[Jesus said,] “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, the Spirit will guide you into all the truth; for the Spirit will not speak on its own, but will speak whatever it hears, and it will declare to you the things that are to come. God will glorify me, because the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Source of All Creation has is mine. For this reason I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (NRSV, adapted for expansive language)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus Christ, our redeemer and friend, and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:1-4, NRSV)
You might recognize these words from the beginning of the gospel of John. With John, we believe that the Christ was from the beginning with God, and indeed IS God. They are not two beings side by side, but one and the same power. And the Holy Spirit was with them, also one and the same power, not a third being with a different function. All together they are with us. All together they are one whole, not with three parts but one with three ways for us to encounter God…there really are an unending number of ways for us to encounter God, for us to encounter God, but these three specific ways bring them all into focus.
And I could just stop right there and we could sit in silent awe and try to wrap our minds around that and fail, as hundreds of thousands of gallons of ink have been used writing over the centuries, trying to tease out how to make sense of this mystery of the Trinity; God, one in three and three in one. And still, no one has quite gotten it so we can say “There. That explains it.”
Or we could sit here in silent awe and just accept that this is a wondrous mystery and we will NEVER understand it. We will accept that God is immensely complex, but that we will experience God and be part of God and rejoice in our partnership with God. And that is amazing. And that would be OK to sit here and take that in. That would be better than OK.
But the question I have rattling around in my mind, is “Does believing in the Trinity really matter?” “Does this mystery of God, one in three and three in one, have ANY bearing on how we live from day to day?” “How do we live a Trinity life?”
Because you see, I think it does matter. And I believe we are called to live a Trinity kind of life, being in relationship that is deep and respectful and connected.
We are people of the Trinity and that has some bearing on how we live. It can be the model by which we shape our daily approach to life. Regardless of how we describe it, Father, Son and Holy Spirit or Creator, Christ and Caretaker, or Fire, Word and Wind, or any other way, our limitation is that language always separates the three. Even our images fall short. We often hear the Trinity compared to an apple with the peel, the flesh and the core, three parts, one apple; or a clover with three leaves; or H2O with its three forms. The solid form is ice, its liquid form is water, and its gaseous form is steam. But that doesn’t quite do it either. None of us would just have an apple core and say we have had an apple. The water, ice and steam cannot exist in the three forms at once. The best way I have ever heard it described is of our human relationships. Take me, for example. I am the daughter of my parents. I am the wife of my husband. I am the mother of our daughter. I am the same person, but have these three roles. Of course it falls short too, because I was not a wife or mother from the beginning. I was always daughter, but that isn’t enough.
We cannot really describe the Trinity, but we can experience it, and then we are closer to God and all of God’s entire majesty.
We can see creation.
We can recognize truth.
We can be moved by the Spirit.
A spirit of gratitude helps us be open to receiving the presence of God in our lives. Being grateful and practicing gratitude are powerful ways to open the mind and heart to recognize the work of God in and through us. I recently heard a video of John Philip Newell quoting a 12th century monk named Richard of St Victor who said it in a very interesting way:
For God to be Truth, God had to be One.
For God to be Love, God had to be Two.
For God to be Joy, God had to be Three.
So just know that when you are encountering truth, God is there. When you are filled with love and moved to express it in words and actions, God is there. When joy fills your heart and you are moved to celebrate, God is there.
The truth of God is love and joy. That is the interesting thing. It isn’t some set of doctrines. Doctrine is humans trying to deconstruct God so we can explain God, so we can ‘understand’ God. That is Adam and Eve eating the apple all over again. Mind you, I am not anti-doctrine, I am just saying that is not what saves you. God’s love, compassion and mercy saves you, and that is truly Good News.
And because God loves us so completely and we well, we are called to love one another. Because God forgives us before we were ever born, before we ever stepped on someone’s toes, before we ever spoke thoughtlessly, before we ever put our own needs and desires above that of another, God forgives us and loves us. You may or may not have noticed the confession was “out of order” today. It was done intentionally.
Go back and look at it. Notice I said:
“For freedom Christ has set us free:
Rejoice in this good news!
When we were laid low by sin and guilt,
God made us alive together with Christ,
forgiving us ☩ all our trespasses
by taking our sins to the cross.
Now, because we have heard the good news of our total forgiveness, and seeking reconciliation with God and neighbor,
we remember the gift of baptism and boldly confess our sin.” *
Then, and only then, can we go ahead and say our confession. Only when we trust completely in our acceptance by God, in the forgiveness from God, only then do we dare to say how we have fallen short. God already knows what we are going to say. It is no surprise to God. So it isn’t like we have to earn our forgiveness. It is a powerful good bit of news!
Usually we have the words of the confession before the absolution, but that is not the way God does it. Requiring confession in order to receive absolution isn’t grace, it is a transaction, tit for tat. In far too many ways we have reduced our approach to God as a business. God, I’ll do this and then you do that. There is NO LOVE in that. There is NOTHING to celebrate in it either. But when we really get it, that God’s love is FOR us and not AGAINST us, THEN we have something to celebrate. When we realize God is GRACIOUS TOWARD US, then we have something to celebrate. When we realize that GOD LOVES US BEYOND ALL MEASURE OR REQUIREMENT… then we really have something to celebrate.
Celebration happens in community. When joy takes hold of you, you just HAVE to tell someone. You are just bursting with your good news. It is hard to contain it! You rush to call, or text, or go there in person. Joy deserves a party! And the party is living a Trinity kind of life.
We have good news to tell, but we take it for granted and don’t experience it with joy. We have a celebration every week in Holy Communion, but we don’t really treat it as a party. We miss out on some of the truth God has for us in the sacraments when we only practice it one way, but it is the way we have, so we have to use a little imagination. When you come forward for communion in a little while, remember God is in it with you and you are having a party with God. Be filled with the good news, and then sometime this week, be sure to tell someone.
But for now, we will sit here in silent awe for a few moments and just accept that this is a wondrous mystery and we will never UNDERSTAND it, but we will EXPERIENCE it and be part of it and rejoice in it. We will live in harmony with our neighbor because God calls us to be one like God is one. We will live a Trinity kind of life.
A minute of silence
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
*Confession adapted from Sundays & Seasons, © 2018 Augsburg Fortress.