“Working preacher” is a website developed by Luther Seminary, I like visit the site when it’s my turn to preach and see what they have to say about the scripture passages for the week. There is always a column by David Lose called “Dear working preacher.” The column gives encouragement and advice about what to preach on for the texts that are assigned for today. Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity and Dr. Lose’s recommendation is, “do not” preach about the Trinity today. He says that we should preach on hope.
In fact, someone much wiser then me said once, “You shouldn’t talk about the Trinity too long, in any situation, or you will find yourself falling into some kind of heresy.” I think this is probably true. I could find myself emphasizing the oneness over the three-ness, or the three-ness over the oneness, and well Pastor John would be having a talk with me after the service.
The doctrine of the Trinity is hard to talk about because no matter how you dice it, it doesn’t make sense that 1+1+1=1. We affirm the Father is God, Jesus is God, and we the Spirit is God. And yet, we maintain a radical monotheism; that there is only one God. Each is a person, coequal, and co-eternal, and not to be confused with each other.
I’ll never forget the first time I was tested on doctrine of the Trinity. I was in the third or fourth grade. (I know I was meant to be a pastor). My brother, my father, and I were standing outside a mechanic shop. We were picking up a car and the mechanic saw that we were wearing our catholic school uniforms. Being a friend of my father, he decided to quiz us on the doctrine of the Trinity. He said, “You are Catholic right?” We said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “You believe in the Trinity. Right?” We again responded with, “Yes, sir.” “Tell me” he said, “You worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Do you worship one god or three?” My brother and I asked for a moment to discuss it -amongst ourselves. We got together bending in a football huddle, because we learned from T.V. that all matters that are important, should be discussed in a football huddle.” We came with the answer, “Three, we worship three gods.” My father comes back with a swift embarrassed, “no, we only worship one God.” The Mechanic smiled and went back to his business. Turned out he was a former missionary that had left the church and enjoyed making people squirm with trying to questions the mysteries of faith.
What it means that we worship God as Trinity is still something that we, I, try to get my head around, and when questioned about it, it could be very easy to say the wrong thing.
We forget that when talking about the Trinity we can try so hard to get our heads around how God works inside of God’s self. We can try and figure out how each person maintains person-hood while at the same time being intertwined and of the same substance. Pretty soon the charts and graphs that describe this doctrine and misses the central point of why we even talk about the Trinity. It’s like the doctrine has gone from beautifully flowing lava that encompasses everything in its path and has hardened into rock.
We could spend so much time trying to figure out the Trinity that we forget why we even started talking about the Trinity in the first place. It reminds me of this story that I heard recently.
There was once rabbi who would go to the temple every evening to pray with his disciples. By the temple there was a stray cat who would wander in every evening during these prayers and disturb the peace. So, each evening before prayers the teacher would tie the cat to a tree outside before entering. The teacher was old and passed away a few years later. His disciples continued to tie the cat to the tree each evening before prayers. Eventually the cat died and so some of the disciples purchased a new cat so that they could continue the ritual. After a hundred years the tree died and a new one was quickly planted so that the cat (by now the eighth-generation cat) could be tied to it. Over the centuries learned scholars began to write books on the symbolic meaning of the act.
The disciples had forgotten why the cat was tied to the tree in the first place and it got out of hand. Likewise, the Trinity can become this doctrine that we accept and try to define and have all figured out, but we need to go back and ask the question why the doctrine developed.
The Trinity arose out of a need for the disciples of Jesus to describe her experience with God. It’s just that simple. The church had this profound experience with the incarnate Jesus and continues to have the Holy Spirit among us and we somehow claim that they are all God, while maintaining that there is only one God.
And these experiences are deep within scripture.
The doctrine of the Trinity was developed because the early church was wrestling with understanding that Jesus was God. The disciples experienced Jesus is doing things only God can do: control creation, heal people, and forgive sins. The scriptures we hold dear claim bear witness to the God they experienced
Yet, Jesus also talked about God being his Father, and how intimately he is connected to God the Father. Jesus also says things like, “The Father and I are one.” Since we only worship one God, we needed to understand this experience under the lens of monotheism. The Father is God, but so is Jesus.
The Holy Spirit was seen as divine because there are scripture passages where God is described as spirit. Then we have today’s passage of scripture when Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” The Spirit of the Lord comes upon people in different stories. In 1 Corinthians the Spirit has attributes that only God has.
The doctrine of the Trinity explains the experience of the church. It was to help make sense of who Jesus is, how the spirit came like a fire at Pentecost. We see images of the Trinity’s presence during the Baptism of Jesus where the father speaks from heaven and the spirit descends on him like a dove.” The early church needed to experience
Ok, detect any heresies yet? Maybe….
Last week my brother calls Enrique, my wife, and asks her if she knows any good books on the Trinity. She says, “Yes, the Book of Common Prayer.” As many of you know my wife is Episcopalian and that is a very Episcopalian answer. But, she is right. To fully understand the Trinity is not look at doctrines and creeds developed long ago, but, to be in continual fellowship with our Triune God through worship. To understand the Trinity is for the Trinity to be the continuing experience of the Church. And this is done both within worship and outside the church.
There are times where we don’t explicitly claim the Trinity in worship, but Trinitarian elements are always present. We always pray through Jesus. Today we prayed, “by the power of your Holy Spirit, you have made us recipients of your amazing grace.” We believe that the Spirit reveals to us the Truth about Jesus in scripture and we are given the presence of Christ himself in our meal.
See the Trinity should drive us into deeper experiences with worship but also with humanity. By the spirit of God we are empowered to love our neighbors and see Christ in all people that we meet. We see the beauty of God’s creation and await the continual redemption of that creation. We look at places like the devastation in Oklahoma pray, “God because of your love for us you sent your son to redeem all, so send your Spirit to even more to Oklahoma and redeem all creation.” Our Trinitarian understanding shapes the way we view the world and experiences that we have. Our Trinitarian understanding allows us to hear and respond to what God is doing here and now and love others as God has loved us. See if there was a way to describe how God exists within God self I would say that it is love. God loves the world that he sent his son and empowers us to love us by his Spirit.
I am excited about a God how is not in history 2000 years ago but who is present here and now, who empowers her church to live the gospel and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom that will inherit the earth.
So, next time someone asks you to explain the Trinity, tell him or her that the Trinity is the way we experience God. Show them scriptures that echo the divinity of each person. And invite them into that same experience -that same mystery.
 Rollins, Peter (2011-06-30). How (Not) to Speak of God (p. 39). Paraclete Press. Kindle Edition.