Monday, June 15, 2009

Whither the Trinity . . .

     Pick up your pens and answer the question in less than twenty minutes: Explain the significance of the Trinity to the everyday life of the Christian. Once a year, those churches who follow a lectionary set aside the day, the first Sunday after Pentecost, to remind ourselves of the significance of the Trinity. It is a challenging day for most of us in the clergy. How do we talk about the Trinity without putting our congregations to sleep and without slipping into heresy? It is, after all, one of the mysteries of the church, and it is difficult to talk about in a short time without focusing too much on the three persons to the exclusion of the one substance. Similarly, if we spend too much time on the one substance, we might tend to ignore the three persons. Then, of course, even if we have walked the theological tightrope explaining the Trinity, what good have we truly accomplished? How does our understanding of the Trinity impact our daily life and work?

     I must confess that the answer I gave to this question this weekend is not one that I had consciously put together beforehand. Usually, I am blessed by the Thursday morning group and their conversations. The 8 - 14 who attend that study each week have been together for many years. Consequently, they feel free to share their questions, their doubts, their fears, and their frustrations. This week, they were exploring issues from The Shack and refused all my gentle prodding’s to help me compose a sermon. I can test answers and solutions with them, and they can tell me whether something is biblical, makes sense, or is simply wrong. But this week, no one wanted to spend much time on the Trinity.

     So, as I was reading an article on Deuteronomy, it dawned on me: the Trinity allows you and me and all other baptized Christians to fulfill the purpose of God. What do I mean by that statement? In simplest terms, according to Genesis, you and I were created in the image of God. The imago dei has, itself, been the subject of tomes of written material, but I will for a brief space pretend that we all agree on its definition. You and I are simply called to live as images of God. How does the Trinity make this possible?

     Well, it is only through the grace, love, faithfulness, and working of the Trinity that it can even happen. God the Father has a plan of salvation. He sends His Son to live as us, to die for us, to be raised for us, so that we who accept His offer of salvation, can receive His righteousness and be raised to eternal life with Him. Then, after the Son has ascended, He sends the Holy Spirit to empower those who believe to accomplish His will on earth.

     Those baptized into the faith recognize that this is not the way creation was intended. We were intended to seek His will in all things. Creation was intended to be a garden, not a place full of tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, or even straight line winds that can knock airplanes out of the sky. But we also recognize that we are called to proclaim, by word and deed, that God loves us, that God wants to save us, and that God has already acted to make that salvation possible through the work and person of His Son. That is the message of the Gospel. God loves us. He has acted to save us. And He wants to save everyone. And, He has chosen His believers to be the heralds of His grace!

     This week, in our passage from John, Jesus has a long conversation with Nicodemus. Much of their discussion centers around the verb “born.” Specifically, Jesus talks of being born from above and born of the Spirit, and Nicodemus is confused and mocks Jesus for expecting him to climb back up into his mother’s womb to be born again. Significantly, the verb is passive. Being born from above is something that is done to people, not something that they do to or for themselves. And this, brothers and sisters, is where the rubber meets the road when we talk of the impact of the Trinity on our daily life and work.

     Through our faith and through our acceptance of God’s offer of salvation, we begin to be re-molded and re-formed into the purpose that God had for us in His creation of us. Amazing change seems to come over us. Many of us pay great attention to the former murderer who converts or the drug dealer who finds God or the abuser who is broken by God’s love; but even in the most average of us, we, too, are transformed into that image of God. Where our co-workers struggle with financial concerns and job-loss fears, we remember that He has promised to provide. Where our families, friends and neighbors hold on to grudges like Linus hold on to his blanket when Snoopy is on the prowl, we remember the forgiveness and grace first offered us and do our best (and pray to God for the grace) to forgive others. Where people stand at the grave and mourn the loss of a loved one thinking that death is the end, we stand at the grave making our alleluias knowing that God has already acted to conquer death and make eternal life possible for all who call on His name. And slowly, surely, the world around us begins to notice our seemingly strange behavior. Just as the world feels and sees the effects of the wind, it notices the change in us. And over time, as we live according to the grace given us, we begin to field questions. Don’t you miss your loved ones who have died? Don’t you worry that you might lose your job? Aren’t you worried about retirement? Aren’t you afraid people might try and take advantage of you?

     Brothers and sisters, the importance of the Trinity in our lives is that it enables you and me and everyone who accepts God’s offer of salvation to begin to live as God intended. The economy of the Trinity, if you will, enables and empowers us to begin to live as His image here on earth. The functioning of the Trinity saves, redeems, and empowers individuals, fallen and as imperfect as they are until His coming again, to be that barest reflection, that briefest of glimpses, that barest hint of the glorious life that God planned for each of us when He formed us! In short, the Trinity births us again into that image of God and sends us into the world to draw others to Him.



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