May 30, 2021, God’s Image Is Family, Trinity Sunday – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell

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Today is Trinity Sunday, the Holy Feast Day following the Feast of Pentecost, where every year clergy tie themselves in knots seeking new ways to help people understand the doctrine of the Trinity, and every year people sit patiently in their pews knowing, when all is said and done, that they still won’t understand the doctrine of the Trinity. We know the ancient analogy St. Patrick gave for the Trinity: the shamrock, which is one plant, but with three leaflets. And I’ve heard so many other analogies that creative preachers have thought of: a human being, who is body, mind and soul; and more playfully, cherry pie, that is crust, cherries and that sweet goo that holds it all together. Perhaps the most modern and intriguing analogy I’ve heard for the Trinity is an atom, which consists of protons, neutrons and electrons, three kinds of particles held together by an electro-magnetic field like the love that continually exists among the persons of the Trinity, binding the Three together in one perfect Unity.

That’s a pretty good one. But truthfully, no analogy really brings us even close to understanding the Holy Trinity, because the Holy Trinity is God himself, and there is no created thing that can really be compared with God. The fact is that the concept of the Trinity is a purely human attempt to describe what we see when God makes himself known to us. The word Trinity isn’t in the Bible, and the whole concept didn’t even begin to be formed until the fourth century, more than three hundred years after the Church was born. It all came about because a man name Arius, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, started teaching that Jesus wasn’t really God, but was a man, created by God. Arius reasoned that God is one, therefore only the Father can be the true God. Furthermore, God is immutable; he can’t change. So how could Jesus, a man who was born, who grew up, and who suffered human death – how could he be God? But most of the Christians of that time, who worshiped both the Father and Jesus, knew that the conclusions of Arius were absolutely wrong. They knew that God was one God. They knew that Jesus was fully God, and worthy of worship. So this question, the Arian controversy as it’s called, was a catalyst for a whole, long, passionate, study of who God is, and who Jesus is, and how we can understand all that. And the fruit of the controversy was this mysterious and incomprehensible doctrine we call the Trinity. It was the very best description those human beings of God’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church could put into words, in order to remain faithful to what God had revealed himself to be.

And the way they came to formulate this concept we call the Holy Trinity was through the stories God told us about himself, the stories recorded by his people down through the ages, because it is those stories that tell us who and what God is.

The very first story that reveals the Trinity is right at the beginning of the Bible, Genesis chapter one, verse one. In the beginning, so it goes, there’s nothing; there is nothing at all but God. In the nothingness at the beginning of creation, the Spirit of God hovers over the face of the waters. Then God speaks. And the Word of his power brings into existence everything that exists. In the beginning, there is God the Father, who calls all Creation into being. There is God the Son, the Word, who brings it all to birth. And there is God the Spirit, who even before the beginning is the gracious presence of God watching over all. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, right at the beginning of the beginning.

The love of the Father for the Son. The love of the Son for the Father. And the love of the Father and the Son spread abroad by the Holy Spirit.

When we read the story of how God created mankind, we see God holding a conversation with himself. “Let us make mankind in Our image,” God – the one, holy God – says to himself. He makes mankind to look like him, but it’s not all one identical mold and design, it’s complementary designs, creatures formed to exist in community, not in isolation – creatures designed to need one another. God creates beings like himself, creatures who are made for living in marriages and friendships and communities. God says of his creatures, “It’s not good for these creatures of mine to be alone.” He scoops some mud from the riverside and he shapes mankind from the stuff of his brand-new earth, and he breathes life into them. We see God the Creator, in whose image we are formed. We see the Holy Spirit, whose name in Hebrew, ruach, means ‘breath’, who is the breath of life in our newborn lungs. And we see God the Son working alongside his Father in mutual love and collaboration. Proverbs chapter 8 says, “I was beside him like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of men.

The love of the Father for the Son. The love of the Son for the Father. And the love of the Father and the Son spread abroad by the Holy Spirit.

I think probably the clearest story in the whole Bible, when it comes to showing us God in his whole Trinitarian being, is the story of Jesus’s baptism. Jesus, who’s about thirty years old at the time, goes out to the wilderness along the Jordan River where John, his cousin, is preaching and baptizing people. Jesus hadn’t begun his ministry yet, but John already has a pretty clear sense that Jesus is somebody special. He even tries to talk Jesus out of being baptized. “You’re the one who should be baptizing me,” John says to him, but Jesus insists, so John goes along with him. But even John couldn’t possibly have known what was about to happen. Because when Jesus comes up out of the water, God shows up like he had never shown up before. Jesus, the Son of God, stands there in the sight of everyone. The heavens are torn open and everybody hears the voice of God the Father speaking aloud, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And the Spirit of God comes down from the heavens in a visible form that looks like a dove. That is the remarkable story of how God the Holy Trinity attended the baptism of Jesus in the full sight of pretty much everybody.

The love of the Father for the Son. The love of the Son for the Father. And the love of the Father and the Son spread abroad by the Holy Spirit.

The story of Jesus’s baptism is almost certainly the clearest story about what it looks like for God to be the Holy Trinity. But to me, the story that is the most wonderful – by which I mean the most ‘full of wonder’ – is the story we have memorialized in our beautiful rose window, the story we call the Annunciation. We see the angel Gabriel, sent from God to a young, working-class woman. I imagine Mary kneading bread dough in the kitchen, or on her knees in the garden, or mending a hole in her father’s shirt. Whatever she’s doing, Gabriel’s message is so startling and puzzling that she’s suddenly perfectly still. “How can this be? How could I bear a child?” she asks him. “I’ve never even been with a man.” And this is Gabriel’s very Trinitarian reply: “The Holy Spirit is going to come upon you, and the power of the Most High God is going to overshadow you. And the child to be born will be called holy– the Son of God.” The Father comes in power and the Holy Spirit hovers over Mary as he had hovered over the waters at the creation of all things. And the Son – the Son is present in the miraculously insignificant form of a human cell – a quickened embryo in the womb of Mary. The very, very Trinitarian mystery of the Incarnation is that within the loving fellowship of the Father and the Spirit, the Son, who is also the infinite, eternal God, sheltered and grew in the tabernacle of Mary’s body, sharing the flesh and blood of this young woman who said Yes to God.

The love of the Father for the Son. The love of the Son for the Father. And the love of the Father and the Son spread abroad by the Holy Spirit.

God has given us stories to tell us who and what he is. Because how else could we possible understand someone as infinite and perfect as God? The stories of the Bible reveal a God who is one in eternal being, one in absolute sovereignty, one in perfect truth. But the stories also reveal a God of community, a God who acts and speaks with mutual purpose and interdependence. From the first verse of the Bible to the very end, we see the one and only God, who is the Father and the Son and the Spirit, who is unique and indivisible, but who joyfully exists in a never-ending relationship of love. The fathers of our faith handed this mysterious concept of the Holy Trinity down to us, because it was the very best that human beings could do in expressing an incomprehensible truth, and equally important, it was the best they could do to safeguard against a heresy that was threatening to lead people away from the truth that God had revealed about himself.

Because the bottom line of all of this is not for us to be able to understand God, or to explain him, like some kind of mathematical equation. I would imagine very few, if any, people have ever been converted to the faith through a detailed exposition of the doctrine of the Trinity. But that isn’t the purpose at all. The purpose of the doctrine of the Trinity is not so we can grasp a concept. The purpose of the doctrine of the Trinity is to help us know a person – to know the Father who formed us, to know the Spirit who breathes life into us, to know the Son who gave his life for us – to know the one and only God who loves us absolutely and without condition.

The love of the Father for the Son. The love of the Son for the Father. And the love of the Father and the Son spread abroad to us by the Holy Spirit.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

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