June 16, 2019, Trinity Sunday: The Mystery Hidden in Plain Sight, John 16:12-15 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell

To listen to this sermon, click here:  Z0000140

Let’s begin today with a prayer written by St. Patrick:

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through belief in the threeness,

Through confession of the oneness

Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today

Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,

Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,

Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,

Through the strength of his descent for the judgement of Doom.

I arise today

Through the strength of the love of the Cherubim,

In the obedience of angels,

In the service of archangels,

In the hope of the resurrection to meet with reward,

In the prayers of patriarchs,

In prediction of prophets,

In preaching of apostles,

In faith of confessors,

In innocence of holy virgins,

In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today

Through the strength of heaven;

Light of sun,

Radiance of moon,

Splendour of fire,

Speed of lightning,

Depth of sea,

Stability of earth,

Firmness of rock.

I arise today

Through God’s strength to pilot me:

God’s might to uphold me,

God’s wisdom to guide me,

God’s eye to look before me,

God’s ear to hear me,

God’s word to speak to me,

God’s hand to guard me,

God’s way to lie before me,

God’s shield to protect me,

God’s host to save me,

From snares of devils,

From temptations of vices,

From every one who shall wish me ill,

Afar and anear,

Alone and in a multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,

Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,

..

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,

Christ in the eye of everyone that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through belief in the threeness,

Through confession of the oneness

Of the Creator of Creation.

Today is Trinity Sunday. Most of the important feast days of the Church year celebrate important events in the life of the Church: the great acts of God from his conception and birth to his death, resurrection and ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. But on Trinity Sunday we don’t celebrate something that happened, or something that was done; we celebrate a reality. We celebrate the mystery of who our God is: one God in three persons, trinity in unity.

And very often what we try to do on Trinity Sunday is to try to explain the mystery, which is actually a sort of contradiction in terms, isn’t it? Because if the Trinity is a mystery, then by definition it is something we can’t explain. There have been countless attempts to provide a metaphor for the Trinity – I think St. Patrick’s metaphor of the shamrock, one plant with three leaves, is probably the most famous – and I’m sure you’ve heard various attempts that were more or less helpful to you. But the problem is that even the very best metaphors end up misleading us as much as they enlighten us. Because the truth is, there is nothing in all of creation that is like God. Period. End of story.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t grow in our understanding of who God is, because God himself has taken great pains to reveal himself to us in ways that we can perceive with our hearts as well as our minds. People didn’t formulate the actual doctrine of the Trinity until three centuries after Jesus Christ died and rose and returned to the Father. But now when we read the Bible knowing that God is One God in Three Persons, we find that the Trinity was there all the time.

This morning we heard readings from the book of Proverbs, Paul’s letter to the Romans, and John’s account of the Last Supper. We don’t find the word “Trinity” in any of the readings. Proverbs chapter 8, for example, is the famous “Wisdom” chapter. It portrays wisdom as a woman, who calls out to mankind, who offers wisdom to all as the most precious of treasures. The woman Wisdom is being contrasted with the woman in chapter 7 who symbolizes foolishness, the Adulteress waiting on the street corners to entice and seduce unsuspecting young men into the ways that lead to death. The meaning is pretty plain – be wise, don’t be a fool.

In the reading from Romans, Paul writes that our sins and failures have been put right through faith in Christ, so that we live at peace with God. And not only that, but because of the work of grace in our lives even our suffering becomes a blessing. In God our suffering produces endurance in us, and endurance builds character, and character brings forth hope which will never disappoint us because of the surpassing love of God. The meaning is wonderful, and clear – we have hope because of his grace in our lives.

And in the reading from John’s gospel was Jesus’s promise that he would send the Holy Spirit to us, and that he would teach us even more than the disciples had been able to learn from Jesus when he lived among them in the flesh. Clearly this is a promise of the wonderful events of Pentecost, which we celebrated last week.

So, we might ask the question, “How is the Trinity revealed to us in these readings?” We might even ask, “Is the Trinity revealed in these readings?” And one answer might be this: Notice that the reading from Proverbs talks about the Almighty God who created the heavens and the earth. “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.” writes King Solomon, or whoever wrote the book of Proverbs. In the reading from Romans, we hear about the saving work of Jesus Christ. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” writes Paul, “through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand…” And in John’s gospel Jesus himself promises the coming of the Spirit. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth,” Jesus said to his disciples. So there you have it: Creator, Savior, Teacher; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can see the three separate, individual persons of the one true God, in these three readings of holy Scripture. But does that really bring us any closer to understanding the Unity, the One-ness of the Three?

There is a French painter from the late 1800’s named Georges Seurat. He was called a “pointillist” because his paintings were made up of thousands and thousands of tiny dots of paint. One of his best-known paintings is of a group of people out for a picnic on a Sunday afternoon. There are ladies with their parasols and children and dogs and trees and sailboats out on the water. If you stand close to the painting, all you can see are dots of color. But if you stand back you can see the whole picture; all those the dots of color form one whole, beautiful, unbroken scene.

And I think when we read in the Bible, it’s a little bit like that sometimes – sometimes we need to stand back to see the bigger picture that is made up of all the ideas and images and facts and principles. And particularly, when it comes to the mystery of the Trinity, that is the best, and maybe the only, way we can begin to see it. So now that we’ve looked up close at each of the readings to see the plain meaning – the dots – let’s step back and look at the big picture. Is God revealing himself in the images and ideas of the passages? Has he created a bigger picture to help us see the mystery of who he is? Are we getting a glimpse of what we called in the collect this morning – “the glory of the eternal Trinity”?

First, let’s stand back and look at the woman, Wisdom, of Proverbs chapter 8. Listen to what she says: “Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth– when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep…when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker.” But wait, that’s an image we’ve heard before, it’s the image of the one who was with the Father before the foundations of the world, the one John described when he wrote: “He was in the beginning with God. All things were created through him, and without him was not anything made that has been made.” The woman, Wisdom, is not just an idea or a principle; she is a representation of the second Person of the Trinity, the one we call the Son, the one who said, “I and the Father are one.” And now that we see that, listen to what Wisdom says: “I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

Now we see a picture, a picture of the Father and the Son working together at the creation of all things, the Father calling the Son forth and the Son at his Father’s side, rejoicing in the Father’s pleasure at all times – the Son being at every moment the delight of the Father, and at the same time delighting in the work of his Father’s hands, which is the human race – us. It’s a picture of continuous, creative joy. And the really surprising thing is that we’re in the picture too – we are part of that joy. This is just a glimpse, but it’s a true glimpse, of the life of the Holy Trinity. We can’t see everything; we don’t even see a third person in this picture. We haven’t explained the Trinity. But we have a picture we can grasp, with our minds as well as our hearts.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is as full of theology and doctrine as the book of Proverbs is full of practical advice for living and not being a fool. But if we step back, here again we begin to see a picture forming of the persons of the Trinity in their wonderful work. In this passage we see the Trinity at work making connections. And once again, amazingly enough, we are part of the picture! The Son restores our broken connection to the Father, as Paul writes: “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And even more glorious, the love of the Father is being poured into us through the Holy Spirit, which is given to us. When we looked closely at this passage in Romans, we saw the ongoing work of grace in our daily life. But when we step back, we see more. We begin to see the glorious, shining web of love that connects us at every moment to the very heart of the Trinity.

And finally, in the gospel we have the words of Jesus himself, as he promises the gift of his Holy Spirit. Last week we celebrated the fulfillment of that promise, when God’s divine power entered into his people – not for one single dramatic event like Samson bringing the house down on the heads of the Philistines, but coming to remain with us forever. That is a wonderful enough thing to read, but if we step back we see the Trinity at work again, this time in a continual dance of giving. The Son is glorified when the Spirit takes what is his and hands it on to us. All that belongs to the Father is given to the Son. And what the Son receives from the Father he gives to the Spirit, who shares it with us. Around and around, in a circle of giving and receiving that never ends, because the source is infinite: an unlimited wellspring of generous love. This, too, is a picture, a glimpse, of the mystery of the Trinity.

I think maybe people work so hard to explain the doctrine of the Trinity because they are uncomfortable with the idea of mystery. We live in an age when we expect there to be a scientific explanation for everything that is real. But life is full of mystery. There are so many things we can’t explain. No one can give a scientific explanation for love, or courage, or hope, or faith. No one can even explain what it is that makes up an individual human being, let alone the God of the Universe. And yet, these mysteries are the most important things in our lives, and we know them, with our heads and our hearts, even if we aren’t able to explain them. I could never explain you, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know you. In the same way, but so much more so, we can’t explain the Trinity – it is of all mysteries the farthest beyond explanation.

We will never be able to explain God, or prove that he exists. We will never even be able to find adequate metaphors for him. But we can know him, Father, Son, and Spirit, with our heads and our hearts, just the way we know about love and faith and hope, just the way we know each other. We know the mystery of the Trinity as he reveals himself to us: one God in Three persons, living and working in a continuous relationship of joy and delight, creating and restoring connections, and welcoming us into the neverending dance of giving and receiving.

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