On this Sunday when we remember that we Christians are “Trinitarians” (people who believe that God has been revealed to us in three ways – as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit), it’s sort of interesting to see how that understanding developed over the centuries. And our Lessons from Scripture this morning, give us perfect lenses through which to view all this.
We know that one of the founding beliefs of the Jewish people was their conviction that there was only one God. Contrary to other religions of the times which taught that there were “many lords and many gods,” the Jews believed that there was just one. In fact, their ancient creed, the Shema, stated it well: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is one!” Can’t put it much plainer than that!
Yet as their faith developed over time, they began to see that, while their God was still one, the nature of God was more complicated than that. And so we get passages in the so-called Wisdom Literature like the one we had today from the Book of Proverbs in which something called the “Wisdom of God” takes on almost a character of its own. This “personification” of Wisdom actually speaks in today’s Lesson:
“To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth…when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always…” (Proverbs 8 passim)
There are other passages like that in the Old Testament and throughout the Apocrypha (which was written after the Old Testament but before the New) – books like Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon. There’s still only one God, but he’s interacting with Someone “up there!”
Jesus would have grown up with that kind of thinking and certainly by the time John tells of his life in the 4th Gospel, we hear him say things like: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16 passim)
So here, the Wisdom of God (now called “the Spirit of truth”) takes on something of the character of God and so we have the Son speaking, not only of his Father, but of the Spirit who will guide us into all truth.
Writing just twenty years after Jesus’s earthly ministry and perhaps four decades before John finally wrote his Gospel, Paul refers to those same three entities in his Letter to the Romans: “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 8 passim)
Now none of this is a fully developed Trinity. In fact the word “Trinity” never appears in the Bible – Old Testament or New. It took another three hundred years for the church to wrestle with just how Jesus could be said to be the Son of God and what that might mean. And to figure out just what or who this Holy Spirit was anyway! By the year 325 AD we already had something called the Apostles’ Creed which took all this a little further. And in the year 381 we have the Council of Constantinople producing what we call the Nicene Creed and which we recite in the Eucharist every Sunday.
But what does all that mean? And why should we care? I think it means, that while there is only one God, the nature of that God is complex. There something like “community” in the Godhead itself! And, if that is so and if we are created in the image of God, then we are made for community as well.
The book of Genesis says that it is “not good for the man (OR the woman!) to be alone.” So the story tells about the creation of the first human family. Eventually, in the Bible, God draws some of the descendants of this family into a nation called Israel. Out of that nation comes a Messiah who forms around himself yet another community, the community of the apostles. And that community develops over time into what we call the church.
Dear friends, our relationship with God is never “me and God.” It is “us and God!” There really is no such thing as a “solo” Christian and it’s why all those wonderful people who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” and who attempt to hammer out some kind of relationship with God apart from the church are doomed to failure.
If even God is a community, it should be no surprise that we need to be part of a community ourselves. So, when you get up on Sunday morning some weeks and just don’t feel like ‘coming to church,’ remember that we need you to be here! Even if you don’t feel like you need it yourself, we need you…Because it’s not “me and God.” It’s “us and God.”
My old friend and mentor, Dean Alan Jones once said that there are three images which sum up Christianity – a woman and her baby…the ruined man on a cross…and a community of Persons. Today we celebrate those three Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are the model of a community of love…May our families, our communities, and our church be the same!