A sermon for Trinity Sunday; Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31; Canticle 13, Song of the Three Young Men; Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15
Lately, I have seen a number of Facebook postings that invite you to share if you know the answer. There is a series of curious math problems, and you are to figure out the last one. The challenge is that the operators, like a “+” sign, are either not there, or they don’t apply; but there is some pattern to discern. The other problem is I went to find an example and could not find one, not a single one. Nonetheless, I have one for us this morning. 1+1+1 = what? 3? Well, our ancient Church Fathers came to the conclusion that 1+1+1 = 1; and ever since we have been trying to figure out just exactly what they meant. Here’s the short form of the story.
Jews believed in one God. They are the only religion to do so. 33 AD Jesus, an itinerate rabbi, gets himself execute by Rome, at the behest of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. They and his followers are astounded when he rose from the dead three days later. For some, it brought them to considering that there must be something to this Son of God stuff that surrounded Jesus. Forty days later he ascends into the heavens, promising his followers he would send another advocate and tells them to Go to Jerusalem and wait. They do, and ten days later the Holy Spirit descends on them, and they begin speaking in languages, there is no way they could know, telling folks from all over the world about Jesus and God. Even more, people begin the believe that there is something to this Son of God stuff.
So what you now have is a sect of Jews running around talking about God, Jesus, the Son of God, and The Spirit. They are attracting a lot of attention. The Jewish authorities, who see their power and influence slipping away, challenge these followers of the Way charging them with believing not in one God, but in three gods and therefore are not true believers. The followers begin to develop an answer to that charge. Of course multiple answers develop over time and the early Christian begin squabbling amongst ourselves about how God, Jesus, and the Spirit are really one God. The earliest answer has come be known as the Apostles’ Creed. However, the squabbling went on for more than 300 years until a Council at Nicaea crafted an answer we know as the Nicaean Creed. The squabbling continued and later the Chalcedonian and Athanasian Creeds were developed. All of the creeds are trying to explain our three in one and one in three God we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday.
Truth be known all of them are right, and none of them captures the complete mystery of God’s presence amongst us. Some two millennia later the Creed wars have generally subsided, except within esoteric theological circles. Actually, my fear is that they have not so much subsided as faded into irrelevance. We say either the Nicaean Creed or the Apostles Creed every time we worship together. Think of the last time what you proclaim to believe to be foundation value of your life was any consideration in what you said, what you decided, or what you did?
In the commentaries, I read this week one asks
What does Trinity have to do with us today? How does the Holy Trinity connect to our day-to-day lives (Gunn)?
that somewhere along the way the Trinity became less about describing an experience of the living God and more about accepting metaphysical doctrines and definitions of God (Lose).
Both of which point to the dangers of doctrines taking over imagination in understanding our relationship with God (Lewis).
And now we are back to the opening problem of 1+1+1 =1. Today ~ is not about getting the math right. Today ~ is not about getting some ancient, or modern, philosophical construct right. Today ~is about living in the mystery of God’s manifold presence so that it defines our relationships with each other and everyone else in all God’s creation. For the Trinity to matter, it must guide our lives; it must determine how we live, act, and speak from our faith (Lewis). For the Trinity to matter, we must imitate Jesus, and to do that we must listen to the Spirit, who, among other things, will help us see the other as the image God (Epperly). Which challenges us to balance individual necessities with social essentials unity with diversity, and sovereignty with welcoming the stranger (Epperly). For the Trinity to matter it must turn our attention outward so we may be Divine witnesses to the mystery who is right here right now.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 22 5 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gunn, Scott. “A Good Mystery, Trinity Sunday (C) – 2016.” 22 5 2016. Sermons that Work.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Lewis, Karoline. Trinity Talk. 22 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.
Lose, David. Trinity C: Don’t Mention the Trinity! 22 5 2016.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.