Once upon a time there was a little boy saying his evening prayers with his mother. He began by praying, “Dear Harold, please bless mummy and daddy and all my friends.” His mother interrupted the prayer, “Wait a minuet my darling. Who is Harold?” The boy looked at her and said, “That’s God’s name.” “Who told you that was God’s name?” asked his mother. “I learned it in Sunday school, Mummy,” the boy insisted. “They taught us to pray, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, Harold be thy name.’”

What’s in a name? Names are important. I try to make a conscious effort to remember a stranger’s name, best done for me by linking a person’s name with a his or her face (the name tends to exit from my brain, the face doesn’t). If I encounter this person again and remember his or her name, there is a basis for friendship. If the name melted away within seconds, I must work to re-establish the foundation for relationship: I must learn the name, and until I do, I am uneasy. People smitten by a stranger know that a name is a powerful thing. A name is access to the beloved. “Hey you” or the wrong name just won’t do; they don’t turn heads or sway hearts.

So what’s in a name? A lot. A several years ago the small child of friends of friends was playing with her parents while her mother was at seminary. The child asked, “Do you know how I know that God loves us?” Somewhat surprised as this play time statement, the parents asked the girl how, expecting the usual Sunday school type of answer. The child replied, “I know that God loves us because he lets us know his name!”

The divine Name, revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is one of the mysteries that provoke endless consternation in some and considered obscure or unimportant to others, but it is crucial in God’s self-revelation. Just as any friendship is awkward or impossible until a person’s name is known and acknowledged, so it is with God; and to that end the whole of salvation history is a record of God’s self-revelation in order to bring humanity back into relationship with God.

If you asked most Christian believers, “What is the Trinity?” the answer would be something like this: “Well, there are three persons in one God. Each of the persons is divine, is God, but there is only one God. It’s a mystery we can’t fully understand.”

We’ve probably all seen the medieval paintings that attempt, with uneven success, to illustrate the concept of the Trinity. To quote one commentator on today’s lessons, “There are many variants of this of course: one head with three faces or three identical triplets. The most common image seems to involve an old man, a young man and a bird. The upshot, in most cases, has probably been a blurry impression that Trinity means that God is three guys–or alternatively, two guys and a bird. For those Christians who reject this mental picture, the whole idea of Trinity may be laid aside as incomprehensible.”

In the Scripture readings for today one does not hear the word trinity. Trinity is not a biblical word. This does not mean that the beginnings of this way of thinking about God cannot be found in the Bible. However, the concept of the Trinity certainly has been and continues to be one of the most difficult and controversial aspects of Christian thought and, also, one of the most central.

Central to the Old Testament is the image of the Creator who calls. From the story of Adam and Eve, to the call of Abraham, to the experience of the Exodus, God creates a good creation and the calls humanity into relationship with God’s self. In the story of Moses, God calls to him by name, makes holy the ground under Moses’ feet by God’s very presence and speaks to him in terms of Moses’ own relationships: God is the revealer and sanctifer of Moses’ ancestors. The God of his father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God reveals God’s name as “I am who I am”, “What I will be I will be.”

In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, God does the unthinkable, at least from a human perspective. God the all-powerful, creator of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen, limits God’s self to take on human form–to show us in concrete terms who God is. The Gospels record our encounter with the Word made Flesh. In the name of Jesus, Yeshua, literally the one who saves, God is revealed as self-giving love. Saving us from ourselves, by exposing just how far we had strayed and repairing the breach himself, Jesus calls us into relationship with the God, who raises the dead. The post-resurrection appearances testify to the power and majesty of encountering the Risen One, declaring that even death cannot destroy the communion into which we are called and held.

Even after Jesus had ascended into heaven, his followers felt his presence with them–the fulfillment of Jesus’ own promise to be with them always. Encountering the Risen One, Jesus the Christ, had changed them and it changed others as well, even those who had not seen him but who had heard and believed. They, too, experienced the transformative power of God as revealed through Jesus. It was a new and energizing power that made holiness tangible, that sanctified their lives even in the midst of great odds and suffering. This power came to be called the Spirit of God.

Ultimately by the experience of God at work in their lives, as Creator, as Redeemer and as Sanctifier, the early Church found that to say anything less about God was leave out a part of the reality that was God.

What we know about God, we know from God’s revelation in the economy, the plan, of salvation. In that plan God exists as Father, Son and Spirit–as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. And it is in the inter-play, the relatedness, the communion of each person of the Trinity with the other, that the life of the Godhead–the very essence of God–is revealed, a life that is both a total giving and a total receiving, an inner life of mutuality, equality and community.

The whole of our salvation history reveals God’s plan for humanity and the call for all creation to share in this–God’s divine life. In Baptism we take a share in God’s life, not in “divinity” as such, but through the identification with Jesus, a participation in “himself,” that is his relation to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our modern culture is permeated with the notion of the person as a self-conscious subject with an on-going moral awareness, responsible for his or her actions. “If we apply this modern notion directly to God, we may very likely slide into tri-thesim, seeing each “person” of the Trinity, each “independent subject” as a separate God.

But contemporary thinkers and theologians are challenging this individualistic interpretation of person by stressing the social and relational dimensions of human life and personhood. “Persons are essentially interpersonal, intersubjective.” writes Catherine Mowry LaCungna in her book God for Us: Trinity and Christian Life. “The doctrine of the Trinity in one form or another is the sine qua non for preserving the essential relational character of God, the relational nature of human existence, and the interdependent quality of the entire universe.” “Living as persons in communion,” she goes onto say, “in right relationship, is the meaning of salvation and the ideal of Christian life.”

Indeed, the whole idea of God-as-relational also diagnoses the problem for which God’s mighty act of salvation is needed and that is alienation: human alienation, alienation from self, from other and from God. Redemption is the overcoming of alienation. Thus, of course, “love of God and love of neighbor” become woven into one Great Commandment. Of course it is when we feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit the sick and those in prison that we become the blessed children of God. Of course we must expect to have to forgive seventy times seven. And so on it goes.

Faith and Baptism are an initiation into sharing the mystery that is the life of the Trinity. Jesus’ death and resurrection are at once a love that brings us to communion with God and a revelation of the Son as Son, the beloved of the Father. The revelation is love, for that is what the Father shares with the Son, and the Holy Spirit pours this love into our hearts. In the midst of the dance of inter-dependent love we are at once impelled into the life of the Trinity and, by the reality of that life, led to participate in, to share that life, that love, in communion with all humanity.

By its very nature all human talk of God is limited, as we are limited, and so is this sermon. We cannot penetrate fully the mystery that is God. But the doctrine of the Trinity helps us to understand that God calls us into relationship, which means that God call us also into engagement–engagement with one another, and with God, and with the world. After all, it is in these very ways that the inexhaustible depth and mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, manifests itself. And isn’t that really what the Divine name is all about?