Feast of the Holy Trinity
THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY
Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40 | Romans 8:14-17 | Matthew 28:16-20
God our Father, who by sending into the world the word of truth and the spirit of sanctification make known to the human race your wondrous mystery, grant us, we pray, that in professing the true faith, we may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory and adore your unity, powerful in majesty. Through Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
WE’RE coming to the completion of the most holy part of the liturgical year. It began with the season of Lent, took us through the Easter season, then the great feast of the Spirit in Pentecost and now the Trinity. And we have in these mysteries and these stories the heart of the message that God longs for you and for me to believe with all our hearts, that we’ve somehow been chosen by this God personally, that he entered into the world at a particular time, and he went to a particular group of people, the Israelites who were in a place of slavery, and he somehow wanted to call them to a place of peace, beauty grace, and abundance. When God entered into the world in that particular way, he’d already called Abraham and made it clear that he was a God that wanted a relationship with his people, and then he made it clear it was a particular group, a particular community, the Israelites. Why he chose them, I don't know, but something about them intrigued him, or he simply said, “These are the people that I want to use as an example to the world forever of what it is that I struggle with as the God who created human beings.” He picked a tough group, the Israelites, often stiff-necked, often self-centered like all of us are somehow deep inside, and they weren’t easy to convince. They were challenging to God. I think it’s interesting that he picked a group of people that had that quality of resistance, because it’s in all of us. It’s in all of us.
There’s a phrase in the gospel that I just read that’s so interesting to me. Imagine the disciples, having experienced the death of Jesus on the cross, and then he appears to them again, and then he doesn’t condemn them but supports them and tells them he’s going to be with them and that there’s going to be something happening. Then they go through Pentecost Sunday, and they have this outpouring of Spirit, and they’re able to, in their own proclamations of the joy they felt over what they believe now to be true about God — is they somehow sang praise to God for doing what he’s doing inside of them and for the world. And people who were listening heard it in their own language. It’s like there’s a truth that’s in every human being that believes potentially that there is this divine force outside of us that wants to be a part of us. It must have seemed absolutely blasphemous in the beginning, because God was so other worldly. He was so separate from human beings. Dirty, ugly, smelly human beings had nothing to do with this perfection of God. Yet as the story unfolds, we find out that this God is terribly interested in having a relationship with these creatures he has formed over centuries of evolution and growth. When the time was right, he entered into their life and said, “I want a relationship with you.” He then realized that they had to know what the relationship was about, which was about God entering into us when we find ourselves in a kind of trap, like we’re enslaved by fear, by shame, by anger, by addiction, whatever.
So the disciples had seen all these incredible manifestations of this unusual experience of a man/God that was clearly not just like them, but he was like them. So what is happening when they came to this last moment when Jesus was ascended into heaven? It said they doubted. They doubted. I love that, because it means that even though we can have experience after experience of something that makes it clear that this thing we experience is real, and even when we see the benefit of what that’s done for us, there’s something core in every human being that has a really hard time getting rid of all the stuff — I don’t know what to call it, our human nature having to evolve beyond something that just works with the mind and the will. I know if I can prove it, it’s real. I know that if I experience it, it’s real. All that need for assurance and yet the God who created us is always moving us towards something further than we ever thought we could go.
So this relationship of God and his people has been going on now since the call of Abraham — which was considered to be maybe 4,500 years ago. 2,500 years before Christ was the call of Abraham. Moses came 1,000 years later. So you think there’s 1,500 years where people that were understanding God had Abraham to teach them, and then Moses came along later. Then for 1,000 years they had Moses and the prophets, kings and the law until the coming of Jesus. Then Jesus comes to reveal even more extraordinary qualities of God, parts of him that just wouldn’t make sense to any logical human brain. He had to change us and get us to a point where we were open to things beyond anything we could have imagined. It is so interesting to me that even now I, who’d been a priest for 51 years, I still struggle with believing all of it. It’s not that I doubt it so seriously, but I have moment after moment where I would say I doubt. I don't know that I’m really being used by God right this minute to say something important that goes beyond my own human capacity to communicate. I hope so. I want to do it. At times I feel, “Yes, that’s really working.” I can feel it, or somebody tells me something that says, “You said something, and I got something I’ve never had before.” One person told me recently, “Sometimes I can feel you struggling to get to a point, and you can’t get there, but then somehow, as I’m listening to you struggle to get there, I get there.” Do I believe that all happens? Yeah, part of me does, and then at times I’ll say, “It’s not working. It’s useless.” If that makes me feel that there’s something wrong with me, or makes you think I’m less of a priest, or if it happens to you and you think you’re less of a believer — stop it. There’s nothing wrong with being human. There’s nothing wrong with doubting. There’s nothing wrong with wondering. In fact, the more you can honestly accept all those human qualities that you have that you wish weren’t there — doubt, fear, shame, anger. I call them human qualities because they’re so predictable.
Why do we think perfection is the goal of religion, of our faith? It’s not perfection. It’s truth. Radical truth. Honesty. I want to see what is real. I want to know what is real, and that means I have to see the mystery of this whole thing I’m engaged in as a believer. At the same time, I have to deal with my human nature and how it doubts and how it’s inconsistent and how it can feel so good about something, like we’re in love with an ideal. We’re in love with someone, and then next minute, we just don’t care about them. We’re not even interested. If that makes you feel like there’s something incomplete — stop it. You’re not complete unless you feel both. The incredible presence of God inside of you enabling you to be someone more than you could ever hope to be, at the same time feeling that there’s nothing really happening, and maybe there’s no real reason to keep doing what you’re doing. It’s human.
One of the things we’re celebrating today obviously is the Trinity, and so I want to see if I can use this mysterious teaching that Catholics and Greek Orthodox churches and — most Protestant churches believe in the Trinity, but many religions that claim to follow God do not believe in a Trinitarian God. So what do we learn from this Trinitarian God? What is it we’re supposed to be looking at? What is it we’re supposed to be getting from it? It goes something like this. Think of it as the stages of revelation, of who God is, based on our capacity in our own personal evolution into becoming the people God has called us to. Our ability to receive it. We began with a very shocking idea that the God who is the awesome creator of everything has a weakness, a longing and need to love and to be connected with human beings. That was very hard to understand and to grasp. This awesome God wants a relationship with me, smelly, dirty, sinful me? Yeah, he does, and he manifested that as a symbol of a father who would want only one thing — that the child that he brought into the world, their life would flourish, they would become all that they were intended to be. God is an artist. Like every artist, he creates. What he creates, he longs to see come to fulfillment. That’s the first image we have of this incredibly mysterious creature called God. Then he makes a commitment with us in that. He said, “I’ll do my part if you’ll do your part.” Then there’s this kind of normal contract, and that didn’t work. And then he changes it to a contract that, “Well, if you don’t keep your part, I’ll have to keep my part. So you can break your side, but I’m never going to — I can’t be unfaithful to myself. I’ll stay with you. I’ll keep working with you.” And then he gave a law in a way of showing people who they are and their nature, and that was really helpful. We naturally long for a God. We naturally long to be with this God. We want what he offers. What he offers is insight into our nature, that we are preachers that need to respect life in all of its forms. We’re people that should never kill, should never steal, should never lie, should never break promises, should be content with who we are in our life. Those are just so basic of what it means to become happy and full in this world.
As we struggled to do that, he realized we needed an example, but it was more than an example. When God became one of us, he was not just saying, “Look, I am more engaged in your life than you’ve ever realized. I want to come down and work with you personally.” But it was more than that. It was like, “I want you to understand that there’s something about me and my nature that you see in Jesus that is your nature.” It’s God showing us that he is like us. What a shock that God is like us. That means that we are like God, and God is this artist, and we’re called to be artists and creators of life and goodness and beauty and see it come to completion. That’s our nature, and if that wasn’t enough, to say, “Okay, there’s a union between humans and God that is beyond what anybody ever thought could be, the union so intense that we become one,” then there’s this Spirit, this incredible, powerful Spirit that, when it comes into us, it’s like the example. At first we’re like God. God’s like us and Jesus, and then we are filled with this life force that is called Spirit, that is a conveyor of every gift that God longs to give to another person. There it is. The ultimate goal of God is to live inside of you and me in the form of a life force called grace, called truth. If you believe, like I tend to feel that I’m called to believe, and I doubt it at times, but it means that that very thing inside of me that has the capacity to communicate truth, life, healing, strength, compassion, understanding, empathy — that’s our gift. We have it inside of us. Trust it.
A Trinitarian God, a Father who is nurturing us as children, a brother who is just like us and wants us to be like him and wants to be connected to us. Then inside of that deep, loving connection with God flows a life force, a resonance outside of us. What a gift. A Trinitarian God. It’s like one image could never contain the fullness of who this God is. It makes sense to me that we have a Trinitarian God, and it makes sense to me that we’re all called to believe in it 100 percent.
Father, your revelation of who you are is beyond our imagining. It cannot be contained in the mind. It cannot be easily explained or easily understood, but it’s a process that you have created for us to stay with, ponder, drink it, eat it, hold it. So bless us in our great, important task of embracing the fullness of who you are, along with the fullness of who we are so that in that intimacy we will find the union and the effectiveness of that union that you so long for us to feel. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.