Let’s start with a confession: today is not actually Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday was two weeks ago, but I wanted to be sure to talk about the youth trip that day, and then last Sunday was the reunion service at the school, so I moved Trinity Sunday to today.
I really like Trinity Sunday. It’s one of only three church holidays that recognizes something that isn’t an event in the New Testament. Most of the special Sundays in the church year are events in Jesus’ life: Christmas, Transfiguration, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, etc., etc. And even Pentecost, which is after the life of Jesus, is recorded in the Book of Acts.
But only All Saints’ Day, Reformation Sunday, and Trinity Sunday recognize something that’s not a specific event in the Bible. All Saints’ Day is about honoring those who have died, which is a very important function of the church. Reformation Sunday, for Protestant churches, is a recognition of our particular heritage and when and where it came to be, so it’s still rooted in history.
Trinity Sunday, though, is completely different. Trinity Sunday is a day that’s all about exploring the mystery of God. It’s a day that’s about learning, rather than a day that’s about remembering. So in honor of that fact, it makes sense to me that, even though we missed the date when most of the Christian world was celebrating this day, we would remember it anyway.
And by the same token, I’ve decided to do something else this summer. Last year, in the summer, I got in a bit of a rut and wound up preaching the New Testament every week. In fact, I went over a year with nothing but New Testament sermons. This year, I decided that I would just bite the bullet and plan out half the year with Old Testament texts.
So for the next few months, with just a tiny number of exceptions (mostly for church holidays), I’m going to be preaching on texts from the Old Testament. I’m doing them in order, so that we can really see the story of God’s relationship with humanity in the Old Testament unfold over the coming months. And where do we start, other than at the beginning?
So this morning, we have opportunity of both educating ourselves about the Trinity, and being introduced to the Old Testament through the story of creation. Let us begin with creation.
In English, we use the word “creative” to describe people who have artistic ability, or who are outside-the-box thinkers. Creative people are people who seem to create something when there is nothing. That is the definition of Creation, , from a Christian perspective – the making of something out of nothing. Therefore, the story of Creation is the moment when God decided, “There will be something, rather than nothing.” And then there was, and it was good.
In Christian theology, we often talk about the idea that human beings can never truly “create,” at least not as God did. When we build a new invention, or paint a painting, solve a problem, or sing a song, we are merely taking the things in our environment around us and manipulating them to make something different. We have never actually taken “nothing” and turned it into “something.”
True creation merits a kind of outside-the-box thinking that isn’t even possible for our limited human minds. While we may think of certain people we meet as being creative, and while they may indeed be blessed with ways of thinking that are beyond most people, there is yet to be a person who could create rather than manipulate.
That’s the most important part of the Christian story of Creation. God loved, and thus created something where nothing had stood. God’s love was too great for mere solitude on God’s part. God needed to share with others.
“Aha!” you may say, if you were paying close attention during our Scripture reading today, or just if you have a working knowledge of the Trinity. “But God wasn’t alone!” And yes, there would be some validity to that claim. Because you see, the Creation story is really the very first time we encounter Trinitarian language in the Bible. Now, whether this language was intended or not on the part of the author of Genesis is immaterial; the point is that the Trinity is first seen represented here.
The first three verses of Genesis read like this: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”
I emphasized three words or phrases. The first was, of course, “God.” In Christian churches, we must admit the fact that the word “God” stands for two things. “God” is what we often call “God the Father,” for short. But we also use the word “God” to mean the entire Trinity. In this case, let us entertain the idea that it means both of those things. Bear with me.
The next idea is that of a “wind from God.” You may or may not know this, but the word for “wind” in Hebrew can mean “breath,” as well as “spirit.” Add in the fact that Hebrew pronouns and English ones do not have 100% agreement, and an equally likely translation of this phrase is “Spirit of God,” rather than “wind from God.” Then finally, we hear God speak, and God says, “Let there be light.”
If we remember, the New Testament has its own version of the Creation in the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Christ, in this passage, is also called “the Word.” The fact that God creates through words has led people to the conclusion that Christ, the eternal Word, is also present in the Creation story.
So if we consider that the word “God” can refer to God the Father, that the “wind” or “Spirit” could be the Holy Spirit, and that God’s act of speaking through Word is Christ, we see all three members of the Trinity, present and active in the moment of Creation.
Let me take a step back, because I think it’s important again to name the part of the Trinity. We believe in God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is something we confess every week when we share in the Apostles’ Creed. It’s something we say in our Baptismal liturgy, as Jesus commanded us to in our passage from Matthew’s Gospel today. We baptize babies in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So it is something we feel comfortable believing; it’s not just something some bored monk thought up while he was transcribing things. It’s from Jesus’ own lips to our ears. The Trinity is important because Jesus, who is God, has told us that it’s important.
Yet, at the same time, we do not say there are three gods. There is but one, united as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So a lot of people wonder how it works. How are there three, and yet only one? If we have only one, how are there three? The answer is quite simple: no one really knows.
I mean, there are a million ideas out there. St. Patrick – you know, the guy for whose birthday we all pretend to be Irish – used the image of a clover (just a regular, three-leaf one, not a four-leaf one). He talked about its three leaves, and how it was yet only one clover. Many pastors have used the analogy from third-grade science class of water, ice, and steam – they are all the same thing, yet they are three distinct forms. Some pastors might be tempted to draw an analogy of their own lives: I’m a son, I’m a father, I’m a husband; three distinct roles, yet I’m only one person. Any or all of these three things might be useful, and every one of them has a load of problems as to why it isn’t the answer.
Remember how I said that, in Christian theology, we don’t really believe that people can “create” something? Well, imagine the kind of creative mind we would need to have in order to understand the mysteries of God! Perhaps one day, when we’ve returned to God, we will understand. But for now, our uncreative minds are forced to wrestle with ideas that are often too complex for us, particularly when it comes to talking about God.
And yet, at the end of the day, we do know God is here, and we know that we experience God in really different ways. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by the majesty of Creation. We marvel at how big the universe is – how far away the stars, how beautiful the mountains. Sometimes, we are taken aback by the closeness of God – how we truly feel our prayers answered, or at least when we know they’ve been heard; how we hear a voice that is somehow not our own compelling us to do something we wouldn’t normally do. Furthermore, we also know that God lived and walked among us as Jesus Christ, fully human and yet fully God.
So we have a vision of God beyond us – God, who cannot be fathomed. We know God who walked among us as Jesus Christ. And we have God, who is nearer than our own skin – God who is inside us. And to these three parts, we give the names Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All real, all God. Separate and distinct in our experience, but together in purpose. Together, God is one divine mystery, one direction, one love, one hope.
So on this Trinity Sunday, go forth into the mysteries and wonders of God’s Creation. Go, knowing that we may leave this building more confused than we entered it; yet go forth knowing that, though the mysteries of God are all-surpassing and impossible to grasp, the same God who is impossible to understand loves you deeply. Even though it would be easy to think we would mean nothing to God, instead we mean everything. So go forth as people renewed, perhaps not in understanding, but fed in love, joy, and worship of the Triune God. Amen.