Today is Trinity Sunday. I call this Rubik’s Cube Sunday because we usually approach this Sunday thinking that the Trinity is some sort of puzzle we need to solve. How can God be one and yet known as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
When Jesus prayed, did he pray to himself? When Jesus died on the cross, did God die in that moment as well? How do we explain the puzzling doctrine of the Trinity?
A story is told of St. Augustine who was one of the greatest theologians who ever lived. While puzzling over the doctrine of the Trinity during a walk along the beach one day, he observed a young boy with a bucket. The boy was running back and forth to pour water into a little hole.
Augustine asked him, “What are you doing?” And the boy replied, “I’m trying to put the ocean into this hole.”
This helped Augustine to realize that part of his problem in figuring out the Trinity is that he had been trying to put an infinite God into his finite mind.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism once said, “Show me a worm that can comprehend a human being, and then I will show you a human being that can comprehend the Triune God.”
Martin Luther, who helped start the Protestant Reformation was even more to the point. He said, “To try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity.”
Since I don’t want to jeopardize our sanity this morning, maybe there’s another approach we can take on this Trinity Sunday. Maybe instead of trying to solve the Trinity like we would try to solve a Rubik’s cube or some other puzzle, we should take a different approach.
The word, “Trinity” is never mentioned in the bible. That’s a term that the church and theologians have used to label this puzzling doctrine. Maybe instead of seeing the Trinity as a puzzle, we should take the advice of Justo Gonzalez, a Methodist historian who said, “Trinity is a mystery, not a puzzle. You try to solve the puzzle, but you stand in awe before a mystery.”
In thinking about the Trinity, let’s think of it more in terms of a mystery rather than as a puzzle to solve. Seeing it as a mystery helps me to approach this important topic with more of an open mind.
For whatever reason, Jesus never saw the need to explain the Trinity to the disciples. He didn’t draw up diagrams or use creative metaphors to explain how one God can be known as three persons and yet still be one.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus has the perfect opportunity to present his Trinity powerpoint presentation to the disciples. He spends four whole chapters preparing his disciples for when he would be leaving them. What would it have hurt to dedicate one of those chapters to the Trinity?
Jesus says in our Gospel reading that he has many things to tell the disciples but that they aren’t able to bear them now. That must have been frustrating for the disciples to hear! “What do you mean, Jesus? We’re right here. We’re listening. Don’t underestimate us!”
And let’s not stop at the Trinity. Think of the many other unsolved mysteries that Jesus could address in these chapters. I came across an interesting book written by Tom Ehrich, a church consultant, author and Episcopal Priest. The title of the book is Just Wondering, Jesus: 100 Questions People Want to Ask.
He wrote the book because of his weekly newspaper column in which he invited his readers to let him know what questions they would like to ask Jesus. Some of the questions include, “Will I see my late husband in heaven?,” “How can I make my marriage more joyful?,” “Will we ever find peace?” “What do you want of me?”
My guess is that the disciples would have really liked it if Jesus invited them for a Q & A session. I also wonder if they ever wished they would have asked Jesus some of their specific questions during these chapters.
Do you ever have one of those dreams at night where toward the end of the dream, someone is about to explain a mystery to you and that’s when your dream ends and you never get to hear the answer? What’s that all about?
Several years ago, I attended a church growth conference in Kansas City which was hosted by a leading pastor in our denomination. He’s a pastor who I admire and respect very much.
About 2,000 pastors and church leaders attended the three day conference. This pastor and his church staff shared a lot of great information to help our churches experience growth and vitality. During our three days there, the people of the church were very gracious with their hospitality. For one of our lunches, they had one of the famous barbeque restaurants there in Kansas City cater the meal since that area is known for their incredible barbeque. Those three days were a wonderful experience, but I still had many questions swirling in my head about what we had learned.
After I got home from the conference, I had a dream that night. And in that dream, I was back at that church conference in Kansas City. I was in a room at this church in Kansas City. And while I was in this room, the pastor who led the conference came in and was standing right next to me.
This was my golden opportunity to ask him the question that had been on my mind that week. With so many people at the conference, this was my chance. It was just the two of us! But for some reason I became really, really nervous. Instead of asking him the question that I had always wanted to ask him, this is what I said to him:
“Boy, that was some good barbeque!”
I couldn’t believe that this was what came out of my mouth! “Boy, that was some good barbeque?” Really??? My golden opportunity was gone. He smiled back at me as he walked out the door. And just like that, my dream was over.
Now, I’m no psychologist, but maybe the point of that dream was to remind me that not every question comes with a simple answer. Life doesn’t work that way. Our faith doesn’t work that way.
Maybe this is why Jesus didn’t give simple answers to the disciples during his farewell discourse. Jesus was offering the disciples something better than easy answers to complicated questions. Jesus was offering them a reassuring word that even after he would leave them, they would not be alone. God the Father will send them the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit will glorify Jesus, the Son.
This is what the doctrine of the Trinity means for you and for me. The one God, known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, wants to be in relationship with us. God is all about relationships.
Even within God’s own being, there is a dynamic relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God the Father is our creator. God the Son is the human embodiment of God. And God the Holy Spirit is the presence of Jesus Christ in our day to day living.
If you find it difficult to understand all of this on an intellectual level, know that you’re not alone. Even with helpful analogies and images that have been used to explain the Trinity over the past several centuries, it’s still a mystery to us.
Evelyn Underhill was an early 20th century Christian writer from England. She is one of my favorite Christian authors drawing on the mystical tradition of our faith.
One of her famous quotes about the mystery of God is, “If God were small enough to be understood, He would not be big enough to be worshipped.”
God is bigger than our minds can fathom which is one of the reasons we observe Trinity Sunday each year on the church calendar.
But that’s OK because the thought of a loving God who loves us so much and was willing to send us the Son and the Holy Spirit is more than our finite minds can understand and comprehend. A God who would choose to love us this much defies our human explanations.
When I hit a low point in my life during my freshman year of college, it wasn’t an explanation of the Trinity or easy answers to life’s unsolved mysteries that turned my life toward God again. The reason I turned toward God again was because God had reminded me that he wanted to be in a relationship with me.
And that’s when I knelt down by my bed one day and in the quiet of that room, I received God’s love in a new way. After that prayer, I had tears of joy. It was like a heavy weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt a peace that I had been missing in my life. I felt God’s love in a very real way.
The funny thing is that I left from that prayer with more questions than answers. I still didn’t know what my major in college should be or the future direction of my life. All I knew was that God loved me and would never leave me. I suspect that this is a little of what the disciples were experiencing from our Gospel reading when Jesus promised that he would be sending them the Holy Spirit.
Jesus didn’t answer all of their questions but he did promise that he would continue to be in relationship with them through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, it’s not answers and explanations that we need the most. It’s the reassurance that God loves us and will always be with us.
A woman who had been attending a church that I was serving met with me at my office one day. After she sat down in my office, a smile came to her face and she said, “I think I’m ready to become a follower of Jesus.”
She had been visiting our church for the past several weeks and this was the first time that we had more than just a casual conversation. She then asked me what she needed to know or to do in order to start following Jesus. Now, even though this is what every pastor wants to hear, sometimes it catches us off guard a little bit.
I began to share with her some key theological truths which sounded brilliant at the time. But the more I spoke, the more I could tell that what I was sharing with her wasn’t really making a connection.
About halfway through my impromptu Christianity 101 presentation which would have made my seminary professors proud, she politely held up her hand and said, “I’m sure that’s all important information, but I just want to be a Christian like you talk about on Sunday mornings.”
I said, “O sure. I understand.” I then proceeded to offer her some bible resources that I had nearby on one of my bookshelves thinking that would help her begin her new journey of faith.
As I began to reach for them, she again politely said, “Thank you, but what I guess I just need is for you to say a prayer for me.”
This is when I finally wised up and realized what she really needed in that moment. At least on that afternoon for her, less was more. One of my problems sometimes is that I can over-think things.
So right there in my office with the doctrine of the Trinity still unexplained and other mysteries still unsolved, I invited her to pray a prayer with me in which she invited Jesus Christ to be the Lord of her life. After that simple prayer, she thanked me, and left my office that day with great joy in her heart.
Sometimes, Jesus says to us, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” There will always be unsolved mysteries for us to ponder and many questions seeking answers.
But one thing we can know with absolute certainty is that God loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us. That’s the good news of Trinity Sunday. And for now, that’s really all we need to know.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon Discussion Questions
Romans 5:1-5 & John 16:12-15
June 16, 2019
The doctrine of the Trinity, (God is one but known as three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is difficult for many people to understand.
What does the doctrine of the Trinity mean to you and why do you think this is an important doctrine of the church?
In our Gospel reading from John 16, Jesus tells the disciples that he has many things to tell them but they aren’t able to bear it now. Tom Ehrich, an Episcopal Priest wrote the book, 100 Questions People Want to Ask Jesus.
What questions do you want to ask Jesus?
While the doctrine of the Trinity is one of those unsolved mysteries in our Christian faith, the Bible does help us to see how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to another another and help us to grow in our faith. In the sermon, Pastor Robert shared this thought about things that are beyond our ability to understand completely: “Jesus didn’t answer all of their questions but he did promise that he would continue to be in relationship with them through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, it’s not answers and explanations that we need the most. It’s the reassurance that God loves us and will always be with us.”
What difference does it make in your life to know that God, the Father, has sent us his Son, who is present with us today through the Holy Spirit? What helps you to remember that God wants to be in a relationship with you and is always with you?
Close your time by praying our Trinity Sunday worship prayer: “O Sacred Three in One, we enter worship with our hearts lifted toward heaven. Come into our midst, we pray, that in your light we may see, in your joy we may sing, and in your love we may be formed into your people. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we pray, one God, now and forever. Amen.”