If there's one thing that is guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of any clergyperson it is having to preach a sermon on the Trinity. For twenty centuries, theologians have tried to understand for themselves and then to explain to others, how the God of the Christians can be both one and three at the same time without the integrity of either state being compromised. Many different models have been proposed to make the concept of the Trinity easier to understand. For example, St. Patrick likened the Trinity to a shamrock with its three parts in one leaf. A banana has been suggested as a good model, because, although it is one fruit, when you peal it the skin always seems to split naturally into three pieces. Another example would be to liken the trinity to a building such as a church. If you look at a church from the front, from outside the porch, you might come to the conclusion that it is only a small building. It is not until you stand to the side of it that you see how big it actually is. Most of those who met Jesus during his lifetime could only see Jesus the man; it was not until after his resurrection, and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that his disciples began to fully see the bigger picture.
I had a friend who used to explain to his congregation how the Trinity is like a Mars bar, one sweet that contains three parts, chocolate, caramel and nougat, and then he would take this metaphor to its painful conclusion by telling them that the Holy Trinity, if prayed to daily, would, just like a Mars bar, help them to work rest and play.
All these examples help us to understand bits of the nature of the Trinity but they do not explain the mystery completely. It may be that the Trinity is one of those mysteries in our lives, that are just unexplainable. And I do not have a problem with that. I find it as easy, or as difficult, to believe that God is three in one, as I find it as easy or difficult to believe that I am alive, on a piece of rock floating around in a universe apparently created out of nothing. Life is a mystery; quite honestly, the concept of the Trinity is no harder to believe than anything else.
I am happy to leave it at that. God is three, God is one. How and why that should be the case I do not know and I'm not going to lose any sleep over that. What I do think is important is the question as to how can the nature and behaviour of the Trinity inform us of our nature and how we should behave. The Trinity is a mystery, but there are things we do know about it that can help us to understand more about our God and ourselves.
Firstly, the Trinity is unity. It is the most perfect example of unity that exists. God is perfectly one. The paradox is that although we perceive three persons within the Trinity, God cannot be divided into parts, God is always one. God is perfection. To divide God into pieces would make him less than perfection, and so less than God, and so not God at all. God has to be one.
Jesus said, ‘when you see me, you see the Father,’ not, ‘when you see me you see something like the Father, or even something the same as the Father.’
God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, is completely one, and yet we perceive Jesus as distinctly Jesus. Jesus prayed to the Father, and that was more than just Jesus talking to himself. And we know that Jesus the Word of God, was with God from the beginning and that it was through the Word of God that the world was created. And we perceive the Father as distinctly the Father, our creator. We pray to God the Father through God the Son, and it is important that we do that.
We perceive the Holy Spirit as distinctly the Holy Spirit, we believe that God the Holy Spirit proceeded from God the Father to comfort us and to give us the power to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet the Holy Spirit is still completely one with God and has always been so.
God is three and God is one. What should this perfect example of unity mean to us. Well for a start it means that the people of God should always strive for unity with each other and with God. At the moment my denomination, the Anglican Communion, seems to be pulling itself to pieces. Every time some faction disagrees with another faction, the first thing that is threatened is that the aggrieved party is going to leave and set up their own church, their own integrity, and to no longer be in communion with anybody else because they could not possibly share the Lord’s Supper with anybody who disagrees with their point of view.
This is both bad news and also bad theology. Schism and threats of schism are not examples of good Trinitarian behaviour. The Trinity draws itself into one, it brings together, it does not rend asunder. When God’s people push themselves apart from each other they are not following in Christ’s footsteps.
Of course, we are all distinct people, and we remain distinct, but within the Church, each one of us, individuals that we are, should be coming together with each other to celebrate our diversity that should ideally exist within our unity. Such a thing is possible because we see it in the example of the Trinity, its just a lot more difficult than turning our backs on each other.
This leads to a second characteristic of the Trinity, that it is community, the most perfect example of community. We see the three persons of the Trinity working together as one. Each person in the Trinity is an aspect of the one God, each seems to have its own function, but each function would be worthless without the functions of the others. God is perfect community, and his people should strive to be the same. Belief is communal, it is not an individual act, you cannot be a Christian in isolation, that would be a contradiction in terms, because so much of our faith is concerned with being a community, with loving each other, with loving God, of being part of the vine of faith, with each of us offering our individual and distinctive gifts to each other and to God. Working together as the embodiment of the Kingdom of God.
Thirdly, the Trinity is inclusive, not exclusive. The Trinity wants to involve everything within itself. The Father wants to draw the whole of creation back to himself. Jesus involves the outcast within the kingdom. The Holy Spirit goes out to the whole world to make all the chosen people of God. With this example the people of God cannot be exclusive, we cannot refuse admission to our kingdom community to people who embarrass us, or annoy us or who are different to us in some physical or mental way, because God is not like that. As I said, God wants to draw his people to himself, it is his people who so often choose to walk away from him, not vice versa.
Therefore, as God’s people, the Trinity should be our main model for how we behave towards each other within our church communities, and also as how we behave towards those still outside of our churches. We must fight to avoid falling out over the things that divide and instead concentrate of the things that unite us. We should not be spreading bad news to people through our measly words and nasty actions, we should be spreading the good news that God’s Kingdom is a homeland for everybody and we should be doing this in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.