[A slightly revised excerpt from a 2001 sermon preached by Bill Lewellis on Trinity Sunday]
Religion is about relationship because that is what God is about. God is three-in-one, being-in-relationship, being-in-community. That is what we celebrate on Trinity Sunday.
The ancient Greeks had a word that sounded like "mystery." Its Latin translation is a word that sounds like "sacrament." Christian thinkers used both words, mystery and sacrament or sign, to refer to the hidden presence of the real -- the partially veiled and partially unveiled presence of God -- to mean something visible (e.g., persons, community, bread and wine) something visible that communicates something of God's hidden presence.
Whenever we talk about God, we're in that realm of mystery. Unfortunately, our English word speaks of puzzles, riddles or problems to be solved. God is not a problem to be solved, an issue to be dealt with, or a belief to be held. God is first of all a presence to be encountered in our relationships, a presence that lures us into life.
Most of the great days of the church year celebrate events: the events of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost. Today, however, we celebrate and give thanks not for an event but for a glimpse into the heart of the mystery of God, a glimpse into God as a community of persons. We celebrate our faith that the mystery of God has to do with relationship, and that the relationships within the being of God form a pattern for all of our relationships, relationships meant to reflect God’s dream for all of us, the dream we refer to at times as the Kingdom of God or the Reign of God.
A glimpse into the mystery of God. In a university in Rome, where I studied theology, this was how a professor in a large lecture hall introduced.his course. He made a white chalk dot on a very large blackboard. “The dot,” he said, “is what we know about God. The blackboard is what we don’t know about God. What we know about God is precious little. But the little that God has given us to know is precious.”
I’ve found that to be a helpful image. What we know about God is precious little. But the little that God has given us to know is precious.
Experiencing God as Trinity. Most of us, as children, were baptized in the name of the Trinity. As children, many of us learned how to sign ourselves in the name of the Trinity. The most popular name for churches in our diocese is Trinity. The three-in-one God is a core teaching of the Church.
The idea of Trinity was not thought up by ivory-tower theologians to make things more complicated than they needed to be and to obscure the simple faith of ordinary people. It was, in fact, pretty much the other way around. It arose from how the early Christians, ordinary people, experienced God in their lives after the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit. They experienced God as three different persons. Yet, there could not be three gods. God, to be the biblical God and the only God of all, had to be one God. They attempted to put their experiences of God into words. Among the words they used to capture this experience were Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The faith that arose from the experiences of ordinary people was then handed over to the theologians to try to make more intelligible. They have been trying ever since. A simple definition of theology is “putting your experiences of God into words.” The doctrine of the Trinity is our human attempt to use words to express our understanding of God – yet none of our words or images will ever be adequate to capture all of God.
I used to wear a tight, white T-shirt much too often in public, even after it framed my growing middle too well. Black lettering on the T-shirt proclaimed, “My life is based on a true story.”
Truth is not a thing apart. Truth is a relationship. If I remain in the relationship, continuing to explore the pattern of Trinity, I remain in the story.
God as Trinity means that relationship is at the heart of the universe, that relationship is the ultimate pattern, the ultimate design on which we explore the infinite possibilities of creation. God as Trinity means that you and I do not exist as genuinely human persons unless in relationship with others and with God. We are anchored by relationships. Our soul (spirituality, meaning, reality) is neither within nor without, but between… exploring the infinite possibilities of relationship.
Our lives are not limited by failure, nor by our illusions of success. There is always a call forward. None of us is there yet. Don’t ever think your life has come to a full stop. We are seeds swelling toward a ripeness never fully achieved, but ever in the process of becoming. In this moment, in every moment, we are being lured into life. We are becoming fit to live.
In the same way that nature constantly explores the infinite possibilities in a simple pattern like a tree, a leaf, a head of cauliflower, a snowflake, a human face, we too are exploring the infinite possibilities of the basic pattern of Trinity, being in community, being in relationship.
Life is a dance… with steps you don't know… Learn as you go.