Today is Trinity Sunday. Many clergy take vacation during this particular weekend, and leave the preaching on this last Feast Day before Ordinary Time to Supply Clergy or their Assisting Priests. Why, Trinitarian theology is not an easy thing to preach about. For instance, there are many metaphors folks use to try and explain the Trinity and some are good, and some not so good. A colleague of mine once preached a wonderful sermon, whereas she described the structure of a banana to try and explain the Trinity. She preached how three individual parts of the inner core of a banana are of one substance, but are actuall three distinct parts. However, when peeled, the separate pieces are a whole and remain indistinguishable. Not a bad attempt, but I was still left perplexed after hearing it.
I have heard preachers attempt to explain the Trinity by referring to the movie “The Matrix”. They taught that the character Morpheus represented the First Person of the Trinity sent into the matrix Neo or “the One” as they called him (an allusion to the Second Person of the Trinity), to reveal the truth and to set the people free. Additionally, there was wise female character named Trinity (self explanatory), who guided, prodded, and instructed the group to stay on mission task. This movie is not the best way to explain God, but for some preachers it has worked. I love the movie itself, but theologically it still leaves me scratching my head for answers.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not an easy concept to understand. We are sometimes left confused, merely to accept Trinitarian theology as “ a mystery that we must take on faith.” That is fine of course, if you merely want to “tip your hat” to the concept, and then move on with your daily life unscathed. However, the idea of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not just an intellectual concept to which we make an assent, and then move on.
The study of Trinity is a life-long task of seeking to comprehend and engage in relationship with the mysterious but transcendent God. The concept of Trinity poses for us not only a theological and intellectual challenge, but most importantly a relational challenge, because mystery and love are not objective topics, and we 21st century Christians love our certainty.
Theology, Intellect, and the Church
In seminary, I spent three years trying to theologically and systematically understand the Doctrine of the Trinity. We studied how the early members of the Church exaIIned their experiences of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and tried to use feeble human language to explain it. Even today, we still wrestle with questions like, “Why can’t God be Father at one time, Son the another time, and Holy Spirit yet another time?” (the heresy of modalism).
The Councils of the church tried to understand that Three in One concept, and they came up with using a Greek word “Homoousios,” which was a Christological doctrine formulated at the first ecumenical council at Nicaea in 325, to affirm that God the Son and God the Father are of the same substance.” These questions and many more, represent intellectual concepts, some were deemed heretical, but they were attempts to try and explain their journey to comprehend God.
When we speak of God, we are trying to describe the unfathomable, awesome, and inexplicable source of all, the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of the cosmos. Yet the depth of God is beyond our simple cerebral neuron firings. Even the Psalmist understood this when they wrote, “I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses.” To even grasp God, we must go to the heart, and take our yearning for God, where in the discovery labs of emotion and relationship, we find God. We must explore how we have experienced and will experience God as ”Three in one” and as an inner life of communal love, manifested through God’s action in the world, and in our daily lives.
Inner Life of God
We all have heard the phrase, “God is love.” Augustine, the great theologian of the church, the son of our patron saint Monica once wrote, “Now when I, who am asking about this, love anything, there are three things present: I myself, what I love, and love itself. For I cannot love love unless I love a lover; for there is no love where nothing is loved. So there are three things: the lover, the loved and the love.” (4) Augustine was attempting to explain the Triune God in terms that we understand; love and relationship.
In other words, for love (Spirit) to be shared, there must be a lover (Father), a beloved (Son), and the ongoing cycle of the love (Spirit) they share. Let’s be a little cautious here, because we could inch close to the edge of heresy or alternatively, we may actually fail to fully explain God, but I think we are on the right track to understanding this Father, Son, and Holy Spirit idea.
First, this Trinity we speak of is God in relationship to Godself. There is an inner life of God; a mysterious loving communal existence undivided, of same substance, acting together, loving together. Next, this Trinity we speak of is transcending, showing up in creation to bring that love to us, and inviting us into that circle of love we just described.
The Trinity we speak of is God acting and transcending in relationship with Godself and with creation. It sounds simple, but to grasp it, we have to broaden our minds, expand our thinking, and be open to a mystery we cannot fully explain, but one that we experience every day.
The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace.” Theologian Karoline Lewis explains, “Paul is an example of what happens when you assert something particular about God — it leads to something that you can then know as promise about your relationship with God.” (1) Lewis adds, “For Paul, this something about God could not just be descriptive of God, but had to make a difference for our very existence and life with God.” (1) You see, it really doesn’t matter if we say, “I wholeheartedly believe what the Creed says about God,” if that assertion does not change us, and bring us into a deeper relationship with God.”
Blue Pill or Red Pill
Sister Joan Chittister, prolific and well-known theologian once wrote, “Scripture maintains that wisdom—which it defines in another place as “fear of the lord”—means holy astonishment, complete wonder and awe at what God does in my life and the life of everyone around me.” (2) Maybe you have experiences of this perfect relationship of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and through those moments, you find yourself yearning to take your place at God’s table where you share in that love. Well, the invitation is always there. We are invited to take our place in the cycle of love shared between the First, Second, and Third Person of the Trinity and by extending that cycle of love with our neighbors. We see little images of that love invitation each day, if we are open to it.
Fof instance, I am reminded each day of the awesomeness of God’s creation, when I hear the birds sing their songs, and shout in all that they are the glory of the one who brought it all together. I am reminded each day of the Redeemer, whose love for all of creation made it possible for me, to recognize every human being as my sister and brother. Whether it be the homeless man who stops for water, or a traveling family who has run out of gas on the way home after the promise of a job falls apart, or a fellow St. Monican whose health keeps them away from community and yet, mine or someone else’s phone call or visit brings them joy and connection. I am reminded each day of God’s Spirit of wisdom that brings new ideas, new approaches, and renewed commitment to mission opportunities around us, guiding us as a community toward our purpose and mission. God has acted, acts today, and call us to action as well, as we are called to an awesome, unfathomable, indescribable love relationship with God.
“The Latin “homo” means human; the Latin “sapientia” means “wisdom”. We are meant to be “wise humans”, made in the image of Wisdom, made in the image of God. We are meant to be God’s delight” (2) but love requires that we have the option to choose. We humans (homo sapiens) are intelligent beings who have the God-given wisdom to choose, either to recognize and respond to the love of God, or to reject it outright.
In the movie “The Matrix,” Morpheus offers Neo a choice. As Neo stands on the precipice of learning the truth about life (or the false life of the Matrix) Morpheus says, “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
We Christians stand each day on the precipice of the truth of life as it is meant to be and there, we have a choice. We can choose the “blue pill” and merely accept God as an intellectual concept alone, or we can just reject the truth of God as fantasy. In so doing we “return to our comfortable bed and believe whatever we want to believe,” all while being unscathed, unchanged, and just living life just as it is on the surface.
Alternatively, we can choose to embrace the mystery of God, and choose to go deeper with God, by entering into that cycle of love that is shared between the Three Persons of the Trinity. We can open our eyes to the reality of God revealing Godself to us each and every day, and in so doing, we can see just “how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
Which will it be my friends? Will you open your eyes next week and look for God in all things. Will you ask God to reveal Godself to you this coming week? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? You know, we have a choice, just like Neo, who chose to seek out the reality of life where love and grace and freedom really existed, outside the false reality around him. May I offer you this same option? Seek God out this week and experience love unfathomable and beyond your ability to explain or capacity to understand fully. Seek God out in others and seek God through your own experience of creation in all things. In other words, my sisters and brothers, as you leave this place and enter into the matrix of every day life out there, “May I suggest you take the Red pill?”
(1) http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4648 by Karoline Lewis
(4) St. Augustine, “On the Trinity,” Basic Writings of St. Augustine, Volume 2, Ed. Whitney J. Oates (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992), 790.