This is a sermon for Trinity Sunday.
A bishop was at a parish for a confirmation, and decided that he would quiz the teenagers he was supposed to be confirming. So he asked them, “Who can tell me what the Trinity is?”
They all looked at their shoes, in that way that teenagers do. So he called on one young man, who mumbled a reply, in that way that teenagers do. The bishop said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that.”
The boy sighed, in that way that teenagers do, and replied, only slightly louder, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The bishop, wanting the boy to speak up so everyone can hear him, said, “I’m sorry, I still didn’t understand.”
And the boy, rolling his eyes, in that way that teenagers do, said loudly and clearly, “You’re not supposed to understand it. It’s a mystery.”
I know it’s not just teenagers in the church who kind of go along with a Trinitarian framework, without being able to articulate why that should matter.
There’s a temptation, I think, when confronted with the idea of the Trinity – especially if, like me, you don’t find it an easy thing to get your head around – a temptation to decide that what we think about the Trinity doesn’t really matter. But it does, and I want to focus on just one aspect of that this morning.
If you think of God as being not a Trinity, but One person, there is one thing that that God does not have which the Trinity does; and that is relationship as part of God’s very nature and eternal reality. A God which is not a Trinity must create others – the physical world, angels, human beings – with whom to experience that relationship, and those relationships are always profoundly unequal; the worshippers and the worshipped.
In contrast, if we believe in a God who is a Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all uncreated, each eternal – we believe in a God who is intrinsically and eternally in God’s very nature a relational God. In the relationships within the Trinity – says the Creed of Athanasius – “none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another.” But these three are united in purpose and perfectly cooperative in action, each contributing their part in submission to their shared dream for creation.
And here’s the important bit about that, for us in our everyday lives. If this is how God relates within Godself, then this is the model for ideal human relationships. Within the home, within society, and within the church, we are given a model for relating to one another in which position and hierarchy are suspect; in which power is relativized, and in which the importance of shared vision, shared purpose, and mutuality in taking up the work involved are set forth as the highest possible example, and we are shown our opportunity to reflect and even participate in the divine glory.
What I’m suggesting is that “the Trinity” shouldn’t just be an idea, or a set of ideas, for us; but should be a template, should give our attitudes an orientation, which will be practically expressed in the way we behave.
And this Trinitarian orientation of our attitudes, this way of relating to one another, is important because people are important. The Trinity – like the home, like society, like the church – is comprised of persons in relationship. True healthy, Godly relationship will build one another up, creating unity which celebrates our diversity, never impoverishing us all by marginalising or reducing to silence or stillness people who are an integral part of who we are.
Here we have a stark judgement of our continuous failings; because in the light of the Trinity, we have no excuse for any domination of one human being by another, or of one group of human beings by another. No excuse for war; no excuse for economic exploitation; no excuse for leadership structures which silence the voices of the powerless; no excuse for patriarchy; no excuse for racism; and so on.
In particular, an understanding of the Trinity as a perfect relationship of equals undermines the patriarchal view of marriage put out by some Christians, who say that in the Trinity, the Son is eternally submitting to the Father. But when we know that Jesus’ submission was not eternal, but part of the cooperation of all the persons of the Trinity to achieve their will for creation, then we cannot use belief in the Trinity to argue that it’s God’s will that wives be doormats, but have to acknowledge that the ideal set before us is one of unity, cooperation and mutuality.
I’m not saying that there will never be leadership and authority exercised by some in the home or anywhere else (I’m a parent, after all!); but it’s about how that is exercised, with reciprocity, consensus and concord, in a spirit of humility and service.
This understanding of God also calls into judgement our individualism and our consumerism; our belief that fundamentally, we stand alone in this life, and our tendency to relate to one another for what we can get out of it, rather than who we can be to, for and with one another. How we relate to one another shows clearly how deeply we have been shaped by the worship of a God of perfect relationship. This vision of God as Trinity challenges directly each of us who, consciously or unconsciously, perpetuates division within ourselves, and between ourselves and others. We all have our share in the making and the perpetuating of these wounds. There is a need for the healing of these rifts; a healing which for us, lies in our Lord and God whose inner life of loving relationship overflows into and renews the life of the church.
All of us are here today because something about God has been attractive to us. The deeply creative, loving, overflowing life of God comes to live within us; to show itself within us, and to work through us to take hold of others around us. Our life as a community should mirror something of the inner life of God; a life in which hierarchy and ego is not at issue; a life in which each is willing to be involved in work that is costly; a life which is not closed off and turned inward, but looking outward in overflowing abundant generosity, love and joy. God’s love has been poured into our hearts, and we can hardly remain unchanged after that experience.