Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Psalm 8 Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-15
The first Sunday after Pentecost is when we celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity. It is the Sunday priests love to assign to their seminarians because attempting to explain the Trinity without being accused of heresy is a real challenge.
In seminary I learned that all the explanations of the Trinity that make sense to me have been dubbed a heresy by the church and, in some cases, priests were actually put to death for how they taught others to understand the Trinity. Fortunately, I live in a day and age when I can get away with saying most anything and the worst that will happen is that someone might call me a fool. It won’t be the first time, as it is a label I’ve earned from time to time in my life.
I read an article yesterday on the Episcopal Café website that suggests viewing God as the Trinity is, in itself, a heresy. So, if I was better at planning, Katherine would be the one preaching this morning.
Our trinitarian belief is one that is central to our faith as Episcopalians, but in typical Episcopal fashion, we do not attempt to explain the Trinity.
In the back of the Prayer Book, in The Outline of the Faith, the answer given for the question, “What is the Trinity?” is simply, “The Trinity is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Then, in the section titled, “The Holy Spirit,” it says that the Holy Spirit, “is the Third Person of the Trinity.” There are sections titled, “God the Father,” and “God the Son,” neither of which mention the Trinity – so only in the section concerning the Creeds is the Trinity defined, and in the section on the Holy Spirit is it mentioned that the Trinity consists of three PERSONS.
Despite the fact that theologians have created landmines all around this topic, people like me seem to feel a need to explain what the Episcopal Church was wise enough not to try explaining. Perhaps that is because we speak of our Trinitarian belief so often and we recite the Nicene Creed or Apostles Creed every Sunday. And perhaps, for me today, it is because someone recently shared an observation with me: some of us address our prayers to God, our Father, while others address them to Jesus. I was then asked, “Why?”
The answer to this question, I believe, is found in the Trinity. We speak of the Trinity as being the three persons of one God, which means there is more than one way to enter into a relationship with God. How God is one and yet three persons, I cannot explain – but I do know my experience of God is different at different times. And, I know there are other names we can use for the Trinity: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier (or Sustainer). Which is to say, we can pray to the one who created us, the one who redeems us, or the one who sanctifies us and sustains us, or all three.
Linda McMallin, the author of the Episcopal Café article, made an excellent point, saying:
The doctrine of the Trinity arose out of [our] need to say what was true and what was not true about Jesus, who he was, what kind of being he was. Good people did the best they could to figure it out . . .”
She then suggests that all the heresies and even the doctrine of the Trinity itself contain only a kernel of truth about the nature of God. She says of the Trinity, “There really are three expressions of God, and at least 3,000 more. The heresy is not in naming them, but in thinking that we can somehow manage the nature of God by naming and organizing it.” Our mistake, therefore, is believing we can explain the nature of God to others, for God and God’s love for us far exceeds our ability to comprehend. It is better experienced than explained.
A piece of our doctrine of the Trinity that is often overlooked, is the relationship, or fellowship, that exists among the three persons of God, regardless of the names we use for them. So, rather than get bogged down by attempting to explain the Trinity, I suggest we need accept this doctrine for what it is – our feeble attempt to explain God. We can then focus on the various ways we can exist within this fellowship. The fellowship of God. Jesus, in John said, “the Spirit of truth [will come and] guide [us] into all truth.”
I believe this truth to be that God is inviting us into the fellowship that exists in the Trinity. Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father want us to be a part of the love that first gave us life, and fills us with love and sustains us in this life. We can and may experience this in part, but we cannot fully appreciate it because of our tendency to be self-centered and selfish.
Still, the relationship God invites us to be a part of is one that is filled with love and acceptance. It is the same relationship God wants us to experience with one another.
On this day, as we celebrate Father’s Day, we can celebrate the love and acceptance we have experienced with our earthly fathers (or father figures). For some of us, our biological fathers are not the ones we celebrate today because they were not present in our lives. We instead celebrate other men who have been the father figures we needed, the ones who have reflected the relationship with others God desires for us to experience. So, regardless of who that is for you today, we give thanks for the men (past or present) who have taught us to care for others by making sacrifices when needed so that we might experience the same love God demonstrates to us through the person of Jesus.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we give thanks today for the fathers who have loved and supported us in our lives. Help us to turn our attention away from ourselves and toward you that we might live in fellowship with you: our creator, our redeemer, and our sustainer. Amen.