On the Sunday after Pentecost each year, we celebrate Trinity Sunday. We take one Sunday to ponder that mysterious doctrine of the church – the one that says that God is One-in-Three, Three-in-One; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet, still One God.
“Where does it say that in the Bible?” you may ask. And that would be a very good question for a Christian to ask. You probably didn’t notice any mention of “Trinity”, or a “Triune God”, or “Father, Son, & Holy Spirit” in this morning’s readings. And the readings we heard this morning were specifically chosen from the Revised Common Lectionary for Trinity Sunday.
But the truth is that there are no passages in the Bible that specifically explain, or lay out, or even name the Doctrine of the Trinity. It is a later theological explanation by the early church, a later articulation by Christians as they grappled with the content of the Scriptures and how they had experienced God coming to them first as God the Father, then as the divine Son, Jesus, and finally in the powerful, comforting, inspiring, challenging presence of the Holy Spirit within, between, and among God’s people.
Here is how “Living Faith” – our church’s statement of Christian belief – describes the Triune God.
There is one true God
whom to know is life eternal,
whom to serve is joy and peace.
God has created all that is.
The whole universe testifies
to the majesty and power of its Maker.
God has come to us.
The Lord spoke to the people of Israel
and entered into covenant with them.
From Israel came Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
bringing salvation through a new covenant
entered by faith.
The Lord continues to come to us by the Holy Spirit,
God present in the world,
and Guide to the church.
Therefore, with the one church universal
we believe in one God, eternal Trinity,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
three in one,
one in three,
equal in power and glory.
Of course, in trying to make sense of the Trinity, we often try to come up with metaphors and analogies. Perhaps God is like a three-leaf clover – it is one clover, but with three leaves that together make a whole. Perhaps God is like a triangle – one figure, but consisting in three sides. Perhaps God is like water – but water may be experienced as liquid water flowing, frozen as ice, or when heated as steam. Or perhaps God is like a woman who is simultaneously a daughter, a mother, and a sister.
Although some of these may be helpful to us in pondering the three-in-one mystery of God, none of them quite explains it. All these analogies fall short of the reality of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But, you know, I don’t think the point of the Trinity is really to explain it or to work it out completely. I think the point is really just to experience God, to be in relationship with God, and to come to know God as those early Christians did when they came up with the idea of Trinity in the first place.
Consider this image of God instead. This description comes from a theological student attempting to describe the Trinity in her examination for ordination. She said, “Imagine three persons in a circle, joined together by their hands. All are equal and all are moving together as one in a single dance with the same rhythm, with each following the same steps.
“This is not the picture of three people failing to communicate as they run around in different directions as they try to accomplish three different goals. Rather, this is the picture of three people working together to make something beautiful. That is the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who have been dancing together since before time began and will continue to dance into eternity.”
In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes God in a similar way: “…in Christianity,” he writes, “God is not an impersonal thing nor a static thing—not even just one person—but a dynamic pulsating activity, a life, a kind of drama, almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.… The pattern of this three-personal life is … the great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality.”
What I love about these descriptions is that here, God is not just a person, but God is a relationship of love and unity and purpose and joy! God is not just an individual, but a divine community of love. And God not only shows us what it looks like to live in loving community, but also invites us to participate in that community – in that wonderful dance – with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Our Scripture readings this morning are a beautiful reminder that God is inviting us into relationship with himself. The prophet Isaiah tells us about an encounter with the holy, transcendent God. When he stands before the wonder of God, he recognizes his own inadequacy, but God does not reject him. God cleanses him, heals him, forgives him, and draws him into God’s own mission of love for the world.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, God is not way up high in heaven, but God comes close to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Paul explains that we can allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit, guided into living and loving as God intends. And when we are so led, we become “children of God.”
If that’s not an invitation into close relationship, I don’t know what is! The Spirit of God is poured out upon us when we are Baptized, and we are truly welcomed into the family of God. We are adopted by God, and our family connection is made visible whenever we allow the Spirit to lead and guide us in our lives and decisions.
Finally, in the Gospel reading from John today, we hear about Nicodemus receiving the invitation to be “born again.” The Greek phrase used there can be translated as “born again” or “born from above.” The point is that just as we experienced a physical birth and became members of a human family, we can also experience a spiritual re-birth and become members of God’s own family.
Think about that image of the Triune God as a dancing relationship of love, and we are invited to join in.
Here’s how another preacher put it: “Our God is alive in movement and activity and our God is always extending an invitation to us. You and I are invited to join in the dance, even in the midst of our imperfection and despite our failure to grasp the rhythm. We were not created to be spectators. The holy dance of the Trinity is not something for us to watch from our comfortable seats in the audience with our only contribution being polite applause. We are invited on stage to learn the steps, to follow their lead, and to bring about the same beauty and activity that has been moving since before the dawn of creation.”
This week I spent a few days with my parents in Ottawa. I was fortunate to have meetings of the Canadian Council of Churches to attend, and the meetings were held at St. Paul University, quite near my childhood home.
Now, you won’t be surprised to hear that all my parents’ children have grown up and moved out. My other siblings get home to visit more often because they live closer, but we’re all pretty independent by now.
But while I was there, I noticed by Dad got several phone calls from a young guy named Sam. I remember meeting Sam several years ago at their church, and I noticed that Sam had quite a few challenges. He receives a small disability pension, but it’s tough to make ends meet without any family for support and a tendency to make some poor choices.
I listened to my Dad talking to Sam on the phone one night… listening, encouraging, advising, and challenging him to make some better decisions. I thought, it’s kind of like he’s adopted another kid, and one who really needs his parental guidance.
I suppose my dad has time to help Sam out a bit, now that his own children are grown. But, you know, when I think about it, my parents always did get into relationships with people that needed a little extra support like that. There were always extra adults at our dinner table for Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and Easter.
There were always a few folks that they checked on, and answered the phone when they called, and did a little more to help than you’d expect from just a friend. Some of them were people on my dad’s elder’s district within our congregation. Some of them were just people with whom my parents made a connection. They weren’t officially adopted, but it was kind of like that.
I appreciate now that my parents made space in their lives and their family to welcome others into it, and that they continue to do so. I know that offering that welcome costs them something – some time, some frustration, some heart-ache, sometimes even some money.
They could have been content to just work on raising their own kids, looking after their home and their family, and concerning themselves with their own needs and interests. But instead they chose to welcome others into the circle of their dance.
In an even more full, complete, and wonderful way… that’s what the Triune God has done for each of us. God has invited us into the holy dance, even though we haven’t yet learned the steps and likely a few toes will get trampled on.
John’s Gospel puts it this way: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Yes, God loves us so much, and wants so deeply to have us join in the dance, to have us participate in the divine community of love, that God was willing to endure the pain of betrayal, separation, torture, and death.
I want to leave you with two messages from all my ponderings this morning:
First, know that you have been adopted into God’s divine community of love. God not only loved the world, but God loved you so much that he was willing to do whatever it took to get you up off the couch and into the circle to dance.
Second, think about how you can open yourself, your heart, and your life to participate in building that divine community of love here in the world. It might be a bit of a messy circle dance, with people out of step at times, a rag-tag bunch joining hands as they swing and sway together.
Let’s keep on opening up our circle, welcoming everyone and anyone into relationship with us and with the Triune God who made us, who loves us, and who guides us in the dance.