We Are Triune Christians
It is all about perspective. If you talk to your neighbors (maybe even some of your family members who attend differing Christian denominations) you will find that not everyone will return home today with a bulletin identifying this as “Trinity Sunday.” From the perspective of some, this is a manufactured holiday, an event which is not biblical. The way in which we view the same thing, can differ greatly. There are many perspectives.
I was working this through yesterday morning when I decided to take a break and call Cindy Sanders to see how her knee surgery had gone. After discussing her incisions and recovery, conversation turned to my attempts to prepare for this morning. I complained, just a little, about having to get back in the pulpit so quickly after three weeks of vacation. That may have been my perspective, but Cindy reflected another: “You’ve been on vacation forever. It is about time to get back to work.”
According to Webster’s, perspective means to “look through.” The lens we look through affects how we see that at which we are looking.
We can be encouraged to see things differently by being told the perspective through which we might look. Caleb left for camp this week. He is working for a second summer at Lutheridge. As he was preparing to leave, I reminded him that in his absence it is highly likely that house guests will use his bedroom and that I was hoping it would be clean. “It is clean,” he replied. I walked with him to the room and shared with him the perspective through which I viewed the placement of items in the corner or on the floor of the closet. By sharing my perspective, he was able to see the room differently.
We do reflect a particular perspective when we insist on speaking of God as a Trinity. While practically all Christians will use Father-Son-Holy Spirit language, not every expression of Christianity will observe Trinity Sunday, making it a focal point of their worship life. We do. We do so every year. Just like Christmas and Easter and Pentecost, Trinity Sunday is set on our calendars as one of the major Church festivals. It is a perspective which we encourage others to share. It is a perspective which we believe to be essential as well as informative.
One God, three persons; indivisible, yet distinct. This is the way we talk about God; this is the way we understand God.
Before they were called “Christians,” the followers of Jesus were referred to as participants in “The Way.” Before there were official Church statements, there was a whole plethora of statements of understanding. Yes, it is completely true (and never denied,) that there are other “gospels” out there, in addition the four collected in our bibles (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and it is also true (and never denied,) that they speak quite differently about Jesus and about his relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Those Church statements decided which perspectives were to be embraced (some would want to say “allowed”) and which were to be relegated to informative, but not normative.
This perspective, which we now share, was not universally shared by all those who in the first century A.D. were trying to figure out what all this means.
In the beginning, members of “The Way,” would not have referred to God as Triune. They had the core teachings which lead to the formation of the Doctrines associated with God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But, they would not have used that formula, nor insisted that each worship service begin and end with it.
So, while the ELCA (and practically every other modern expression of Christianity) insists on a Trinitarian perspective, it is true that this perspective has not always been present, and would not have flowed so freely from the lips of Jesus’ earliest followers.
Over time, it is the perspective which followers of Jesus came to share. They/we found this perspective to be helpful and informative. Seeing God as One God, in three persons, allowed us to see in its entirety the message which Jesus taught.
Father – Son – Holy Spirit. These are the “names” associated with the Triune God. Some prefer to refer to the functions of these three, so you will hear formulas like Creator – Redeemer – Sanctifier. The perspective being sought is one in which God is understood as larger than and more complete than anything we could envision or describe. God needs three names to even begin to speak of who he is and what he does.
God the Father/God the Creator, is an acknowledgment that in God all things find their ground of being. Who we are is rooted in God. We are all God’s creation; everyone one of us. The God whom we worship is the maker of all things. The God to whom we offer our prayers, is the One who called all things into being. When we insist on a Triune perspective we are instructing followers that no one in the whole of God’s creation is to been seen as anything less than one of God’s children. Everyone, in the whole of creation. It matters not their creed or their ethnic heritage or the color of their skin.
Who we are, is summed up in the acknowledgment that God is our Father/our creator. Regardless of what comes after, regardless of what we do with our lives, we are God’s.
In talking about the Son, it is helpful if we begin with the opening words of John’s Gospel. John writes, In the beginning was the Word, he tells us that this Word of God called into being everything which is. After painting a marvelous vision of the power and strength of this Word of God, he tells us that this Word has become flesh and dwelt among us.
The Son, the Redeemer, is that part of God’s person which seeks to be known. It is the facet of God’s person which allows us to understand. It is that self-expression of God which liberates us from the fears associated with darkness and death. We have come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the One sent among us to save us.
Within the Trinity, the Son embodies what it is that we believe and teach. It is the invitation from God to think right thoughts.
The name of the third person of the Trinity is the one which varies the most. Like many of you, I grew up referring to the third person as the Holy Ghost. “Ghost” language begins to be changed to “Spirit” language sometime around the early 70’s. “Spirit” is a better word. And “Ghost” has too many non-religious connotations. In scripture, this third person is referred to as the “Paracleat,” or more simply, “Helper.” In another part of John’s Gospel, the Spirit is called “the Advocate.” The Spirit is that part of God which guides us into righteous living.
It is the Spirit which gives meaning to our sighs, to those expressions of our hearts too deep for us to even understand. It is the Spirit who nudges us in the right direction or serves as a check on our wanton desires.
The Spirit is concerned with how we live. The Spirit addresses the realization that God not only concerns God’s self with who we are and what we think but also with what we do. Salvation may be associated with the second person of the Trinity, but our relationship with God isn’t complete unless we are also actively seeking sanctification.
Father – Son – Holy Spirit; Creator – Redeemer – Sanctifier; who we are – what we believe – how we live or lives; the perspective shared among those committed to this articulation of the Christian faith is that all of this matters. Who we are – what we believe – how we lives our lives; you can’t really claim to be a participant in the Way of Jesus unless all three are embraced.
The Doctrine of the Trinity is one of those Church statements which developed over time, reaching it final formulation centuries after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Those who formulated the Doctrine (and those accept the Doctrine) believe that all of the parts are there in the earliest writings. Most importantly, we see in the Doctrine of the Trinity a way to direct the perspectives of those who would seek to become Christian, encouraging them to see all that there is to be seen when one considers who God is and what it is that God calls upon us to do.
Father – Son – Holy Spirit.
Creator – Redeemer – Sanctifier.
Who we are – what we believe – how we live our lives.
Our identity as Christians includes all three.