In the Christian calendar, this is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday we celebrate the culminative self-revelation of God in human history and experience. Rather than the celebration of a biblical event (such as Pentecost) or event in the history of the Church (such as Reformation Sunday), it is the celebration of a church teaching. In the Trinity, God has given us what some theologians call “symbols” (Paul Tillich and Karl Rahner), three imperfect metaphors intended to help us summarize our understanding God. That revelation has been made known in the created order; act of love, justice and redemption in Jesus Christ; and by the continued effect of God’s Spirit in the world upon our lives, the structures of human community and the created order.
Although traditionally expressed as Father, Son and Holy Ghost or Spirit, the Trinity is really not about gender. To speak of God as “Father” was a way of understanding God as the “Prime Mover” the “First Cause” and the “Ultimate Maker” of all that is. Therefore to talk about God, even with this biological metaphor, as the INITIATOR of the creative process and as the CREATOR—the one who brings into being all that is, “seen and unseen” (as we say in the Nicene Creed)—actually suggest God not only as Father but as Mother as well.
Also to talk about the Son is to say less about the historic fact that he was male and more about the theological truth that Jesus’ life and witness manifest the very word of God. When we speak of the incarnation, it is to say God gave flesh or humanity to the Word of God. In this way Jesus was the imago Dei or the “spitting image of God”. Although in some way the word of God has been witnessed to and spoken of throughout human history, in Jesus we see God’s love for humanity, God’s passion for justice and spiritual redemption reach its ultimate manifestation. So the second expression of the Trinity is about the Incarnation of God’s very Word.
And then, of course, there is the Holy Spirit. Today, there is little, if any, intelligent debate that the Holy Spirit’s attributes are those most clearly representing the feminine expressions of God. Often in the original language of scripture, the noun or attributes used for the Holy Spirit were feminine. (This is sometimes true of reference to God, also.) Somehow we have lost this truth for the Holy Spirit is about God’s continued work of life giving and life sustaining, comfort and strength, power and wisdom. And, of course, as men often experience women as unpredictable—or having culturally a logic all their own, a way of thinking that men often just don’t get. The Holy Spirit has an unpredictability, a mind of its own not controlled or comprehended by human kind. In fact it is possible to paraphrase Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “the Spirit blows where she wills. You must be born of her again.” [St. John 3:7,8] The third revelation of God is about the continuing work of God’s Holy Spirit in the World.
The language of the Trinity needs work, lest it communicate emphasis we do not intend. Yet, it is still a marvelous way of understanding God because it is what God has given us of the Divine Self. We are still coming to understand the wonders of the universe—the power, genius and intelligence of the created order and its composition—the infinite wonders of atom, molecules and cells, of energy, light and space. Yet God has given this revelation with the intent to be accessible, for the commoner as well as the theologian and the scientist.
The discover of God’s glory is no greater for the scientist than for the commoner. What is discovered through a microscope, a telescope or a petri dish is no more wondrous and awe-inspiring than what the common eye comprehends gazing into a star-lit night, defining the peaks and horizons of snow-capped mountains, or experiencing the colors and sounds of a rainforest bursting upon ones senses.
Now, I know almost nothing about the intricacies of molecular science, genetics or cloning. Yet, what I know amazes me for the potential of scientists to plumb the realities and benefits of God’s creative genius. Even scientists know there is nothing more wondrous about the truth of our humanity than what we discover everyday in the spiritual warmth and beauty of the human smile. The wonder of God in what is created is evident for all to experience.
But I think we marvel most as we intuitively know the irresistible effect of God’s Spirit in the world—working as she did in Jesus for love, justice and reconciliation. We sense the working of God’s Spirit in the world, even when that spirit is resisted in our lives and in the structures of human societies. Yes, despite the clear and palpable effects of evil in history, we still marvel at the impact of God’s Spirit upon human beings and human history. We still marvel at the miracles of justice in the lives of individuals and movements—their ability to have effect for good in the politics and social conditions of other people, communities and nations.
Whether Communism in Berlin and Poland, apartheid in South Africa or Civil Rights in Jim Crow America, amidst the clouds of doubt and despair, it has been as it was in ancient Jericho, that the walls, even in our own generation, have miraculously come tumbling down. Even with the realities of Rwanda or Kosovo, and the experience of our times of doubt, we find ourselves succumbing to the sense that God’s Spirit is active in the world, often in ways we do not understand. That same Spirit is compelling us and enabling us to live more meaningful and faithful lives. We believe, as did Martin Luther King, Jr. when he quoted, “the arm of history is long but it is bent towards justice”.
Now, the Trinity does not tell us everything there is about God. It is a self-revelation to help us honestly know God. We believe the Trinity’s claim is a full and true, but not exhaustive revelation. All things necessary for faith and salvation are there. God as intimate, personal, vulnerable, loving. All that is necessary for us to trust God as Jesus taught us, when you pray think of God as “Abba” or daddy. The intimate, loving, caring Father. Or, as he taught Nicodemus and others, when you think of God, think of the pain and travail a Mother goes through to give you life, think of the bond between mother and child which is greater than death. Everything we need to know and trust God is has been provided us. So what do I mean when I say that the Trinity is full and true, but not exhaustive revelation?
A frail example is that you know yourselves in ways which no one else knows you—not your parents, spouse, even your therapist or the IRS. However, when we are emotionally healthy, we seek to share ourselves with others in ways that are honest and accessible. Now, because no one can receive everything that we are—we do not flood others with personal information. In fact no one really wants to know everything about you! We give personal expressions that are fully true of who we are, but not entirely of every thought, experience, hope or behavior. It is thus full, comprehensive, but not complete.
Some revelations of who we are come from what we create. Art, professional contributions, institutions, relationships, reputations. Some revelations comes from the congruence of our words with our behavior; the integrity of our convictions displayed in our choices and decisions, in our commitments and values, in the things we prize most and what we prize least. This is our incarnation.
Another integral and essential aspect of our being individuals is by what people sense about us, the inarticulate parts of us. It is what others, as spiritual, beings intuit about us; the vibes we give off—the way our spirit connects with the spirit of others and theirs with ours. Isn’t it interesting that some people sense when we are hiding contradictory truths about ourselves? Creation, behavior and spirit: we would not say we truly knew someone if we did not have some confluence of knowing them in these three ways. Integrity of person is not about perfection or the exhaustion of details but about the quality and congruence of our work, our behavior and our inner being. The fullness of truly being known has to do with the openness, honesty and consistency in our self-revelation—that is, in the sharing of ourselves with others.
What is so wonderful about this understanding of the Trinity is understanding God is vulnerable, intimate and loving. This is unique to the Christian experience in that God breaks through our obsession with mystery, and the safety of transcendence (i.e. God up there or out there or the hidden God) to God as imminent, present and intimate. There is still mystery about God, and God is still the unknown. We are still plumbing and exploring what has been revealed. We do not yet even fully understand the Trinity, there is much to be discovered in what God has chosen to reveal. But, what is yet to be discovered or what has chosen not to be self-disclosed is neither contradictory nor nullifying of the salient truth which has been revealed. As St. Paul taught the Church at Corinth [I, 13:12] the time will come “when we will know God even as God knows us”. But in the meantime we can know God in the intimacy of a loving parental bond. Just as a parents desire to know their children to know and trust their love for them, God wants to be known lovingly and intimately by us. I believe as the prophet Jeremiah taught the people of ancient Israel: “When you seek me with all your heart you shall find me, I shall let you find me…” [Jeremiah 29:12-14a]. God will not hide from us or play “hide-and-go-seek” games with us.
Whether in the created order or in redemptive sacrifice of Jesus or in the marvelous working of the spirit in our lives and the world, we can see God breaking out into the open presenting the Divine Self for us and all to encounter.
Hundreds of thousands of tourists come to this Cathedral each year from all parts of the world. About four or five years ago, I was walking across this wide crossing space just beneath this great Canterbury Pulpit when I was stopped by a lovely young Hindu family on their first trip to America. The father asked me with great curiosity, “Why is there so much light in this temple?” The response that came to me was that God is light and that this and many other Christian architectures try to avail as much light as possible in sacred spaces. The father seemed surprised. He said, “Our temple interiors are not (well lighted). In our tradition God is in the deepest recesses, the hiddenness of life. We must enter into the mystery of life, into whatever is other or opposite to find God.” So he and I spent time talking about God as light and the Christian understanding of the openness of God’s revelation.
Now I hasten to say that the Christian faith also calls us to inward reflection through our contemplative traditions; and there is much to learn from the great eastern religions about meditation and the discipline of life. But the great and wondrous Christian truth about God’s revelation is that God has stepped into light, vulnerable and loving, to be known by all the world. God has stepped into the accessible places of our reality that we might know God as divine creator; that we might know God in Jesus, who was the true embodiment of God’s words and redeeming love: and finally to know that by God’s continued presence in the world, the Holy Spirit, God continues to make known expressions of divine love, justice and redemption in all creation, even in our own lives.
Yes, God is all around us saying: “Here I am”!!! Look at me! Touch me! Hear me! Love me! Serve me! Rejoice in me! Live in me! BELIEVE IN ME!!!! The Christian teaching of the Trinity says, God is out in the open to be known and made known. And it matters not whether we are theologians, scientists, critical thinkers or just everyday folk, God still says, “when you search for me with all of our heart you will find me, for I will to be known.” I believe when we do this, we will find the God who loves us all.
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit—Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.