Tuesday, June 1, 2010

God in Three Persons, Confusing Trinity

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

My husband and I keep stacks of snapshots around the house- some of Ivan and some of our son. Sometimes we flip through these stacks of Ivan at 3 months old, a roly-poly puppy and our son at 4, 5, 6 months old- a roly-poly baby. So cute, we say, look at that smile. I forgot this one, we coo, and point to the toy in the mouth, the ear flap, the food smeared from ear to ear. I suppose that I need to mention that we do this when they’re both awake, sometimes when they’re playing right in front of us.
We just flip through the snapshots. We love both of them, but the snapshots don’t make any noise. They don’t smell. They don’t spit up on us or leave hair everywhere. The snapshots are quiet and very well-behaved. Looking at the pictures is relaxing, but it’s not really a relationship. Of course, we’d trade all the pictures in the minutes for the two critters in them. But sometimes it’s nice to have that frozen moment in time to cherish, before we’re pulled back into the messy, noisy reality that we have with a dog and a baby.
On Holy Trinity Sunday, we’re confronted with the truth that it’s easier to deal snapshots of God, the Three in One, than it is to deal with the reality of a Trinity- God in three persons. One at a time, we look at God the loving creator, who send the Son. We have a picture of Jesus in our heads, maybe sitting with children or talking to the disciples, on the cross or after the resurrection, walking with friends to Emmaus. Then we think of the Holy Spirit- somewhat ineffable, a wind or breath, flowing to us and through us.
Snapshots of God give us comfort because they are static and we can get a handle on what’s in the picture. It looks just like this… whatever this is… in our minds. And what’s in my mind, the picture I have, might be different than what you have. So then we get into interpretation and the next thing you know we’re into art criticism instead of talking about God or worshipping God or even… serving God.
In my experience, the idea of the Trinity, that somehow our one God has three distinct persons (that’s persons, not personalities, not essences, but persons), that idea causes more heartburn for people who are struggling with the idea of faith and how to believe. They aren’t helped by people who say it’s just a mystery, which it is, or that you just have to believe it, which you do to the best of your ability with God’s help.
The reality is that we aren’t ever going to figure out the Trinity. It is a mystery. But it’s not just us who don’t get it. Did you pay attention to what Jesus said to the disciples at the beginning of today’s gospel reading? He says, “I still have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” He still has things he longs to reveal to them and to explain, but they are overwhelmed. Their ability to comprehend what he is telling them is full to capacity. So Jesus promises to send the Spirit to them, to help the disciples increase their understanding.
But the sending of the Spirit isn’t a guarantee to understanding, particularly understanding in this life. If it were, we wouldn’t need the powerful words of Paul in the letter to the Romans, “that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Hope does not disappoint us. That sounds great, doesn’t it? But consider this… we hope for things that are not certain. We hope in things we don’t totally understand. Hope, like faith, is the breath of life, but it is not fact. We hope for the sunrise tomorrow, the resolution of struggle in the world, for the life of the world to come.
And hope drives us beyond ourselves, when we realize that we cannot fix things on our own. We are pushed from our own need to find God waiting for us, to find that God has been waiting with us, to find that God has been hoping for us- all along.
And the reality of this dynamic God is overwhelming. We are given the Spirit, so that we might believe in the work of the Son, Jesus Christ. Christ’s work, a work of sacrifice, healing, love and forgiveness, reveals the Father to us.
Our hope and faith in the Trinity matters because it draws us beyond ourselves and beyond our world where almost everything is binary, with two choices, male or female, slave or free, rich or poor, red state or blue state, Jew or Greek, pro-life or pro-choice, regular or decaf. The relationship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to one another calls us to that same relationship with all the people around us, to a place of support, love and care, to a place of forgiveness, learning and reconciliation.
The love that the members of the Trinity have for one another poured out into creation and then is an example for us. We aren’t called to understand how the Trinity works as Three persons and One God. We aren’t called to understand why. But we are called to believe that God’s power and majesty and love cannot be limited to expressions that we fully understand. The One in Three God is not limited to our ability to explain or understand.
Nor is the work of God limited to our ability to respond. Out of God’s love for all of creation, God works as the Father, the Son and the Spirit to redeem all that is known and unknown and bring it to its fullest possible being.
And so we are called to this same work- to be co-creators, co-heirs, co-inviters with the Trinity in the work of the kingdom. But that kind of relationship, that working alongside, means setting down the snapshots we have, the freeze frames we’ve collected, pictures that reflect our certain knowledge of how God works in the world. We are called to release our certainty and to move forward in the hope we have been given.
With hope, we work with one another and all those people around us. With hope, we trust that the Spirit will grant us understanding sufficient for the living of each day. With hope, we believe the message of the empty tomb is for the salvation of the world.
A God who is Three in One is a little bit beyond our comprehension. But a God who loves us as children, who motivates and forgives us, who knows our innermost thoughts- that’s a little easier to grasp. And that’s what we hold onto as we step into the messiness and noisiness of a relationship with God and with one another. In our living, in our dying, we belong to God- the One in Three and Three in One, whether or not we totally understand how that works. We belong to God.
We hope.
And hope does not disappoint us.


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