The Rev. Denise Vaughn
Last Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost, the official coming of the Holy Spirit to guide the new Church in the world after Jesus had ascended to the Father. Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity. The word Trinity comes from contracting two words, tri-unity. So what we celebrate today is the unity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, the triune God or three-in-one. Not the easiest doctrine for us humans to understand. The great Protestant reformer Martin Luther claimed that “to try to deny the Trinity endangers your salvation, to try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity.” It is a doctrine that counts on those preaching and teaching to communicate the incommunicable. This can present a bit of a problem, one the church has wrestled with from its earliest days. The doctrine of the Trinity came into being as the Church attempted to make sense of their experience of God.
Those believing, worshiping, practicing early Christians through their experience of God came to the awareness that God related to them and to creation in a variety of ways. This God that was active in the beginning, creating and ordering the world, was also active in Jesus, redeeming the world, and active through the Spirit, renewing and sustaining the world. They came to understand that all these activities were different and distinct, yet they were all of the, one God. We hear in the Gospel today, the words used in baptism expressed by Jesus telling us to go, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In the lesson from 2 Corinthians, we are given the apostolic greeting or blessing, “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
And there are other passages in the New Testament where the three persons of the Trinity are mentioned together however, there really isn’t an explanation in the scriptures that helps us to fully understand this concept of three-in-one. Hence, the centuries old struggle to make sense of that which is beyond sense that endangers your sanity. It is a mystery one the church has fought hard to up hold. The passage from scripture that has helped me gain some understanding of the three-in-one God is the Old Testament reading today from Genesis.
In the beginning we read that God created through speaking the Word and the Spirit of God, the breath or wind of God that blew across the waters participating in the creation of the world. God’s Word and God’s breath created. We know from the Gospel of John that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning….the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” in Jesus. At the creation all three members of the Trinity are present. By the Word which is Jesus or speech of God the world came into being and God’s spirit hovered over the waters. We learn that the Spirit is associated with power and life and Jesus the Messiah has always been with God.
St. Augustine of Hippo one of the early church’s most influential theologians wrote volumes on the subject of the Trinity. Yet, just like us, he could never quite get his mind around it. The story goes that one day he went for a walk on the beach. He saw a little boy digging a hole in the sand with a seashell and then running to the ocean, filling up the shell and rushing back to pour it into the hole he had made. “What are you doing, little man?” Augustine asked. And the boy replied, “I’m trying to put the ocean in this hole.” Just then a great peace came to Augustine’s soul as he realized that this was indeed what he had been trying to do. He had been trying to put God into his mind. Perhaps it was that experience that led Augustine to write: “If asked to define the Trinity, we can only say that it is not this or that.”
There are many analogies out there that try to help us understand the three-in-one concept for example, the three parts of the one egg, or the Trinity is like H2O- it may take the form of water, ice or steam yet it remains H2O. St. Augustine offered this analogy. He likened the three-fold nature of God to what he believed to be the primary faculties of the human mind: memory, understanding and will. But any illustration or analogy of the Trinity falls short and cannot come close enough to help us fully understand this mystery. The best way, I believe, to understand is simply to accept in faith what God has done for us because even though we can’t fully understand, we can experience this mystery everyday in our lives.
For those who love the Lord Jesus, the Spirit lives in us and among us as community, in the fellowship of the church. Paul says that this community is so intimate that we are actually one body in Christ. What makes us one is more than a doctrine, more than a creed or a philosophy of life; it is God; it is God living inside of us in all of God’s fullness, power and love, and to claim that God is three-in-one or one-in-three is to claim that God also lives in community. God is a God of love, a love that is poured out from the Father to the Son through the Spirit and back again. We called it the dance of the Trinity in Seminary and this dance extends to us. We were created to share in that communion, in that intimate dance and connectedness that exists in God’s own self. The God who is in community calls people into community, the Church, and sends them out to build communities everywhere.
We have been given God’s power and commission to go, baptizing others in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. By baptizing, the church sends us out as missionaries to lead others to follow Jesus; to ask others to be a part of this life and belief in the trinity. So while all of our analogies are inadequate, God does make it possible for us to trust in this relationship because God the Father revealed love and grace in the Son Jesus through the Holy Spirit and we are called to share in this experience. We are called to confess the Trinity and to experience daily the grace of Christ, the love of God the Father, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let us go in the name of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.