Sermon #234 St. James the Less #141 5/30/21
Back in high school I liked to take risks. I was always looking for an adventure, something that would be worth telling later on.
Now something that you need to know is that I’m also a pansy. I should have said, I like the idea of taking risks, but I live pretty much by the book. I don’t like heights or standing too close to the ledge. I don’t like putting my body in harm’s way or bringing too much attention to myself. And so, taking risks during my high school years looked a lot different than what my friends were up to.
One of the biggest risks I took was walking into a small group gathering that met at 6:30 in the morning at the school one day. The hallways were still dark, we were the only ones in the building, and when I sat down, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Risk, for me, meant attending a weekly class put on by the Mormons. Thrilling, I know.
I had heard a few weeks back that the local Mormon church sponsored this group which met in the early hours at the school. The handful of Mormon kids we had in the school would attend, and the church sent an adult to give a lesson. It pretty much was Sunday school without doughnuts or coffee.
As someone who loved a good theological thrill, this was a risk I was willing to take.
I don’t remember much of what was said that morning, but I do remember the confused expressions on all the kids faces when the teacher asked what Mormon’s believe happens to our soul before we are born.
The room was silent. The teacher said, “You all know this. Come on, someone speak up.” The students still looked puzzled, and I was bewildered.
She then said, “Now remember, as Mormons we believe we were spirit children before we were born on earth. We were like balls of light that have always existed, and we now live in these temporary bodies.” She said, “You all need to remember this, it’s an important part of our faith.”
The kids around me weren’t nodding in agreement, they had no idea what their church taught. And if I had taken a poll right then and there they might’ve all agreed with me that being a ball of light sounded pretty kooky.
But I’m afraid that if we got together as a small group, both young and old, and began asking questions about the Trinity, we too may have some confused expressions.
It’s one thing to look at other belief systems and comment how strange it is, it’s another thing to really dig into what we as Christians believe.
Today is Trinity Sunday and there are plenty of people who think that we are pretty kooky for claiming that God is One and yet somehow Three.
What Christians claim about the nature of God can seem not only implausible but downright silly. It is illogical to say something is three and yet one—clearly someone hasn’t mastered the art of addition.
But there are plenty of examples that have been given over the centuries to help explain the Trinity. St. Patrick taught the Irish people by showing them how a shamrock had three leaves and yet was one.
Others have said a tree’s root, trunk, and branch are separate things yet made of the one substance of wood. Another popular example is water: which can be found as a solid, liquid, and a gas and yet is the same element.
These examples can be helpful, but they have their limits. When we begin speaking of the One True God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we are at the very edge of our human comprehension. We can see the ledge, and past it faith rather than reason must be our trusted guide because ultimately the Trinity is a holy mystery.
But we aren’t using the word “mystery” as a get out of jail free card when we can’t explain something. Rather we use this term to show that humanity’s knowledge only goes so far. When considering that which is eternal and holy, our finite minds are grasping at something far beyond ourselves.
There is an important difference between something that is kooky and false compared to a mystery that is true. The way we discern the difference is through revelation (not the book but the act of revelation). What has God revealed about himself through Scripture and most importantly, through Jesus?
For people of faith, we cannot stand on firmer ground than that. And though the word “Trinity” cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, the three persons of the Trinity are found throughout its pages.
We see God the Father in creation, we see God the Son walking among his people living and even dying as one of us, and we saw quite clearly last week God the Spirit descend on the disciples. The whole story of salvation has a Trinitarian shape to it.
Belief in the Holy Trinity is only kooky if we don’t hold Scripture as authoritative. On the other hand, we can confidently say that things like the Mormon’s belief of people being spirit children or balls of light before birth is kooky because neither Jesus nor Scripture ever attest to this belief, not even close.
But even with Scripture and Jesus on the side of the Trinity, neither explain away this mystery. It’s not like a mystery novel where everything can be solved and explained at the end of the book, and we can feel good seeing all the details laid out before us.
As modern people we struggle with the idea of mystery—we don’t like the feeling of not knowing. If we have a question, Google or Alexa has the answer. There are no mysterious foreign lands anymore for our imaginations to dream about—the whole world has been mapped and photographed, and now we are even getting detailed pictures from another planet!
We are an analytical society which is not a bad thing. This investigative mindset has brought about unprecedented technological and medical discoveries. No other age in human history could fathom of having a vaccine for a global pandemic in less than a year. The bubonic plague lasted seven long years.
We like answers because with answers we can feel certain about our decisions and in control. Mystery…well there’s too much unknown to be certain—too many loose ends that aren’t resolved. How can we feel confident when all the facts aren’t laid out?
For Christians throughout the centuries the mystery of the Trinity is not to be explained away but rather it is something to be invited into. It leads us deeper into the nature of God who is so wholly Other that we cannot, and even dare not, explain away.
There’s a story about St Augustine of Hippo, the great philosopher and theologian. He was trying to wrap his mind around this baffling idea of the Trinity. He desperately wanted to understand the doctrine of one God in three persons so that he could explain it logically. If he could just explain it plainly, then more people would accept it as true.
One day he was walking along the seashore reflecting on this matter. Suddenly, he saw a little child all alone on the shore. The child made a hole in the sand, ran to the sea with a little cup, filled her cup with sea water, ran up and emptied the cup into the hole she had made in the sand.
Back and forth she went to the sea, filled her cup and came and poured it into the hole. Augustine went up to her and said, “Little child, what are you doing?”
She replied, “I am trying to empty the sea into this hole.”
“How do you think that you can empty this immense sea into this tiny hole and with this tiny cup?” he asked her.
She answered back, “And you, how do you suppose that with your small head you can comprehend the immensity of God?” And with that the child disappeared.
On a day like today it’s good to be reminded that we are finite beings trying to grapple with the infinite. Or better yet, we have small heads and a big God.
Rather than trying to dissect and unravel the inner workings of the Trinity, we are invited into the sacred life and mystery of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To see the grandeur and magnificence of this big God who loves little ole you and me.
When it comes to such a complex topic as the Trinity—the truth of their love for one another and for us—well, that may be a good place to start…it may also be a good place to end.
Trinity Sunday. Year B. The Christian Faith by Clause Beaufort Moss. Faith and Practice by Frank Wilson.