“Understanding God”

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, John 16:12-15

So today is Father’s Day, and we will be honoring that in our pastoral prayer,

But more than that, as a church today we’ll be honoring what’s called Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday is an ancient festival of the church, probably going back to around the year 1000.

Furthermore (tomorrow/today) is my birthday, and to misquote Leslie Gore, it’s my birthday, and I’ll preach what I want to.

I have talked before about how communion is possibly the most divisive and heated debate among pastors in the church.

If that is the case, the trinity is probably the most complex doctrine in the church.

I don’t know all the ins and outs of it, I readily admit.

There is terminology that I don’t understand, partly because much of it is in Greek or Latin.

Words like homousion and hypostatic, which are translated into English as words that we might be familiar with, like substance or persons, but which have very specific technical definitions in this case.

But don’t worry about them: I will not be using those words or words like them in this sermon again.

Indeed, it might not seem like it, if you don’t understand how Jesus is God, God the father is God, the Holy Spirit is God, but that they are not each other, I’m on your side.  I don’t understand the trinity, nor do I intend to explain it in metaphorical terms.

For the Trinity is a blessed and holy mystery, adapted by the early church to describe lived experiences of faith.

I truly believe it is a gift from God, and like so many gifts of God- the sacraments of baptism and communion, or God’s Grace, it’s not a gift we can rationalize easily.

If it’s a formula, it’s one that’s not rationally solvable

So, as often is the case when we talk about God, we come up with analogies about the trinity.

Some of the ones you may have heard:

The trinity is like water, with the three parts being like the three states of matter- steam, liquid and ice

The trinity is like a sun, with the star, its light, and its heat,

The trinity is like a clover, with the three leaves connected to one stem in the middle,

And honestly, they’re all wrong, and verge into heresies that the church does not profess.

I don’t use the “h” word lightly either.  The nature of God implied in those analogies does not fit with understandings of God revealed in the bible, experienced by faithful Christians for generations, and kept by the church.

If you think that the differences between Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists, and this church are big, those differences are nothing compared to what comes about if some of these analogies became the primary means by which we understand God.

But by this point, I can see some eyes starting to glaze over, so I’ll stop talking for a little bit.

Instead, we’re going to watch a video.

This video is one of my favorites on youtube; it’s from a group called Lutheran Satire, and it has three characters in it- Saint Patrick, credited with converting the Irish about 1500 years ago, and two Irish peasants.

It’s about three minutes long- if you can’t see it well, don’t worry, you aren’t missing much, the graphics are pretty horrible.

Saint Patrick’s Bad Analogies

So although that video was, at least in my opinion, pretty funny, it does discuss some serious stuff, some of which we talked about, some that we didn’t.

They two lovable Irishmen talked about the limits of rationality and reason when we talk about certain mysteries of faith. 

The Trinity, they tell us, is understood through faith.  It’s a description of lived experiences of faith. It doesn’t make rational sense because sometimes faith doesn’t make rational sense.

Indeed, those heresies they talked about briefly in the video are all attempts to rationalize and box in God in ways that make “more sense”

Modalism, for example, tells us that God the father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, are all just revealed modes of God, not 3 persons.

This means that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are transient things, which are used for different purposes, and then…aren’t.

But this doesn’t seem to work out againstour lived experience of prayer throughout the ages.  After all, we pray to God, with the power of the holy spirit, through Jesus Christ! How could this be if one of them stopped being because they were no longer…useful?

Because I don’t believe God changes like that.  Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are eternal- the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus was with God, was God from the beginning.  The Book of Genesis tells us the same thing about the Holy Spirit.

So modalism doesn’t seem to work.

What about Arianism?

Arianism tries to tell us that Jesus Christ is a lesser being, a creation or emanation of God- a partial copy. The fullness of God in Jesus Christ was also only somewhat true, and in the views of the original Arians, because the material world was too dirty. But this makes a lie of the Genesis story; that God created the world and called it good.

But worse than that, Arianism does something even more profoundly terrible in my eyes: it ruins the Christmas story!

Christmas is so magical and mysterious and a little bit weird because God came into the world not as an copy of God in the form of an avenging angel, but as a baby, born of a woman.  So that doesn’t really work either.

Partialism tells us that the father, son, and Holy Spirit all parts of the same God, and, as described in the video, they’re only really “fully” God if they’re together somehow. But how could God ever be diminished?  How could there ever be less God? If we can imagine God as someone or something that could be diminished, we have already attempted to box in God far too much.

So what then about the trinity?

Doesn’t it box in God as much as any other doctrine?

I don’t believe so.

Because it’s to be understood by faith rather than the power of our own minds, rather than the trinity being something that boxes God in, the trinity reminds us that there is no box God could be held in.

And really, how unreasonable is it? I don’t have to understand something in order for me to believe in it. I don’t understand how a microwave works. Not really. A microwave is a box that I can put in, press some buttons, and when it beeps, food is hot, without the box being hot.

Is the trinity any less unreasonable than that? Is faith? Is God’s Grace? I’m not so sure.

I will say this: Thank God, we don’t have to be scholars to be faithful.

Thank God for the word of God, faithful testimony to the character of God and witness to Jesus Christ. Thank God we have a faithful lineage of saints who have taken care of these holy words.

Thank God for the blessed trinity.