Summary: No matter how hard we try, understanding the concept of the Trinity is uncomprehendible
I speak to you in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen
One of the first sermons I delivered here at Saint John’s, without realizing when I agreed to preach, was Trinity Sunday in 2011. I have to tell you, of all the Sundays in the year, this is the one that makes even the most seasoned priests quake in their shoes. This is probably the most difficult to preach on because the concept of the Trinity and the concept of ‘three-in-one’ is hard enough to understand for those trained in theology.
There is an inside joke among clergy:
Today is Trinity Sunday. Since Pope John XXII, the western church has set this Sunday aside for reflection on the tremendous mystery of the Trinity. When we sing the words of one of our best known hymns,
Holy, Holy, Holy, we sing, "God in three persons, blessed Trinity."
Praising the Holy Trinity has been going on for almost 1690 years since Emperor Constantine called 317 bishops from all over the Christian world to settle the question of the divinity of Jesus Christ in 325 CE. They settled the question of whether Christ was simply another great prophet and teacher -- even a high ranking angel from God -- or was he the divine Son of God, co-equal and co-eternal with God?
The church fathers had spent hundreds of years trying to reach agreement on the doctrine of the Trinity. And we, as preachers, are supposed to pull something ‘out of the hat’ that explains the Trinity as a matter of fact. I will say, since 2011, I have been studying and researching, bound and determined that I would purposely select this Sunday and give my best try at explaining the Trinity. . .
may I leave you with some understanding and no more confusion than you had before.
I have come to the conclusion, after almost four years of studying, that we CAN NOT fully explain the Trinity… we can only speak of things that we can understand that might suggest the Trinity.
Did you know that Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in the entire Christian Calendar which celebrates a doctrine; and it is an unfinished doctrine, a mystery that is not completed or understood. And many would say that there is reason that only one doctrine is celebrated; because nobody wants to hear a sermon on a doctrine.
But today is Trinity Sunday -- what on earth could I say about the Trinity that was new?! How do I even begin to explain the mystery? So it came to me -- I CAN'T explain the mystery. No one can. No one has the ability to fathom the mystery, so we express it in symbols -- and we look around the church and find Trinitarian symbols.
A doctrine by its nature is an abstraction – never referenced directly in scripture; others still, would state that the Trinity is the most unattainable doctrine of them all.
There are two concrete facts about the Trinity:
• There is no reference in the Bible to “Trinity”
• There is no reference in the Bible to the Triune God.
The Trinity has been explained in many ways from very heavy philosophical ideas to picture metaphors like a three leaf clover. With any of these, it is important to remember that none of them describes God in his very being or essence. That cannot be done. The Trinity is a statement of how God relates, not how God is. When it comes to our relating to God, we can’t pin God down to one thing or one way. When we consider one way to view God there is always another way. But why three, as in the Trinity? Who knows? But we do know that just as we can’t pin God down to one of our simplistic ideas, we also can’t pin God down to three either, or any one of the three.
Throughout the centuries, Christians have striven to express this triune understanding of the oneness of God's in various ways. The underlying belief is that God's very being is reflected in his creation.
• Augustine spoke of the Lover (Father), Beloved (Son), and the Love shared between the two
• John of Damascus was one among many early church fathers who spoke of water that bubbled up from a spring, flowed into a river, and reached its source in the ocean. Water is one, yet spring, river, and ocean are distinctive expressions of it.
• Martin Luther spoke of the root, trunk, and fruit of a tree as the living God traceable in his creation. He spoke of iron in a blacksmith's shop that would glow, burn, and place its stamp on wood.
• The Desert Fathers (the two Gregorys and Basil) compared the members of the Trinity to the source of light (Father), the light itself that illumines (Son), and the warmth when you feel the light (Spirit)