Reports of UFOs, unidentified flying objects, have been around my whole life. Most of the time, these sightings have been explained as normal occurrences and they are forgotten by most everyone. Recently, our interest in UFOs was piqued again from a more reputable source. US Military pilots saw flying objects that they could not explain. Last summer, the Federal Government announced a Task Force that would investigate. In June, the director of national intelligence is expected to issue an unclassified report on everything government agencies know about UFOs. Even former President Barrack Obama stated that we don’t know what these things are. None of this is to say the objects are from other worlds but they have not been explained as of yet.
There are many things we don’t understand and many things we can learn. Today, we celebrate the feast of the Trinity. The Trinity can be hard to understand. We often refer to the Trinity as a mystery, a way that God works that is not like any human interaction. We might be a little like Nicodemus in the gospel. Jesus explained that we must be born from above and Nicodemus said, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Our human efforts to explain God may not work. We may even feel like the unknown person who wrote, “He who denies the Trinity loses his or her soul, he who tries to explain the Trinity loses his mind.”
Trinity Sunday is a little different than the other feast days that we have celebrated recently. We have come through Holy Week, the Crucifixion and Easter. We have listened to stories about Jesus and the apostles after he rose from the dead. Last week, we celebrated Pentecost with the outpouring of the Spirit. These are all events that happened. The Trinity has existed forever, for all time. Our readings offer us a glimpse into the workings of the Three Persons in One God. I ask you to consider how you understand the Trinity in your mind and in your heart and in your spiritual being.
The apostles would not have described the Trinity in the same way we do. They spoke of God, they Spoke of Jesus as God and they understood the Spirit. They referred to God, as the one they called Father. It was the best way for them to express their understanding of God at that time. We know that God does not have a gender and so we often seek other words for God who is both Father and Mother for us. The apostles also knew Jesus personally. They were amazed by his teachings which were different than any of the prophets which had come before. Through the signs they saw and through his death and resurrection, they came to realize that Jesus was God and sometimes they referred to him as the Son of God. Once again, using the word Son is just the best way they found to understand who Jesus was and is. The apostles also knew of the Spirit. They had been told by Jesus that the Spirit would come and they gave the Spirit of God credit for so much of the work that they were able to do. Still, the apostles didn’t clearly form the theology that God is three persons in one united God. They just accepted God being with them in these different ways.
The early Christian church took a long time to clearly describe the concept of the Trinity. Debates raged in the early church and it was not until the first two councils of the church in 325 and 381 that our Trinitarian theology was clearly defined and recognized as the belief of the whole church. The Nicene Creed was approved in the first of these two councils in 325.
When we read Scriptures, we can find references to the three Persons. In Matthew, we read as Jesus sends the disciples out to proclaim the Good news. As his final command, Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. In the 2nd letter to the Corinthians, we read, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you”. Finally, we hear the Trinity referred to in 1 Peter 1:2, ”who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood”.
Today’s lessons also refer to the Trinity but does so in more subtle ways. The passage of Isaiah refers to his calling as a prophet. Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” The use of a plural pronoun might be an early reference to the Trinity. Another passage in Genesis speaks of the three visitors to Abraham under the Oaks at Mamre, perhaps another reference to the Trinity. Paul spoke of all Three Persons in his letter to the Romans. 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.
In the gospel Jesus speaks of God and the Spirit. Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. For me this is a clear statement about our need to be baptized. In our baptismal liturgy, we also speak of the Three Persons of the Trinity. So, our scriptural writers did not use the word Trinity because the sense of what that meant was still being formulated, but they did refer to God in many different ways.
Church leaders have tried to find logical ways to explain the Trinity. My favorite is Saint Patrick. He used the shamrock, or three leaf clover. One living plant with three different leaves. Last week, someone told me that the tongues of fire offer us a glimpse of the Trinity. Fire has thee different colors from blue to reddish to yellow, another example of three in one.
Our encounters with the Trinity go beyond logic. In our hearts, we should be thankful that God searches out different ways to interact with us and to help us. A Presbyterian minister named William Dixon Gray wrote that “Rather than explaining the Trinity, let the Trinity explain us. We are always changing from what we are to what we are becoming. The Trinity does not allow things to be static. God is active and we must be too.” Let us allow each of the Three Persons to dwell in our hearts and work in our lives. It changes us. Last week, we thought about finding the Spirit in our hearts and inviting that Spirit to be a part of our lives. The Trinity work as One to be with us and to guide us. The Trinity are an example for us because they act as One and because the love that we receive comes from all Three Persons. If we let that love fill our hearts, then we can be just like Isaiah who responded to the question of whom God should send by responding, Send Me!
For the Trinity is best understood when we think of the Trinity as our relationship with God. We can turn to each member of the Trinity as we wish. Our formal prayers can help us turn to each Person in the Trinity. There are many examples, but you might wish to look at the collects for Morning prayer on pages 100 and 101 and see how many times we speak of each Person in our prayers.
The British Theologian Paul Fiddes, once wrote, “When the early church fathers developed the doctrine of the Trinity, they were not painting by numbers; they were finding concepts to express an experience. I think that we could put aside our efforts to understand the Trinity and just let the experience flow over us. Let us feel the love of all Three Persons. Let us learn from the perfect unity and the differences. Let us seek to emulate the individual identity of each while knowing that they form a perfect community. So, rather than think about the Trinity, I suggest that we feel the Trinity working in our lives. I suggest that we don’t try to put the three Persons into one category or another. I, myself, have used the names Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier as a way to describe the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But I think that God is bigger than any names we place on any Member of the Trinity. God in all forms is still with us, still in our hearts. I prefer to live in the words of Paul who said that we should receive the power, the grace and the peace of God working as One. Amen.