Genesis 1:1-2:4a , Psalm 8, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 , Matthew 28:16-20 A couple of months ago we celebrated Earth Day, as we’ve been doing for the last 41 years. Ever since 1970 Earth Day has been rumbling on, and recently it’s become popular for us to “take stock” of the green agenda, to measure the our green temperature so to speak, and to get a sense of how we’re doing. Not too long ago Time magazine ran a short article for Earth Day that was a lighthearted summary of the green movement. Surprisingly, the author suggested that because Earth Day has become so popular, because it’s so well known, it might not even be necessary (anymore) to focus all of our energy on a single day that we call Earth Day. She wrote:
Maybe it's cause to celebrate when a celebration outlives its usefulness. Back in 1970, there was lead in our paint, smog in our cities and poison in our pesticides; Ohio's Cuyahoga River was so polluted it caught fire the year before. So when [the call went out] for a day of protest and teach-ins, 20 million people took part.…[These days] half a billion people in 175 countries [celebrate] Earth Day.
And she closes by saying, “So what on earth is there to celebrate? Only this: [years later], there's no need to stop us in our tracks and force the issue onto the agenda. [These days], every day is Earth Day.”
There’s no need to stop us in our tracks and force the issue onto the agenda. That’s how this journalist felt. Maybe she’s right, and maybe some Christians feel the same way about Trinity Sunday – the feast we mark today on the church calendar. I mean, we already make references to the Trinity every week. We pray in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Some of us cross ourselves at certain parts of the service and we make additional references to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. In the Creed we collectively reaffirm our faith in the framework of the God Father (maker of heaven and earth), Jesus the Son (eternally begotten of the Father), and the Holy Spirit (the giver of life). So with all of this stuff that we already say every week - and for some of us almost every day - maybe forcing the issue of the Trinity onto the agenda feels a bit like forcing Earth Day once a year when we already recycle household items, drive hybrid cars, join CSA’s, and work really hard to reduce our carbon footprint.
Come to think of it, maybe we’re even more hesitant about the Trinity than this journalist was about Earth Day. I mean, at least Earth Day was connected to some obvious issues. If our rivers are about to spontaneously combust, then we better fix some things. But what was the purpose or even the usefulness of an idea like the Trinity? Maybe there’s no need to hang on to that particular idea. Every day is already filled with God’s presence so maybe There’s no need to stop us in our tracks and force the issue onto the agenda.
Maybe. Let’s be open minded but let’s also take a few moments to consider this morning’s readings. As G.K. Chesterton once said, an open mind is a lot like an open mouth: The main reason you open your mind, just like you open your mouth, is to close it again on something solid.
The first thing we might say is that the idea of the Trinity isn’t something that just “happened” to the church. Unlike Pentecost last week, it isn’t about an event. It also isn’t like Easter day – waking up to the shock of a new reality with the Resurrection. The Trinity was a process that developed over many years, and it became the Church’s best language to say something reliable about the God we discover in history, in Scripture, and supremely in Jesus. With an idea like the Trinity the Church isn’t trying to come up with something new. It’s trying to recognize something that seems always to have been true whether we knew it or not. And so maybe it can even help us make sense out of today’s readings.
Today’s readings are a pretty scattered bunch, and since we already know that today is Trinity Sunday, we could simply play a kind of word game and look for some references that describe the Trinity. Sure enough, they’re here. In Matthew (28.16-20) Jesus sends people into the world and says, “Teach them what I told you, and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Paul’s letter to Corinth ends with a blessing that includes the grace of Jesus, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2Cor. 13.11-13). So even if the Bible never gives a full description of the Trinity, we can see that really early on the Church was already thinking that way. Now our reading from Genesis isn’t quite as clear but there’s still a kind plurality to God – “let us make people in our image” (Gen. 1.26).
We can play this kind of word game with the Bible and we can learn to recognize where the idea of the Trinity comes from. But if we’re really paying attention, we can discover even more. Because each reading also paints a picture of God’s personality. Today, on Trinity Sunday, we can see that Genesis offers a kind of inspired imagination about human life. How did this world come into being and why does it look this way? Well, the answer in Genesis is that it was God’s pleasure to make a world that depends on relationships between all the creatures and all the different parts of the world. Unlike other creation stories, this God didn’t have to fight cosmic battles to conquer a brutal world. This God simply spoke, and created a world of harmony. And in the Bible, this rhythm of creation becomes a kind of pattern for the rhythms of human life: from eating, to working, to praying. So without even mentioning the Trinity, Genesis still describes a God that is defined by caring relationships - it’s the foundation of our world.
And if we hear that, if we believe it, then we might start asking some practical questions. Questions like, what kinds of things will support this creation project? What kinds of things help move it forward and move it in the right direction? And a pretty good place to begin might just be helping to fix some of the broken relationships in this world. It’s no surprise, we have some brokenness in our world. And if creation depends on healthy relationships between all the different parts, including God, people, and the world, then where can we help repair some relationships that are broken?
Believe it or not, that’s just the kind of thing we hear about in today’s other readings. When Matthew and Paul mention the Trinity, they’re not talking about abstract ideas. They’re talking about relationships in creation - between God, people, and the world. In Matthew, the risen Jesus sends out his disciples as ambassadors of reconciliation. They’re supposed to go into the entire world, into places of pain and brokenness, and to bring a Kingdom of reconciliation - repairing broken relationships between God, people, and the world. This is what they’re up to when they baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. In Corinth, Paul describes this Kingdom of reconciliation with a kind of order and rhythm that follows Genesis. He says, “Put things in order” (2Cor. 13.11). And then he tells them that as they treat each other with love and peace, the God of love and peace will also be with them.
For my money, here’s why the Trinity is so important: it’s the best language to describe how God is both intimately close and also far beyond. The Trinity doesn’t describe a God who only lived “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. The Trinity doesn’t describe a God who is really no different from us, as if all we really needed to do was get in touch with our feelings. The Trinity describes a God that is both intimate and transcendent. As someone once said, the Trinity “is not something that the clever theologian [discovers] as a result of hours spent in the theological laboratory, [when they] return to announce that they’ve got God worked out now, the analysis is complete, and here is God neatly laid out on a slab. The only time they laid God out on a slab he rose again three days afterwards,” (NT Wright, For All God’s Worth, p. 24). The Trinity is not a way of saying that we have God figured out. It’s the exact opposite. It’s a way of saying that we’ll never fully understand, and this is never a God that we might have created by our own choice.
So what is the Trinity? The Trinity is a source of comfort (knowing that God is with us); the Trinity is a source of humility (knowing that God stands far beyond any of our analysis); the Trinity is a source of energy (knowing that God’s breath - the breath of creation - is still active in us and through us to give life to the world). And if this is what we mean by the Trinity, then we may indeed find that from time-to-time, and at least once a year, we actually do benefit from stopping in our tracks and forcing the issue onto the agenda – even if these days every day is already Trinity Sunday. Amen.