Let us pray:
Father, we praise you; through your Word and Holy Spirit you created all things. You reveal your salvation in all the world by sending to us Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Through your Holy Spirit you give us a share in your life and love. Fill us with the vision of your glory, that we may always serve and praise you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Worship, Prayer for Trinity Sunday)
One of the greatest Christian thinkers and leaders of all time, Augustine of Hippo, lived about 350 years after Jesus and worked very hard to think and teach about the Trinity. He wanted to understand how God, who is one God, could possibly be three-in-one. How Father, Son, and Holy Spirit could possibly be distinct and yet one, full in unity without separation or division. It seemed to Augustine an impossible puzzle to be figured out.
Legend has it that one day Augustine was walking along the coast of northern Africa, along the Mediterranean Sea where he lived, thinking about the Trinity, when he came across a young boy carrying water in a sea shell. The boy would scoop water out of the sea and bring it to a hole he had dug in the sand. Then run back and fill the shell again over and over. The wise saintly man interrupted the boy asking what he was doing and the boy replied that he was trying to fit the whole of the ocean into space he had dug in the sand. “But, son,” Augustine told him, “that is impossible! You will never fit all of the ocean into that small of a space.” “Teacher,” the boy replied, “Neither are our minds able to hold the vastness of God. But still we try.”
Once a year, we in the church are invited to do the impossible. We are invited to consider the very nature of God. It’s an insane invitation. It’s a lot like trying to put the whole of the ocean into a sand pit. God is too big and we are too small to ever be able to fully understand the nature of God. And yet, we are invited to try.
Augustine after years and years of praying, reading the Scripture, and preaching finally came to the realization that God is not a puzzle to be solved, but rather, a mystery to behold. We are invited to consider the mystery. To imagine someone who is so big, so complex, so mysterious, that we will never truly understand, and yet, who invites us to know, to question, to see.
The Bible says that we become like that which we worship. Psalm 115 describes idols that people worship it says, “[Idols] have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; hands, but do not feel…Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them” (Psalm 115:6, 8).
We become like what we worship. Think, for instance, of Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” The thing that he cared about the most was money. He loved money so much that he cherished it. He thought about it all the time. We could say Scrooge worshiped money. And if we worship money, we become like money—cold and hard. Scrooge became like the money he held most dear, cold and hard, uncaring about the needs of the world. We even see him sitting counting his money in a cold office, not bothered by the cold because he has become so much like the thing he worships.
And if we are to worship God, than we need to spend some time thinking about who God is. We want to reflect on this great and awesome God that we worship. We want to try to understand God’s mystery, not try to put God into a box that we can control, for we will never be able to do that even if we try, but because God invites us to know God. And even more, God invites us to be like God. To be like the one that we worship.
When many people think of the Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—they think of the passages we have been reading over the last few weeks. They think that for a while, God was on earth in the person of Jesus, and then God went up to heaven, and then God came back in the person of the Holy Spirit. As if God some how exists in different forms at different times—sometimes in God the Father form, sometimes as human form, sometimes as Spirit form. They think of the Trinity metaphorically as being like water and ice and steam. God is always the same, but we see God differently in different times.
But if we read the Scriptures, we find out very quickly that this is not true. For instance, Jesus prayed to God while he was on earth. So God couldn’t have just changed from God the Father into human form for a while, as if water had become ice. That doesn’t work. The Son couldn’t have been speaking to the Father if he was the Father in human flesh.
And there are times when we see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all together at one time like in Jesus’ baptism when Jesus is standing in the water and a voice from heaven speaks and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove.
The Trinity is not a way of saying that God is a God who appears in three different forms. It’s so much more than that!
Another thing that is often very confusing to Christians is the idea that the second person of the Trinity, the one who we call the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, has always existed. Yes, Jesus was born in human flesh around 4 BC in Bethlehem. But unlike we humans who did not exist before we were born, Jesus has always existed.
Our Scripture reading from the Book of Genesis this morning makes this clear:
At the very beginning of creation, all three persons of the Trinity were present. Turn with me there. In verse 1, it says that God created the heavens and the earth. Then in verse 2, Scripture gets more specific, it speaks of the “wind of God” hovering over the water—in other words, the Holy Spirit at work. And it speaks in verse 3 of a Word spoken which brings all things into being. The Word, as we know from John chapter 1 is Jesus Christ. We are told, “In the beginning, The Word was with God and the Word was God.”
In the first three verses of the Bible, we see the whole Trinity. And if this seems stretched to you, we can look at verse 26 in particular, where God decides to make humankind in God’s image. God says, “Let us make humankind in our image.”
In the very beginning we see God describing God’s own nature as being Three in One. God has always been a Triune God. God in God’s own self is three-in-one. It is not that Jesus came and then God became three-in-one, God has always been that way before all of time.
Now, if you think about it, this is amazing. You see, our God is one God. There are not three god’s at work, there is only one God. One God who reveals God’s self to us as the great “I AM”–the one that has always been there and will always be there. The one who is beyond definition. And in God’s perfect oneness and unity, there is diversity.
Somehow, though it blows our minds, the one God is also three persons. And these three persons are distinct and work in distinct ways.
And there is more. The Scripture tells us in 1 John that God is love. God is love. God is made of the very nature of love. Now, when we start to understand the Trinity, this makes way more sense because love is something that must be shared to exist. If love is not given, it ceases to be love.
Because God is a Triune God—one God, but three persons, God can share love within and between God’s own self. God exists in perfect harmony within God’s ownself. God shares love between each person of the Trinity within God’s being. Because God shares love within God’s self, God does not lack anything. God does not need us. God does not need our love or faithfulness or loyalty. God does not need to use you for anything.
But being the very nature of love, God’s love overflows from the Trinity like an overflowing fountain. Think of the giant fountain downtown at the Point. The water shoots up and dances all around. It is beautiful and complete in itself to look at, but it’s more than just beautiful. If you go down to the Point on a hot summer day, you can experience the fountain, not just see it. The vast amount of water shoots up into the air and if you stand in the right spot, it midsts out, all over you, cooling you with it’s abundance.
The same is true for God. God does not need to love us. God does not need our love. But God overflows with the love of the Trinity. A shared love within the Trinity is so overwhelming that it spills out into our hearts that we might know God and experience God’s love like a cool, refreshing water.
So then, what does it mean to be like the one whom we worship?
Well, first, know that we are naturally like the God who we worship. When God first created humankind, God said, “Let us make humankind in our image” (Gen 1:26). Many of us spend our whole lives thinking that we are unlovable or created as a mistake or that we are unwanted. Let me be clear: You are loved. You are created with a purpose. You are wanted. You are created in the very image of God. You are good and very good.
Yes, we humans are also flawed and yes we make terrible mistakes and yes we are also capable of causing terrible destruction. But each and everyone of us is born with the very image of God inside of us. You are loved. You are capable of forgiveness and capable of being forgiven. You are capable of being loved and capable of loving. You are created with purpose.
And notice, that when God wanted to make someone in the image of God, wanted to make humankind, God made two diverse creatures: man and woman. The only way to make our likeness even something remotely like God was to make us different. To give us, the human race, diversity within ourselves. Without diversity, we are nothing like God.
We are like God when we live in diverse community. Sometimes this seems difficult. When two people are different, we can feel challenged to live together in community. We want different things. We communicate differently. We see the world in different ways. This naturally causes tension and conflict.
But the beautiful truth is: God created our differences! God in God’s ownself is diverse. And God loves our diversity. Our diversity is God-like. If a person only spends time with people who think like them and act like them and look like them, that person is actually missing the opportunity to be like God. It is God-like to be with people who are different than ourselves.
The old saying goes, “If you put two Presbyterians in a room there will be at least three different opinions.” This is challenging, but it is also beautiful. We live in diverse community. And we should! We are called to live in community with people who are a different gender than us, a different race, a different religion, a different political party, a different age. When we all come together, we are God-like. We can be like God in our difference.
And in our diversity, we are created to overflow with love. This week I want to ask you to seek out someone who is different from you and listen to them. Read a news source you don’t normally read. Listen to a podcast from someone who you know you disagree with and really listen, not to disagree, but to empathize, to understand their perspective. Remember that Scripture says we are not called to be like an idol that has no ability to speak or see or hear or work, but we are called to be like God who continuously speaks to our hearts and sees our joys and sorrows, and hears our prayers and works within us. We are to be like God. And part of that is listening to one another.
And if you can find the strength, look for places of suffering. Listen to people in pain. Listen to the hardships of our world. This is an exhausting exercise for most of us. There are so many places of hurt right now. And many of us don’t want to see the hurt and suffering and pain in the world. Many of us want to close our eyes to those who are oppressed or hungry or crying out against injustice. It is easier that way. It is easier to think, “I’m okay; they’re okay; this will all calm down in a bit” and just move on.
But if we know God, we know love. Love overflowing like a fountain. And we are called to be like God. To allow love to overflow out of our hearts. We cannot know love unless it is shared. When we give love, we come to know love. It’s an amazing truth that the more we love, the more we experience love.
This is frightening in a hurting world. It is hard to know where to begin and how to love. But we can be confident of this: We were created for this. We were created for love. We were created for diverse community. And the love is never ever going to run out. For it is not us who loves alone, but God’s overflowing, abundant love within us. When we are empty, we can open our hands to the Lord and ask God to fill us with God’s love so that we can love others. We can learn to love because we can become like that which we worship.
And we worship the Triune God—God who is one in three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who is diversity within unity, the very nature of love itself. Amen.