The Sunday Sermon: Some things are better not understood

Trinity Sunday/Year B 
 Isaiah 6:1-8 
 Romans 8:12-17 
 John 3:1-17 

 Today is Trinity Sunday, that blessed day in which we are asked to contemplate the meaning and reality of the Trinity, while praying at the same time the preacher will not go on about it indefinitely.

 Rest assured, I feel the same way—I don’t want to hear me go on indefinitely either.
Or put another way, as The Rev. Dr. Chilton Delmer wrote in his weekly blog on the lectionary, “Brief attempts to explain the Trinity remind me of my Daddy’s sister, Aunt Mildred. She talked on the phone with her friends a lot; a whole lot. The family joke was that she ended every conversation with the line, ‘I would tell you more, but I already told you more than I heard myself.’”

 So in order to try and avoid telling you more than I have heard myself, let’s get the “theological” definition of the Trinity out of the way. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, a go-to beginning resource for many of us on these sorts of things, defines the Trinity in part as follows:

 The one God exists in three persons and one substance, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is one yet self-differentiated; the God who reveals Himself to mankind is one God equally in three distinct modes of existence, yet remains one through all eternity.” 

 This has no doubt cleared things up for you.

 Frankly when many of us hear something like that, our response is often something like, “what?” or perhaps more importantly, “so what.” What are we supposed to do with this? What difference does it really make in our day to day understanding of God and what it means to lead a Christian life?

Theologian and Professor Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, puts it this way:

Clear and distinct Trinitarian terms give the impression that
theology has God sighted through a high-powered telescope,
with descriptions of the interactions between three persons
intended to be taken in some literal sense . . . Consequently,
the triune symbol and the thought to which it gives rise have
become unintelligible and religiously irrelevant on a vast scale
. . . To paraphrase an observation by (theologian) Karl Rahner, if people were to read in their morning newspaper that a fourth person of the Trinity had been discovered it would cause little stir, or at least less than is occasioned by a Vatican pronouncement on a matter of sexual ethics—so detached has the triune symbol become from the actual religious life of so many people. 

 Now, not that Dr. Johnson asked for my opinion but I think she is on to something. It is often our very attempts to define and make sense of the Trinity, in essence try to describe God with any degree of specificity end up driving all the life force from our sense of God, and more importantly our relationship with God.

 Which is too bad because the Trinity, even imperfectly understood has something important to offer us.

 One of most profound things I learned in seminary, if this makes any sense at all, was about the mystery of God, and how not all mysteries are meant to be solved.
I was never going to figure it all out, nor was I meant to. None of us are. But that’s okay, because figuring it out is not what’s ultimately important.

 We will never know enough or be able to fully grasp the reality that is God. But what we can begin to understand, and trust, is how God seeks to be in relationship with us because God’s essence at the core is profoundly relational.

 And our understanding of this profoundly relational nature of God unfolds over time, sometimes with greater clarity than others, through our interaction at any given time with the majesty and creativity of God, the compassionate and wise person of God as revealed in Jesus, and the always present power and reach of God through the Holy Spirit, unified together, and in us, through love.

The Trinity is not something to be understood but rather something to be lived into.

 Much is often made of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night, in essence under the cover of dark. Furthermore his conversation with Jesus, at least as written in John’s Gospel, is difficult. It is easy to imagine Nicodemus after leaving Jesus shaking his head wondering what had just happened.

But, if we are honest with ourselves, this is just how we frequently approach God as well. In fear, confusion, curiosity, or just plain uncertainty about what we are asking for or even want. But while it can be disconcerting, we are reassured through God’s relational nature, the Trinity, that that’s alright.
We don’t come to God because of what we know but rather be in the presence of the One who calls us and desires so strongly to be with us.

 The important thing is that we do come, under cover of darkness or not, because for reasons which often seem unfathomable, God desires our company.

 In the words of St. Paul from today’s reading in Romans, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father! it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God . . .’”.

 So what are we to take from this Trinity Sunday? The answers are as varied as those of us here. 

But as a friend recently suggested to me (or at least what I took from my conversation with him—he was much more articulate than this), the terminology we use—be it Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctified; the Lover, Beloved, and Love Itself as our Dean says; or any of the ways we try and express the mystery and fullness of God, this Sunday invites us to explore our understanding of God and reminds us how our understanding, and importantly, how our life of faith is never meant to be static, but rather one which is ever growing, living, and expanding.

 With God and in community. These relationships matter.

 The language we use to describe these things, what they mean to us, and how they evolves over time, tell us a whole lot about that understanding. Not just as individuals, or even a community of faith but indeed as children of God, part of the whole blessed creation.

 The Trinity points us towards a way of being with God, each other, and in the world which honors the both the complexity and simplicity of our lives. The complexity in that it reinforces how some things will always be beyond our grasp. Our God is bigger than we are. Thank God. 

But simple as well because through the Trinity, and our interactions with the three persons of the Trinity, however we understand them at any given time, allows us to see and experience how God touches us, reaches for us, and ultimately loves us in ways we would never know otherwise.

 So to that end, I offer the following from Brian Wren’s Who is She from which I began my own reflections for today:


 Who is She, neither male nor female, maker of all things, 
 only glimpsed or hinted, source of life and gender? 
 She is God, 
 mother, sister, lover: in her love we wake, move, grow, 
 are daunted, triumph and surrender. 


 Who is She, mothering her people, teaching them to walk, 
 lifting weary toddlers, bending down to feed them? 
 She is Love, 
 crying in a stable, teaching from a boat,
 friendly with the lepers, bound for crucifixion 


 Who is She, sparkle in the rapids, cooling of the well, 
living power of Jesus flowing through the Scriptures?
 She is Life, 
water, wind and laughter, calm, yet never still, 
swiftly moving Spirit, sing in the changes. 

 Have a blessed Trinity Sunday.

 The Rev. Canon Allisyn Thomas
3 June 2012

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1 thought on “The Sunday Sermon: Some things are better not understood”

  1. Wow. This was such an awesome read. Thank you for the glimpse of this reality … GOD. I hope to read more of your work in the future and maybe one day visit your church to hear you in person. Thanks again! 🙂

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