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Holy Trinity Sunday A Sermon
Genesis 1: 1-2: 4,
Matthew 28: 16-20
June
11, 2017

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

(For my children’s sermon I am going to ask the young people to tell me what the Trinity is. To help them along I am going to read the following quote from the chapter on God in a book from my seminary days, “Christian Theology: An Introduction to Its Traditions and Tasks.” – “The symbol of the Trinity served to provide conceptual expression for the dialectic polarity of the Christian God as at once the self-sufficient creator of all, transcendent to all finitude (Father), and as the active, revealing, loving redeemer (Son), present in grace and power to God’s people (Spirit).” I will talk about how this may be helpful for a seminarian preparing to share the gospel with people, but it is not helpful for most Christians to understand who God is. What is helpful are the stories that we share from the Bible and from our lives where we talk about experiences we have with God. One of these is the first creation story from the Bible, found in Genesis 1:1 – 2:4.)

You probably can tell by my talk with the children that I am not going to try to define the Holy Trinity for you today. Martin Luther said, “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; to try to explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity!” Thick books have been written to try to define or explain what we mean when we explain God as three-in-one and one-in-three. And if you think that in the 10 minutes that I have for my sermon that I will try to tackle that challenge, then you are sadly mistaken. I will not risk my sanity in that way!
But if we Christians are not able to define exactly what the Holy Trinity is, then what is it good for? If it only confuses us more or raises more questions than answers, why is it so important to us? To me, the value of the Trinity is that it gives us a basis for telling the stories of how we experience God in our lives. Telling stories is the most widely used way that we have done this over the history of our planet because we are trying to capture concepts beyond our human experience with the limited language that we have. So, Jesus found it most effective to teach using parables – stories that, while they are not historical or factual, convey a truth about God and us that cannot be conveyed with language of academia.
We also have stories from the Old Testament which do the same thing. While the Israelites were in exile in Babylon, the priests who were among them tried to help the people remember their roots and hold onto hope that they would one day be delivered from that situation. While they were being told that the gods of the Babylonians had defeated their Yahweh, and that the Babylonians gods were so powerful that they created everything in the universe, the priestly writers finished writing the passage that we shared as our first lesson, what is known as the first creation account from Genesis. By using story, these people were trying to share the truths about God – that Yahweh created everything simply by speaking, and that all that is created is good, and that we are created in God’s image.

That last point is very important. Kings of vast empires – like Babylon’s Nebechednezzar - would erect statues of themselves to be their image in the far corners of their realms where they themselves could not be, but where they still ruled. In the story from Genesis 1, we hear that we creatures are the images of God scattered on the earth in places where God rules, but God cannot physically be. There is no need for images, statues or paintings of God, since we are the very images of God … and that’s all that we need. Through this story, the priestly writers encouraged God’s people to hold out hope, to withstand the taunts of their Babylonian captors until the Persians conquered the Babylonians and released them to return to their homeland.

I was thinking about some of the stories or illustrations that we use to explain our experience of God as Trinity. Some of the classics are that the Trinity is like H2O – in frozen form it is ice, in liquid form it is water, and in gas form it is steam. It is one compound but can make itself known in three different forms depending on the conditions around it, especially the temperature. Another is the egg – it is one item, but it consists of a shell, a white and a yolk. Not as good an illustration, I don’t think, as water, but it does tell about something with three distinct parts that make up the whole.

Recently a story has been written and shared which has gotten a lot of attention, both positively and negatively. In 2007, William Paul Young wrote a book called, “The Shack.” It has been made into a motion picture, and is still playing at the dollar theater at Carriage Place. In the book, Mack Phillips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later, in the midst of his great sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment, he arrives at the shack on a wintery afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. It is there that he encounters the Trinity – God the Father as a plump African American woman named Abba, God the Son, Jesus the carpenter, and the Spirit, Sarayu – a very mysterious small Asian woman who is a gardener.

I read The Shack shortly after it came out. I cannot remember too many details of the book, but I remember thinking that it could be a helpful story for people, if we remember that it is a fictitious story of someone trying to share his experience with God. Just as the Priestly writers were telling their experiences with God through the creation story, and as Jesus was telling his experiences with God through parables, so Wm. Young is sharing his experience with God through this book. We cannot judge orthodoxy or doctrine based on it, but we can experience it as it is … maybe helpful to one while not helpful to another. But I commend Young on writing a creative, artistic book on The Trinity using story instead of a book which uses lecture-like systematic teaching to explain and define it.

I guess we might say that our very lives are stories which tell of our experiences with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God inspires in each of us the stories of his presence to create, redeem and sustain all life. It is important to remember that even after seeing the risen Jesus in our Gospel reading from Matthew, some of the disciples still doubted. It is okay if we doubt and still have questions. We are still the ones who are sent forth to share the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with the world. Our presence and our actions participate in God’s work in the world. God uses us in our weakness to be the story of creation, redemption and sustaining. We don’t always understand it, but we don’t have too! In the midst of our doubt and confusion, we can give thanks for the presence of God as Trinity in our lives and in the life of all creation. Amen.