Trinity Sunday
May 27, 2018

Trinity Sunday

Passage: Isaiah 6:1-8

1st Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday

Today is Trinity Sunday. You might not realize it from scripture readings since there’s no explicit “Trinity” moment in them. ‘Cause it’s not there. “Trinity” isn’t mentioned in the Bible, and in this year’s readings it’s hard to even discern the “raw material” that the early church used over its first few centuries to work out their understanding of the Trinity.

 

And yet, the Bible clearly does assert that there is only one God, while at the same time it is clear that the one to whom Jesus prays is God, that Jesus himself is divine, and that the Holy Spirit is also God.

 

How can this all be true?

 

Well, the wisdom of the Church, the solution, the divine mystery is just that: Trinity. God is one and God is three.

 

For many of us, this language is something like a casserole you make at the end of the week with whatever’s left in the refrigerator: The kids kinda poke at it, suspiciously: and ask, “What is this.” “It’s Friday Surprise. Just shut up and eat it. There are starving children in Africa.” And so the church takes all these seemingly contradictory statements about God, jams ‘em all together, calls it Trinity, and tells you to shut up and eat your dinner.

 

But No! The Trinity is so much better than that. I believe it truly is wisdom that is for us a portal into the nature of God. It’s a wisdom that taps into our deepest yearnings for meaning in this life. But keep aware: The words we use, the formulas we use to describe God, are limited. We are dealing with mystery. We are dealing with the nature of God. And as much as God is intimate and personal and knowable, God is also transcendent. The language we use is merely the gateway to deep mystery. The words and metaphors we use are only pointers to something beyond us. So don’t stretch them too far. Each is a hint, but none the full picture. You’ll always end up in heresy if you rely on only one metaphor to grasp the mystery of the three in One and One in Three.

 

At its heart, the concept of Trinity suggests that the nature of God is community. God is a community of being, in perpetual harmony within itself. God’s identity (as we discover it) only exists within relationship. In God there is no solitariness. There is no spirit of despotism, but rather, participation.

 

And so it is that in the beginning, in creation, God would say, “Let us make humankind in our image.” God self-designation is plural. And so we were made. In the image of God, male and female, God created us – to share in this plurality of being, where there is no isolation and division.

 

And so the first model we have that taps into this godlikeness, this completeness of being, is marriage. Like the God in whose image we are made, so we describe marriage as “one flesh” –  one being. We know what this means from our own experience. Everything in us yearns for intimacy: to know and be known, to be completed in a partner, to be safe, to be desired, to work together in harmony, to rest together in peace.

 

But we also want to retain our particularity, to be Eric AND Cynthia. I don’t want to stop being Eric. I want to be MORE Eric with her, but without ever ceasing to be me. So it is with God.

 

Of course, this metaphor limited because our marriages are imperfect. The other is always something not fully known. As much as I love Cynthia – as attentive as I am to her – I will never know what it means to be her – to live as she lives, to perceive the world around her as she perceives it. Our sense of being “one flesh” is always compromised, because we will always operate from a place of fear, insecurity, selfishness and ignorance. But not so with God! The Godhead functions as the ideal marriage (you might say): fully known, fully beloved, fully in harmony, yet still distinctly Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But (perhaps better, with this metaphor): Husband, Wife, and the love that binds them together.

 

Whether or not we’ve known such a marriage, we all know the desire for such a marriage. And in that desire our spirits already know something deeply true of the community of the Divine One.

 

Here’s another metaphor. Think about our bodies. We take for granted how our bodies function as a single unit. Where is the division between what my muscles do and what my bones do and what my brain does? Sure, anatomy can parse out each role. But in any given moment, all I’m doing is picking up my cup of coffee and drinking it. It’s a fluid, unified motion – everything functioning together with its particular role, for its one intent.

 

I woke up in the middle of the night a few nights ago and my arm had fallen asleep. You know what it’s like. I woke up unable to feel or move one arm. So I grabbed it with my one functioning hand, then rolled over, then dropped the sleeping arm. THUD! It landed on my chest like a dismembered arm that someone else had flung at me. Whenever this happens it’s always so disconcerting! It feels corpse-like.

 

And when this happens, we realize afresh the marvel of how our bodies function – in perfect unity. When one hand touches the other hand, I simultaneously experience being the one who touches and the one who is touched. And this too, I think, is what God is like: the Toucher, the Touched, and the Touch itself. God is a body that functions in a perfect harmony of purpose and being.

 

Now, inasmuch as the Trinity functions as a harmonious whole, there remains something of a hierarchy within it. The Son (Jesus) always functions in obedience to his Father. You see this again and again in Jesus’ prayers and interactions. Clearly he understood himself to be both one with the Father, and yet obedient to the Father. But for us, the concept of obedience is often tainted with bad experiences of miserable bosses or impatient, imperfect parents who demand obedience. (Or we’ve been those impatient, imperfect parents!) But if we can separate ourselves from those bad examples, we discover a certain freedom in obedience.

 

I was sailing with my brother last week and – let’s be clear – I don’t know a thing about sailing. I just do what I’m told. Pull that rope. Tie off. Let out so much anchor. Kent’s the one studying tide charts, listening to the weather, interpreting the wind and how to work with it. I just do what I’m told.

 

And so within the Trinity. An aspect of the harmony with which it functions is obedience. It is service – a service that doesn’t need to be consulted. It just needs to trust and to give what’s asked of it. This happens perfectly in the Godhead, and we are made in the image of God. So a posture of obedience is necessary for us as well. Ultimately, like with Jesus, our obedience is directed to God: Love your neighbor. Share with those who are lacking. Forgive those who hurt you. Rarely do we understand the whole picture, and that’s okay. We don’t have to. God does.

 

There’s freedom in obedience. Love. Be generous. Forgive. Give in to that freedom and let go of the burden of being in charge all the time. Just pull the ropes when God tells you to, and let God figure out the tides and the wind. And as we do so, we just may discover that we, too, are being drawn into the Divine Unity. Just as Christ is the son, so are we God’s daughters and sons. And it is by our obedience that we are drawn into the flourishing community of God.

 

Another story: One morning while sailing, I sat on the boat, looking at the line of oysters that clung to the rocks above the low-tide mark. I thought about how the tide would rise and how the oysters would open their little shells and let the water flush through them, feeding them with whatever nutrients were in the water.

 

And I saw in this a glimpse of God and the nature of God and the Kingdom of God: God was the oyster being fed. God was the water rushing through. God was the nutrients in the water. And all were functioning together as one.

 

And then I saw the fir trees growing out the rocks, its roots sinking into the cracks, finding the soil. And I perceived the same mystery there: God was the tree, God the rock. God the soil. God the water and the nutrients rising through the soil. Each was distinct in its way, yet all were as one.

 

And I began to think about us being made in the image of God, living with this kind of harmony with one another – with open hands and open spirits – each blessing the other that the other might live and thrive, that the other might be its complete self through our blessing of it.

 

And I began to think: As the water and the soil give themselves up to nourish the oyster and the fir tree, do they have any conception of what they’re doing? What does dirt know of being a tree? And yet the tree cannot be the tree unless the soil releases its life unto it.

 

And so with us who are made in the image of God, in the image of this Trinitarian God who is forever releasing itself to the flourishing of the other. So we are called to live with one another in a posture of openness and blessing – releasing what we have to the flourishing of the other.

 

I don’t know what it means to be you, any more than the soil knows what it means to be a tree. And – you know – it doesn’t matter. How God should translate my love to your edification …well… that’s a matter between you and God. We are called to obedience, to position ourselves towards one another without fear, without censure, without analysis, without stinginess of spirit. After all, what good is dirt unless it is growing plants? What good are we unless we are blessing the other?

 

We are made in the image of God. And that image we glimpse – that image we know deep in the memory of our spirits – is that God is One, a community of being and relating and blessing and obeying. And it is that peaceful union in which resides the mystery of God, the mystery of life, the mystery of you and me, and the mystery of all being, forever and ever. Amen.