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 its 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 were 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 wouldnt 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 LEngle said that
talking about the holy Trinity is attempting to talk about Gods wholeness to a human
race that only knows what it is to be fragmented and broken up.
I know, lets 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. Heres what Athanasius will
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 its 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 thats 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 Mans
Swearing. But guess what stands at the very front? An affirmation about the Trinity.
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. Thats what Im 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; its
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 Gods 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 ones 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 Gods nature. What does that mean? I mean, take
inventory of the Person of the Godhead that you feel most comfortable with. Which of Gods
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.
Heres 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 Creators handiwork in the most unlikely
places. Thats how I discovered Gods 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 dont have to have the doctrine of the
Trinity nailed down to go to heaven. Peter will not be standing at heavens 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. Im
not one of them. There are gray areas in even the best of belief systems. We dont
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. Thats 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
Gods Self that is absolutely whole and pure. God exists in a unified, whole
relationship. One day, Jesus prayed a prayer. No, not the Lords 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 Gods 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.