Question: Of the 268 congregations of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the church to which I belong), how many are named after the Trinity?
Question: True or False: The Trinity describes God as “one God in Three persons”?
Question: True or False: The persons of the Trinity consist of: “God,” “the Son,” and “the Holy Spirit”?
The first person of the Trinity is not “God,” but rather, “God the Father.” The other persons of the Trinity are “God the Son” and “God the Holy Spirit” because all are equally God.
Question: True or False: The Trinity can be best described as being like water: taking on three forms (liquid, vapor/mist, and ice) but still all water?
This is a heresy called Modalism in which God exists in three modes, but never at the same time. Just like water cannot exist as liquid and ice at the same time, so too did Modalists believe that God could not be Father and Son at the same time. Modalists believed that God had different “modes” (like putting on different masks depending on what was needed at the time), but the church believes that God is all three persons simultaneously. If this was not the case, who then was Jesus praying to in the garden?
Question: True or False: In the doctrine of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is a manifestation of the Father and the Son rather than being described as fully God.
The Holy Spirit is a full person of the Trinity like the Father and the Son.
Question: True or False: In Trinitarian terms, all three persons are described as creating the universe rather than just the Father?
The Bible describes God the Father as the creator, but also notes that it was God’s Spirit hovering over the deep that was involved in creating at the start of Genesis. Also note that in John’s gospel “the Word” (God the Son) was there in the beginning and that “all things came into being through him.” The persons of God are fully involved in every action of God.
Question: What shape has historically been used to describe the Trinity?
Beyond the triangle having three points to represent God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the equilateral triangle is able to represent each person of the Trinity in an equal way (all points and angles are the same), yet all points are a part of the same object. Though this is orthodox, I still maintain that God is not a shape. You cannot have a relationship with a shape.
Relationships: that is how I actually want to talk about God this Trinity Sunday. Quite frankly, facts about how God is Trinity can be fun for a quiz, but does not do much to promote the new life that can be found in Jesus Christ. Probably, the best description that I have ever heard concerning the Trinity is that God is inherently a community. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, who are all equally a part of this divine community, work together to create, save, and draw more of creation back into that Holy Community.
And, we need to be drawn back in because there are lots of ways that we try to push away the community of God.
Some people focus only on themselves. Selfishness is the opposite of being a part of a community, and therefore is opposite to the very nature of God.
Some people are concerned primarily of making money and they put that first in life. Think of those who choose to destroy the environment rather than care for it, all to just make a profit.
In the book of Revelation, John of Patmos (the preacher of the book) repeatedly regards Rome’s destruction of the land and pollution of the seas as being work that is in opposition to Christ. In other words, when we destroy God’s creation, we are essentially pushing away God’s divine community which thought up and molded the universe in the first place. When we haphazardly and selfishly destroy creation, we are essentially pushing away what God loves.
There are lots of ways to push away the community of God. Selfishness does not just take the form of loving money but, as Paul lists in Romans, Chapter One, selfishness can fill us with every kind of “wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.”
You do not need Paul to list off all of those things for you though. You know very well how destructive any one of these things can be to a community.
“Gossip,” one of Paul’s examples, can utterly destroy a group of people. Gossip can consist of either true or false information, but, either way, it is spread without first investigating the truth. Gossip cares more about spreading the information than spreading the truth.
Now, if the gossip is false, it is obviously destructive because it injures someone who is innocent. I think of the farmer who was denied an operating loan from a small town banker because the rumor had hit the banker that the farmer was going to sell all of his cows. When the farmer heard at the café weeks later that he was going to sell all of his cows, it was news to him! But, the rumor had already done its very real destruction.
Yet, even if the information contained in the gossip is true, it is still destructive because Jesus tells us to confront those who sin against us; not just talk behind their backs. Even more, Jesus demands that we forgive 70 times 7 times.
Gossip does not care about reconciling people, but God does. God cares that God’s community of people show love to each other because God is a community of love.
And, for those who do not identify with any of Paul’s examples of selfish, idolatrous behavior, he goes one step further. If you are judging others who do these things (like me right now as I chastise the gossipers), then you too (and me) are no better.
For in judging, we are standing in the place of God rather than in the place of a human being and we too think too much of ourselves and our values. In passing judgment, we too are selfish and idolatrous, holding ourselves higher than we ought. In judging we too are destroying the community of God.
God cares that God’s community of people show love because God is a community of love.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Paul points out. That is just the truth of being a human. We fall short of the mark, even if we try to aim right at it.
Yet, do not forget that God is a community of love. Jesus Christ brings us peace with God. Jesus Christ looks at us through eyes of grace and not eyes of judgment. We are brought into God’s community through grace; not because we deserve to be in God’s community but, because God wants us there.
By grace you have been saved. By love you have been saved. And, the Holy Spirit pours this same love into your hearts because God is a community that wants more and more invited in.
We are a people of grace, because God is a divine community of grace. And, that is what is important in life. And, that is what is important to understand about the Trinity.