The Trinity: what you need to know before lunch today
This year, Trinity Sunday and Father’s Day fall on the same day. There is something completely mysterious about both the Trinity and
fatherhood. Have you known of people who grew up without their biological father? If they believe he is still living, some go to great lengths to find and meet him. They want to know what kind of man is he? What of him is inside of me? It’s as if we believe we need to know our fathers in order to fully understand ourselves. I wonder what your father was like?
I’m one of the blessed ones; my father was there for me from day one until I left home to marry and start a new family. I’m one of the doubly blessed ones: my father worked hard all of his working life, he taught me right from wrong, he taught me, by example, to be considerate and helpful around the house, to be honest and fair, and most of all to love my Father in Heaven.
God as Father
It has been easy for me to think of God as a loving Father in heaven because I have been blessed with a loving father on earth. I am aware that for many people whose father on earth was absent, or abusive, or unhelpful in other ways, have an obstacle at this point. Their own experience of a father makes it difficult for them to imagine a good, loving, kind, just, fair, father in heaven.
There are a few places in the bible which open the door to picturing God in feminine terms – God is pictured as a mother bird, gathering her young under her protective wings. God is lady Wisdom who calls to all the people to abandon their foolishness and follow the path of the wise who do what is right. And so the door is open to us to think of God in both senses, as fatherly and motherly – though if we were thinking clearly we would know that God must be more than either male or female, but for us, gendered humans, we cannot imagine what that would be like.
But back to that mystery of fatherhood, there is something essential about knowing God as father, even if we fill out the picture by thinking of his mothering qualities as well. We are like children – even adult children – for whom knowing our father is an essential quest. There is a longing, a hunger, an empty place in all of us that is God-shaped (as Pascal famously said). For some mysteriously deep reason, we need to know our heavenly Father in order to know who we are in this world.
And so, on Trinity Sunday, we plunge into the mystery of the Trinity beginning with God the Father. I hope you noticed all the attention we have already given to Creation this morning. We read the creation story from Genesis. We read from Psalm 8 a hymn of praise to God the Creator. We know God as Father who creates. Whatever else may be true about me and you, whatever else may be said of us to describe us, to define us, to say who we are, the truest thing that must be the first thing said is that we are made by God, our Heavenly Father – and as that children’s story puts it “God don’t make no junk.”
If Creation is awesome – if sunsets on the ocean are glorious – and they are; if sunlight streaming through clouds fills us with wonder – and it does – how much more so should every human being fill us with amazement. As one Psalm sings:
“I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139).
The balance and complexity of our organs, our senses, our minds – should provoke profound worship and praise of our Heavenly Father Creator’s depths. “Look at the birds of the air” Jesus said: “are you not of more value than they?”
We could never be the kind of people who despise the body or who think that our goal is to be free of it so that we can be properly spiritual. Rather, we were made to glorify God in our bodies, as scripture says (1 Cor. 6:20).
Affirming the Trinity means that we affirm that God made us, as we are, for a purpose; to love and serve him in our physical bodies. He fathered us.
And this brings us naturally to the next thing we must know before lunch today: that every human being on this planet shares all of the things we have just said are true for us. “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world,” as the song says. We might add, Serbs and Croats, Jews and Palestinians, Republicans and Democrats: all people are of inestimable value to God the Father who made them.
Which is why it is such a scandal when humans whom God has fathered suffer needlessly, especially when they suffer at one another’s hands, or when they are hungry, or excluded. Knowing our Father as our – and as everybody’s – Creator, provides us with a mandate to look after each other on this fragile little planet.
God as Spirit
When we affirm the Trinity, we affirm that God is Father, and God is Son and Spirit. Most people have no trouble thinking of God as Spirit. To think of God as being everywhere, without a body, just being there as a spiritual presence presents no difficulty for us. The Creation story in Genesis begins with God who is present spiritually, as breath, or wind (which is also the word for Spirit) blows over the waters of chaos at the dawn of time to produce order and abundance. Last week was Pentecost Sunday on which we focused on the role of God the Spirit in our lives and in the church today, so let’s move on to consider the role of the God the Son on this Trinity Sunday.
Paradise – Paradise Lost
I love the way Trinity Sunday begins with creation, because when we consider God as Creator of a good, perfect, fruitful, blessed physical world, we can see why God entered our world as a human. The Creation story is a story of paradise – humans and God, together in perfect harmony. But then it becomes a paradise-lost story as evil corrupts God’s good design. The whole rest of the bible’s story is a long journey towards paradise-regained. God was not going to create a perfect world, watch evil corrupt it, then walk away. The biblical story tells of God’s repeated rescue operations on behalf of the humans that he made and loves.
The Rescue Operation God made a covenant with Abraham and Sarah and promised that through them he would one day bless all the families of the earth. God sent Moses to lead Abraham’s children, the Israelites, out of slavery and eventually into the promised land. Through many exiles and returns from exile, God’s rescue operation unfolded.
Finally, at the climax of the story, God put on human flesh and entered our world to accomplish the final rescue. God the Son: Jesus Jesus came,
not just to teach us moral and ethical truths, though he did that. Jesus came, not just to teach us new ways to think about about God, though he did that too. Jesus came to accomplish the rescue mission that God had in mind ever since evil spoiled his perfect Garden. He came to rescue us from the power of evil itself. Jesus was crucified as all the powers of evil did their worst to him. Jesus suffered on behalf of his people to finally, once and for all, rescue us from the power of evil. God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead, the firstfruits of a huge harvest of resurrection that will one day include us as well.
Now we are able to see what Jesus meant as he spoke his final words to his disciples. In our text from Matthew we read the scene from that moment in which Jesus says,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
God’s rescue operation includes the whole Trinity, and it includes us. Jesus won the victory over the powers of evil by his death and resurrection, but now we have the mandate from him to proclaim the good news of that victory throughout the world.
Making Trinitarian Disciples
We do not do that by making converts, we do that by making disciples; followers of Jesus. People who will be baptized as the sign of the new covenant, in the name of the Trinity; the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. How is a baptized person to become a disciple, or a follower of Jesus? By learning. We have been given the mandate by our Lord to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded.” How should we live, as Trinitarian Christians? By focusing our lives on exactly the mandate that God, the Son gave us. Our whole lives are oriented towards this objective: how can I more fully “obey everything” Jesus commanded”?
Today, when will I have the opportunity to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, offer my cloak to someone? Today, whom can I see who is
hungry and needs food, thirsty who needs a drink, in prison and needs to be visited; in whose face will I see Jesus? What situations of suffering will I encounter on the road? Even if everyone else is walking away on the other side, how can I be used by God to be an instrument of healing?
These are what Jesus taught us, and these are the commands that baptized, Trinitarian disciples seek to obey. As people who have been baptized in the name of the the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the best way in which we can celebrate Trinity Sunday is to remember the teachings of Jesus so that we can become more faithful in obeying them.
On Trinity Sunday, let us remember that Jesus taught us:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.