The Trinity, it is kind of a big deal. However too often it is a footnote in the discussion of who God is, or worse yet, it is explained away using one bad analogy or another (This video shows their shortcomings). Suffice it to say, it’s not like water, ice and steam, the sun, light and heat, or even a three leaf clover (my apologies to St. Patrick).
It was in my college course on church history that the shortcomings of my understanding of the Trinity began to be revealed, for a lot of the turning points in church history revolved around discussions of the Trinity. The early church was not sure how God could be contained in the flesh, and so they got creative in trying to understand Christ. Some held that God simply put on a body suit for a time and in so doing avoided being created in birth or dying on the cross. This was rightly dismissed as a heresy. The problem of Christ coming into being as a human still persisted, and one in the church, a priest named Arius, proposed that since it seemed the Son had a beginning he was a lesser divine being than the Father, though greater than humans as the eternally generated one. The Bishop of Alexandria would have none of this and exiled Arius causing much controversy. Eventually the debate could not be contained locally, and this dispute corresponded with the legalization of Christianity, so a council was held in which to discuss the nature of Christ.
The First Council of Nicaea deserves its own post, and I’ve already written more on church history than I meant to, but quickly I will say that Alexander and his lot argued against Arius. They posited that Christ was co-eternal and of one substance with the Father. This position ultimately won out as the council was forced to confess if Christ wasn’t those things than their worship up until that point was a form of idolatry. Ultimately these affirmations about the nature of Christ made their way into the first creed of the church the Nicene Creed
One last note on church history and the Trinity, a disagreement about the processions of the Trinity ultimately led to the split between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in 1054 (Surely money and power had their say in the split, but Credal tampering played no small part cough Filioque… cough cough).
For some they look at the drama up above and think, “Isn’t it enough just to say it is a mystery we can not understand” and move on with it. “Explaining one as three or three as one is impossible for our feeble minds and a lot of headaches and epic church splits might have been avoided had the church not cared so much.”
That is a real temptation, and I hear similar sentiments often when I try to engage some on the importance of the Trinity. However, the solution often leaves us with an inadequate picture of God, one that is easy to manipulate and form into our image. In contrast, when we get captured by the mystery of the Trinity, the three and one God who encounters us as Father Son and Holy Spirit, we come to see love more profoundly. It calls us into the movement of God’s love, into the “divine dance” of the God who is three and one.
This brings us to Rohr’s book, The Divine Dance. In my studies I have had chance to read many a great book on the Trinity: Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology Volume 1 Triune God (I reviewed one of his works in my last blog post), Paul Fiddes’ Participating in God, Catherine Mowry Lacugna’s God For Us (this book gets good play in Rohr’s text), Moltmann’s Trinity and the Kingdom, John G. Flett Missio Dei, and Augustine’s Des Trinitas. Each of the aforementioned texts expanded my understanding of the Trinity and deepened my conviction that the Trinity deserved more play or more engagement in the church. The Trinity is not just a topic for theologians to mull about but rather for the church to understand and engage. Each text had me convinced that the Trinity wasn’t a peripheral matter for the church, but instead it is a core doctrine of the church.
Alas none of the listed texts are overly accessible to the lay-reader.
Take heart- Divine Dance is.
I have realized as this blog has come along that I want it to be a place where I can recommend books not just to my peers who are well versed in theology but to those who wish to know more and enjoy to read. I want this blog to have the pastoral role of providing resources to the congregant who is searching.
Early in his text Rohr frames the journey of exploring, the mystery of the Trinity, in a way that captivated me and had me excited to continue when he said,
Remember mystery isn’t something that you cannot understand— it is something that you can endlessly understand! There is no point at which you can say, “I’ve got it.” always and forever, mystery gets you! (Rohr, 27)
The mystery of the Trinitarian nature of God is not a point of frustration or discouragement but rather an exciting invitation to be got!
Rohr tells his own story of being captivated by the Triune nature of God in a way that invites the reader to join him. Rohr shows that exploring the Triune nature of God is not a headache inducing problem of logic but rather a transformative journey into God’s loving nature.
Rohr posits that the Trinity has largely been MIA in church dialogue, and he wants that to change. I took umbrage at the way he seemingly dismissed the work of many theologians who have added much to the conversation on the Trinity (Barth, Jenson, Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Aquinas etc.). However if his point was that accessible theology of the Trinity was lacking, it is hard to argue that point.
Throughout his text Rohr acts as if it is a conspiracy of the church to stifle talk of the Trinity, and as readers of his texts we are rebels coming to great truths of God. This is a fun device for bringing the reader along, though the point is probably overstated.
With short sections and relatable analogies, this book reads fairly quickly considering it’s subject matter. The Trinity is complex and not easy to understand, but that does not make it not worth trying, and Rohr stays faithful to the complexity of the matter while also encouraging the reader not to give up- as a pastor that makes me happy.
“Like probably nothing else, all authentic knowledge of God is participatory knowledge” -(Rohr, 49)
When we come to better understand concepts like perichoresis (circle dance/ Divine dance) we learn that we are more than spectators to God’s movement in and through the world as Father Son and Holy Spirit but instead we are called to participate with God and we find that as we learn the steps to this dance we better understand God.
Towards the end of his text Rohr say this
If you are comfortable with both the receiving and extending of friendship you will be ready and eager for the Trinity (Rohr, 166
It is my hope and prayer for you that you might be ready and eager for the Trinity- and I highly encourage you read this work by Rohr.
*I’ve included two sermons that I have preached on Trinity Sundays as a supplement to this discussion on the Trinity.
Trinity Sunday Sermon Preached at Chandler 1st Church of the Nazarene, June 15th 2014 – Matthew 28:16-20.
Today is the celebration of the doctrine of the Trinity known as Trinity Sunday, now without offending I would like to note that we at the church don’t always do the best job celebrating, I remember vividly as a child being in church and hearing in a monotone near Ben Stein voice “ today we celebrate the feast of our blessed Trinity, now the deadpan voice aside it wasn’t long into the Church service that I was aware we would be doing little celebration and don’t get me started on the so called feast,.
Now there won’t be a feast today in this sanctuary, though I hope there will be celebration- a celebration that has already begun in the form of worship, fellowship and now the encountering of God’s word. Lest you think this celebration doesn’t include you I’d ask that you stand as we affirm our beliefs in the form of creed.
Now I have heard some dry readings of this creed before, I believe in God the Father Almighty….
The church sounds like exasperated children repeating back the chore list their parents just gave them yes yes we believe in the Holy Catholic Church the communion of the saints yada yada.
I don’t want us to sound like that today, instead I want us to proclaim it in a voice of celebration this is after what we believe, and what we believe ought be what we get riled up for what we affirm with shouts of praise and amen- what shapes us to be the people we are today. Amen
So join with me in the reading of our Creed our statement of belief
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hades;
The third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.1
Last week was Pentecost, the Birthday of the Church, and the free gifting of God’s spirit and grace upon God’s people, whereas Pentecost was the start of something new it is also seen as the capstone in the church calendar of a pretty impressive movement of God, starting with Lent, reaching it’s climax with Easter and wrapping up with Pentecost. Then comes this Sunday, Trinity Sunday, and I love it’s placement within our church’s calendar for it is appropriate in light of the works of God through the cross the resurrection and Christ’s second coming that we take a week to celebrate the God that reveals God’s self in such loving ways, the point of death and indeed victory over death.
Can I get a hearty Amen this morning from you all in order to affirm that you would like to celebrate what God has done?
The neat nature of the way God works, triunely, a word we will explore in further detail later on, is that it is an open ended story ripe with promise and hope. So whereas we celebrate what was done we as Christians are a blessed lot in that in Faith we get to celebrate and participate in what will be done as well. This is good news.
The video we watched earlier was a bit much I confess, it contained more ‘isms than you can shake a stick at, modalism, polytheism, partialism and so on. With so many heretical traps it is a wonder we would venture to speak of a Triune God at all is it not.
Well I want to assure you, this morning I have not prepared a lecture on the true and proper way to discuss the Triune God we serve, but rather thought we might open Scripture and hear what God’s word might have to say to us here today on this celebration of Trinity Sunday.
Please open your Bibles with me today as we read out of Matthew 28:16-20.
Nothing gets me more patriotic and crying ‘merica than international sports events, in an instant sports I never cared to follow the other 3 years of competition have my attention, have my loyalty. A prime example of that has been the world cup. I couldn’t tell you what the difference between the Premier League or Championship league yet nevertheless, I watched a full soccer or futbol match between the Dutch and Spain the other day and loved it. I am also very excited for tomorrow’s match of the US vs Ghana!
One of my favorite memories is watching the US men’s swim team in 2008 headed up by Michael Phelps watching them come from behind to beat France, a team that had made a point to talk their fair share of trash leading up to the games had Kim and I jumping in screaming in our on campus dorms shortly after we had been married.
NBC finds itself with a lot of coverage time during the Olympics and in the process of reporting some time between a special on Panda Bears and the Chinese Dynasty I heard a report that during training Michael Phelps consumes 5000 calories a day, or 2 and a half times the normal caloric intake for the day 5000 calories!
I can only imagine the amount of pious calories the disciples received each day under the ministry of Christ. Imagine with me the words of wisdom flowing from Christ, morning to evening did they listen as they ought to have? Do we?
I think of the transfiguration account given in Luke Chapter 9 where Jesus and a few disciples went up on the mountain to pray- Peter overwhelmed by the situation,, in communion with Elijah and Moses all the sudden became full of good ideas – he tells Jesus hey in case you weren’t aware it’s good that we are here, hey Jesus Hey Jesus- in fact it is so good that maybe we ought build shrines three of them one for you one for moses and one for Elijah, I can just imagine Jesus trying to get a word in edgewise and as Peter was likely to keep rambling the Glory of God overshadowed them and basically said. Quiet Peter when God said this is my Son listen to him! Afterwards it is said that the disciples Peter included were left speechless, this tidbit was likely joked about later as they all had a tough time imagining Peter being quiet.
What’s this to do with the Great commission, what’s this to do with Trinity Sunday
We see here as is affirmed in our passage found in Matthew that Jesus is indeed one with authority and
the word this morning is a familiar one.that so many of us have trouble with the simple petition to “Go” to make disciples in the name of the father the son and the holy spirit.
Can we hear God’s word to Peter on the mount as if they were directed to us this morning? –“Listen this is my Son”
Perhaps we hear this morning yet we don’t understand or perhaps we have forgotten our baptism forgotten our inclusion into God’s kingdom – as brother Wayne says often “God help us”
Hear this this morning to encounter God’s word in song fellowship the spoken word and on occasion the Table and to not respond is to have the Michael Phelps diet without the rigourous training. Picture with me what Michael Phelps might look like if he failed to burn those calories if he failed to send out what he took in. without a doubt he wouldn’t make the Olympics but worse I think he might find a home on a new channel perhaps a TLC documentary about the man who got stuck to his couch.
To hear God’s word and not respond is unhealthy, to receive God’s grace to know the good news and not share it is unhealthy. Do you believe that this morning?
For you see the story of God that we encounter here in God’s word is the story of a God who freely gives to us more than we could ask or imagine the story of a God who empties himself that we may be made full the story of a God who operates as 3 but one
That God is three Father Son and Holy Spirit and one as one God was never intended to be a riddle in need of a simple analogy or metaphor instead it was the proclamation of the church as it took account of its’ story. It looked at the Biblical account and said God created followed by a hearty Amen it encountered the covenant with Abraham and they affirmed that God redeems which they followed with a hearty Amen they encountered Christ, God incarnate in Jesus Christ and they affirmed that God’s love and intention to redeem far surpassed their wildest expectations , they affirmed a victorious God as modeled by Christ’s life death and resurrection, and they said Amen. Finally they took stock of the church carried on not by their own determination or will, but rather united comforted and propelled by the power and love of the spirit and they said Amen.
So then they shared this good news, the good news and hope of the God they serve. As they shared that good news the Spirit proceeded them and did a new work in countless people stories of the early conversions are abundant in this Bible and indeed are thriving today.
I think of Phillip and the Eunuch one of the earliest written examples of the Great commission being fulfilled. It’s a great tale, this man is puzzling over Isaiah and Phillip comes along and says brother let me make sense of this in light of Christ, baptism follows and God’s kingdom grows.
I think of Denise and Verne Cox earlier this week, with shock and tears in my eyes I received word from Joey Lawrence that his grandfather had accepted Christ as his Lord and savior. The hardest of hearts softened by God’s Spirit, this week Verne got to meet Jesus face to face as he passed away the very next day. Yesterday we got to celebrate Verns life with an energy and excitement that might have been missing had God not worked through Denise in such a powerful way. I told you this morning would be a celebration. Let us applaud a new member of God’s kingdom, Let us applaud a faithful God.
If you all would open your manual you would see that our first article of faith affirms a Triune God, yet if I were to call on one of you to speak of this doctrine I feel certain I would hear crickets, or perhaps I might hear some unfortunate analogies, and like the characters we saw in the video earlier I might have to go no no no that is ____ fill in the blank with your heresy of choice..
Yet all the same Jesus’ declaration rings loud “baptize them into the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. I told you earlier that this would be a sermon not a lecture and I promise to hold true to that but I want to give you a quick picture of how the central aspect of God’s identity got so muddled, for the truth of it is simple. The story was lost.
The story was lost. The mystery was abandoned.
WE have an array of career fields in our congregation, if I were to ask any of you what you do for a living you might give a dictionary definition of what you do. Perhaps you would use a clever metaphor or word picture to describe your task but likely you would just tell a story for it is in the encounters and life lived that the complexity of your career is given the proper context to adequately explain.
For a while the church when confronted with the question how can three be one or conversely how can one be three it didn’t turn to word games or acrobatics of the tongue, but instead embraced the mystery and told the story, the story of a God powerful enough to create and vulnerable enough to die, the story of a God who engages us in promise that we call covenant a story of a God that is redeeming creation and inviting us to be part of it. This was a method turned to often for the Church didn’t hesitate to speak of a Triune God – The God revealed to us through word and deed.
For the early church the statement Father Son and Holy Spirit was to name God but beyond that it was to tell a condensed story. Did you get that it was both the name and short telling of the story of God for you see there was no knowledge of God, there is no knowledge of God beyond what God has revealed of God’s self in relation to us.
Does that make sense? What is being said here is that God ought only and in fact can only be spoken of in regards to the way God’s revealed God’s self to us, in three persons Father Son and Holy Spirit.
This story is a story of good news a story we are to share- we share it in the faith that the God that created the God that redeems the God that loves freely to the point of death on the cross will find victory in the hardest of hearts amen??!!
Perhaps there are some of you today out there grumbling- I am not a people person,
Neither was Moses
Perhaps you feel inadequate unworthy to communicate such grace- your humility is understood yet the commission remains – go make disciples
Consider these words from Martin Luther they certainly brought me affirmation this week
“Now the Holy Ghost (Spirit) does not ask after red or brown robes, or what is showy, whether a man (or woman) is young or old, lay or clerical, monastic or secular, virgin or married Indeed. He once spake by an ass against he prophet that rode on it.”
You hear what Luther is saying there right? You may have your excuses… let me tell you a story about this cat Balaam and his donkey- God’s word will be spoken he wants us to voice it.
A church that fails to go is not a church it is a hobby club that happens to discuss our Lord and savior, for you see as God is identified through Act, through encounter, through story so too is the church.
And our church the Nazarene church started as a sent church a church sent to proclaim freedom to the captives, release to the oppressed, to live with and love on the poor, sharing with them a story of a Holy God who calls a Holy people.
Lest this be heard as merely a sermon of works know this being a sent people is being a people caught up in the movement the love and the grace of God for to explore the triune God is to encounter a God who sent is sent and is sending,. being sent by God is not venturing out on your own working up your nerves to initiate conversation with another but rather being sent is first being gathered up into the story of God and then moving out in fellowship with this God, in fellowship with one another.
Perhaps the most remarkable word we hear today is that the God we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday is a God that invites and beckons us to participate in God’s kingdom a God that welcomes us with open arms into the story of redemption asking us merely that we share this good news to those that need it most.
We as Nazarenes affirm that we serve a Holy God and have a Holy calling let us respond to this calling this week as we celebrate a God that loves us greatly
Trinity Sunday Sermon Preached at New Hope Community Church of the Nazarene, May 22nd 2016- Romans 5:1-5
One of my favorite paintings depicts a parable that Jesus told his disciples, it is a darkly hued painting with a number of people showing various expressions, one shows shame, another warmth and compassion, and there is one hidden in the shadows, scolding. Though the painting is dark in color, it is light in subject matter, it pulls the viewer into it. Depending on one’s mood that day their eyes will find themselves drawn to various aspects of the painting. One character is kneeling another is bent over embracing the kneeling person, another stands arms crossed. I could go on, but I can’t help but wonder how long it might take to fill out this picture in such a way that we would all have in mind the same painting. Not generally but specifically. I know this I’d need a broader vocabulary of colors than I currently have, which is basically ROY G BIV with a few outliers I’ve picked up in my time married to Kim.
Similarly, if I were to stand here and attempt to describe one of my favorite classical music pieces, perhaps setting the tempo numerically, and filling in the lettered notes, I could stand here and read to you the letters, let you know if it is a flat or a sharp, I could tell you if it’s a quarter note, a half note or a whole note. I could tell you which instruments play harmony, which play the melody, I could name the composer, and even the piece. I wonder though would that exposition ever match up to the beauty of the piece? Would you even be equipped to hear the cello string together notes so seamlessly?
Modernity had us believe that reason, and explanation was the ultimate means of communication, the ultimate revelation of truth had to either be reasonable or explainable to be real to be true. This led to amazing technological and societal advances as we started to quantify our knowledge, teach it in 4 year degrees, and publish it in text books.
Reason became the standard bearer of truth, and this put the church in an odd place. This institution that for so long had been the standard bearer, that had a place in the centers of many towns became a bit of an outlier as their truths weren’t accountable to reason, ideas like faith hope trusting what we don’t see fell short of the new standards in place.
So the church had to adjust to the new reality, some churches took on apologetics, showing this culture that idolized reason, that reason did have a voice in Scriptures, they came up with defenses for the flood. The church became fluent in statistics able to show how Christian living lead to healthier moe rhobust lives.
Much good came from this desire of the church that used apologetics, conversations were started in places that it was assumed the church had no foothold, there was a true desire to defend the Gospel.
One pitfall of this approach however was that it too often held reason up too high, it accepted the conclusions of modernity and in turn it found itself having to do verbal linguistics in holding the Gospel accountable to reason. The box that reason had built was too small to contain the Gospel so the church either abandoned the approach of apologetics, or more tragically sold the Gospel short.
For you see the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ is much like the painting and the music I was talking about earlier, words can help give content to it, but ultimately it must be seen, it must be heard to be properly appreciated.
I am lucky enough to have a copy the painting I was talking about earlier today, church take a look at this painting here on the stage and projected up above,
take it in and compare it to the picture you had earlier in mind- hardly a comparison to be made is there?
Listen to this piece of music briefly it is the unaccompanied cello suite No. 1 in G Major played by YoYo ma it captivates I could listen to it on repeat but we will have to settle this morning for a small portion of it.
Consider the gap between the art as I described it and what you saw, the music I described versus what you heard. It’s striking is it not, I can only imagine the strain Paul felt as he sought to put the beauty of what was accomplished by Christ in words
Don’t get me wrong Paul does a masterful job here, he tells us as the church the new reality, the new day that is upon us in light of Christ’s ministry. He tells us we are justified by faith, he tells us we have peace with God- he says we boast in the hope of the glory of God and he audaciously enough tells us that we can find glory in our suffering, because God’s promise, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.
Now there are some of you today in this church that can hear Paul’s succinct message and fill it out with stories of your faith journey. You tear up as you consider that moment of blessed assurance, you stand boldly not on your own but fully confident in the God who called you. You seek God’s grace around every corner for you understand that he loves us and gives it to us freely. Finally you have a joy unspeakable, one that grants peace and perspective in life’s valleys you trust that through hardships God will shape and form you to be more Holy.
To those of you who can hear this passage this morning wave your hanky and say Amen, I say praise God. For the church needs pillars like you modeling this in the lives you lead.
There are others of you in the church that hear this morning’s passage and the reality that Paul talks about may as well be the painting I described earlier, maybe you’ve seen it before but details of it are fuzzy. You believe what Paul is saying but some of it still seems so foreign. Perhaps you strive to be so filled with the God’s love that hardships can be faced with hope.
To those of you I say Amen, God has begun a work in you and I am confident he will go through with it. Make friends with the pillars of this community that can disciple you and show you better what this looks like lived out.
Finally New Hope there are some here today and many not here today that might hear this passage this morning and shrug it off as not much more than gobbledy gook, the rantings of a mad man who for some reason thinks faith and promises will carry him through hard times. They are as able to imagine this reality as they as you guys were able to picture the Beethoven piece I talked about before I played it.
There is hope for those in this category, namely that God has equipped and called a people to embody this reality as the body of Christ here on earth, the church.
The church is called to be the presence of Christ here on earth the visible words if you will of the promise of God. Our ability to be the body of Christ has very little to do with how nice we are, how enjoyable our worship is. Nor are we the body of Christ because we vote for one politician or the other. We are the body of Christ because the Triune God sent his Son to show us what love looked like, and sent his Spirit to enable us to love accordingly.
We celebrate trinity Sunday as a church not because we want to ace church calendar trivia, but because we serve a God who operates mysteriously one God three persons who love.
For you see it’s only a loving god who would justify us on the slim foundation of faith, who would send his son at such high cost than ask of us simply to have faith, faith that God who sent his Son sends his Spirit faith that God gifts peace, that God gifts hope and that God fills us with God’s love freely.
This faith pulls us into the profound mystery of God, it pulls us into God’s story of redemption, and transforms us to holy people who open ourselves lovingly to others as God did us.
This morning we ask how can we as new hope be faithful steward of the love that God so freely gives us, how can we share this story and this good news to a world that finds such hope to be poppy cock.
The answer isn’t simple it’s not efficient, it can’t be boiled down to ABCs, it cant fit on a tract, instead we embrace the mystery and invite those outside to come and ponder the glory of God with us. We need to obediently respond to the nudging of God, who might simply give us a word to speak to a neighbor, or who might call you to step out in faith to do something crazy to share God’s good news in a church plant
At district assembly this week we were challenged on this district to do something new, to plant a church or partner with a church plant every three to five years. Our leadership team will be taking that call seriously and the first step Doug called us to was prayer, church start praying today for New Hope to be faithful, ask God to show you how you might faithfully respond.
New Hope, the reason I put up this crazy pulpit skirt, and change the colors of the paraments on the cross is not because I love the church calendar, but because I love the church, I want us to be formed by a Holy God who calls us into Holy time, I call us to the table weekly because I want you to be filled not just with the proclamation of the word, but I want us to be filled and formed by Christ, I want us to remember we are one at one table, I want us to become what we eat.
Trinity Sunday calls us not into verbal linguistics to explain how 3 is 1, it doesn’t call us to master the Cappadocian fathers take on the perichoretic nature of Christ, it instead calls us to ponder the mysteries of a God who loves us, as a church we embody those mysteries when we baptize and when we gather at the table.