The Holy Trinity
Today is Holy Trinity Sunday; the day in the church year in which we celebrate the mystery that is God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. Here is a little disclaimer for you; if you hope that I will be able to explain the holy trinity to you; if you think I should be able to wrap up God into a neat little package that defines exactly whom God is in this trinity, I am sorry, I won’t be able to.
Some of the best theologians of the ages have taken up this task; and the best they could do, at the end of the day, was name the reality that who God actually is, is a mystery beyond our comprehension. St. Augustine, writing way back in the 400’s, says this:
“So, when the question is asked, ‘three what?’ or who the three are, we apply ourselves to the finding out of some name of species or genus under which we may embrace these three; and no such name occurs to the mind,
because the super-eminence of the Godhead surpasses the power of customary speech. For God can be thought about more truly than he can be talked about, and he is more truly than he is thought about.”
So, maybe we can’t come up with the words that can define who and what this Holy Trinity; father, son, and holy spirit truly is, but we are given images of God today in our readings that help us see who God truly is.
In Psalm 29, the voice of the Lord is upon the waters. God thunders. The voice of the Lord is powerful and splendid,
splitting the flames of fire, shaking the wilderness,
making the oak trees writhe and stripping the forest bare.
The Lord sits enthroned as king.
What awesome images of power and strength, majesty and dominion these are! Even the name given to God testifies to the power and dominion over all things. God is given the name we translate as “Lord.” It is the name, Yahweh.
This is a name so holy, that whenever Jewish people read it, the substitute another word, like Lord, or Adonai, or Elohim.
They believe that this name is so above any name,
that God is above everything there is,
and they do not dare to speak this name out loud. It is too holy.
But in Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul calls God by yet another name; Father. God the Father, God the creator of all there is. God is the source of all life. God breathes and life happens. Like The Lord, God the father is a name of control, of power,
of protection. But there is even another name of God in this letter. Did you catch it? It is the name, Abba. It too, like Yahweh,
is a Hebrew word. But whereas Yahweh conjures up images of awesomeness, and strength, and majesty too great for mortal beings to comprehend, Abba means something quite different.
Abba is a term of endearment. How many of you, when you were little, called your father, daddy, or your mother, mommy? That is the idea of Abba. It is like calling God the Father, daddy.
It is indeed a term of affection, and love, and closeness. Think of being able to call the creator of the universe, the one who causes forests to shake and tremble, ‘daddy,’ Abba.
Whenever I hear someone call daddy, I have the image of a small child crawling up into the safety of a lap,
and arms holding a child in safety and love.
But this is an image of fatherhood that not everyone shares. We, who are earthly parents, have done so much to destroy this image for our children.
One of my favorite novels I have read is
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.
It is the story of a 14-year-old girl named Lilly, growing up in South Carolina. Lilly never calls her father, daddy, but calls him T. Ray. The name daddy, Lilly says, never fit him. Lilly describes her dad as having kindness only for his bird dog, Snout.
Her father punishes Lilly in terrible ways.
A favorite punishment of T. Ray’s is having Lilly kneel of piles of uncooked grits mounded up on the floor.
Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad, but it is like having to kneel on piles of tiny pieces of broken glass, tearing up her knees.
Almost as bad as the physical abuse is the way T. Ray ignores Lilly. Lilly tells of her approaching birthday, and her desire to be noticed. Lilly tells of one meal before her birthday.
“As I fixed T. Ray’s plate, I considered how to bring up the delicate matter of my birthday, something T. Ray had never paid attention to in all the years of my life, but every year, like a dope, I got my hopes up thinking THIS year would be the one. . .
“So, I said, sliding his plate in front of him, “my birthday is this Saturday.”
I watched him pull the chicken meat from around the bone with his fork.
“I was just thinking I would love to have one of those silver charm bracelets they have down at the mercantile.”
The house creaked like it did once in a while. Outside the door Snout gave a low bark, and then the air grew so quiet I could hear the food being ground up in T. Ray’s mouth.
He ate his chicken breast and started on the thigh, looking at me now and then in his hard way. I started to say, So then, what about the bracelet? But I could see he’d already given his answer, and it caused a kind of sorrow to rise in me that felt fresh and tender and had nothing, really, to do with the bracelet. I think now it was sorrow for the sound of his fork scraping the plate, the way it swelled in the distance between us, how I was not even in the room.”[i]
I can imagine it very difficult for a character like Lilly, or others who have suffered cruelty at the hands of abusive parents to call their parents mommy or daddy. And unfortunately,
the number of people hurt in these ways, is not a small number.
But, coming back to the letter to the Romans,
this is what Paul calls God, he calls him ‘Abba,’ daddy.
And where, in our human existence, there is abuse, and violence, and humiliation, and disregard,
we can approach a God in which there is care and healing, peace, lifting up, and the knowledge of knowing that God is with us always!
And where, in our human relationships, we might experience sin, and anger, and wrath, and fear, with God, through Jesus Christ we can experience forgiveness and joy, and comfort, and the knowledge that nothing can harm any of us
because of the love of God!
This love of God is so beautifully proclaimed in our gospel text for today: “For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Maybe for us, it is hard to approach God who is so above us, so powerful. It is true, God is ultimate power and majesty and is the maker of all there is, and has dominion over all things.
But it is also true that God has made us, has claimed us,
has forgiven us, and who gives us everything we need.
Maybe it is difficult for some of us to think of God as ‘father, or mother.’ But maybe we can think of God as Abba. Because of Jesus Christ, we have been given the spirit of adoption, we are all God’s children. We need not live in a spirit of fear!
Read the kids confession statement.
Confession of Faith
(written by this year’s Faith Formation Students affirming their baptisms)
We believe in God:
Whose love is never-ending and forgiving and hopeful
Who is our safe place
Who made us equal and creates everything in love
We believe in Jesus Christ:
Forgiver of all sins
One with us; one of us
Who became one of us
to take us out of the darkest depths and guide us to life
We believe in the Holy Spirit
Who is God’s breath,
giving us strength and ability
to discover and come to God
Who is always there, reminding us of our God.
[i] Sue Monk Kidd. The Secret Life of Bees: A Novel. New York: Penguin Books, 2002. Pages 21-22.