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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Trinity Sunday 6/7

          Let me read you a few quotes about the Trinity.  It lies beyond words and understanding.  The Trinity is revealed to us by God, not demonstrated to us by our own reason.  We can hint at it in human language but we can’t fully explain it.  St. Gregory of Nyssa, who was one of the church fathers in on the development of the doctrine of the Trinity said, “Using riddles, as it were, we envisage a strange and paradoxical diversity in unity and unity in diversity.” 

Using riddles; strange and paradoxical; if the Trinity is that hard to understand, if it’s that hard to explain, and it is, wouldn’t it be easier to just believe in God without having to worry about all the three in one and one in three stuff about Father, Son and Holy Spirit?  It’s easy to see why Jews and Muslims, for example, find our claim to worship one God hard to understand when we also talk about these three persons.  It’s hard for us to understand too, but on the other hand I would guess that you probably don’t lose much sleep over it either.  You accept it as a matter of faith and leave it at that and that probably is the wisest approach to the doctrine of the Trinity.

          Early Christian thinkers did lose sleep over it however, and there were good theological reasons for the doctrine of the Trinity to be formulated as it was, good theological reasons to talk about and name God in this way, good reasons to understand the work of God this way; but that is the subject of books and classes and lengthy discussions not for a Sunday sermon.  In worship we regularly name and offer praise to the Trinity, which is appropriate, but to try to explain it in 12 or 15 minutes would amount to an exercise in futility.  What we can do though, is to let the lessons of the day lead us to better understand the nature of the God we name as Trinity.

          For a moment though, in your mind, travel with me to the shores of Lake Superior on a warm summer afternoon.  The humidity is quite thick and the air is eerily still, the lake flat and calm, but off in the distance above the lake you can see a layer of dark clouds.  As you look closely you can see that the clouds are moving toward you and then you can feel a gentle breeze begin to kick up creating ripples on the surface of the lake.  There’s a soft rumble of what can only be distant thunder along with faint, intermittent flashes of far off lightning.  You can almost smell change in the air though.

          After a few minutes things do begin to change and change very quickly.  The sky darkens around you as the gentle breeze becomes an increasingly brisk wind throwing the lake into whitecaps.  The thunder and lightning are almost on top of you, crashing and flashing, happening almost simultaneously and what had been a few sprinkles is now a curtain of rain headed across the surface of the lake that is now dark and wild looking.  The wind howls, the rain pours down as you scramble to find shelter inside a nearby cabin, the trees bending and twisting and groaning in the wind.  Finally inside, you look out the window in wonder and fear at this awesome display of nature’s power.
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders; the Lord is upon the mighty waters.  The voice of the Lord bursts forth in lightning flashes.  The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.

It’s easy to imagine the author of Psalm 29 writing out of an experience like the one I described, an experience of nature where you can only be in awe and some fear at the majesty and power of God.  I would bet that many of you have had similar experiences.  You might not be able to put it into words as well as the psalmist, but you know without question that you’re in the presence of the power and glory of God.    

The Bible itself is not primarily concerned with formulating doctrine. Some of Paul’s writing heads in that direction, but even in Paul the word Trinity never appears.  What the Bible does though, in stories and poetry and imagination, is to offer images and pictures of God, descriptions of how people have experienced God, descriptions of the nature of the God that they feel so powerfully active in the world and in their lives. 

From these descriptions you realize pretty quickly that this is not a one dimensional God.  For example, in this psalm there is nothing about faithfulness or justice or the steadfast love of God, the hesed I focused on during Lent; nothing about any of that yet they are all attributes of God that we depend on.  This psalm is about raw power, about a God not easily approached or tamed.  It’s not a very comforting image; it is a little scary, but there it is.

The Isaiah passage takes us in a similar direction.  Here we are invited into the throne room of heaven where God sits, high and elevated in splendor, surrounded by an array of angels attending to his divine holiness, singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  Is this real?  Is it a vision?  Is it Isaiah’s imagination?  It doesn’t really matter because whichever one it is, in this image we are provided with a glimpse of the core of God’s holiness, holiness from which all that happens in heaven and on earth is decreed.  Again, all we can do is be in awe of the divine majesty and mystery and power, joining the praise of the angels with our own “Holy, holy, holies” in hymn and liturgy.

With both of these lessons, any inclination we have to be comfortable and cozy with God is called into question, placed in jeopardy and indeed Isaiah’s inadequacy in the presence of this holiness is made known to him. Yet despite his “Woe is me,” he is the one called by God to be a voice to the people because awesome inapproachability is not all there is to this God.  Others experience God differently.

The apostle Paul imagines a more intimate, relational God.  In the Romans passage we are called children of God, God is called Abba, in addition to Father, Abba meaning about the same thing as Daddy.  Paul   also calls us heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ and here it is not just about the glory of God but about the fact that as joint heirs we too share in the glory.  So this image doesn’t leave us trembling in awe at the glory of God but makes us a part of the glory and invites us into what sounds like a very close relationship and that too is part of the Trinity. 

In the gospel story about Nicodemus, Nicodemus comes to Jesus having been impressed by the signs Jesus has done, he comes recognizing the power of God present in Jesus, understanding as most people do that power is a defining characteristic of God.  If he was looking for additional signs of power though, that’s not where Jesus takes him.  Not that Nicodemus understood all the talk about being born of the Spirit but what Jesus was getting at, what Jesus wanted him to know had to do with the saving work of God.  It’s not the God of glory seated above the waters or in the throne room of heaven, aloof and beyond approach that Jesus reveals to Nicodemus; this is God who has come into the world in the person of Jesus so that the world might be saved through him.  This is God made known in humility and sacrifice not in power, or at least not in power as the world understands it.  This though, is another way we imagine the God we name as Trinity.

Four readings, all quite different, but taken together, what these lessons do is give us some insight into at least part of the reason for the doctrine of the Trinity.  The Bible images God in a variety of ways ranging from an awesome God revealed in power and glory and holiness to an intimate and relational Daddy, to a saving, paradoxical God whose power is made known in weakness and that’s just this week’s lessons.  God has been experienced in all these ways; all of us experience God in all these ways. 

So while the systematic efforts to explain all the three in one and one in three stuff about the Trinity are difficult if not impossible to understand, we have no trouble understanding and seeing the range of divine images contained in the Bible, images which ultimately make up the Trinity.  Some of the images we like better than others; some provide comfort, some reduce us to awe, even fear.  When we encounter these images though, we say, “Yeah, I sometimes picture God that way and that way and that way too.” 

On Trinity Sunday it is probably best not to try to understand the intricacies of the doctrine of the Trinity because you don’t have to; you’ve experienced it.  You’ve experienced the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; so the best thing to do is what the heavenly chorus did in the first lesson.  The angels didn’t talk it over and discuss the nature of the divine essence they encountered; they just offered praise.  Let us join our praise to theirs and sing, How Great Thou Art.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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