This Sunday is a problem for most preachers. It’s a problem because we get into trouble very quickly whenever we try to say something coherent about the Holy Trinity. It gets even trickier if we try to avoid heresy of some kind—usually by trying to say something profound in a simple or straightforward way. Maybe the Orthodox have it right (no pun intended). One might do better to contemplate and celebrate and praise God, rather than try too hard to figure God out. The Orthodox tend to focus more on the Divine Liturgy—the experience of God in the community at worship—than on doctrine. On Trinity Sunday, it would, in some ways, make much more sense for us to let the musical texts of the day—the anthems and hymns– do the real preaching.
Our first hymn dedicates a verse to the Creator, to the Lord of Glory, and to the Holy Spirit who sanctifies. “In the song of thy salvation every tongue and race combine. Come Jehovah, great Jehovah, form our hearts and make them thine.” (Regent Square, 368) There’s the Tchaikovsky “Hymn to the Trinity. ” Before we leave we’ll sing out the familiar “Holy, holy, holy … God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity.” And really, what more could (or should) be said about the Holy Trinity than to echo the simple words of the communion anthem that pray, “Free us, save us, defend us, O blessed Trinity.”
The music communicates the heart of the Holy Trinity, that the doctrine of the Trinity is a way not only of understanding God, but a way of getting into God and God’s getting into us. But the scriptures for today also provide images that suggest some of the ways this happens.
In Proverbs we meet a character hinted at last week on the Day of Pentecost. Wisdom is personified as a woman who goes through the city, who journeys throughout the earth, looking for anyone who will hear. And we learn Wisdom is not just a holy woman, but Wisdom is very closely related to God—before the creation itself, she already was. She was God’s “daily delight.” One version describes her as the architect by God’s side, playing happily in the presence of God.
In Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we’re reminded that God has given us the Holy Spirit as a kind of second wind, a wind to lift us up when we’re down, to urge us forward when we’ve stumbled, and a wind to invigorate our faith whenever it’s grown tired or confused.
Jesus promises that the Spirit will continue to guide us even after Jesus has left this world. Jesus says that what is of God, is also of Jesus, and what is of Jesus, is also of the Spirit. The three are one and God’s intention is that we be absorbed into the life of God, the life of God in the Trinity.
One theologian (George Handry) has put it this way: in Christ we have God with us. In the Spirit we God in us. But while we have both of these, we also and always have God over us.
God the parent is over us, Mother, Father, the author of all life, the one who holds us, cares for us and sets out the plan in which we find our way.
God the Son, Jesus, is God with us, walking before us and beside us as an elder brother, a friend, a companion, a shepherd, a guide, and a support.
God the Spirit is God in us, giving us strength, probing our conscience, showing us where the world most needs God, which is to say, where the world most needs us to show God and be the love of God.
But even all of that can seem abstract.
Frederick Buechner is a writer, preacher, and theologian who wrote a little book some years ago he calls as a “theological ABC.” In it he picks a number of words often used in church, and then he gives them a definition that is usually part poetry/part practicality. In his explanation of the Trinity, he suggests that really, the “doctrine of the Trinity is an assertion that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, there is only one God.”
“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit mean that the mystery beyond us, the mystery among us, and the mystery within us are all the same mystery.
This idea of God being one and three at the same time can be confusing, unless, Buechner suggests, we look in the mirror.
We look in the mirror and there is You. But there is a part of you, as aspect of you, a hidden you that you either choose to reveal or not to reveal. There is this interior life known only to yourself and those you choose to communicate it to. This is a little like God the Father.
When we look in the mirror we see ourselves, but we see several selves, if we look. There that part that can be revealed or not revealed, but there is also the very visible face. To some extent it is our face that even reflects the inner life. If we’re upset, it usually shows on our face. If we’re rested or at peace, it shows. If we’re in love or wanting to show love, it is sometimes transparent. This is a little like God the Son. The face of God, showing a little of what God is like, but not absolutely every aspect.
Finally, we look in the mirror, we see our complicated selves and we notice that with who we are with what we have, there is a kind of invisible power we have that allows us to communicate our interior life to others. But this invisible power allows us to share our interior life in such a way that others do not merely know about it, but know it in the sense of its becoming part of who they are. You know what this is like, when you meet someone or you’re with someone and you realize that you’re changed because of that person. The person has somehow communicated a part of his or her very self which has not become a part of your very self. Buechner suggests that this is like the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit communicated the face and reality of God in such a way that we know God, we receive God, and we even begin to become a little (usually only a very little, in this life) like God.
And there we have it: as clear, or as distorted as looking into a mirror. I look into the mirror and there are three of me, and yet, what I’m looking at in the mirror is clearly and indivisibly the one and only me. [From Buechner, Wishing Thinking: A Theological ABC,” p. 93. Republished as Wishing Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC.]
May God the Holy Trinity bless us this day and forever; and may God help us to recognize the divine in one another and in ourselves.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.