Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday, Year B
Based on Rom. 8:14-15 & Jn. 3:2, 16-17
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
The Holy Trinity, the Triune God, the God who is ~ to employ creedal language ~ One Being and Three Persons. Preachers on this Sunday may feel a bit like they're up against a rock and a hard place. For, no matter how clear we preachers may be able to speak about the Trinity, there will ALWAYS be at least some degree of lingering confusion. God-talk (theology) is frequently this double-edged sword that has the capacity to blind us AND give us sight.
Who is this Triune God anyway? What is the doctrine of the Trinity? Such questions are not easily answered in a nice, tidy 15 or 20 minute sermon! ~ nor does everyone have the same answer! Some folks believe such questions are meaningless and boring. Others maybe take them too seriously and spend most of their lives believing that their answers are THE ONLY CORRECT ANSWER.
During the first four centuries of Christendom, the doctrine of the Trinity was formulated through a long, sometimes complex and rather acrimonious process. The third and fourth centuries in particular, were "hot" ones; a number of church leaders believed that they, and THEY ONLY had THE CORRECT ANSWER. Needless to say, dialogue was rarely at a premium during those days.
Many of the writers of this period borrowed terms from Greek philosophy and culture and applied them to their understanding of God. Their language became more and more abstract, convoluted, and obscure. The more highfalutin their God-talk became, the more fixed and unbending became their ideas of God.
One North African theologian of this period, Augustine, tells of a vision he had while meditating on the doctrine of the Trinity. He saw a child by the sea, pouring water into a hole in the sand. The boy told Augustine that he wanted to fill the hole with all the waters of the ocean. Augustine exclaimed, "Impossible!" ~ but the child responded that his task was no more impossible than for Augustine to understand the mystery on which he was meditating. Unfortunately, Augustine failed to listen to this child in his vision. He went on to write his theology of the Trinity, which, like most of the other Trinitarian theology of that age is not easy to read or understand.
Communications expert, Marshall McLuhan, once said that "the age of dogma is past." Unlike the theologians of the third and fourth centuries, McLuhan did not believe that subjects like the doctrine of the Trinity were "hot." By "hot," McLuhan meant that which is highly defined, objective or fixed. Rather, McLuhan believed that subjects like the Trinity were "cool." Cool as in neat!, wow!, great!, dynamic, subjective, and fluid.
The problem with far too many theologians down through the ages is that they seem to yield to the temptation of placing God into their nice little box; of saying: "I have a monopoly on the Truth."
Over against this "I know all there is to know about God" approach; twentieth century theologian, Rudolf Otto, in his classic book, The Idea of the Holy, begins in what McLuhan would call a "cool" way by speaking of the mysterious, the fascinating, the tremendous, the awesome nature of God.
It is the sense of being made totally humble and totally dependent by this Wholly Other God. The sense that God is unlimited and larger than our greatest imagining. This God of atoms, black holes, a seemingly immeasurable universe of time and space, reaches into eternity. It is this Mysterious, Fascinating, Tremendous, Awesome God who loves and cares for us.
If we are going to speak of God as Trinity today, then it shall be necessary for us to have some corresponding reality out of the "stuff" of everyday life. A contemporary theologian, Tom Driver, in the book, The Three Faces of God: Traces of the Trinity in Literature and Life, speaks of experiencing life itself as trinity: "A prisoner stands before a judge. The two are locked in their roles. It is a charade unless they can both appeal to something "else," which is either expediency or justice. A scientist observes certain data in the laboratory. She records the data. The information makes no sense unless it can be referred to something "else," which is called a theory."
Another example is the human being. The human being is, in a sense, a trinity. We are a mind, a body, and a soul ~ all together in one being, one person. Is this not ~ at least in part ~ what it means for us to be created in the image of God?
Of course, even these kind of corresponding, everyday life examples are merely images and metaphors with their own limitations. So if abstract, metaphysical, philosophical, theological language fails us ~ where does that leave us? The Bible itself gives us the best clue. The best way of explaining profound Truth; the most effective way of appreciating capital M Mysteries; the clearest way of experiencing and understanding who God is, is to tell a story. The following story, as told by William R. White, in his book, Stories For The Journey, attempts to do exactly that:
"When God had nearly finished with the act of creation, an announcement was made that the only thing left was to create a creature capable of understanding and marveling in the greatness of God. This being, called human, was not only to be of the earth, like all other creatures, but also to be created in the image of God. "Let these beings have reason, intellect, and understanding," God declared."
"Truth then approached the Almighty pleading, "Oh God, I ask you to refrain from calling into being a creature who is capable of lying. The last thing we need is to have a world filled with deception and fraud."
"Peace came forth to support this petition. "O Lord, I beg you, not to create creatures who will disturb the harmony of your creation. I fear that these humans will act with revenge and initiate war."
"While they were pleading against the creation of human beings, the soft voice of Love asked to be heard. "Dear God, I know that any being created in your likeness will have the capacity to perform great and kind deeds. Filled with your Spirit these human beings will comfort the sick, visit the lonely, and provide shelter to the homeless. Such a being cannot but bring glory to you, O Lord."
"Though God listened to the voice of Truth and Peace before the final act of creation, it was because of Love that human beings were created."
God's love embraces the whole world. In that love we live, move, and have our being. In that love we are given meaning for our lives and for all of life. This love enables us to see, hear, trust, obey, serve, and ~ in response to God's love ~ love our God. This love reveals who God is in, with, under and beyond our thoughts, words and actions.
May each one of us be drawn ever closer to this, our Loving God, who loves the world, and who is actively working in the world to save it.
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