Note: We began the sermon sharing various ways we answered the question: what is God like? Which emerged form our Kidzchurch time.
Readings Hosea 11:1-4, 2 Peter 1:16-18, and Matthew 28:16-20
We often drag our feet into discussions on the doctrine of the Trinity. Perhaps we are worried we’ll be subjected to dry Greek words and obscure diagrams. Perhaps we are timid that if we accidentally say the wrong words we’ll be scolded for having blasphemed. Perhaps we just don’t think it is all that applicable to the Christian life; after all we don’t need to master any complex philosophical concepts to love our neighbours.
Now that’s absolutely right. But what so much of the talk about talk of the Trinity misses is that the Trinity emerges – like most of our religious language – out of need. The language is sparked by a desire to speak about God in light of our experiences of God. Like we’ve just explored, the way we describe ‘what God is like’ is informed by scripture, community, and the very personal moments where God is felt. Developments of speaking of God as Trinity emerge in just the same way.
The early church knew three things: One, as those who followed Israel’s messiah, they were strictly monotheists. Monotheism meaning the belief that there is one God. This was vital, central, pivotal to Judaism and was one of the big reasons they were persecuted in Rome. Christians, emerging as a movement out of Judaism, kept this commitment – there was just one God, who had sent the anointed One Jesus Christ.
And yet, it was in knowing this Jesus Christ that put their monotheism to the test. Could there really only be One God if Jesus was also divine? Could also forgive sins? What did it mean to confess one God when Jesus said that he and the Father were One? That whoever had seen him had seen the father? Who was Jesus in relation to God if he given all authority on heaven and earth? What’s more, far from being silenced in death, Jesus continued to be experienced as intimately and powerfully present in the community. The early church, reflecting on what Jesus said (and what was said of him) and experiencing his ongoing presence in their midst, recognised divinity in Jesus and spoke of him in much the same way as they had the God of Israel… how could they do this if the Lord God was to be One?
Finally, the third thing they knew was the Holy Spirit. Promised by Jesus, sent by the Father, present in the community, present at creation, present within us as we pray. The Spirit empowers the apostles, guides, teaches, equips them to do remarkable things in the name of Jesus. The Spirit also comes to be recognised as also holy and divine, and comes to again be spoken of, praised and worshipped in similar language as the God of Israel and Jesus… so again they face a question: how could they do this if the Lord God was to be One?
Talk about the Trinity is a response to the experience of the community in worship and witness. It emerges out of a desire to speak about God/Jesus/Spirit in a way that reflects scriptural testimony and community experience. While it might end up taking on some complex forms it is first and foremost an endeavour to speak about what God is like. First and foremost an attempt to reflect in human language something of the majestic glory that the community experienced – the faithfulness of God, the presence of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Trinity Sunday is a celebration the nature of God, experienced palpably in the life of the community, and a recognition that what we have to say of God is formed by our experience.
Christians confess that God is Triune: traditionally this is rendered as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but there are many other ways to capture this holy, equal, and undivided relationship of love that is turned toward the word: Sovereign, Saviour, and Shelter - Life, Liberation and Love - Creator, Christ, and Compassion - Potter, Vessel, and Holy Fire – Parent, Partner, and Friend – Lover, Beloved, and the Love between them. Each of these express something of what God is like, of how God has been experienced, contemplated, and worshipped across the history of the church.
Trinity Sunday (like the doctrine itself) is not put in the calendar to trip us up. This Triune God is not a problem to be solved but is a way of recognising the ways God is the loving presence enveloping the fullness of our life. It is the Triune God who creates life, who invites us into the continuing work of reconciliation and rectification, who accompanies us through trial, teaches us to pray, and works within us as we do. More still, this Triune God is also where we (and indeed all things) find our end, our perfection, and our hope. Trinity Sunday reminds us that God exists in relationship and invites us to celebrate that we have been swaddled in this dependable, non-intermittent, unfailing relationship of love.
And that this is, at least a little bit, of what God is like.
Image: Maximino Cerezo Barredo (Spanish, 1932–), Emmaus, 2002. Painted mural, 200 × 190 cm. Dining room of the Centro de Formación de Animadores, Gatun Lake, Panama.
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