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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Three's Trouble

Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Ps 8, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20
Today we celebrate what is known as Holy Trinity Sunday - a moment in the church year in which we celebrate the gracious gift of God’s three-fold presence in human life; we rejoice over God’s benevolent existence and creative activity throughout the entire cosmos. Today we take time to acknowledge and praise God for God’s presence in trinity from time immemorial. And because we are human, we are often compelled to try – and we inevitably fail – to come up with the best way to precisely describe and explain who the trinity is and how the trinity works.
As Lutherans, we claim a Trinitarian identity. We gather together each time we worship in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. After the gathering hymn the worship leader greets everyone gathered together with what is known as the apostolic greeting - “The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” - those same words we just heard coming from the second reading today. And you return the greeting. We make the sign of the cross upon ourselves or acknowledge the signing, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Together with most other Christians, we confess God in three persons - trinity. There is a “Trinitarian shape” to our faith. Yet, if someone came up to you and asked you what God – as - trinity means and how God in trinity works, what would you say? How would you explain this one-God-in-three-persons reality without committing heresy? Let me warn you that many theologians and scholars throughout the ages have tried – and most have failed to do so.
Here are some common analogies that most of us have heard or even used ourselves to try to explain the Trinity – and here are the problems with them:
Who here hasn’t witnessed the water as being like Trinity explanation – you start with a piece of ice, right? Then you heat it until it melts forming liquid, and continue heating it until it makes steam. One substance, three forms – solid, liquid, vapor - just like the trinity – right? Bzzzzzz! Wrong. That explanation is too much like the heresy called Modalism, which the early church condemned. It says God isn’t really one God in three distinct persons but merely reveals himself in three different forms. Not good.
Or, take the example of the sun –star, light, and heat – The trinity is like the sun, right? Bzzzzz! That explanation falls into another heresy which states that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are simply creations of the Father, and not one in nature with God; rejected centuries ago as a heresy called Arianism. Also, not good.
Finally, we have the perfect solution - trinity is like a three-leaf clover. And the buzzer sounds so loudly it breaks. The problem with the beloved clover analogy is that it would seem to indicate that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each simply one-third of the godhead, and each not, as we confess is true, fully God.
Perplexing, isn’t it? As humans we analyze, seek to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, invent logical, demonstrable explanations and definitions for everything. And faith challenges those impulses. Faith isn’t logical, it isn’t explainable, and it isn’t quantifiable. In an attempt to fully explain the trinity, somewhere around the sixth century, the Athanasian Creed was developed. Perhaps you remember seeing it when we used the green hymnal. It was in there, and you may have even (rarely) recited it – most likely on Holy Trinity Sunday. Here is how this creed describes the Trinity:
          “…we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity…For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one… The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated… The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite…Clear as mud, right?  
        Simply stated: There is only one God, made up of three distinct persons, who exist in co-equal, co-eternal communion as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
          Martin Luther claimed that while the name “Trinity” is not found in the Holy Scriptures, rather, is a term invented by man, the scriptures do in fact testify to the existence of the trinity. From our reading of Genesis this morning, to the Gospel text from Matthew where Jesus commissions his disciples to go to the ends of the earth baptizing people from all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; from the psalms to the writings of the prophets to the Gospels and Epistles, Luther finds evidence for the scriptural witness to this Trinitarian God.
          The problem is, that even in our most expansive ideology or language, even with our most progressive thinking, we are limited by our humanity to come to terms with, or fully understand the nature of God, or the very being of God. So, how can we unravel the tangled language and explanations of this Trinitarian supreme being? And what does God in trinity mean for us in our lives today?
          Theologian Miroslav Volf noted that “Because the Christian God is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communion. Communion with this God is at once also communion with those others who have entrusted themselves in faith to the same God.”
“Communion” is key to understanding and grasping at the centrality of the Trinity of our lives. God loves us so much, and is so desiring of relationship with us, that God reveals Godself in various ways, as creating and omnipotent Father, as the incarnated Son and as the sanctifying, empowering Holy Spirit, constantly working together to bless and redeem us through God’s mercy.
God manifests Godself daily in ways that speak of God’s continual, tirelessly creative activity in our lives and in our world. God simultaneously joins us in our pilgrimage on earth, joins us in our living. God is so intimately connected to us that God knows and feels our joys, our pains, our struggles and our victories. God works tirelessly to empower, console, to give and grow faith within us, and to bless us in our work. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are constantly building relationship with us and within us.
          Friends, the good news of this gospel is that there is more to God than we could ever understand. That is what divine mystery is all about. God cannot and will not be confined to our narrow understandings or words or ideas. Rather, God is constantly revealing Godself to us and relating to us in new and exciting ways, always engaging in the world around us. The good news of this gospel is that God cares about us so much that God is compelled to meet us where we are, and to fill our every need.
          The good news of this gospel is what it says about this loving God who is so relational that God provides for communion, assures that we will never be alone, places us in relationship with every living creature, and provides the blueprint for balance in creation. God creates not only dry land but also water; not only beasts of the field and cattle but also birds of the air and creatures of the sea. God creates not only light but dark, not only day, but night, not only the chosen few, but all nations. And when these things exist in balanced relationship to one another and to God, God declares, that it is good.  
It is in the sharing of community, that God is best blessed and glorified. In this place and around this table of grace, God sanctifies faith as a holy offering to God. God wills us to be fully in communion, with the Trinity and with all that God has created, including and especially one another. God fills us when we reside in relationship. It’s all about relationship.
 God made us to live in community. In the image of God we are created; male and female God created us to be with God and for God, with each other and for each other. God created us to be in diverse, inclusive, loving, abiding relationship. A community that walks together, supports one another, prays for one another; a community that says, “When you can’t walk, sing, pray, or even believe, we will do it for you, until you can stand on our own.” That’s what community is. That’s what community does. And God in Trinity strengthens, and inspires us to these works and others that are greater than any we can imagine.
And so, we take our analogies, however flawed they may be. We take our limited understandings and confess that while we may not fully comprehend, we believe.
We ask this God in trinity to bless us when we welcome others in and when we open the doors of the church; when we remove the borders around “our” community by taking God’s Word, love, and compassion outside the assembly of people gathered here, and into the world, thus widening God’s community. We ask this Trinitarian God to bless our proclamation that it may be a true witness to the power of the triune God to many and diverse people and we pray God’s blessing on the mission of God in this place, that we may be equipped to serve as disciples and witnesses of God in all of the ways that God reveals Godself to us. In, through, and around all of this activity, we pray:
May the communion of the Holy Trinity inspire us and abide in us forever. Amen.


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