Text: Romans 5:1-5
Some of you might remember me sharing this story. When I was a student in Vancouver, I offered to run a Bible study at the church that I was presently attending. I was still in school, studying for my M.Div. and thought that this might be a good and healthy experience… That is, until I began to receive some very odd remarks from the minister and the congregation.
“Good luck!” some people were heard to say. Others would come up to me and ask, “Is it true you’re going to be doing the Bible Study this fall?” When I nodded, they would give me a handshake with two hands to say, “Bless you…” I was beginning to get a bit worried. Had I wandered into a minefield, and they were all trying to warn me about something? As the fateful first day approached, I began to hear more and more odd comments about “the three…”
Admittedly, I was nervous… but also a bit naïve, I think. I had done all of my preparations, and had pulled everything together, notes, display pieces, study guides. I was ready, but I was still puzzled by this new-found sympathy that I had gained from the congregation. Then the fateful night arrived. I had a reasonable turnout of about nine people, including a trio of rather severe looking ladies, all armed with their own well-thumbed Bibles. Unsettling… but still workable.
Then it started. We had hardly gotten into the text when it began.
“What’s all this about the Trinity?” One would pipe up. “I don’t get it” another would snipe. “It’s tritheism! Aren’t we supposed to be monotheists?” Another would gripe armed with fifty-dollar words… The banter went on, back and forth… and it really felt like I had lost all semblance of control… Worst of all, there wasn’t any room for discussion.
I should also say at this point that this Bible study was supposed to be on the parables of Jesus. I doubled checked my own lesson plan, and there was no mention at all of the Trinity whatsoever. I didn’t understand how they had gotten off on this stunning tangent.
I was left there to sit in shock and awe… but not in a good way.
After this first experience, I went to the minister with all the wind out of my sails… I wasn’t quite ready to resign, but it was certainly a demoralizing experience. He laughed, and asked me if I now understood the unusual level of sympathy that I had received. I nodded. Apparently these three ladies were legends in this congregation. Somehow, they would manage to turn every Bible study they were a part of into a tirade centered around the Trinity.
These three wanted a nice, neat package where they could place God into a box, which they could fully understand. As concrete as even the most traditional forms of the language were, to them not all of the pieces fit, to make it easily explainable.
I have since learned that any such attempt is actually foolishness… and in the grand scheme of things it misses the mark. This experience has shaped how I do studies ever since… and context is really, really important here. Trinity used to be a dry doctrine trying to explain the infinite nature of God in a three-fold mystery. It was largely left to academic theologians who had time to ponder these things using the both crude and elegant tools of language to describe that which cannot truly be defined… Although oddly enough, the language about Trinity never really became a contentious issue in the church until around 300 years after Jesus lived and taught in Galilee. Those in the early church freely spoke about God, Christ, and Holy Spirit without getting into the details about how that worked. It never occurred to them to get into details… and why should they? It wasn’t important of explaining God, because they were too occupied in trusting in God.
It was only when the church became the official religion of the Roman Empire that this began to matter… what we believed about God… and so we developed these doctrines to try and explain the nature of God… and for anyone who wasn’t a theologian, the cure for insomnia was created. The great philosopher Emmanuel Kant once remarked that the Trinity is of no practical significance to the ordinary person. Given the dense academic debates that he was involved in, and given how debates on this would cause people’s eyes to glaze over… I am not surprised… because it has all been about trying to conclusively define the infinite nature of God. Something is by definition impossible for human beings to do.
But in more recent years, it has not been what we believe about the nature of God that motivates us… it has become our experience of God… It is how we connect with God, even if we cannot fully grasp the infinite nature of God… In fact, Trinity is much more effective in helping us realize how we connect with God, rather than to try to objectively understand the nature of God.
So how we you connect God? How do we experience God in our life?
Honestly… it depends who you are. In many respects, all of us experience God working in our lives in a different way… and all of us have our own leanings… whether we feel we connect better with God as the source of the world and the universe, whether we imagine ourselves at the feet of Jesus, or we feel the rush of the Holy Spirit… but even within that we can encounter God in our senses of the world around us, in opening ourselves up in worship, through prayer and a sense of inner peace, in celebrating the awe and power of God… There’s some of us who experience God more in our personal sense of discipline and devotion, or in the way that we share and talk about our faith. For others, it is that personal encounter in the written word… in the stories of the Bible. Maybe it’s more a sense of trying to be a right relationship with God… and maybe we’d just like to think about it some more…
All of us have our own starting points in how we connect with God. When we realize that, then we suddenly realize that God has been there all along. Trinity is far more personal than I think we realize… because it gives us various entry points in how we experience and relate to God in our lives… and encourages us to seek balance in our faith.
This is not about nice, neat packages of thought that we can assess, digest, and then move on. This is about the meaning of life… about how we relate to the universe around us… how we connect with the foundation of all that we are. You can’t do that with a few simple words. God does not get into a box for us to be at our beck and call. Instead, we encounter God in a myriad of different ways… in three “characters” –One who creates and forms us, one who redeems and reconciles us, and one who sustains and encourages us. No matter the way we connect with God, Trinity Sunday is a reminder that our Spiritual life is not a passive thing that we kind of absorb from someone else. It is a reminder that God wants to be in a relationship with us, where we are in our life, no matter who we happen to be… and there is a whole raft of ways for us to build that relationship, so that we might live our life to the fullest and depth of meaning. God is reaching out to us in so many different ways, are we willing to reach back?