Big idea: The Trinity reveals God to us as a God of love.
Readings: Isaiah 40:12-17, 27-31
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Sources: N T Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays Year A
What is God like?
Our answer will depend upon how God has been represented to us. All too often of late, has been heard the rallying cry of the Islamic extremist: “Allahu Akbar”, “God is great”, as they detonate a bomb, fire a gun, plunge a knife into innocent flesh or mow down unsuspecting pedestrians with a vehicle. God is portrayed as a vengeful figure, full of hate, with exacting standards. Of course this ideology and image of God is not shared by countless other Muslims, who claim that God is all-loving.
In the Christian faith, the very definition of God is “love”; God’s very essence is love. Since love is expressed through relationship, how does that work with God? God is in relationship within Godself. The Christian understanding is that God is a Trinity. The word “trinity” literally means “tri-unity” or “three in one”. God is Father, Son & Holy Spirit - 3 persons in 1. Each of the 3 persons of the Trinity is in relationship with the other 2. They are three persons who share the same divine nature. They exist at the same time caught up in a relationship of self-giving love. The persons of the trinity each give and receive from the others. They do not act independently from each other nor is one more dependent on the others – they are interdependent.
This all requires some mental gymnastics on our part! I wonder if you have read “The Shack”, which is now being released as a film. It tries to make the concept of the Trinity a bit more accessible to our human imaginations. The main character, Mac, is given an illuminating experience of God as Trinity – represented in a form that he could respond to. God the Father is represented as a large African American woman known as “Papa” or “Abba”, who bustles about preparing wonderful home cooked meals. God the Son, or Jesus as we best know him, is Middle Eastern in appearance and dressed like a labourer in shirt and jeans. The Holy Spirit is a bit more enigmatic, a graceful Asian woman called Sarayu who is hard to pin down.
Mac is impressed by the loving way in which they each relate to one another. I’ll share a little of a dialogue he has with Jesus:
Jesus: “Genuine relationships are marked by submission… That’s the beauty of my relationship with Abba and Sarayu. We are indeed submitted to one another and have always been so and always will be… Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact we are submitted to you in the same way.”
Mac: “And that’s how you want us to love each other, I suppose? I mean between husbands and wives, parents and children, I guess in any relationship?”
The persons of the Trinity relate to one another in mutual self giving and serve as an ideal model for human relationships – what a contrast that is to the conquering God of ISIS. The Christian God is not revealed by power and might but through submission and loving service.
You won’t find the word “Trinity” anywhere in the bible but the concept is there. In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, the Trinitarian blessing is not bolted on as an afterthought. It arises from the inner logic of the whole letter. “The God of love and peace will be with you”, that is by the God-with-us person, Jesus, and by the God-with-us-Spirit. Hence, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.” has become our familiar formula of “The Grace”.
The great commission we heard from Matthew’s gospel is implicitly Trinitarian. Tom Wright explains that the doctrine of the Trinity safeguards the reality of Jesus humanness, then and now, as the true and final revelation of the one true God. “It simultaneously unties him with, and distinguishes him from, the unseen source of all, on the one hand, and the breath of life that sustains us now, on the other.” The main point is mission: the God revealed in Jesus is the missionary God, sending his healing love into the world in Jesus, and now, under Jesus’ authority, sending Jesus’ followers out with that same healing love, of which baptism is the sign and seal.
[We get our baptism formula from this passage: the water is poured over those to be baptised three times, in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son and in the name of the Holy Spirit. The baptism service is thoroughly Trinitarian. The affirmation of faith which we will come to a bit later on, emphasises the respective roles of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: as creator, redeemer and enabler. Baptism is the beginning of the Christian journey in which we become followers of Christ, who reveals the Father to us, and we are guided along the way by the Holy Spirit.]
The beginnings of Trinitarian thinking in the New Testament are designed to help us in time of need, unite us together in love and send us out on our mission. The Trinity is an open circle of love, open to the world. The love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit pours out into the world and for the world and as an example to us. What better model for the church and the world? We long that those who promote a religion of hate would turn to the God of love.
A prayer to close…
Mysterious, threefold God
Visit our hearts
And find there a welcome
As maker, mender and builder.
Come, our source, saviour and comforter
Take us up into the movement of love
Which flows in your timeless unity
Threefold God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Rev Lisa Cornwell