Trinity and Unity
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
2 Corinthinians 13:13 NRSV
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
It’s Trinity Sunday in the lectionary. It is celebrated in Roman Catholic and Protestant churches on the first Sunday after Pentecost.
It certainly is an interesting doctrine and has an interesting history, much of which if I were to relate to you would sound like a pretty boring university lecture that you would have trouble understanding, especially if you didn’t know Greek.
Because they bandied terms around like homoousion, homoiousios, homoeanism, heteroousianism which very roughly translated might go something like
The son was the same as the Father in substance and essence
The son was similar to the father in substance but not essence
The son was like the father but without reference to substance and essence.
The son was different than the Father in substance and essence.
And if that is helpful to you well and good, but if it kind of leaves you a little confused that is understandable.
The term “Trinity” is not in the bible and wasn’t used until one hundred fifty years after Jesus died. There is no explanation of the Trinity in the bible. We assume it for instance from phrases like Paul wrote in 2 Corinthinians chaper 13, vs 13 or vs 14 depending on your translation.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
The doctrine of the Trinity as we have come to know it in its final form came around the year 350 years after Jesus died.
The Athanasius creed written by who else, Athanasius, has become the standard doctrine for most of western Christianity which holds the Father and Son and Spirit to be distinct yet also coequal, coeternal, and consubstantial divine persons.
We have one God in three persons.
Interestingly enough, the Eastern Church, what we know as Orthodox churches, does not hold to the same creed.
They believe the Trinity to be a holy mystery, which is beyond human understanding.
To quote one of the desert Fathers: “God cannot be grasped by the mind. If he could be grasped he would not be God.”
But even in the Western church many have said that the Trinity is hard to understand. The great scholar Augustine said that the Trinity was beyond his understanding and many scholars and preachers today will often say that they don’t really understand how it works.
Most of us here probably never think about the doctrine of the trinity too much and probably just agree with in principle, but don’t really understand it and would have trouble explaining it.
I think along with many others, that we need to think about it less from a purely intellectual understanding as if we could really wrap our minds around the phrase: coequal, coeternal, and consubstantial divine persons…
And instead we need to come at it from a functional point of view, or a feeling point of view.
How does the Trinity function?
How does the Trinity make me feel?
And what I and many others feel is that the Trinity is about relationship.
The Trinity functions as a relationship of mutual, equal and totally loving persons who are so united as to be called one.
No! they are not just called one, they are so united as to be one.
God is about relationship, about building relationship, about forgiveness and reconciliation, about mutuality and equality.
God is a family that is equal and loving and mutual and has no darkness.
Can you even imagine living in a relationship with a bunch of people that is totally loving, totally understanding, totally equal, totally mutual, total listening, total compassion, unlimited forgiveness, unconditional love?
Does that describe your family, your church, your community, your country, this world?
One reason God is transcendent, and that means different and other, and in some way higher and more and better…
…is this idea of the Godhead in perfect harmony, absolute love, and in absolute equality…
Which is so opposite to what we understand the world to be.
Which is so opposite to what the church is….
A man was rescued off a deserted island in the Pacific after years of being alone.
As the rescuers were rowing him out to the big ship, one of the rescuers noticed that there were three huts on the island.
What are the three huts?
The man replied. Well the first hut is my home. The second hut is my church.
And the third hut? The rescuer asked.
Oh that’s the church I used to attend before I got into a disagreement.
It’s funny because there is a terrible ring of truth to it. We do not get along.
And the sad thing about the doctrine of the Trinity is that once it was established around 381 it became the standard not for unity but for exclusion. The first Christian to be executed by other Christians was a man by the name of Priscillian of Avila in 385 CE.
In the next 250 years the church put to death roughly 25,000 people for heresy.
What a contrast between the loving unity of the Trinity.
That old saying two is company and three is a crowd also has a ring of truth to it, because when humans get together there is inevitably conflict.
The French Philosopher Rene Girard postulated something called Mimetic Theory. That is the idea that as we grow up, we learn to desire, by watching what others desire.
So the norm is that people desire the same things. And what does desire do. It bring us into conflict.
When two people or two groups desire the same thing and there is only one of that thing.
Let me give you an example
Picture two young children playing happily on their porch, a pile of toys beside them. The older child pulls a G.I. Joe from the pile and immediately, his younger brother cries out, “No, my toy!”, pushes him out of the way, and grabs it. The older child, who was not very interested in the toy when he picked it up, now conceives a passionate need for it and attempts to wrest it back. Soon a full fight ensues, with the toy forgotten and the two boys busy pummeling each other.
As the fight intensifies, the overweight child next door wanders into their yard and comes up to them, looking for someone to play with. At that point, one of the two rivals looks up and says, “Oh, there’s old fat butt!” “Yeah,” says his brother. “Big fat butt!” The two, having forgotten the toy, now forget their fight and chase after the child to torment him and the boy runs back home. Harmony has been restored between the two brothers, though boy next door is now indoors crying.
Two boys come into conflict because they desire the same thing.
But notice how the two boys resolve their conflict. They scapegoat someone else.
Rene Girard says that this is the mechanism that families, groups, religions and cultures have used since the beginning of time.
We desire what others want, we get into conflict and there is violence and we usually resolve the violence by blame or scapegoating, often inflicting the violence on the other who is obviously bad and deserves it.
And Religion has played a large part in being the force to help culture and societies stay together by naming the bad ones.
Girard might actually change that two’s company saying to:
Two is conflict, the third is the scapegoat.
And Girard says that Jesus didn’t come to start another religion, but to show us a new way to be.
Instead of blame and judgement, condemnation, punishment and violence on the bad guys.
There is another way. It is the way of the Trinity. It is a way of love, forgiveness, reconciliation, equality, and mutuality…
In family therapy there is a lot of talk about Triangling and Triangulation.
This normally happens when two people are in conflict and one of the people in order to relieve stress and tension goes to another person, an outside person, or a friend for support and advice.
This is normal human behaviour.
The problem is that normally the third party to the triangulation doesn’t make it better.
Often that third party sides with the person who came to them, and instead of counselling a helpful course of action that resolves the issue, might encourage the person that they are right, and stick to their guns and the other person is a jerk.
Leaders are often triangulated, when there are two sides to an issue and one side wants the leader to support one side against another.
Sometimes I have had a family member come to my office to talk about another family member with whom they are having a difficulty. Sometimes I am asked to meet with the other family member and I will say no, unless that other wants to meet with me.
Because when someone is triangulated and it seems that two people are ganging up on them or trying to get the to change, the person will resist the change sometime vehemently.
A good counsellor would encourage the one who comes to deal with the other and give them strength and advice how to proceed that would resolve the difficulty, not win.
Because we humans love to use conflict to make ourselves feel right and justified and we are the good guys.
How different from the Trinity which is equal and loving and cooperates and is not in conflict.
The Trinity is about relationship. And what we read in the scripture I think is that God wants to be in relationship with us so badly that he created us. God wants to be in relationship with us so badly that God sent the Son to save us.
In our John scripture Nicodemus, a Pharisee comes to Jesus.
Jesus talks about being born again. It is a powerful metaphor of death and resurrection. It is a metaphor of transformation.
This metaphor of spiritual rebirth is maybe the central message of Jesus. Jesus wants us to die to an old way of life and be born again to a new way of life.
What I think we could call today the Trinitarian way of life.
Mutuality, unconditional love, equality, care, compassion.
And how do we get that?
While Jesus says that we must be born again, it isn’t us who can make that happen.
We don’t control God, or the Holy Spirit or Jesus. Our spiritual rebirth is not just about what we do.
As Jesus said: The wind blows wherever it wishes… The Holy Spirit is the one who initiates your spiritual rebirth.
So what we do is pray and ask for God to change us.
What we do is trust in Jesus and surrender our lives to his power. Another way to say that is to have faith in Jesus.
Faith doesn’t mean believing a particular creed. It means building a relationship with Jesus. Trusting Jesus as you would trust a good friend or a loving parent. Talking to Jesus, asking forgiveness, becoming like Jesus.
What we do is become partners with God in sharing the Trinity.
Not telling people that they must believe in a God who is a trinity of coequal, coeternal, and consubstantial divine persons…
So much as us living the Trinity. Us being like the Trinity.
Us being the Trinity to others.
Can you get how much that God wanted to be in relationship with us that he sent his only son. And that son Jesus died for us to show us what true love, what true relationship is…
God wants to be partners with us, as God is in relationship in the Trinity.
And God wants us to take that unconditional love, that sense of relationship with other.
What family do you know that loves 100 percent of the time? What family gets along 100 percent of the time? What family forgive 100 percent of the time?
What family completely understands 100 percent of the time?
Maybe not our families…
But the Trinity does. And that Trinity of love wants to be in relationship with you.
And that Trinity of Love wants to make you Trinitarian.
If you are truly Trinitarian you seek to be in relationship and loving partnership with all.
If you are truly Trinitarian you are all about relationships about connecting, building, caring, forgiving, reconciling.
There are so many Christians who don’t seem to be Trinitarian because they are about excluding, condemning and exiling others.
Without the Trinity and a Trinitarian understanding of God, people can make claims that justify the hatred of peoples and races, and cultures and faiths and religions.
Without the Trinity and a Trinitarian understanding congregations can look out for numero uno and be a little social club or comfortable pew.
Without the Trinity we can develop belief systems that we are right and everybody else is going to hell.
Without the Trinity we will continue to scapegoat others, justify ourselves, and triangle the people we have problems with.
So whether you understand the creed or not… The Trinity matters…
It isn’t a doctrine by which we judge whether someone is a Christian or not, whether someone is in or not.
It is the heart of what the church and we strive to be, what Jesus is transforming us into…
A family of relationships that are good, honest, loving, whole, mutual and solid.
And if you want to believe in the Trinity, then like Isaiah maybe you can pray today. “Here I am Lord. Send me.”
Send us to build and nourish relationships that are Trinitarian.
Send us to share the Trinity with others, because God the Trinity, God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit came to be in relationship with us.