Trinity Sunday ~
Acceptance of the Mystery is Faith
TRINITY SUNDAY John 16:12-15 Romans 5: 1-5
Trinity Sunday is notoriously one of the hardest in the church calendar to explain – and tends to be avoided at all costs by many preachers of the word.
When it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity we are out of our depth and struggling with concepts that are beyond us – for how can it make sense to talk about three persons who are wholly distinct yet wholly one. It is incomprehensible. How can 1+1+1=1
I have run out of examples to try to illustrate Trinity –water than can be steam when boiled, ice when frozen and liquid at room temperature – but all water.
Or St Patrick’s illustration of the Shamrock with its three distinct leaves, yet all on one stem and in fact one leaf.
The Jaffa Cake, chocolate, orange and sponge, three very distinct things yet one cake – and even better Millionaires shortbread or a Mars bar, but if we are honest none of them really help.
It is still a mystery – still incomprehensible.
Yet that is the point – the very reason why Trinity Sunday is so important. For our amazing Almighty God is beyond our human intellect – defying expression, greater than we can begin to conceive.
We encounter God as loving Father and Mother as protector and guide. We encounter God as a human being in Jesus living and dying among us – who rose from the dead and is exalted at the Father’s right hand – and we encounter God as Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts by faith, filling us with love, joy peace, hope and power as we heard at Pentecost.
We only have to look at the disparate group of disciples at the time of the crucifixion and the very same group after the day of Pentecost. That same group of men and women who went on, emboldened by the Holy Spirit to turn the world upside down.
It is the very same Holy Spirit that dwells in our hearts by faith, and enables us to share of faith story and to live out the truth of the gospel. Paul understood this and writing to the church in Thessalonica he urged them not to quench the Holy Spirit. If we do the church will slowly die.
In our gospel reading Jesus said to his disciples “ I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now”.
I suspect that you would not appreciate a sermon that began like this: there are things that are essential to our faith, but I can’t speak about them because you would not be able to understand. They are far too complicated and way over your head.”
Of course, the reality is that there are many dimensions of our life in God that we don’t understand and we may not understand this side of glory. I have a long list of questions that I want answered when I get to heaven. I suspect many of you have a list as well. But I also think they won’t matter one iota when we see Him for who he is!
It is reassuring to know that we stand in a long line of people who have asked questions about God. Moses certainly wanted to know, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘the God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” Who is this God who has called us? So much seems unanswered.
I am sure the disciples were not impressed by being told that Jesus had things to say, but didn’t. OK Jesus - What are they? Tell us. Don’t leave us hanging in mid air. We want to know. We can take it. We’ve heard about so many things from you, already, what is the big secret? You told us that we are to be merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers. You explained that we should not worry.
You reminded us that we are to love God and love our neighbour. And you told us that things would not always be easy or go smoothly for us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). The call to take up our cross is definitely a hard saying. What else could you possibly have to tell us?
In this brief portion from Jesus’ long goodbye address – his farewell sermon, we are not told what those many things are, only that Jesus will not tell us. But, we are told, that in the future, in the unfolding of time, we will be told them. And we are told how we will hear of them. It is the Spirit of truth who will guide us, speak to us, and declare all to us all that we need to know.
The Holy Trinity is definitely one of those difficult, challenging, thought-provoking doctrines of our faith. Understanding the Trinity is not an IQ test to identify the superior intellects and weed out those who are not worthy.
As I am sure you are aware the word Trinity does not appear in the bible and was only introduced as doctrine around 400 AD. It has divided religious groups down through the centuries and is unique to the Christian tradition. We will find references to the three in one God throughout the bible if we look – in Genesis we have a creator God and the Holy Spirit brooding over the water.
In Isaiah we have glimpses of the Jesus the suffering Servant and of course the New Testament is full of references to Father God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is interesting to note that God is not referred to as Father in the Old Testament. It is only when he sends his Son Jesus that he becomes Father. In our humanness (if that is a word) that we make God into a super-human man, an extension of how we think and might act. The concept of God as Father is difficult for many people, but I truly believe that God is gender neutral, not a human in any sense of the word, but an unfathomable spirit of love.
On a personal note, I see the feminine side of God the Holy Spirit in our reading from Proverbs. Some theologians feel Wisdom is a picture of Jesus, I find it more a picture of the Holy Spirit, especially as being referred to as she in the first 5 verses, and then as helper and companion in the latter verses. Because man could not grasp the concept of God that he sent Jesus to become a human being – so that Jesus could say ‘if you have seen me you have seen the Father, for God came to earth in Jesus.
How are we to understand this three in one God?
We know what God is like because we have the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as our guide. God sent us his son to show us what he is like. We have no visual picture of God only the majesty and beauty of creation, we have no visual picture of Jesus. He was certainly not a white Caucasian blonde, blue eyed young man, swanning about in a Persil white robe, as is e Hhso often depicted. I am reminded of the little boy drawing a picture. When asked who it was replied ‘God’. His mother said, but nobody knows what God looks like. ‘Well they will when I have finished my picture’ replied the boy. We cannot begin to know what the Holy Spirit might look like but we recognise his presence in the love, joy, peace, gentleness, meekness, kindness and self-control we find, or should find, in each other.
The Holy Trinity is, and this side of glory, will remain a mystery. But what is wrong with mystery? Each of us, at our baptism, became part of the mystery, and we will partake of that mystery in our Holy Communion this morning, for some it is just a memorial of what Jesus did at the last supper, for others it is the actual presence of Jesus in bread and wine, for others it is the receiving by faith the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit into our lives in bread and wine – whatever communion is for you it is your connection with God.
The final word on the Trinity comes from our reading from Romans. The truth of the Trinity is embedded in those 5 verses.
By faith we have peace with God though our Lord Jesus Christ, we also have the love of God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit – what more could we wish for?
At the end of it all I don’t think we are expected to understand, but to have a simple acceptance of the mystery: it is after all what faith is all about.