Page last updated



Trinity Sunday:
Holy Celebration or Holy Confusion?
a sermon based on 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
by Rev. Thomas Hall

We celebrated Pentecost Sunday last week. And it’s Trinity Sunday today. What an interesting contrast: from holy chaos to holy confusion. Pentecost is that one moment in the life of the Church when we throw caution to the wind and celebrate the truly chaotic experience of the Day of Pentecost. Fire, smoke, things coming undone, breaking up and all connected to the Spirit. That was last week.

But if last week was chaotic, then this Sunday is confusing. We call it Trinity Sunday. On this Sunday we’re called to celebrate not an event, but an idea. Celebrate? Or stumble over? I think many of us can identify with the scientist who said of one experiment result, “This is the sort of thing I wouldn’t believe, even if it really happened.” This complex doctrine of the Trinity has managed to frustrate theologians and scholars and baffle the rest of us. Madeleine L’Engle said that talking about the holy Trinity is attempting to talk about God’s wholeness to a human race that only knows what it is to be fragmented and broken up.

I know, let’s go back to the beginning and let our Church fathers help us out. Just blow the dust off this guy called Athanasius in the 4th century. He is credited with offering us the first real attempt to define the Trinity. Here’s what Athanasius will say:

Our faith tells us that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.


Is this comprehensible? Is this definition very clear to anyone? In a book about one of the great theologians of the Church, Peter Abelard is asked by his disciple, Pierre:

Pierre: “Have you read the newest book on the Trinity?”

Abelard: “Yes I have.”

Pierre: “And is it heretical?”

Abelard: “Of course it’s heretical. Every book that was ever written about the Trinity is heretical-except what Athanasius said. And even what Athanasius said is saved by contradicting everything it says as fast as it says it.

But that’s the holy Trinity for you. Holy confusion. This unexplainable, incomprehensible 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 doctrine has been something that Christians have lived and died for throughout the centuries. Did you know, for instance, that United Methodists hold to 25 articles of religion? Twenty-five truths that shape our faith. They include the importance of Scripture as our authority in matters of faith and practice, original sin, free will, the Church-its all there, twenty-five articles. Each follows the other in slightly less importance so that the last article of faith is “On a Christian Man’s Swearing.” But guess what stands at the very front? An affirmation about the Trinity. Holy confusion!

So how do we approach this holy confusion? How do we try to grasp our Mysterious God in three persons, blessed Trinity? See if you can recall any of these ways. How about this one? The Trinity is like H2O-it can appear in the form of chunks that keep our iced tea cool-a solid, yet it can also appear as the steam off our coffee, but it may also be felt as the stuff that we shower under every morning.

Or this? A three-leaf clover. That’s what I’m holding up. The Irish among us saw in the clover a window into the Mystery of the Trinity. All three leaves are from the same stem, yet they all are distinct from the other; they have their own identity and history, but all contain the same substance.

In fourth century art, the Trinity was first painted as a hand, a lamb, and the dove. The hand reflected the Creator action of God, the lamb, the redeeming action of God, and the dove, the empowering, purifying action of God. Notice this symbol of the Trinity; it’s on the parament that drapes the pulpit. Three circles-three unending circles all touching each other, yet distinct and whirling around in their own orbit.

All of this might be a little confusing when we go to prayer. Who do we pray to? One or one of the three expressions of the same God? Jesus who became one of us? Or perhaps to the Spirit who resides within us? Where is your focus when you pray?

In our lessons this morning, Paul closes his correspondence with a blessing that says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” And in Genesis, God stands at in the middle of day six and says, “Let Us make humankind in our image.” Us? Seems like God is in deep counsel within God’s mysterious self. And in the Gospel, Jesus sends the disciples out to disciple with the specific formula to baptize converts “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

How does one apply “Trinity” to one’s life? How do we respond to the Word when this homily is finished? How do we leave this place and start practicing the holy Trinity in our lives? We can tell the truth, we can become better stewards of our wealth, we can work toward peace, control our anger. But how do we do the Trinity?

Let me suggest three ways that we can benefit from our discussion about the Trinity. First, broaden your understanding of God’s nature. What does that mean? I mean, take inventory of the Person of the Godhead that you feel most comfortable with. Which of God’s three essences do you envision when you pray? Then try to imagine a new vision of God. Many of us center on Jesus exclusively; our hymns have so focused on Christ, that sometimes we are strangers to the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit has been called the Cinderella of the Trinity because so few people have seriously considered or explored this part of God.

Here’s what you can do: ask the Holy Spirit to give you more of a hunger for the Scriptures, ask the Spirit to speak a personal word to you. Ask the Spirit to deal with our racism or discrimination. Or maybe you need to discover that part of the Trinity we call Father. You might want to walk around and thank God the Father for being such an imaginative and artful Creator! Discover the Creator’s handiwork in the most unlikely places. That’s how I discovered God’s beauty in just one of his creations: reptiles. Have you ever wondered how you would survive in our world if you had arrived in the delivery room without voice, with only one lung, with no ears, arms, legs, or eyesight? Yet that is the way the lowly snake enters planet earth. Yet they have flourished-they climb trees, swim, and ambulate faster than humans. They are excellent hunters, guard their young, and can go without food for up to a year. Praise to the Father from whom all things flow-and slither.

Second, live within the tension that you don’t have to have the doctrine of the Trinity nailed down to go to heaven. Peter will not be standing at heaven’s gate with his clipboard, giving you some kind of final exam on the Trinity before we can enter into eternal fellowship with God. A lot of folks have a hard time not having all the answers. I’m not one of them. There are gray areas in even the best of belief systems. We don’t have all the answers; and some of the answer we do have are wrong anyway. Knowledge does not save us. The Church does not save us. The preacher does not save us. Our good manners do not save us. Our baptism does not save us. The Trinity saves us-God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. That’s who saves us and not because we have the right salvation formula. But because God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.

Third, try thinking of the Trinity as intimate relationship that goes on within God. When we talk about the Trinity, the truth is that a loving relationship is going on within God’s Self that is absolutely whole and pure. God exists in a unified, whole relationship. One day, Jesus prayed a prayer. No, not the Lord’s Prayer. He prayed like this: “I have finished the work you gave me to do. Now Father, give me glory in your presence, the same glory I had with you before the world was made.” Then Jesus concludes his prayer like this, “I pray that they may all be one, Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be one, so that the world will believe that you sent me.”

Perhaps we may someday look deep into our telescopes and microscopes to discover that relationships stand out at the core of the universe. Atoms exist and function only in relationship to other atoms, says one scientist. As a loving, vital relationship goes on within God’s Person, so we should take our relationships within ourselves and our congregation very seriously.

So we come to the end of these words about the Trinity only to be reminded that God is diamond-perfect, fully formed and not some piecemeal work stuck together by divine duct tape. God is our seamless, complete, whole whom we worship in mystery-God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.