Isaiah 6:1-8 and Romans 8:12-17
My hope is to show you a very short clip from Nuns on the Run, a movie that tells the funny story of two thieves hiding out at a convent, pretending to be nuns. Here they are discussing how to teach a class to the nuns about the Trinity.
It is a bugger. The Trinity, that is. You can’t explain it. We like to use the term “mystery” when we describe it, because we can’t really understand it. The fake nun thought that we have religion because of the things we can’t understand, but I think it is deeper than that. It is not just religion, which is the practice of our faith, but it is faith itself which is required when it comes to the Trinity. It is not something you can prove. Exactly how Father, Son and Holy Spirit are connected took four centuries for the Christian church to come to agreement on. Some early Christians were sure that the connection was hierarchical, represented by a straight line. First came God the Father, who sent the Son, who then sent the Spirit. Sounds logical. But then the problem was that we started to think of God as more important or more powerful than the Son or the Spirit. Is God more important than Jesus? Is Jesus more important than the Spirit? We are starting to get dicey here… Other early Christians were sure that we must understand all three together, as one. They insisted that we refer to God as the Triune God—the Three in One God, not three separate Gods. The image of a triangle, not a straight line, is what has become the lasting image for the Three in One God. A triangle represents the inter-relationship of The Trinity, and then by extension the relationship between us, others and God. With a triangle, all sides must be intact. If one side of the triangle is broken, the triangle is no longer complete. The line between Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer are essential, creating a solid relationship. The line between me and God and the line between God and others also require the line between me and my neighbor to be intact. We are connected to one another. We are in relationship.
The image on your bulletins this morning comes from the Celtic tradition. Our Celtic brothers and sisters have intertwined the three circles in the shape of a triangle, even more effectively representing the unity of the Triune God, woven into one in a way that can not be separated. Three in One. One in Three.
Any time you add a third person into a relationship, things start to get complicated. Haven’t you had that experience before? You and your friend are getting along fine. A third person inserts herself into the equation and all of a sudden, the relationship shifts, things get thrown out of balance. It is hard to be equally attentive to two people at the same time, so two pal around and leave the third person out. And then the relationship switches and a different person is left out. It happens on the school playground, in the work place, in the youth group. You have all seen it and I am assuming that at some point in your life you each have either felt like a third wheel or recognized that you made someone else feel that way.
I wonder if God as Three is a way for us to constantly be reminded that relationships take work, that relationships are messy at times, that God is committed to being in relationship, that connecting between God, you and me is another triad that is important to God. Does God work as a threesome because God wants us to be attentive, keeping us from being complacent, too lazy or too cozy either in our human relationships or in our relationships with God?
Look at the situation of the prophet Isaiah. It would have been so much easier for Isaiah if he could have stayed in the temple and praised God after he experienced his cleansing from sin with the burning coal touched to his lips. He was in his element, surrounded by creatures crying “Holy, Holy, Holy”, with a vision of God so Great Big that the hem of his robe filled the whole temple. That is quite a picture! God and Isaiah were in relationship, and it was glorious, awesome, inspiring, invigorating. And then God had to add the wayward people of Israel to the triangle. That now makes Isaiah’s job arduous—trying to convince a rebellious people with their backs to God to turn toward God. But it is God who is reaching out, God who wants to be in relationship. Isaiah, to stay connected to God, agrees to go. Only then is he told (in the latter verses of Isaiah 6), that he is going to become a mouthpiece for God to a people who are not going to understand, to a people who will turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to God’s attempts to reach them. Now he is committed. And he knows it is going to be a rocky relationship. But he knows that loving the people is God’s desire. God, the people, the prophet—all connected.
I want to encourage you this morning to understand this about the Trinity: the Trinity is not an optional add on to your picture of God. The Trinity is a way to describe who God is—God in relationship. God does not hang out alone. God is always in relationship, connected, committed. We believe in God, in God’s Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. We don’t pick and choose, separating this Triune God into pieces. There are times when you might relate more closely to one form of God’s essence, but the Trinity is who God is, so when we describe God, we must describe Three in One. Paul was clear in his letter to the Christians in Rome: we have been adopted by the Spirit into the family of God, becoming fellow heirs with Christ. I find his family relationship imagery helpful. God is related like a family unit is related. Not the Holy Family like Joseph, Mary and Jesus, but the Divine Triad as an interrelated family who is God. God is a unit, made up of three. And we are adopted in, welcomed, included.
In this century, our denomination has raised the issue of the Trinity as a description of God that we need to reclaim, with some fearing that we have slid into functional Unitarianism, just using one name for God as the only descriptor of this broad, deep, rich Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. There are other triads which have been suggested to help broaden our understanding of the way the Trinity is in relationship within itself, and then overflowing into relationship with the world. How about Lover, Beloved and Loving? The Spirit being the active form of the verb, God being the principal actor and Christ being the recipient of God’s love. Or Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Or the One to whom, the One by whom and the One in whom we offer our praise.
Today is a Sunday to recognize that the triune God is the basis of all we are and all we do as Christians. We too cry holy, holy, holy, God as Three, Three in One, God in relationship. In the name of this triune God we are baptized. As the baptized ones we bear the name of the triune God in our being, in who we are. Paul reminds us that we belong to the family of the triune God. We affirm this parentage when we say what we believe together each week, using a creed or confession of our faith. Today we will use the Apostles’ Creed, one of the earliest trinitarian creeds. The roots of our service in the world come from the mighty acts of this triune God who continues to be active in redeeming the world through the work of the Holy Spirit. This triune God is the basis of all our prayers—do you ever think about it this way?– We pray to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit.
Christians across the globe in different expressions of faith share a common understanding that God is Three, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer or Father, Son, Holy Spirit, or another triad that might help you best to grasp the understanding of this God whose goal is relationship. Listen to these words from our book of common worship:
“The Trinity is the story of God’s passionate determination to be present with the world. It’s the reminder that God’s primary disposition towards the world is of love, not judgement. It is about the fact that the saving God is the God of resurrection and recreation, giving new birth and Life to human beings.”
Thanks be to the Triune God. Glory and praise to God in Relationship.