The Holy Trinity. If there was ever a church day where everyone scheduled nap time during the sermon, this might be it. Who wants me to lecture about the Trinity for a while up here? No amount of explaining and analogies will all of a sudden make this all clear. But there are some important things to know and learn, so I want to raise a couple of important points to help you engage with the mystery that is the Trinity.
The Trinity is how we’ve come to understand or talk about God as three persons revealed in scripture – God the Creator, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are all their own thing, but they are of one substance, meaning they are the same. It’s that whole one-in-three, three-in-one thing.
The Trinity – both the word and the concept – never appear in scripture. Not even the phrases “three-in-one” or “one-in-three.” None of it is found in the Bible. The concept of the Trinity is something our faithful ancestors came up with as they were trying to explain the relationship of God as three different persons – creator, son, and Spirit. But they didn’t just pull it out of thin air. Our scripture readings today give us examples of passages that raised questions about the relationship between these three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
In John there is clearly a relationship between Jesus and the Spirit and the Father. The context for this reading is at the end of Jesus’ time with the disciples. Not long from this point Jesus will be betrayed and handed over for the end. What we hear today is one last piece of hope – that even though he is leaving them, the Spirit will guide the disciples. Three weeks ago we read that the Spirit will teach us everything, and remind us of all Jesus has taught. This promise gives us hope because it reminds us that God is still with us, through the power of the Spirit, even today. It is the Spirit that powers us. The Spirit joins us to God as Christ and Creator as our Advocate. She walks alongside us and speaks up for us or speaks up for God. She acts as a bridge builder. She is the one helping us live and act as disciples. In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther says that the Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, makes holy, and keeps us in faith.
In Proverbs, we hear about another partner in the divine dance, Woman Wisdom. Eventually, the church fathers would equate wisdom with Christ, even though wisdom in scripture is often personified as feminine. Proverbs hints at the relational nature of God like John’s Gospel did. Wisdom was in the beginning with God, the first creation, helping bring other things into being. In light of Trinity Sunday today, we can articulate a triune God even at creation with God as Creator, Christ as the word in what God spoke into being, and the Spirit as breath – the Hebrew word for spirit can also mean breath or wind. When you think about God breathing life into all things, it is the presence of the Spirit. Every aspect of creation is filled with the goodness of the triune God.
Scripture helps us understand and imagine the relationship of the Trinity – this three-in-one and one-in three. It is important to know that for Christians, God as Creator, Son, and Spirit is still one God. We would say that they are of the same nature or substance, though they are three distinct persons. There are lots analogies to explain the Trinity – ice, water, steam; an egg – shell, white, yolk; a three-leaved clover. But we need to keep in mind that none of them do it accurately or fully. Actually the analogies are a better picture of heresy that the three persons of God are three different modes of one God, rather than three distinct and coeternal persons of the Godhead. We can still use them to talk about the Trinity, and they might even be quite helpful, as long as the conversation doesn’t end there.
Ultimately, the Trinity is a mystery, and that is your invitation today – to embrace the mystery that is faith. You don’t need faith for things you can explain and be certain about. Faith is only required for that which we don’t understand or don’t know or can’t explain. The Trinity definitely fits into that category.
What we can take away is that God is all about relationship – and has been shown from the very beginning. And we are continually invited into that relationship – with God as Creator, Spirit, and Son – and we are invited into relationships with one another that mirror the love and advocacy of God. You have been created by God, redeemed by God, and you are being sustained by God every day.
However well you are able to perceive or understand the Trinity, my hope is that you have experiences of each member of the Trinity – experiences of creation and seeing new things and new life and new possibilities; experiences of deep and abiding love and grace, shown especially through presence and sacrifice; and experiences of revelation and insight, and maybe even something as wild as wind and fire, or as quiet as a breath. Ultimately, I pray that the Spirit stirs up our faith to hold the mysteries of God, granting us signs of God’s presence in our lives and in the life of the world.