14 June 2006

The what and why of the Trinity

Some of you already know that my big stepping-out-in-faith venture for the summer is to preach a series of sermons based on questions asked by members of my congregation. I told folks they could ask pretty much anything, but I reserved the right to clarify, re-word, or divide questions as necessary.
Well, the first of these sermons was last week on the Trinity. It happened to be Trinity Sunday for the liturgical churches throughout the world, so the questions, "What is the Trinity? And why is it important for Christians?" were timely.
I have read that it is an old joke that on Trinity Sunday, the minister stands up and preaches a sermon that neither the minister nor the congregation understand. I have to admit, I felt a little like this was going to be the situation for us, also.
The thing is -- the Trinity is on one hand incredibly easy to explain and on the other hand, incredibly difficult to explain. It is both simple to understand and deeply complex and complicated.

At its base, the doctrine of the Trinity is pretty simple.
  1. God exists as three eternal persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
  2. Each person is fully God
  3. There is one God

Of course, trinity is not found in the Bible, though, as Christians, we believe it is clear that the three separate persons of God are mentioned even from the earliest scriptures in the Old Testament. The ruach (breath, wind) moves over the waters; the Creator brings all things into being; the Son of course, is identified in the baptism stories where the Holy Spirit is also present as well as the Father; Jesus sends his Spirit after his resurrection; the Spirit arrives at Pentecost as fire and wind...

We've used all sorts of things to explain the Trinity more fully i.e. The Trinity is like an egg in that an egg cannot be complete without a shell, white and yolk. Or the Trinity is like water which is still water even when frozen, liquid or gas. Or the Trinity is like me who is Dennis' wife, Annalivia's mother, and the pastor of First Christian Church, but is still April. Or, my favorite, the Trinity is like a perfect piece of cherry pie where the flaky crust envelopes distinguishable cherries held together in an ambiguous but delicious goo.

Even the littlest kid can get these things, but it's when one tries to explain deeper that words fail us.

That's when this great quote from Evragius, a monk who lived in Pontus in the 4th century, comes in very handy, "God cannot be grasped by the mind. If God could be grasped, God would not be God."

Which is, I think, the real reason that the Trinity is important to Christians; it tells us what we know about God, but more than that, it reminds us that God is beyond human understanding.

The Trinity reminds us that no matter how much we think we know about God, no matter how much we've read the Word, no matter how much we seek God in prayer, no matter how many sermons we hear, we can NEVER fully understand God.

That is SO crucial for us to understand because if we COULD draw a box around God, like our friend, Evagrius said, God would not be God.

For many people, the inability to understand God, to grasp God, leads them to reject the whole notion of God or it is terrifying to them. I understand the inclination to reject what we cannot understand, to turn from what is larger and greater than ourselves. I understand the inclination to limit God to our understanding because a really, truly BIG God means giving up a lot of our "power" which I don't really think we have in the first place.

As Christians, we must remind ourselves that we believe in a God WAY, WAY bigger than our human minds. We believe in a God that is WAY, WAY bigger than human life. We believe in a God who is greater and more expansive than anything any of us can even imagine. We, in fact, must believe beyond our belief.

We do this because we pray to the Father hoping with fervent hope that He hears and knows our inward parts and our needs and desires in ways that haven'occurreded to us yet. We do this because we surrender our lives to Jesus asking him to lead us in paths that we cannot and will not choose when left to our own devices. We do this because we trust the Spirit will gift us and empower us with courage and faith and love and joy and gentleness, etcThatat definitely do not live within us of our own invitation.

This MYSTERY is CRUCIAL to our faith, absolutely CRUCIAL and as Christians we must keep it and even INSIST on it, because there are always people who will try to tell us that God is containable and that God is attainable. From the very beginning of our scriptures, a serpent lays a trap for an unsuspecting woman with the promise that she will be like Yahweh and that has continued throughout our history.

Even our fellow Christians have been tempted to box God. We THINK we know God from His Word, but we cannot ever fully know. The apostle Paul reminds us in I Corinthians that we are ALWAYS seeing through a glass darkly. One day we shall see in full, but that day is not right now, so we must constantly, constantly seek and re-seek the guidance of the Spirit in how we live, teach and preach the Gospel, lest we think we have it figured out and become idolatrous in our self-satisfaction. Mystery is what keeps us seeking. Not knowing the mind of God is what keeps us turning towards Him.

So what is the Trinity? It is our way of expressing what we know about God.

But more importantly, Why is it important to Christians? Because it reminds us how little we understand about God and how very much we have to learn.


Anonymous said...

Ok....so Grace is the vanilla ice cream and the coffee is....???
Dawn C :@)

April said...

Hmmm... coffee is works-righteousness? Not a bad thing, but single-minded focus is a dark melee? Nah...