Three in one

Sermon June 7 2020

Genesis 1: 1-2:4a

2 Cor 13:11-13

Matt 28:16-20

It is often felt by the clergy that being on preaching for Trinity Sunday is drawing the short straw.

It’s such a complex and difficult issue, that the best advice on Facebook is, that in order to avoid theological heresy, I should avoid the topic completely and show pictures of kittens instead!

Well, today I have the privilege of drawing that short straw, and the task of unpacking what is surely one of the most complicated ideas in Christianity.

Now, many of you will have heard sermons on the Trinity for years, as I have. Many of you may be thinking, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, right? What’s so complicated about that?

My problem with that particular way of describing the Trinity is not that it’s too complicated. My problem is that it’s too simple.

God has so many different facets, powers and attributes that there are hundreds of names for God. Jehovah Jireh – God provides. Jehovah Rapha, – God heals. Saviour. Redeemer. The list goes on.

Let’s look at the traditional three-in-one picture of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Now, my first problem with this as the only way of looking at the Trinity is that it’s gendered. It contains a gender for parent and for child. We cannot see Jesus as anything other than male, because he was born on earth as a man, as the son of God. He was a carpenter by trade. No problems there, he was definitely a bloke. That is, on earth. But how about after the resurrection? A famous early mystic, Julian of Norwich, describes Christ as a mother who suckles her young. The male gender of Jesus is not necessarily so important in the resurrected Christ.

How about ‘Father’ then? God as Father, male parent of the son, who came upon Mary and started Jesus growing in her womb. This makes sense in the context of Jesus’ incarnation.

But let’s look at some of the other ways we hear about God, starting with our first reading, which is the very first part of the Bible.

In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

God’s very first appearance in all of scriptures is as creator. We know God as the beginning of everything, the one who set it all in place, who started the atoms moving, the proteins forming, the creatures evolving. God’s role as creator is so much greater than just Father. Father of Jesus is really important, yes, but if we look at God as creator we have so much broader a picture.

We can also avoid negative connotations of the word Father.

You may have had a lovely childhood, with a caring and gentle father. In this case the idea of God as father is reassuring and comforting. But if you had no father as you grew up, your idea of God may be of distance, unavailability, or rejection. If your father was a nightmare – cruel and violent, how can you see God as loving Father without having to do mental gymnastics ever time you hear the phrase Father God? It is very hard to unlink our own reality and experience with a word that has such a weight of imagery in Christianity.

If we see God as creator we are looking at a wider role than Father.

How about Jesus? If we are not going to say Father Son and Holy Spirit, what goes with creator?

Our NZ Prayer book has an answer for that. Creator, Redeemer and Life Giver.

Jesus is our redeemer. He was born on earth, in a male human body, with male human attributes. He has walked the path we too tread, and can share our life with us, the good and the bad. But it’s because of Why he came to earth that we can call Jesus redeemer. He came to save us from our sins, from the brokenness all around us. He came to give us freedom and hope. He came so that sin would no longer separate us from God, both what we have done, what has been done to us, and sin around us.

By seeing Jesus as redeemer therefore we enlarge the picture of Jesus as Son. We are not rejecting it, just thinking about the other facets of Jesus and his ministry.

How about Holy Spirit?

This is maybe the trickiest part of what is known as the God-Head. The Holy Spirit isn’t human-sounding like a father and a son. It’s not concrete like a creator or a redeemer. It sounds a bit like a force of nature, like wind or fire. But scripture reassures us that the Holy Spirit is indeed a person, the third person of the Trinity, and that means we can relate to it as that.

If it’s a person, is it gendered? Is it a man or a woman? Much of the imagery in the Old Testament particularly places the Holy Spirit as a female force. This doesn’t mean that it is a woman like I am a woman, in human female form. But it does allow for more female imagery to be part of our picture of God. We read that The Holy Spirit wants to nurture her people on her lap like a mother with her little children. Jesus too speaks in those nurturing terms, that he wants to gather Jerusalem under his wings like a mother hen gathers her chicks.

I like the phrase life-giver. This is how it feels when we welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives, that everything has more purpose and is more vivid. There is more joy. It’s like a flow of electricity, and the Holy Spirit has thrown the switch.

In the late 90s a book came out, called the Shack. It is a great read, and I can lend it to you. In this book, the main character meets God, and the three persons of the Trinity have a different persona from that we often see in our literature and art. Instead of God the Father being a stern old white man, with a long beard, like in the Blake painting, The Creator part of God is portrayed as a large black woman, with a generous laugh and hugging arms. Jesus the son is portrayed as a youngish man, hands scarred by working with tools, and pierced by nails. The Holy Spirit is shown as a young Asian woman, who disappears like the wind.

This is not the only way to see God obviously, but I like this picture because it challenges how we see God.

One of our shorter readings today uses a well-known formula for God:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

This refers to the attributes of each person of the Trinity, but because they are all bound up together as one, like a plaited cord, they all apply to each. This is where the nature of God gets complicated. When asked where he had come from, Jesus answered, before Abraham was, I AM. Jesus’ nature is much more than human son –the Holy Spirit is there too, creating the world in the beginning.

No one role is more important than the others either – Jesus baptises the disciples in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

God is way too big and complex for our tiny minds to grasp all the inns and outs.

The picture of the Trinity helps us to understand some of the different roles and attributes, but instead of seeing it as the only way to see God, let’s take it as a starting point to meditate on.