I’m not a great one for jokes, as they say it’s the way I tell them, and I don’t tell them very well. But I do like wee stories so here’s a wee story! It’s about a little girl in Sunday school drawing a picture.
Her teacher asked her … what she was drawing.
“I’m drawing a picture of God,” the little girl responded.
“But nobody knows what God looks like,” her teacher said.
To which the little girl replied, “They will when I’m finished.” (Pause)
Of course we do all know what God looks like, he is very old and has a long white beard, a kind of less colourful Santa Claus!
OK we can’t really imagine that God looks like but we can and should know what God IS like, what God’s nature is because the Bible tells us what God is like.
This is Trinity Sunday and on this Sunday we think particularly about what God’s nature is. As a church we are Trinitarian, that means that we believe in one God in three persons.
The Trinity, God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A basic tenet of our faith, an explanation of what God is like and yet Trinity is never mentioned as a word in the Bible though it is central to our understanding of God.
Right from the start in the creation story at Genesis chapter 1 we see the creative Father, the Word that was with God, and was God. 2 The Word through whom all things were made; and without whom nothing was made that has been made, and we have the Spirit of God hovering over the formless deep. God in three persons.
When Jesus is baptised at Matthew 3 we read ‘As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” At that momentous event the three persons of the trinity were present Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Jesus demonstrating his obedience to the plan of God through baptism, the Father announcing his approval, and the Holy Spirit anointing Jesus for ministry.
So the idea of God as a trinity is essential to our understanding of God and yet it can be hard for us to understand. There have been various attempts to help us to get a bit of a handle on what is really part of the mystery of God. One suggestion is that we think of ourselves and the different roles we have. I am a Daughter, a Mother and a wife, one person but three different aspects. However that is NOT what we believe about God, God as we sing is in three persons, blessed trinity. God is not in one person but in THREE distinct and separate persons. St Patrick used the shamrock with its three leaves but that meets a similar problem, God is not some kind of three headed Siamese twin. As we saw at his baptism, the three persons of God whilst all BEING God are completely separate and can work independently of each other. I think the analogy that works best for me, is the idea of an egg. An egg is one thing but it consists of three separate and distinct parts, the shell, the yoke and the albumen. Together they make an egg but each part is a different substance which can exist and be used separately. Once again this is not a perfect analogy because the Father the Son and the Spirit are each completely God and the yolk is not completely an egg!
But if we find it hard to understand then we should know that we are in good company. For centuries branches of the church recited the long and complicated Creed of St. Athanasius on Trinity Sunday. In one section it states, “Father incomprehensible, Son incomprehensible, Holy Ghost incomprehensible.” And apparently George Bernard Shaw used to mutter, “The whole thing is incomprehensible.”
And then there is Augustine. The great Doctor of the Church St. Augustine of Hippo spent over 30 years working on his treatise De Trinitate [about the Holy Trinity], endeavouring to conceive an intelligible explanation for the mystery of the Trinity.
And the story is told that he was walking by the seashore one day contemplating and trying to understand the Trinity when he saw a small boy running back and forth from the water to a spot on the seashore. The boy was using a sea shell to carry the water from the ocean and place it into a small hole in the sand.
The Bishop approached him and asked, “My boy, what are doing?”
“I am trying to bring all the sea into this hole,” the boy replied.
“But that is impossible, my dear child, the hole cannot contain all that water” said Augustine.
The boy paused in his work, stood up, looked into the eyes of the Saint, and replied, “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.”
God is vaster and more powerful and more mysterious than we can ever imagine, how could we put our faith in him, how could we worship him if that was not so? And how can we expect to understand him with our small human intelligence. At Isaiah 55 we read “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
So we have a problem, God wants us to have an understanding of his nature but as humans we can never have a complete understanding of God, in fact we can never even have a complete understanding of the doctrine of the trinity which is meant to help us understand God!!! Help.
So this Trinity Sunday morning I think that the best we can do is try to understand what is important about God, what is important about the trinity for us andleave the philosophical wrestling to the academics or perhaps to those sleepless hours in the middle of the night when it might be a more effective insomnia cure than counting sheep.
Firstly the trinity tells us that humanity meets God in three different forms, we have one God who loves us and that God is made up of three separate persons.
We have a Father who loves us, the Almighty, the creator, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen, the law giver, the judge.
We have the Son, Jesus who loves us. Who came down from heaven to be our saviour, who was eternally begotten of the Father yet became became truly human. The revealer, the Messiah and the redeemer
And we have the Holy Spirit who loves us. The Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who has spoken through the prophets, who fills us with new life and power, the sanctifier and giver of eternal life.
Secondly the Trinity expresses the way Christians should relate to God: we worship God the Father. We follow the example set by God the Son and God the Holy Spirit lives within us.
And thirdly the trinity tells us how God wants us to live. As God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit relate to one another, demonstrate love for each other, and work in concert to accomplish the purpose of God in the world, we get the idea of community a community that we can aspire to but never manage to replicate, a community of supreme love and respect, of complete unity, and equality without hierarchy, or ego or competitiveness. This idea of the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit has been depicted as a divine dance, Father, Son, and Spirit interacting with one another, expressing love for one another, and complementing the work each has to do. God the Father creates, God the Son redeems, God the Spirit illuminates and equips. In this dance of mutuality, each person of the Godhead complements and builds on the work of other members of the Trinity.
So as Christians we too must live in community, in families, in congregations, in villages and communities and countries, in all the different social groupings. And we must try to live as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live, without ego and competitiveness with love, respect and equality each person complementing and building on the work of other members.
And thinking like that clarifies so many questions for us, how should husbands and wives treat each other, how do we treat our children, how do we behave towards people of different colours, creeds, religions, people with disabilities, the poor, the disadvantaged? It’s perfectly clear, all the isms must be gone everyone is treated with love, respect and equality.
And in the doctrine of the Trinity, we find our mission. Jesus said to the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” Just as God the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus sends us into the world to do the Father’s work, equipped and accompanied by the Spirit of God. Whatever work we have to do in this world, we do from the standpoint of the Triune God who created, redeemed, and enabled us to do it.
So today as we think about the Trinity we must remember that as followers of Jesus, we are loved by the Father, and led by the Spirit. All three persons of the Godhead are at work in our lives, in the life of this church, and in the life of this world. As we live in this awareness of God in all his expressions as Father, Son, and Spirit, our spiritual lives will deepen, our vision of God’s kingdom will expand, and the work that God has chosen for us will take on a new vitality and urgency so that God’s Kingdom will come and his will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.