Today on Trinity Sunday, I’d like to begin with a prayer from the 20th century scholar and priest, Austin Farrer:
God above me, Father from whom my being descends, on whom my existence hangs, to whom I turn up my face, to whom I stretch out my hands:
God beside me, God in a human like me, Jesus Christ in the world with me, whose hand lays hold of me, presenting me, with yourself, to God:
God within me, soul of my soul, root of my will, inexhaustible fountain, Holy Ghost:
Threefold Love, one in yourself, unite your forces within me, come together in the citadel of my conquered heart.
You have loved me with an everlasting love. Teach me to care.
“You have loved me, Farrer writes, “with an everlasting love.” “Teach me to care.”
I start with a prayer to the Trinity, because I think that’s the key to understanding this central doctrine of the Church. The reality of the Trinity arose as a result of the worship and prayer of the church.
Even in this service of Morning Prayer you will notice the frequency with which we refer to the Trinity in our psalms, prayers, and liturgy.
The Gloria Patri is an acclimation of praise to the Holy Trinity which we have already said several times this morning. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. This acclimation of praise to God in Three persons began to be said after the recitation of the Psalms, as far back as the fourth century and continues on today in the twenty-first. The praise of the Trinity continues. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.
Our prayer is rooted in the praise of the Holy Trinity, and it’s in our prayer and worship that we as the Church have experienced God as Three persons, which has led us to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity which we celebrate today. In the church calendar, we have just gone through the major cycle of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, and each of those seasons can be identified with a person of the Trinity. Christmas, the feast of God the Father; Easter, the feast of God the Son; and Pentecost, the feast of God the Holy Spirit. Trinity Sunday is the culmination of three primary feasts of the church year as we enter ordinary time.
Some people view Christianity as if it began with a group of people locked away in a room somewhere, trying to figure out a new religion to trick people into believing. This approach views the Christian faith as if it was the result of a well thought out plan and design. But I believe this is exactly the opposite way of how our faith developed. I think a much more accurate picture for the development of the Christian faith is one of crisis. Each experience of God was a crisis that disrupted the first Jesus followers’ world and forced them to re calibrate their faith. A crisis is something that overwhelms our resources and ability to respond. And I think this perfectly describes the experience of the early Jesus followers.
For example, the Resurrection was a crisis. The disciples were expecting a Messiah to overthrow the State and restore the Temple. But Jesus died at the hands of the State and the Temple. And then the resurrection happened which put the disciples into crisis. They had to recalibrate their whole understanding of their existing faith in God and change their views and expectations of who the Messiah was.
We can see this in today’s Gospel from Matthew. Jesus is risen from the dead and he gives his disciples the Great Commission. “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Many of us are familiar with this great mission given to the church. But it’s easy to overlook what Matthew tells us right before this.
“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”
Matthew tells us that the eleven disciples saw the risen Jesus. They worshiped him. But some doubted. It was in the midst of this doubt that the eleven disciples were given the great commission. What’s so interesting about this passage is the word that’s translated as doubt. It’s distazo which in the Greek carries the sense of standing in two places, or being of two minds.
The only other place the word distazo is used is found in Matthew’s Gospel where Peter walks on the water. After he sinks and is saved, Jesus asks Peter why he distazoed. Peter was of two minds, he couldn’t quite grasp the reality he was faced with. Walking on the water towards Jesus was a crisis that overwhelmed his ability to respond.
I think the same thing can be said of the Trinity. We must remember that official treatments to start formulating the doctrine of the Trinity happened in the fourth century. The first followers of Jesus experienced the reality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as we see in today’s readings, but it took centuries for the church to come to some shared understanding of the reality of the Trinity.
It wasn’t something drawn up in some back room. It was an experience of God that created a crisis that had to be worked out over time.
There’s a phrase that makes me laugh every time I hear it. “That person is dumber than a box of rocks.” It’s something you don’t really want to say about someone, but the imagery is amusing. And here’s the thing, I don’t think any of us would actually say it out loud, but I believe there are many Christians who think God is dumber than a box of rocks.
What I mean is that their idea of God is so low that a rock would have more personality than God.
Some people only think of God as some kind of bar code scanner at the grocery store, who just scans us after we die to send us to heaven or hell.
Some people only think of God as some type of slot machine, you give some money, go to church, and try to be a good person, and maybe God will let some good things happen to you.
So many of our thoughts about God lead us to relate to God as something less than a person. Like God has no personality or a life. And the truth that the doctrine of the Trinity invites us into, is that God is a community of persons in deep relationship.
Think about the most caring, strong, wise, compassionate person you know. Think about the most creative, inspiring, and engaging person you know. God is a million times that.
The three persons of the Trinity live in an eternal self-giving and loving relationship. And out of that relationship God created you and me and all of creation that we might share in that love.
The doctrine of the Trinity like the other central doctrines we have arose from a crisis. And it took time for us to develop our thoughts and approaches to those crises. And each of these crises put us in distazo, a place of two minds or standing in two places because they overwhelm our ability to respond. And as we grow in our understanding of the depth of who God is, we can begin to learn how to grow in relationship with the self-giving community that is God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
All of this brings me to this present moment in which we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
We are in a moment of crisis in our country. There is a groundswell movement to seek equality and justice for our black sisters and brothers in America. But we find ourselves overwhelmed with how to respond. We are experiencing our own distazo, being of two minds or standing in two places. We want justice and the ability for people to peacefully protest, but we are also troubled by the violence we are seeing. We all want to move forward to a better place for all, but the division we see is painful. And that same sense of being in two minds is playing out in many ways for us right now.
But as we continue to work this out, we will find our way with God’s help. The source of our very existence comes from a community of self-giving love, and as we live into the truth of that, we will continue to find ways to expand that self-giving love to all people.
It will take a lot of work. It will take a long-term approach aimed at lasting change. It will take working through the conflict and division. But we can and we must with God’s help.
God above me. Father from whom my being descends.
God beside me. God in a human like me, Jesus Christ
God within me. soul of my soul, Holy Ghost.
You have loved me with an everlasting love. Teach me to care.