This is my sermon for Trinity Sunday, June 19, 2011. I drew on 2006 and 2008 sermons for the Tim Hortons analogy.
Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Many ministers try to avoid preaching today, Trinity Sunday. For whatever reason preachers seem to find it difficult to explain the idea of the Trinity, God being one God yet three persons. One minister online commented that the Trinity Sunday sermon is like delivering an academic paper rather than a message or a reflection.
There’s a famous quote from Winston Churchill, about the Soviet Union being ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’ Many people think of God as Trinity as being like that; a riddle, a mystery, an enigma, a code we try to break but often can’t. Someone called the Trinity the Rubik’s Cube of theology.
Well, it is a mystery, how God can be one yet three, three yet one. We sang, God in three persons, blessed Trinity. The Trinity is the concept that there is indeed one God with three distinct yet equal persons: Father or Creator, Son or Saviour in Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is our way of summing up the richness and depth of our experience of God, and maybe this richness and this mystery can be best expressed as an image rather than a dry description. Preachers over the centuries have come up with different ones.
I wrote my thesis on Gregory of Nyssa, who lived in the fourth century when there was a great church council that settled the disputes among Christians over the Trinity. Gregory said that the persons of the Trinity are like three gold coins; the coins are many, but are one in sharing the same substance. The Celtic Church said that the Trinity is like one finger with its three joints. St. Patrick of Ireland used another image, holding up a shamrock and saying that just as the shamrock is one plant, so God is one; and just as the shamrock has three leaves, so God has three distinct and equal persons. And the shamrock became the symbol of Ireland. Water as ice and steam and liquid is another example of the Trinity, three with the same substance.
The Roman Catholic writer John Aurelio points out that we are each a trinity. I am a trinity. My father is in me. My nose, and much of the rest of my appearance come from his side. My mother is in me. Her height became mine. The way I blend all these together, like mixing cream and sugar and coffee together, are the unique me. I am three in one. This is just one way I am made, and each of us is made, in the image of the Trinitarian God.
Preaching on Trinity Sunday a few years ago, I used another example. The Trinity is like Tim Hortons coffee. What more Canadian idea could there be?
If you order a Tim Hortons double-double, in the cup there is coffee, cream, and sugar. Each is distinct. Each is equal, for if any one is absent the taste is completely different. Yet all are one, and cannot be separated from each other in the cup. They are in relationship. Three in One, and One in Three.
Coffee, cream, and sugar. Each is unique, yet each is present in every sip. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each is unique, yet each is present in everything God is. In Zen Buddhism there is a saying: seed and grain and flour are not three things, but three aspects of one thing. That’s the Trinity, too.
In a while we will say the creed that came out of that great church council in the fourth century, held at Nicea in Turkey, where the church stated that we believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. That’s one person of the Trinity, the Father or Creator. And we believe in on Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. That’s another person of the Trinity, the Son, the Saviour, the Word. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. That’s another person of the Trinity, the Spirit, the Sustainer.
That was the fourth century. In 2006 the United Church of Canada produced A Song of Faith, which expresses the same belief in the Trinity, but in poetry, and we will be taking a closer look at this faith statement in an upcoming service. And the Song of Faith says that 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.
Now, this Tim Hortons example of the Trinity isn’t a perfect one, because in a double-double the three parts aren’t in equal proportions. There’s more coffee than there is cream and sugar. I don’t think I could drink equal parts coffee, cream, and sugar. But maybe that’s the way a lot of us see God – we tend to emphasize on person over the others. When we say ‘God’ we often mean the Creator, the Father – we’re not thinking of Christ or the Spirit. We’re seeing the three persons of the Trinity as distinct, but not equal. But Gregory of Nyssa said that it is impossible to think of one of the three members of the Trinity without thinking of the others; they are like a chain of three links, pulling each other along.
So that’s the Trinity, summed up in a few minutes when we could spend our entire lives exploring this mystery. The church has had great debates between Christians who believed that the three persons of the Trinity are equal, and those who believed that the Creator is superior to the Son. Yet what do these really matter? How can this enigma of the Trinity have any relevance for our daily lives and our spirituality, as we try our best to love God and each other, feed the hungry, and work for God’s realm of love and justice and peace?
Well, there’s a clue for us in the Song of Faith, which in its first lines acknowledges that dealing with the idea of the Trinity is a challenge. The Song of Faith says, God is holy mystery, beyond complete knowledge, above perfect description. Yet, in love, the one eternal God seeks relationship.
And that’s why, sisters and brothers, the Trinity is relevant to us as believers. As the Trinity is in relationship, and seeks relationship with us, so we seek relationship with each other. The Trinity is the model of relationship for us.
When we discuss the Trinity, God as Trinity seems static, unmoving, abstract. Even when we think about images of the Trinity like a shamrock or three coins or a Tim Hortons double double, these can’t capture all of the mystery of the Trinity, because they seem too static and unfeeling. For the Trinity is all about movement. The Trinity is all about relationship. The Trinity is all about love. God is love, Scripture tells us. The Father loves the Son with all that God is. The Son loves the Creator in exactly the same way. The Holy Spirit is the love that moves between the two of them. There are three persons of God, but they aren’t solo, they’re made one in a perpetual state of giving and receiving. Love is always moving, always flowing, among the three persons of God.
You know, as some of us buy gifts for Father’s Day, the Father gave Christ an infinite gift to express infinite love, the gift of the universe. Billions of galaxies. Uncounted numbers of stars and planets. All created by the Father in Christ and for Christ, for all things in heaven and on earth were created through him and for him.
And the Spirit is there at the creation, as we read at the beginning of the Bible, moving over the waters. The Spirit is there, bringing Jesus into the world so that he can show us how much God loves us. And it is the power of the Spirit that raises him from the dead. All this shows that the Trinity is not an abstraction. The Trinity is action. The Trinity is events – creation; incarnation; resurrection.
Creation is not a one-time thing but is ongoing. God has created and is creating. God is the source of everything that is in every moment of time - and all because of the love that moves constantly among the Maker and the Saviour and the Spirit.
It is in God that we live and move and have our being. God is the medium in which we exist, like the air, and as God in Trinity is love, it is like we are breathing in love. All creation exists in God’s love. All creation depends on God’s love. We know God’s love because we breathe it in.
But it can’t stop there. To breathe in air and hold onto it would kill us. We have to exhale. And so we must breathe out the love we breathe in. We can’t hold onto God’s love. We have to give it away.
We love because God first loved us. We love because we have no choice; love is all around us. We can’t stop breathing - and we can’t stop loving. That’s the Trinity. And that’s why the Trinity for us is not some irrelevant and abstract doctrine. The Trinity shows us how to love like the three persons of God: continuously, without limit, bound to each other in love, always seeking relationship.
And so Jesus, who is God in human form, love made known, calls us to live in love, to serve in love, to act in love:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to do everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”