Today is Trinity Sunday and one may wonder why we take one Sunday out of the year to celebrate or acknowledge or underscore the Trinity of God. After all, the word trinity is not even found in the Bible. So why, why did such a doctrine come to be and then why is it important?
I would like to start with the why Trinity is important. And I want to begin with a story. Back in the 1950’s in Chicago there was a little boy about 10 years old standing before a shoe store on State Street, barefooted, peering through the window, and shivering with cold. You see, it was October and it was already getting cold. A lady approached the boy and said, “My little fellow, why are you looking so earnestly in that window?” “I was asking God to give me a pair of shoes,” was the boy’s reply. The lady took him by the hand and went into the store and asked the clerk to get half a dozen pairs of socks for the boy. She then asked if he could give her a basin of water and a towel. He quickly brought them to her. She took the little guy to the back part of the store and removing her gloves, knelt down, washed his little feet, and dried them with a towel. By this time the clerk returned with the socks. Placing a pair upon the boy’s feet, she purchased him a pair of shoes. She tied up the remaining pairs of socks and gave them to him. She patted him on the head and said, “Now, my little fellow, I am sure you will feel more comfortable.” As she turned to go, the astonished boy caught her by the hand, and looking up in her face, said, “Are you God’s wife?”
Are you God’s wife? Why would this little boy link this compassionate deed with God? What do we know about God? What kind of being is God? How do we know if what we think about God is even right? Philosophers have speculated that God is so different than we are that we have no hope of ever really knowing him. That is, God is so far above our ability to understand that for us to think we could ever comprehend the being that created us, created earth, and created our universe and created time is height of presumption, pride and arrogance. The gulf between God and man is so great that us trying to understand God is similar perhaps to an insect trying to understand humanity.
This is why the doctrine of the Trinity is important. Because it is this doctrine, along with some others of course, that helps us to understand who God is and what He is like. And it is because we have begun to know who he is that we are here today because we are here to worship God and to learn even more about him. We know that it is important to be in contact with God. We know, intuitively that God wants to be in communication with us and we long for that communication. When we feel God’s Holy Spirit touch us it is wonderful. And as we learn to love God more, we want to know Him better. It is a fact, if you really love someone; you want to know all that you can about that person. And so it is with us and God. The more we love him, the more we desire to know Him better. This is why the doctrine of the Trinity is important. Now we will look at the why we understand God is a Trinity.
In the Old Testament we learn about God and through it we know many things; but as it says in Hebrews, “In these last days God has spoken to us through his Son.” In our Gospel today, Jesus tells Nicodemus that there is no one who has descended from heaven except the Son of Man—Jesus. We have no other eye-witness source from heaven to tell us about God. Later Jesus tells Philip that if they have seen Him, they have seen the Father. Therefore, if we want to know what God the Father is like—we need to study what Jesus is like, because Jesus is like his Father. The Apostle Paul tells us in the letter to the Colossians that Jesus is the image of the invisible God and that in Jesus the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. So what does God look like, what is his image? If God were not invisible; if he were not a Spirit, he would look and would act like Jesus.
How does that work? How can Jesus be God on earth in a human body? Well the first answer is obvious, we don’t know for sure. But we read in John chapter one that in the beginning was the Word (the Logos) and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Jesus is the Word, the Logos or reason of God. When the early church fathers were trying to fit together everything Jesus said and did and then what the apostles wrote they came up with the concept of the Trinity. Tertullian was one of the first one to use this term. Around 190 AD he wrote “Observe, then, that when you are silently conversing with yourself, this very process is carried on within you by your reason, which meets you with a word at every movement of your thought … Whatever you think, there is a word … You must speak it in your mind … Thus, in a certain sense, the word is a second person within you, through which in thinking you utter speech … The word is itself a different thing from yourself. Now how much more fully is all this transacted in God, whose image and likeness you are?” In this way Tertullian explained how Jesus Christ was God and yet was separate from God the Father.
As we talked about last week, God the Father sent the Holy Spirit to the Church on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has a number of different jobs. He is the giver of life—just like Jesus tells Nicodemus in our Gospel, “You must be born again.” So we are born again, that is, given a new life through and by the Holy Spirit. Also, He is our Advocate and Guide and Counselor and the One who brings us Strength. Jesus further tells us that the Holy Spirit is here to glorify Jesus, that is, one of the primary jobs of the Holy Spirit is to show us more clearly who Jesus is and what He is like. So to understand God, the Holy Spirit shows us who Jesus is and what he is like and through understanding Jesus we then understand what God the Father is like.
This is why when we worship God, it centers upon Jesus and what he has done. Jesus, through his work and words, show us who God is! As we learn to love and appreciate Jesus more, we are learning to love God.
The story is told of a park ranger out west who was warning some hikers about bears. “Brown bears are usually harmless,” he said. “They avoid contact with humans, so we suggest you attach small bells to your backpacks and give the bears time to get out of your way. However, grizzly bears are extremely dangerous. If you see any grizzly bear droppings, leave the area immediately.” One of the hikers asked, “How can we tell if the droppings are grizzly bear droppings?” “Oh that’s easy,” said the ranger. “They are full of small bells.”
How can we tell if it is a grizzly or a brown bear? How can we tell if our understanding of God is correct? We look at Jesus. The woman who bought the little boy socks and shoes was behaving like God’s wife, or at least like his child! When we care for those who are in need we are acting like God’s children. How do we know? Because Jesus did that, Jesus cared for those who were in need. And since Jesus did that we know that we ought to do that too!
It is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is important because through the Trinity we are able to know and begin to understand our Father God and learn to see his great love for us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.