Harder than it Needs to Be – 06/12/2022

John 16:12-15

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Sermon Text

 This sermon is coming to my blog and to our weekly mailers on a week that I am out of the pulpit. That means that, outside of those who read it, it will likely not be preached aloud, at least not for a while. I love sermons like this, because in some ways it allows me to stretch my arms a little bit and ask, “What can I try and write about, and why not do something a little out of the usual scope of my messages.” Luckily, this year this day away from the pulpit falls on Trinity Sunday, and that means we can go for broke in terms of having conversations that we do not always get to have.  The Trinity is an essential part of our faith. It is the belief that God is three-persons in one single being, a diversity of unity. Yet, can we ever describe it?

Usually, the Trinity does not come up in our daily life. In the midst of going through Kroger, people don’t usually see my clergy collar and as, “Do you see Christ as one with God in substance or simply in will?” Typically, they are just hoping I do not hand them a tract to read or a “gospel,” dollar in the midst of my payment for my groceries. I could list more examples, but you see my point. The Trinity is not a hot topic for the average person and certainly a thorough understanding of it is not going to win hearts and minds to the Gospel (usually…)

The idea of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit begins in scripture, but developed into a full-blown belief of the Church in the first few centuries of Christianity. You will never find the word “Trinity,” or anything like it in Scripture. The closest that we get to it is the word, “Θεοτης” (Theotes,) which means something like “God-ness.” Throughout the New Testament we see all three members of the Trinity given this description, they all take part in “God-ness,” so then we have to accept one of two things. Either they are all each a God in their own right – something that goes against our monotheism – or they are all, somehow, equally the same God – the thing that we as the Church have decided upon.

We have tried to explain the Trinity in many ways since then. Sometimes we talk about it as the three parts of a tree – the roots, the trunk, and the branches – all different but all still part of that one thing, “Tree.”[1] A more poetic image comes from St. Augustine, who describes the Trinity as being like love, the object of that love, and the person who loves.[2] Still, I like to be a bit more sciencey and imagine the Trinity as being like water at its triple point. When this point is achieved, of a certain temperature and pressure for any given substance, then the solid, liquid, and gas stages of the substance become indistinguishable from one another even as they remain distinct.[3]

Clear as mud, I’m sure. The problem, I think, is that we want to understand everything about how God is simultaneously a single being, and three individual persons. Part of us shouts out to the heavens, “If I cannot know it all, why know even one part of it?!” Much like the hobby that we pick up, find we are not immediately good at, and then put in a drawer never to look at again (in my case, cross stitching,) the Trinity is something we easily get frustrated with. Talking about it with a minister friend of mine I described it as a wall that we run against, wide as we can see in either direction, and try to wrap our arms around. We want to hold it in our hands, but it is just too big of a topic to every fully grasp.

Yet, I think, it is important because the bit that we do understand shows us something about God. That God, from before anything else existed, was already expressing love. God the Father loved the Son and the Spirit, and God the Spirit loved the Son and the Father, and God the Son loved the Father and the Spirit. All working in tandem, they shaped the universe. All in concert dreamed of a future where you and I would exist, and come together as a Church, and continue the legacy of Love that had existed from before the foundations of the earth were laid.

The Trinity is a complicated theological concept. Reading our scripture where Jesus lays out even a shred of the relationship he has with his fellow members of that union, we only begin to glimpse what it is like to know the fullness of God. We see Jesus, our beloved savior who loved all people with a passion like no other. We think of the Spirit, the small voice within us as well as the burning fire within our heart. We learn about the Father, who sends both and who constantly bends heaven down to earth to know us even just a little more, and love us just a bit more tenderly.

The Trinity is tough, but we often make understanding it harder than it needs to be. God is a multitude and God is a singularity. God is confounding and God is someone we know like a best friend. Like any big concept, we cannot always see how the two extremes are part of the same thing. When we see the beauty of sunrise and sunset, we know they are connected and can appreciate their beauty. When we really think of how the rotation of a oblate spheroid held in place by folds in space time in a small backwater of the Milky Way Galaxy causes this lightshow to occur, then we can begin to be overwhelmed, even if we discover new dimensions to that beauty through such exploration.

The Trinity tells us a lot about God, but it also tells us that we have an infinite amount to learn about God going forward. There’s a podcast that, while I have only listened to its first season, I quite enjoy. It’s called Welcome to Nightvale, and is an approach to horror and comedy that scratches a very particular itch of mine. At the close of that first season, the narrator sits either on top of or beside an Arby’s (it’s been a bit,) looks to the sky, and describes what he sees.

“We understand the lights. We understand the lights above the Arby’s. We understand so much. But the sky behind those lights, mostly void, partially stars, that sky reminds us: We don’t understand even more.

[4]

When we encounter any aspect of God, there are questions that will be left unanswered. We can see that as a frustration, like me reaching my arms as wide as I can against a wall trying to encompass it, or we can see it in more fantastic terms. Rather than frustrating us, maybe the great wall we run into can inspire us. We are not truly hitting something big, imposing, preventing like a wall. We are encountering something more wonderful than we can think about all at once. It is seeing the sun at the horizon, then looking out to see the colors it casts on the clouds around it, then the shadows falling through the trees, then the glint in the eyes of someone beloved by us. It is the slow uncovering of love, understanding it more and more as we behold it.

I could spill even more ink on this topic, but I think any longer and I’ll begin working across purposes from myself. Today the Church celebrates the Trinity. This Trinity is the unity of three distinct persons. Each is fully their own self, and each is inescapably that singular being we call God. What a grand mystery we are made aware of. The deeper we dive into it, the more we understand that we do not understand, but instead of fear or dread, this should inspire us to even more praise. The slow, gradual revelation of who God is always leads us to discover that God is more wonderful than we ever knew. Sometimes the immensity of that reality scares us, sometimes it makes us feel that there is no point to learning more, but such moments are temporary.

God is constantly revealing more of who God is to us: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Let us praise God for the mystery and the community God opens to us.


[1] Tertullian. Against Heresies. VIII

[2] Augustine. On the Trinity. VIII: 14 & IX: 8

[3] This phenomena can be seen here: https://youtu.be/Juz9pVVsmQQ

[4] Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. “One Year Later”, Welcome to Nightvale, podcast audio. June 15, 2013, https://radiopublic.com/welcome-to-night-vale-3GZp96/s1!0aaca

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