We gather to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity today. When Christians say that we understand God as Trinity, we are not saying, of course that we believe in three gods. Or that the one God is somehow “divided into three parts.” What we are trying to say, among other things, is that we have experienced that one God in three ways – ways we have identified as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And, also, that there is a complexity, a multifaceted reality, about the very nature of God, in which we need to be saying several things at once about this awesome Being. Things which may, at first glance, seem to be contradictory but which, we have come to believe, are all true about God. I think our Readings from Holy Scripture this morning are attempts to identify those different aspects of God.
First of all, we have the Exodus account of Moses encountering God in the wilderness. And it’s an encounter with the power, the transcendence, the wholly “otherness” of God.
“Moses, Moses…Here I am…Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground…And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3)
Well, this may be our first experience, our first encounter with God as well. I mean if this God we worship is the Creator, and ultimate Sustainer, of this entire world; indeed of the vast Universe in which our whole galaxy is just a speck of microscopic dust, this is indeed an “awesome God!”
Taking off your shoes, or falling on your face (as, for example, Muslims do every time they pray!) is probably a pretty appropriate thing to do. It’s why we Christians kneel sometimes to pray, and at certain times in our liturgy. We are to be in awe of God!
And the temple worship of the Jewish people, the whole sacrificial system, the Hebrew Bible itself on which Jesus grew up majors in this understanding of God. They would not even pronounce God’s name out loud lest they be taking it “in vain.” To see God face to face was to risk almost certain death.
But Jesus of Nazareth, in whom we have experienced God, emphasized another aspect, another “nature” of the Divine. A nature so different from the one we’ve just been talking about that he tells Nicodemus in the Gospel that you almost have to be “born all over again” to get your mind around it.
“Very truly,” he says, “I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” (John 3)
God…loves the world, Jesus taught. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life!” What Jesus was trying to say, and to hold in tension with the awesome, transcendent nature of God which he took for granted, was the loving nature of God. Jesus wanted us to understand, not only the power of God, but the compassion of God. He wanted us to know that God was not “against” us, but always, and for ever “for” us…as human beings created in the divine image. God so loved…that he gave…
Power…complemented by…love. And St. Paul, writing some twenty years later to the Christians in Rome, takes it one step further. He says, “…all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
“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, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…” (Romans, chapter eight)
Paul is emphasizing…intimacy. You know, you can have power over someone and not have any real relationship with them at all, not care about them in the least. And you can love someone without being particularly intimate with them. Power is simply the ability to act and power “over” someone else is the ability to act in such a way as to have influence over them.
Love, at its simplest, is not an emotion at all. It is a decision. A decision to put the best interests of another ahead of your own interests. But intimacy implies a connection…and even more than connection, a relationship, even a kinship. “When we cry ‘Abba, Father’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…”
At its simplest, I think that’s what the Church – through her creeds and liturgy – is trying to say when we confess God as “in Trinity of Persons and Unity in Being.” We’re trying to say that the One God is the transcendent Power which created and sustains the Universe. But at the same time that Power is guided by Love. The guiding principle of God’s power, and the guiding principle at the core of creation, is none other than the power of love itself.
And because of that, God wants to be in relationship with each and every one of us. And that relationship is to be one of intimacy. For the God who spun out the heavens, the God who became vulnerable in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is the same God who is as close to you as the next beat of your heart, and the next breath you take!
One God: powerful, loving, intimate. One God: creating, sustaining, sanctifying. One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.