritual when we are off by ourselves praying or meditating but the test of our spirituality comes when we interact with one another. Being a Christian means being baptized into Christ’s Body and being sent into God’s world, not going off to a cave to get holy.
In the end, even more important than understanding the theology of the Trinity is to actually know the Trinity. To know God the Father, as He is revealed to us in God the Son and to walk in the power of God the Holy Spirit. That is the point. And like all relationships, our relationship with the Blessed Trinity requires commitment and time. As we spend time in the Scriptures and in prayer and in worship, as we receive our Lord through the sacraments, our relationship with the Blessed Trinity grows and deepens. It is not an overnight thing rather it is a lifelong pursuit. In this Eucharist the Triune God invites us to come to Him now and pursue that relationship. Here this from God’s Word. “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life”. So may we humble ourselves and come to Him, and may God be forever blessed, who has He revealed Himself to us; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.