Today is Trinity Sunday. Today the Church invites us to reflect on one of the great mysteries of our faith, what it teaches us about God and what it teaches us about the Christian life.
It is hard to wrap out minds around the idea of the Trinity. We worship one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But what does that mean?
Coincidentally, this week a friend sent me a link to a Youtube video about the Trinity. In the video, two simple Irishmen named Conall and Donall ask Saint Patrick to explain the Trinity to them.
Patrick does his best. Patrick says, the Trinity is like water. Water can be solid, or liquid, or gas, but it is one basic thing. The Trinity is like that: three persons, but one God.
Conall and Donall look at each other. They look at Patrick. And then they say, Patrick, that’s a bad analogy. That’s a heresy called modalism.
Patrick tries again, using a different analogy. Again Conall and Donall point out the heresy in what Patrick has said. And so it goes with every analogy Patrick offers.
The video is short and funny, and it ends up summarizing the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity using language from the back of the Prayerbook. I have put the link below for those who are interested.
For our purposes right now, the lesson is that we cannot explain the full mystery of the Trinity.
But we can say two things about God as Trinity. There are three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And there is one God. Three persons united as one substance.
Each person of the Trinity is distinct. We can talk about God the Father alone. So, for example, we say that God the Father almighty is creator of heaven and earth.
But the three distinct persons of the Trinity are also fully united, truly one in substance, so that the three persons are one God. What we say about one person of the trinity, we can say about the other two as well.
So, even though we normally call God the Father the creator, the Son and the Holy Spirit are also the creator. As the Gospel of John says, “In the beginning was the Word—the second person of the Trinity—and the Word was with God and the Word was God….All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
This is the mystery of the Trinity. God is three persons. And God is one.
Now, that came be confusing. So here is my own analogy, which Conall and Donall would probably find heretical.
Think of a marriage. In marriage, each spouse remains a distinct person capable of acting on his or her own. And the two spouses are, at least in theory, united as one couple.
So, last weekend, my wife Carrie travelled on her own to Baltimore. I waited until she left town, then I bought a car. We were both acting as separate persons. But one might argue that buying a car while my wife was out of town was a little obnoxious. After all, even though spouses remain separate individuals, they are joined together. What one does commits the other. Carrie is now stuck with the debt for my car.
We are distinct persons. And we are also one couple.
Here is the point. When we think about God, we think of divine persons who are distinct, but also united. When we think about married couples, we think of persons who are distinct, but also united.
That is not a coincidence. We are created in the image and likeness of God. If God is three persons united in one substance, then we too are distinct persons who naturally unite with others. I say that again. If God is three persons united in one substance, then we too are distinct persons who naturally unite with others.
I emphasize the point because many people today seem to be losing sight of this essential truth of our nature. Many people today are so obsessed with their individual rights and their personal wants and needs that they lose sight of what they owe to others. They focus on their distinctness, their individuality, and ignore or neglect the community of which they are a part.
This matters at every level, starting with Church.
We, the people of Saint David’s, are all individuals. And we are all united by the Holy Spirit into the one body of Jesus Christ. As such, we have a responsibility to each other and to our common life. I am proud to say that we here at Saint David’s mostly seem to get that.
But people in America often talk and act as if the point of Church is to meet their personal needs. That is wrong.
Christians are called to lives of discipleship. We are called to grow in the knowledge and love of God. And we are called to do that in the company of other Christians. And so we join together in worship and service. And in fact, union with others in service to God normally does meet our personal needs. But meeting our needs is not why we do what we do as Christians. We do what we do, whether or not it meets our own immediate needs, because God calls us to community and to mission.
That is how God is: distinct persons united as one. That’s how God made us: distinct persons called to join together as one. We forget that to our detriment.
The same is true of political units. People too often think about politics solely in terms of self-interest. Is a particular policy good for me? Then I support it. Does it cost me money? Then I oppose it.
I care about my own interests, of course. But my interests are not the only things that matter. After all, we are all in this together. So we think about our own wants and needs. And we think about the common good, or at least we should.
That is how God is. That is how God calls us to be.
The same is true for the community of nations. As Americans, we rightly focus on our own national interests. But as Christians, we are called to think bigger. As Christ says in our gospel reading, our calling as Christians is to make disciples of all nations. Whatever else that means, it means that all nations are populated by actual and potential brothers and sisters. Even though we are distinct, with our own national interests, we are also united with people from every from every family, race, tribe, and nation.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus shows us what this looks like.
First we see the distinction of persons.
Jesus was about to be crucified, and he dreaded it. So Jesus prayed, Father, take this cup from me.
Thankfully Jesus was more committed to union than to his self-interest. Jesus added, Not my will but yours be done (Matthew 26:39). Jesus died, in perfect union with the Father and for the sake of our union with each other and with God. A distinct person totally committed to union.
That is the mystery of the Trinity. Three persons united as one God. That is the mystery of our faith. Lots of distinct persons united with other distinct persons as God’s beloved children.
My prayer on this Trinity Sunday is that we can live into the image and likeness of God in us by living into our union with each other and with all people.
In the name of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.