Trinity Sunday, 2017
Imagine we are playing the game “Jeopardy.” The column is “Church Trivia” for $500. The answer is: “Trinity Sunday.” The question is: “What is the only day of the church year named for a doctrine rather than for a person or an event?” Today we focus on the Trinity, the grand mystery of a way in which we talk about God’s nature as three persons yet still one in substance.
We began our worship with the words, “Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” reminding us of the manner in which we were baptized. Everyone here today receiving the laying on of hands and probably most, if not all of us, whether Methodist, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Pentecostal or Episcopalian, were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, marking our call to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, secure in the promise that God is with us to the end of the age.
There is a playful story about St. Augustine who wrestled for years with trying to understand God as three yet one. Walking on a beach on the Mediterranean one day, he noticed a boy digging a hole. Coming up to the boy Augustine asked what he was doing. The boy said he was trying to get the sea into the hole. Augustine said in response that was impossible to which the boy replied, “Well, you’ll never explain the Trinity either.”
So you will be relieved to know that I am not going to attempt to explain the Trinity today, but I do want us to have an experience of the Trinity, so allow me to tell you of an account of the creation written by Rabbi Marc Gellman from his book, Does God Have a Big Toe. The story as he tells it goes this way:
“Before there was anything there was God, a few angels, and a huge swirling gob of rocks and water with no place to go. The angels asked God, ‘Why don’t you clean up this mess?’” Gellman then colorfully retells every stage of the creation process. After each step an impatient angel asks, “Is the world finished now?” and God eloquently replies, “Nope.” Finally God creates a man and a woman and asks them to “finish up the world for me…really, it is almost done.” They object, pleading, “We are too little and only you O God know the plans.” But God reassures them, “If you keep trying to finish the world, I will be your partner.”
Then God describes the partnership this way: “A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I am not doing enough and on the days I think you are not doing enough, even on those days we are still partners and we must not stop trying to finish the world. That’s the deal.”
This time, when the angels asked if the world was finished, God answered, “I don’t know. Go ask my partners.” That’s what all of us were baptized into and what all of us, received or reaffirming, are reminded of again today. We have been drawn into a partnership to finish the world with God and to live on this earth in a manner that reflects that relationship.
When we speak of God as three, we recognize that the very nature of God is partnership, a community. And note that Augustine did say, most helpfully I think, that any time you see love you see the Trinity. This community we call the Trinity is in a perpetual conversation of love so that when we pray, what we are doing is joining a conversation of love that has been and is going on within God throughout all eternity. In this way the creation itself can be understood as a manifestation of the love found within the Trinity as the world is spoken into existence by the Creator. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son, joins history as one who continues the conversation on earth and invites us to join in. The Spirit is the conversation planted deep within every human being longing to gain expression in holiness and always leading us back to the eternal conversation of union with God and one another.
In this way the Trinity not only is the locus of a conversation occurring beyond us, the Trinity becomes a story, even our stories, in the context of our own life. Here’s what I mean. I once received a phone call from an intensive care unit nurse on behalf of an out-of-town family who was looking for an Episcopal priest. The family had been on vacation when the 53-year-old father had a heart attack. He was on life support and I walked onto the unit to find a family in deep anguish as I gazed upon the tears and pain of their eyes. I had been thrust into a time of chaos that at the same time I knew was holy and intimate.
After a time of being drawn into the story of how they got to this place and mostly just listening, the woman asked that I give her husband last rites. Looking at her distraught face and the faces of her three sons, I opened the Book of Common Prayer and prayed, “Depart, O Christian soul out of this world; in the name of God the Father Almighty who created you; in the name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you; in the name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.”
Before arriving at the hospital that family and I had no knowledge of each other. A simple request to a nurse and her kind phone call led to being bound at the deepest level in the Trinitarian God as we stood before the great mystery of death – created, restored and made holy. The Trinity is community. The Trinity is story. The Trinity is a great partnership of love. At the Trinity’s table is a seat reserved for us all. And it is from that table we are sent to all the nations. Partners.