Wednesday, June 3, 2015

responding to God

St. Thomas' Church, Whitemarsh
Trinity Sunday, Year B, 2015

I speak to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

We find ourselves once again faced with that enigma of all enigmas: the Trinity. Many brilliant theologians and scholars have grappled with the concept of a God that is three-in-one and one-in-three. And over the years many members of the clergy have groaned as they attempted to write a sermon that addressed the concept of the Trinity (which they themselves don’t fully understand) in a way accessible to people with little to no theological training--without preaching heresy. It is an extremely delicate dance, and this is why on this day, you are more than likely going to see a guest preacher, seminarian, or assistant in the pulpit. 

While the word “Trinity” does not actually appear in the Bible, there are many examples of a trinitarian understanding of God. The most obvious illustration is when Jesus is being baptized by John and the sky opens to reveal the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove, while the Father’s voice is heard naming Jesus as God’s beloved son, “with whom [God is] well pleased” (Matt 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22). In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to baptize people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, what we today call the Trinitarian formula (Matt 28:19). The apostle Paul ends at least one of his letters by saying, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, [be] with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14). The concept of the Trinity has been a part of Christian theology since Christianity began. 

To appeal to those of us who are less theologically inclined, people have attempted to explain the Trinity in images and metaphors. Some familiar ones (some of which I preached before I went to seminary) include the Trinity as an apple, composed of peel, fruit, and seeds, or as ice, water, and steam. The Trinity as Neapolitan ice cream or a s’more. The Trinity as how one person can simultaneously be someone’s co-worker, someone’s wife, and someone’s godmother. All of these examples are fun, easy to understand, and explain some of the truth of the Trinity. Yet all of them are also heretical: God does not have 3 modes or masks to switch between; God is 3 distinct persons. But God is also not 3 different gods.

For most of the last 2000 plus years, we have referred to the Trinity as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The 2008 bestseller The Shack, while flawed in many aspects, paints a different picture of the Trinity. In the book, the person of Jesus sheds the western image of a man with blond hair and blue eyes for a Middle-Eastern man dressed in plaid with a tool belt around his  waist. The Holy Spirit is an etherial Asian woman named Sarayu, the Hindi word for wind. And the Father takes the form of an African-American woman, affectionately referred to as Papa.
Though interesting, The Shack model of the Trinity, like the examples I mentioned before, also has shortcomings. It seems we simply are unable to quite grasp the notion of three-in-one and one-in-three. This can be extremely frustrating, but to me it also brings some relief; if we could solve the riddle and fully understand this enigmatic God that we worship, I’m afraid we might lose some of the sense of awe that comes with the mystery. Our brains aren’t large or complex enough to comprehend God; we can’t fit God in our pocket.

At various times in our lives we might relate to one person of the Trinity more than the others. If we had a difficult home life growing up, viewing God as a parent figure might be less comforting than experiencing God in Jesus of Nazareth, who considered all Christians his brothers and sisters (Matt 12:48-49; Mark 3:31-35). If we are battling an illness, we might pray to God the Father, Creator of the universe, who “knit [us] together in [our] mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13) and who promises to “make all things new” (Rev 21:5). If we are faced with a difficult decision, we might pray to the Holy Spirit: the Advocate, Comforter, Helper, and Adviser. 

The persons of the Trinity exist equally, simultaneously unique and yet not separate/individual. The best way I can describe the Trinity is God as the essence of relationship. God is in relationship with God’s Self, which helps us to understand how we are to be in right relationship with each other. And God, emblematic of the perfect relationship, wants to be in relationship with us, God’s creation. The Triune God is not just a passive genie that we pray to when we need or want something. We are in relationship with God, and God asks things of us, too. How should we respond?

In the Old Testament the most common response to God is “here I am,” appearing over twenty times in Scripture. Abraham, Esau, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, and others all answer the Lord in this way (Genesis 22:1-14; Genesis 27; Genesis 37:12; Exodus 3:1-12; 1 Samuel 3:1-10; 2 Samuel 7--NIV; Isaiah 6:8). Now the phrase “here I am” doesn’t just mean, “I am right here.” It means “I am here, present to you in this very moment in time, open to seeing where you are calling me to go.” It doesn’t mean the people who answer are chosen because they are worthy of their own accord; after all, Jacob tricks his brother Esau out of his birthright, Moses murders a guard, and David has a man killed so he can marry the man’s wife. But regardless of their past, God chooses them to carry out God’s plan. And, like Isaiah in today’s reading, despite fearing not being good enough, Isaiah responds to God’s call with “Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

God is calling us, too, and God chooses each one of us for different reasons. We have been given gifts which we are to share with the world. Every single day there are opportunities for us to show up and be present and receptive to God’s call. In our baptismal covenant we vow before God and each other that we will study Scripture, break bread, and pray together (BCP 304). We vow to do our best when faced with sin and evil, and when we mess up to repent and return to God (BCP 304). We vow to share our faith with others in word and deed, to serve Christ by loving our neighbors, and to work for justice, peace, and respect for all people (BCP 305). 

We take these vows seriously. Answering God’s call is not easy; God asks a lot of us. That’s why we repeat these vows every time there is a baptism, Confirmation, Reaffirmation, or Reception. Every time we say them together, we are reminded of what we need to continue to work on. We say them together so that we can hold each other accountable, help each other out when we are falling short, and celebrate when we are able to take up our cross and follow God (Matt 16:24).  

As Christians, and as part of the St. Thomas’ community, we are here for one another. And we are not alone in answering God’s call. Last week we remembered the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter and Advocate, at Pentecost. The God who created the universe, who took on flesh, died, and rose again, and who breathed life into each one of us, will never abandon us. We are God’s beloved children, adopted by God (Romans 8:14-15). In the waters of baptism we are “born of water and Spirit,” becoming members of Christ’s body and heirs to the kingdom of God (John 3:5; BCP 858). 

We press on, knowing that we are following in the footsteps of a mysterious, complex, Trinitarian God who loves us completely and unconditionally. God is calling us. May we, like those who have gone on before us, have the courage to respond, “Here I am; send me.”

Image of the Trinity found here.

**For a great explanation of what the Trinity is and isn't, read this article.**


  1. Good job! You should have posted this Saturday the 30th!