Holy Trinity: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16: 12-15
The God we worship and believe in has many names. In the Old – Hebrew – Testament God is commonly called two names: El or Elohim, which we translate as God; and YHWH, which we translate as Lord. Jews substitute Adonai because they believe it is sinful to say the Lord’s name. In Arabic, this name for God is Allah.
Other frequent biblical names for God are God Almighty, Most High God, Everlasting God, Provider, Lord of Hosts, Shepherd, Lord our Righteousness.
Although the early stories in Genesis describe a God who walks and talks intimately with the people – Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham – the most common Jewish understanding of God is of a distant, powerful Creator, Judge, Warrior, and Provider.
Christians refer to God the Creator as Father, but there are only a few descriptions of God as Father in the Old – Hebrew – Testament. These passages describe God as caring and providing for
as a father cares for his children. Israel
There are even fewer descriptions of God as Mother. My favorite is of God as a mother nurturing her child (Isaiah 66:13); but another one that gets my attention is a description of God as a she-bear protecting her cubs (Hosea 13:8).
Most commonly, Christians call God “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” expressing the Triune nature of God: Three-in-One-and-One-in-Three-God. Until Jesus is born as a human, God is not a Father, because there is no human Son. We call God Father because Jesus did.
Jesus scandalized the people of his time by calling God “Abba” – Daddy or Papa; endearing names for God, and not at all proper, in the eyes of the Jewish leaders. For many of us here today, the equivalent might be to call God “Mommy.” It just wasn’t done!
Jesus refers to God as Father, and to himself as Son of Man, or Son of God. He then promises to send the Holy Spirit – the Advocate, the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth – to the disciples. This Spirit will help the first disciples and all future disciples understand what Jesus wants them and us to know.
The Gospel of John makes it clear that Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in him; Jesus and the Father are one. The Gospel tells us that Jesus was present with God and was God from the very beginning. You might remember that first verse: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Many people see a link between Jesus as the Word and Lady Wisdom, who was present with God from the beginning of creation.
Before his death, the disciples had no way of knowing and understanding what Jesus meant, so it was the Spirit that helped them understand. It was God’s Holy Spirit that helped the disciples grow in faith. It was the Holy Spirit who helped the ancient leaders develop the doctrine of the Trinity, and express it in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed.
It is the Holy Spirit that helps us try to understand it today. We must first of all accept that it is mystery. It is beyond human comprehension that God can be three and yet one. We struggle to figure out how God can be God – distant, powerful, creating, judging, providing – and at the same time present on earth with skin on.
In the same way that we carefully study magicians to discover the trick, we want a rational explanation for how this can be. It is only possible because God is Spirit, without body or form. Like energy or light – which demonstrates the presence of energy – it is not possible to confine God to one place or space.
We speak about God having three persons, and we sing every Sunday a hymn of praise to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Even more specifically, our Gathering Hymn today, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty,” speaks of God in three persons, blessed Trinity.
It may be more helpful to use the Greek word persona: God in three personas, blessed Trinity. A persona was the role an actor played on stage. In a small acting troupe, an actor might play different personas by holding up different masks.
Mike and I just saw Robin Hood. Russell Crowe did a wonderful job of portraying Robin Longstride/Robert of Loxley. In the past, Crowe has been Maximus in the Gladiator, John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, and Captain Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander. In each of these roles, I’m sure there is some of his own character, but also the distinct character of each person he portrayed. And, Russell Crowe is also Russell Crowe, the man, a husband, father, Australian, and motorcyclist.
Another way we might understand Three-in-One-and-One-in-Three God is by thinking about our selves. A woman is a female human and a daughter. She may also be a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a wife, an aunt, a friend, an employee, a boss, an athlete, an author, an actor, and so forth. When a woman is shopping in the grocery store, she doesn’t stop being a daughter, but that is not her primary role unless she is shopping for her mother. A woman doesn’t stop being a boss when she leaves the office each day, but it is not her primary role at the moment. I remember moments when I wished I could change my name from “Mommy” to something my children did not know, but that would not have changed the fact that I was still the Mommy to them.
People have tried to express in concrete images what our Three-in-One-and-One-in-Three God looks like. Some of them are printed in the Lectionary Insert after the Gospel reading. Interlinked circles, or parts of circles, or circles and triangles, are some of those images. Another is a sideways 8 – the symbol for infinity. In this image, each persona of the Trinity flows one from the other, without beginning or ending, all three present and active at the same time, constantly in relationship with each other.
Beyond trying to understand the mystery of the Trinity, there is a practical expression of our faith. We may pray to the Triune God, and start our prayers with “Dear God,” or we may pray to one persona more than others. We often single out one person of the Trinity as the one to whom we pray. We may start our prayers with: “Our Heavenly Father” or “Dear Jesus.” At other times, we may ask the Spirit to intercede for us. When we pray to one persons of God, the other personas are not absent in our prayer, nor are they absent from the one to whom we pray; they simply are not the focus at that moment.
Your challenge for this week is not to try to understand the mystery of our Three-in-One-and-One-in-Three God, but to pay attention to how you pray. Even if we begin our prayers with “Dear God,” or “Oh, God,” we often have one persona in mind when we pray. Whom do you call on the most often: Father, Son, or Holy Spirit? Why do you call on that persona? How does it help you to pray that way? What would happen if you prayed to another persona of God? So, this week, notice to whom you are praying and why you pray that way.
Please pray with me: Three-in-One-and-One-in-Three God, we want so much to understand you, and know you better. We want to think we know everything about you, but you remain cloaked in mystery, despite your revelation to us as your Son Jesus, and your presence with us as your Holy Spirit. Guide us, love us, and grant us your grace, your forgiveness. Amen