May 30, 2010


“God Is Not Confused”

Romans 5:1-5

John 16:12-15


A friend of mine who is a Presbyterian minister in Michigan emailed me last week asking for prayer.  She told me that she has a ‘neutral pulpit’ scheduled for today, Trinity Sunday.  My reply was 3 short words: “Lord, have mercy!”  I say this because while the importance of this day to every confessing church is right up there with Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost; and yet, it is a difficult day for preachers.   Trinity Sunday, always the Sunday after Pentecost, reaffirms our belief that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are One.  God is one.

It would be easy to explain this, right?  Simply point out to the congregation that God is Jesus, God is the Holy Spirit, and God is the Father, the Creator, Almighty.  But, I caution her, don’t forget to remind them that the Christ is not the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is not the Creator, and the Creator is not the Christ.  She emailed back, “huh?”

Although this mystery of God revealed in three ways is the core belief of Christianity, many struggle to explain it. Monotheistic Christians do back flips explaining why such a belief doesn’t make them polytheists. Water has often been called forth as a witness. This common earthly element exists on this earth as a gas, a liquid and a solid.

Three forms, one substance, get it?  No? 

[Perhaps we should hope to do no more than what the idea sought to do from the beginning, to give words to the God we have come to know, and the faith which we share.  To speak of the Trinity, the One God who is made known to us as the Creator of all, the redeeming Christ and the life-giving Spirit, is to use a shorthand way of expressing the depths of the faith. Without the Trinity holding us accountable, we might be tempted to worship a one-dimensional deity. This full view of God lifts up a God who is more than a Creator who made the world out of nothing, more than the God of the big-bang theory who began the universe and then left it to run on its own – We do not worship a process, but a provider who continues to create and move among us. Each day is a new day, thanks to the Spirit of God in our midst. God’s work in Jesus is the prime example of God’s continuing creative and redeeming work among us and despite us. The Trinity gives language to our strongest belief that our God is not merely a God of history, performing mighty acts only in Bible times, but a powerful, on-the-move God of the present and of the future. That’s what the Trinity wants us to understand in our heart of hearts.

For the Church, everything hangs on the pattern of love-in-communion that exists among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity names the truth of both God’s vulnerability and God’s power–or, rather, that God’s vulnerability is–through the suffering death of the Son–God’s power. And, as Nicholas Lash has said, the Trinity names “the mystery that constitutes, transforms, and heals the world.”[1]  Trinity permeates the church’s life and witness. When we baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we name the Trinity as the church’s “determining reality”[2] In the Eucharist, the gathered community “incarnates and realizes its communion within the very life and communion of the Trinity”[3]  In the Athanasian Creed, the first half of which we will read after this sermon, we note: The justice, generosity, and equality we seek to embody in our life together all have their source in the Trinity, in which “none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; but the whole three Persons are co-eternal and co-equal”[4]

Now do you get it?  No?][5]

The Trinity is a concept that very bright and faithful people have tried to explain (in great detail) for a millennia.  What makes me think that I can adequately do this for you?  Yet, as I prepared for bible study on Wednesday night, I opened my bible to the Roman’s text, read this morning, and written by the Apostle Paul, and I had an idea.

I do not know the challenges that the Apostle Paul faced.  His imprisonment in Phillipi and his thrashing before it are things I know nothing about.  But I, for one, believe that suffering is relative.  Long ago I promised myself that I would never tell anyone, “I know what you are going through.”  The fact of the matter is that I do not know what you are going through, but I do know what I’ve been through.

So when I read what the Apostle tells the Romans,

3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,”   

I felt that he was speaking to me.

And there was a part of me that wanted to simply tell each of you that which Paul proclaims to them.  Unfortunately, I know how cheap that may sound on ears cauliflowered by the pounding some of you have taken.  Listen to how Eugene Peterson translates these verses in “The Message:” 

3 …We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, 4 and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. 5 In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

We know that God, who created all that is and who loves each one of us, this same God has already marked each one of us for salvation by Jesus Christ through our baptism, this same God strengthens us for life by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  This we affirm, this we believe.

Still, it doesn’t mean a hill of beans unless it means something on the difficult days. The miracle of the trinity is not found in understanding the mysterious way that God was revealed to the disciples long ago.  It is about this same mysterious revelation in our lives, in the life of the church that says “24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”[6]

So it is my deepest desire that you will come to know, if you don’t already, this tippy-toe-stance where we perch in the midst of our own hardship in alert expectancy of what God will do next.

The fullness of God is beyond our comprehension. We may be confused when we talk about the Trinity. But God is much more than a doctrine and much more than a mystery. In His great love affair with us, God decided that the best way He could build a relationship with us was with three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit; Parent, Brother, and Spirit. And the more we understand that we are all children of God, God’s beloved, the better we can relate to one another, and the better we can relate to God. God is not confused.  Because with God it’s all about relationship – relationship with us – God who is one, God who is three, God who is all. The God who we stand in awe of as we look upon our world, the Son with whom we walk in our struggles, failures, and joys, and the Holy Spirit with whom we remember all that is good and wonderful in God.

See, it is we ourselves who are confused, not God.


[1] Lash, Nicholas, “Considering the Trinity,” Modern Theology, 2:3, 1986

[2] Volf, Miroslav, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity, Eerdmans, 1997

[3] Zizioluas, John, Being As Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church, St Vladimirs Seminary, 1997.

[4] From the Athanasian Creed.

[5] This part of the written sermon I did not use, it was adapted from a blog written by Debra Dean Murphy:, it’s worth reading)

[6] Romans 8:24-25 (RSV)