Today is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. It celebrates the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity, traditionally understood as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But before we get into that, I want to ask you a question, “Have you ever been in a situation in which there is one question that you just don’t want to be asked?”
Maybe during a job interview, maybe during a client presentation or maybe when your child comes home from a sex education class? You know the kind of question I mean?
The kind that you would avoid if you possible could. And in those situations you spend time and energy hoping and praying that something…anything will prevent that question from being asked. Right?
For me that question was about the Doctrine of the Trinity. Each year, as a candidate for ministry, I was interviewed to determine my continued fitness and readiness for ministry. In my first interview after beginning studies, I made it through almost to the end when you know what happened… that question…. One of the interviewers looked at me and said, “If someone in your congregation asked you to explain the historical development of the Doctrine of the Trinity would you be able to?”
My first thought, luckily a silent thought, was that no one in my congregation would even care about the historical development of the Doctrine of the Trinity. In fact, I wasn’t sure that I cared. As my brain was struggling frantically to come up with something, I looked back at her and said, “No.” She looked at me rather strangely, and I said, “After only one course in History and Doctrine, I couldn’t possibly explain that.” That was almost 20 years ago! And I am not sure I could explain it any better now!
Here’s a little history lesson. According to Harper’s Bible Dictionary, the Trinity is the Christian Doctrine that God is a unity of three persons. The word, trinity, does not occur in the bible. It was invented by Tertullian who lived from 145-220 CE. What he said goes something like this: In the Trinity there are three significant distinctions within the one divine reality. For, the three distinctions are called persons or hypostases and are coeternal and coequal. In each of them the divine nature if fully and undividedly contained. Even though the persons are in the closest possible unity with one another and interpenetrate one another, each has a peculiar character when viewed in relation to the others.
Confused yet? Wait till I finish.
God, the Creator is not begotten but is ingenerate. Jesus, is begotten eternally and proceeds by filiation. This mean that Jesus was actively generated rather than proceeding through passive spiration which is how, you guessed it, we get the spirit.
Each person of the trinity shares fully in all the activities and operations of the others.
If you had any difficulty understanding any of the above definitions – join the club. Or if all your heard was blah, blah, blah… I don’t blame you.
Some scholars can make the sun rising in the east confusing!
But, as you saw in our opening prayer, those are not the only ways to understand God. Ultimately, God is beyond our understanding. The Song of Faith, the latest of our United Church’s Statements of Faith, illustrates this beautifully and poetically.
Listen to a little snippet of it:
God is Holy Mystery,
beyond complete knowledge,
above perfect description.
the one eternal God seeks relationship.
This statement of faith seeks to provide a verbal picture of what The United Church of Canada understands its faith to be in its current historical, political, social, and theological context at the beginning of the 21st century.
It is also a means of ongoing reflection and an invitation for the church to live out its convictions in relation to the world in which we live.
The church’s faith is grounded in truths that are timeless. These truths, however, must be embraced anew by Christians of each generation and stated “in terms of the thoughts of their own age and with the emphasis their age needs” (Statement of Faith, 1940).
(Preamble to the Statement of Faith 2006)
The persons or personae of the trinity, to me are less important than the relationship between them.
And not just the relationship between them, but the relationships we develop because of our faith, our doubt, our questioning and our commitment to try and follow the way of Jesus Christ.
So God creates the universe
and with it the possibility of being and relating.
God tends the universe,
mending the broken and reconciling the estranged.
God enlivens the universe,
guiding all things toward harmony with their Source.
Grateful for God’s loving action,
We cannot keep from singing.
With the Church through the ages,
we speak of God as one and triune:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We also speak of God as
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer
God, Christ, and Spirit
Mother, Friend, and Comforter
Source of Life, Living Word, and Bond of Love,
and in other ways that speak faithfully of
the One on whom our hearts rely,
the fully shared life at the heart of the universe.
I have wondered at time, why we don’t scrap the Trinity, or simply keep it as part of our history that we have outgrown? How does it speak to us today? The number three is built into the universe in a lot of ways. It is the smallest number of lines that can enclose a space. We have water that has three phases, including ice and steam. We have a whole rich tradition of Celtic Spirituality in which the Three is a vital part. And, most important, I think, is that the Trinity models the importance of relationship for us. It speaks of working together, of caring for and loving each other. So if caring and love and collaboration are built into the very idea of God, we have a lot of learning and growing to do.
Finding ourselves in a world of beauty and mystery,
of living things, diverse and interdependent,
of complex patterns of growth and evolution,
of subatomic particles and cosmic swirls,
we sing of God the Creator,
the Maker and Source of all that is.
We sing of God the Spirit,
faithful and untameable,
who is creatively and redemptively active in the world.
We sing of the Spirit,
who speaks our prayers of deepest longing
and enfolds our concerns and confessions,
transforming us and the world.
We sing of Jesus,
born to a woman in poverty
in a time of social upheaval
and political oppression.
He knew human joy and sorrow.
So filled with the Holy Spirit was he
that in him people experienced the presence of God among them.
We sing praise to God incarnate.
We sing of a church
seeking to continue the story of Jesus
by embodying Christ’s presence in the world.
We are called together by Christ
as a community of broken but hopeful believers,
loving what he loved,
living what he taught,
striving to be faithful servants of God
in our time and place.
Grateful for God’s loving action,
we cannot keep from singing.
Creating and seeking relationship,
in awe and trust,
we witness to Holy Mystery who is Wholly Love.
June 16, 2019 – Elmsdale Cooperative Ministry
Red text is from a Song of Faith