The Sunday clergy dread preaching on.... I get the feeling that I may well have preached this all before!
How does the Trinity help?
Today is Trinity Sunday, so I am going to talk about the Trinity. But I am not going to try to explain the nature and meaning of ‘God in Trinity’. I am not going to tell you that God is like a Shamrock with three leaves, or explain one of the Church’s profoundest teachings using the image of a Triple Decker chocolate bar or of toothpaste with three stripes in - all of these things do not do justice to the depth and wealth of theological thought around what exactly it means to describe God as ‘The Holy Trinity’
Neither, you will be pleased to know, am I going to try and explain any of this theological discussion around themes such as ‘what is the trinity’ or ‘how do the persons of the trinity exist together’ nor will I be exploring the words ‘consubstantial’ and ‘co-eternal’.
The reason I won’t be looking at the doctrine of the Trinity is because, if we’re honest most of us, myself included, would say that the idea of the Trinity is somewhat confusing, that phrases describing God as ‘three in one and one in three’ leave us feeling a bit bemused. Many of us get by without ever really considering what it might mean to describe God as ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’, or ‘Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer’ as some prefer to say. The doctrine of the ‘Trinity’ is not first and foremost in our minds when we turn up at Church to worship God, a God who we strive hard to understand even at the simplest level.
This doesn’t mean I think that the idea of the Trinity is unimportant or irrelevant - just that greater minds than mine have made attempts to explain the meaning of the Trinity and have done a much better job of it as well.
This doesn’t mean either that I find the idea of the Trinity boring or unhelpful, on the contrary I believe that God being revealed as Trinity, as ‘three in one and one in three’ is the most exciting thing about Christianity - it makes our faith a dynamic, awe-filled experience - it offers a very different way to understand and know God to most other systems of belief.
It’s just that I don’t want to talk about doctrine and theology - I want to say a little bit about why I get excited about the God of the Bible - about God who is revealed as one and three persons - about a God who is too big for even our imaginations to contain. I don’t want to talk about the nature and meaning of the Trinity, I want to talk about what we can learn from the very idea of God as Trinity - a very different theme.
So, what can we learn from the Trinity? Well first and foremost the Trinity teaches us something about the importance of relationships. It tells us that the first thing that ever happened in the universe wasn’t creation, or a cosmic battle between Good and Evil. The first thing that happened was a relationship, the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I’m not going to try and explain how this happens - but it strikes me as foundational to our understanding of the foundation of God - that God lives in relationship.
This should influence how we feel about ourselves. We are made, says the Bible, in God’s image. If we are made to reflect God then being in relationship is part of who we are – we’re not made to stand alone or to struggle by ourselves, we are made to share - to live in community, to relate to one another and to live in the love of God.
In the light of this our relationships take on a whole new dimension - no wonder Jesus said it was important to love our neighbour as ourselves - because in doing that we are reflecting the very nature of God. If we take this seriously we have to value the relationships we have, our friendships, our neighbours, those who go to Church with us, even those we do not like or who think differently from us - even our enemies. We are called to live in relationship with them, we are called to live in love with all people. This is no small thing - it is the very foundation of who God is and who God has made us to be.
The second thing that the idea of the Trinity has to teach us is about the importance of integrity. Integrity is a word that has been made very popular in the past few years - I’ve seen books on it by psychologists, business writers and Christians. It’s a trendy word. But don’t let the fact that it’s overused distract us from its importance. God lives in integrity. That means that thought there are disparate parts within the Trinity, though we describe God as being ‘in three persons’ God is still one, God is still ‘whole’.
Integrity means being whole, it means bringing together all of our internal parts and reconciling all our differences. I know of some Christians who faithfully attend Church, they say all the right things - they are models of ‘perfect Church members’ but when you look at how they act they seem to be different people away from the life of the Church. It’s not that they are bad or deliberately rebelling but that they do not apply their faith to the rest of their lives.
They may be managers who don’t always do what is best for their employees, they may fiddle their accounts, they may not stand up for what is right when pushed into a corner. Whatever the situation, what is lacking is integrity.
Faith should not be a part of our lives, but the whole of our lives. Integrity means we reflect God’s nature as we apply the whole of our lives to being like and loving like God. It means we consider our bodies, minds, hearts and souls to all be in the service of God. It means we give our all to God and seek what is right for ourselves and for others. It means learning to be whole.
My third point about what the Trinity can teach us is this - it’s a mystery. We have to know when to give up trying to understand things that are beyond us. We ask questions of God, about God and because of God and it is perfectly right and proper that we do so. No, more than that, it is good and we should always be applying our hearts and minds to search for truth. Ultimately, however, there is a time to give up - to cease asking questions and just accept that some things are as they are, and there’s no changing them and no understanding them. This is a difficult point to reach, but one which we all need to get to at sometime - it is an acknowledgement of our humanity - that we are finite, limited by our time, place and nature. It also means letting go and letting God - of resting in the knowledge that God is bigger than all of this.
The Trinity teaches us that, when it comes down to it, God is God. God is beyond our grasp, beyond our imaginations and our plans, beyond what we want God to be. God is unknowable, and yet God allows us to glimpse what he is really like - God allows us to use names like Father, Mother, Friend, Companion exactly because he understands our limits and wants us to realise that he is without limit. The names and ideas we have about God are only glimpses, we have to realise that God is a mystery which we will never fathom.
My prayer for all of us is that we will grow in our understanding of this God who is trinity and that the hallmarks of our Fellowships will be tolerance, love, a quest for truth, wholeness of life and a willingness to let God be God.
And to God who is ever Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to whom all power, might, mystery and majesty belong. To God alone be glory in our lives and in the Church. AMEN