The Power of Three
Genesis 1:1-2:3, Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Today we get the chance to discuss one of the ultimate mysteries of the Bible – the concept of the Holy Trinity. Many have said that God has a sense of humor, and I believe that is most evident as God listens to pastors try to explain this concept. As a scientist, I was always taught to dig for answers because everything could eventually be explained in human terms. However, as someone whose career was spent in health care, I learned that many things about the science of the human body in particular could not be explained in any terms. Patients that should by all accounts be dead within a day live many years beyond their crisis. Good physicians will be the first to tell you that there are mysteries of healing that simply cannot be explained.
So here we are on Trinity Sunday trying to explain the incredible mystery of God in three persons. Trinity comes from the Latin word ‘trinitas’ which literally means 3 in one. The Holy Trinity – God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit; all three are God – God is all three. Yet each seems to have a purpose. God sent God’s son Jesus to earth to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. While Jesus was on earth, he healed the sick, taught the masses, empowered leaders to continue his work, and initiated a movement that has grown as Christianity recognized throughout most of the world. When Jesus left this earth, he sent the advocate, the Comforter in the Holy Spirit to empower the initial church to do great things. It seems these three are separate beings, yet the idea of the Holy Trinity is three in one – all one God.
At this time I would like to share the pulpit with one of the greatest comedy duos ever. I heard a pastor try to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity in terms of the old Abbott and Costello routine of “Who’s on First?” I would like to play this routine for you – I’m thinking many of you may have seen this before but listen closely for the banter between the two as Lou tries to get the names of the baseball players while Bud hones in on the play-on-words of this famous routine. [Play video]
Now what has that got to do with the Holy Trinity? I think it helps to exemplify a complicated concept. We are all created in God’s image, yet we have limitations within our human understanding. We want to explain everything. We want everything to add up into debit and credit columns with pinpoint accuracy. We want the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed. Yet as Christians we also realize there are many things beyond our human understanding. It is simply not possible to put all divine concepts into neat little boxes and expect 100% clarity on everything relating to God. I believe that is why we have been given the capacity of faith and trust in God.
One explanation for the Holy Trinity that seems to help me the most is that of comparing the Trinity with the universe. There are 3 major elements that make up the universe – matter, space, and time. If you take away any of these elements, the universe ceases to exist. So I believe it is with the Holy Trinity. All are God and none can be separated from the others. Know that we can try to explain this concept for a lifetime and still not see the whole picture. Like Lou, we will still be trying to find out “Who is on first?” Perhaps it is not as necessary to come to resolution on the Holy Trinity as it is to accept that God loves us so much more than we could ever begin to fathom.
I wanted to share these images that show how some have tried to depict the Holy Trinity over the years. The most common image appears to be that of a triangle – equilateral showing that all parts of the Trinity are equally important. Many attribute the Hebrew Bible to God the Father. God is seen as Creator. Right from the very beginning of the Bible, Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” From that point on the story is woven of God’s relationship with God’s people. There are highs and lows, mistakes and victories. Yet there are prophesies of a Messiah to come who will take away the sins of the world. This directly points to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who remains the focus of the New Testament. The gospels each give an account of the life and activities of Jesus Christ while on earth, while the letters to the different churches and the books of other apostles round out the message of God’s love for God’s people through God’s son Jesus Christ.
It seems there is little mention of the Holy Spirit throughout the scriptures, yet I would argue those references are there but not necessarily emphasized as much as those speaking of God or Jesus Christ. Take a look at our scripture from Proverbs chapter 8:1-4. It states, “Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: ‘To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” Who is this ‘wisdom’ the scripture refers to? Interesting that wisdom is spoken in the feminine voice. Often God is depicted as Father, although many will argue that God has no gender. Clearly Jesus Christ was male, and here we have wisdom as female. I would present to you that ‘wisdom’ noted in Proverbs and the Holy Spirit noted in the New Testament, are one and the same. It appears the third part of the Trinity has been there all along.
If we truly consider the timeline from the beginning of the earth to us today, the Holy Spirit is the part of the Trinity that we have the most direct association. None of us were around when Jesus walked the earth. After Jesus ascended the Holy Spirit came and inspired the original apostles to set aside their fears and doubts and preach with boldness that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and that sins are forgiven in him. The Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the gospels and Paul the author of many of the epistles and inspired others as well. Paul’s letter to the Romans says, “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets to speak out against the sins of God’s people when they would stray from God’s will. The scripture isn’t always clear, but I would argue that perhaps the Holy Spirit was at work inspiring Nathan to speak out against David when he had sinned against God, committing murder and adultery by having Bathsheba’s husband killed and taking her by force to be his wife. Perhaps the Holy Spirit as part of the Triune God inspired Gideon to stand against a vast army with only 300 men. Perhaps the Holy Spirit was at work with Joshua when he and his small band stood firm while the walls of Jericho fell. The Holy Spirit inspires us to share the good news of the gospel, regardless of how we are viewed by others because we see the gift of forgiveness as one to share. When you consider the trials and difficulties we have endured in our lives, it is the Holy Spirit that gives us the encouragement we need to get up and try again.
The Holy Spirit is with us today. Think of a time in this church when you felt your burdens lifted, even if for just a little while. Think of a time when you found true joy when entering this house of God. I enjoy seeing all of you entering worship, greeting one another, and sharing stories of blessing and bearing one another’s burdens. What a joy to have that special time with others while sharing a faith in Jesus Christ and a genuine love for one another. Many churches suffer from that lack of community, but community is alive and well here at Mayo UMC. I think the Holy Spirit has a lot to do with that. When we set aside our differences and focus on worshipping God together in one place and in one accord, we are also in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
While we celebrate the Holy Trinity today, we celebrate special occasions and special people today as well. We recognize our fathers and graduates, our Sunday School teachers and students, and a very special person, Richard Hardesty, who has done so many things for Mayo over the years. We celebrate past accomplishments, remember the high points of the past, and continue to look forward to the times ahead as we continue to share God’s love with others. It seems the Holy Trinity is uniquely able to bring together the past, the present, and the future as we look forward to ‘what’s next?’ for us.
I truly do not think we will ever be able to fully comprehend the relationship and concept of the Holy Trinity. I also don’t think it is necessary for us to be able to completely understand and explain all the mysteries of our faith. God created us in God’s image, but God is still the Creator while we are still the creation. As another school year winds down, as we recognize our dads, grads, children, and leaders of this church, let us truly appreciate the mystery of God’s undying love for each of us as we continue to worship God and help our neighbors. Amen.