God, may my words be loving and true; and may those who listen discern what is not. Amen.
The doctrine of the Trinity often seems so abstract, so arcane, like counting the number of angels on the head of a pin. And yet we seem to be obligated to consider the Trinity as somehow a key doctrine, or teaching, of the Christian faith. We seem obligated as Christians to say both that we believe in the Trinity, and at the same time that we don’t understand it – perhaps even that we can’t understand it.
The teaching of the Trinity is the fundamental thing Christians have to say about God. The way you know if you’re talking about the Christian God, as opposed to the God of another religious tradition, is that you are talking about the Trinity. The Trinity is what marks the Christian understanding of God as distinct, unique. And yet as Christians we consistently fail to say anything meaningful about the Trinity: it seems we know who God is, but can’t after all say anything really meaningful about this God.
Is this really the case? Is the Trinity really, ultimately, impossible to understand and impossible to talk about?
If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then this is going to be a very short sermon … Perhaps I am best to recall the prayerful tone with which we started the service: the only true sermon about the Trinity might be reverent silence, in awe of a God who surpasses all understanding, and escapes all human expression.
Alas I think there is a little bit more to be said.
One way to begin exploring the teaching of the Trinity is to flip the question. Perhaps we should not begin with what we can say about God; instead we should begin with what God has to say to us. The teaching of the Trinity is central to any understanding of God for this very reason: because the Trinity is first and foremost concerned with what God has to say to us. Far from being an abstract, distant, and arcane teaching that should be consigned to the dustbin of early Christian centuries — the doctrine of the Trinity is the most concrete, immediate, and relevant thing we can say about God: because it is first and foremost about a God who speaks, and speaks to us, and moves out to create a world for us to live, and continues to move out to meet us in it.
A God who is not content to sit idly by all wrapped up within Godself in eternity. But moves out and becomes the great Creator, forming a world in which to dwell with us and us with God. A God who does not even consider equality with Godself something to hold onto. But empties themself out to become human, and obedient, even to die on a cross. A God who is not content with being bound together as a loving Mother and Child. But pours out that Spirit, that bond of love, so that all of humanity and the whole world would be gathered into a new humanity.
The Trinity is what we must say about God if God has indeed spoken to the world. And indeed God has spoken to the world:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1.1)
God has spoken to the world, has moved out to meet us in it. First in Creation and then in Christ and everyday in the ongoing work of the Spirit.
The dispute that gave rise to the doctrine of the Trinity centred around the nature and status Jesus the Christ. And in particular, what it meant to say that Jesus was in fact what God had to say to the world. The question was: who is Jesus? Was Jesus the First among creatures: the greatest in all Creation? Or was Jesus in fact God: one with God, the same as God — in a later formulation: fully God?
The concern of those who did not see Jesus as one with God, was not to diminish Jesus. Rather, it was to extol God. God would be diminished in some way if rather than being the all-powerful, all-wise God, God had become a mere human being. Who was born, and lived, and ate, and drank, and grew tired, and was crucified. Surely the living God could not die — even if only for a little while.
In other words: how can we say that Jesus of Nazareth measures up to everything we say about God – great though he was?
Against these concerns the Church developed and embraced the teaching of the Trinity. That says that Jesus is one with God, fully God: and it does not diminish God to be found in this human form. It does not diminish God to be found in the particular history and place of Jesus of Nazareth: who was born, and lived, and ate, and drank, and grew tired, and was crucified.
Instead, this man, this event: this life, death, and resurrection reveals God to us. We must ask instead: what can we say about God which measures up to Jesus of Nazareth? How do we speak about God in light of Christ: as we conform our hearts and our minds to Christ and Christ alone?
The Trinity, then, is not an abstract thought experiment. It is an invitation to rethink – and continually rethink – God in light of who we meet in Christ. The Trinity is no more abstract and distant than the Christ who meets us as we gather to worship. As we pray. No more arcance as the Spirit who is at work still in the world: as the reach of God’s love reverberates through acts of mercy and the proclamation of justice.
It does not diminish God to be found here as we meet and pray. It does not diminish God to be found in a wandering Rabbi from Nazareth, born in a stable. It does not diminish God to be found out in the world in mundane acts of mercy, in the long bending arc of history towards justice.
Rather, in these things the ongoing, eternal life of the Trinity continues to unfold. As God the Creator continues to shape places for us to dwell with God and one another. As God the Saviour continues to lead us into reconciliation and renewal. As God the Living Spirit continues to gather and transform our humanity: growing the fruits of love, and joy, and peace, within and among us. As God continues to speak and meet us in the world – and here.
And so when we confess Father, Son, and Spirit, should we not also confess the concrete sites of God’s presence and work? Indigenous reconciliation, black liberation, the concerns of the poor, the work for justice, affirming marginalised communities and the queer community among them, standing up for women, and on and on.
In these places God is at work. And it does not diminish God to be found there. Rather the presence of God here – in this world – enriches our understanding of God.
This is what our liturgy holds together. Liturgy literally means the work of us, the people, as we gather and are dispersed in the world. Liturgically as the Christian calendar finishes the season of Easter, and as we remember the celebration of the Spirit at Pentecost last week, we remember what God has said to the world in these events and we reimagine God. And bearing the mark of the Spirit we look forward to what is called quaintly “ordinary time.” The exciting time in which we seek the ongoing presence of the Trinity in the world week after week as we meet God in our gathered worshipping lives. The time when we are invited anew to reimagine God in light of what we find in the world — building on what the Creator God has done in the beginning; building on what God has already said to us in the person and work of Christ; building on the reconciled community formed by the ever-working Spirit of Life. All of these things are gathered together in the living God.
So we are invited to meet God in the world. See the people we find in the world, with their histories of suffering and joy as places where the living God may be.
See the world of plants, and oceans, teeming life, falling under our sacred care.
See the hurt, the oppressed, the poor, as an invitation to participate in the way of Christ.
See the new, exciting vistas of life and love and justice as the ongoing work of the Spirit.
God is not diminished by being found in the world. The doctrine of the Trinity says this much. The teaching of the Trinity says it has never diminished God that God creates the world, speaks to the world, and moves out to meet us in it.
And more than not being diminished, God is revealed in what God has said to us:
“God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before God in love.” (Eph. 1.4)
The movement of the living Trinity out into the world to meet us tells us something fundamental about the nature of God:
God, all the way down, and from before the beginning, moves out to embrace us with love.
In the fullness of God in Christ we see that God above and beyond is love. And the shape of this love is a cross: where Christ stands alongside us as we suffer unjust violence from religious and political systems of oppression. Where Christ on the cross stands against the injustice of hatred and death that ensnares us.
God is not diminished in the life of the Trinity in the world. Rather, God is more fully revealed as love: through mercy and justice. This is the Kingdom or Reign of God that has taken root in the world: the Creator, and the Cross, and the Continuing Witness of the Spirit reverberate and expand the reach of love, and mercy, and justice, and peace, and joy, and all good things. Into the visceral core of our humanity.
The teaching of the Trinity is important for us not because abstract dogmas are important, but because this teaching is a constant attempt to talk about the very life of God that we encounter in our relationship with Christ, and as we encounter the Spirit moving in our world. The Trinity says simply that God’s Spirit is alive and active in the world God Created, and this stands in continuity with the work of the crucified and risen Christ.
God is Trinity. A Trinity who is living in the world and who is love, who is love, who is love. Amen.