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A Sermon preached by the Rev. Michael Anderson Bullock


[Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17]

“Trinity Sunday”: a unique occasion in the year’s worshipping experience in that it is the only liturgical focus that is not about a person or a faithful event.  Rather (and curiously so), Trinity Sunday is about a “doctrine” (that is, a “teaching”) – specifically the church’s teaching about the nature of God.  

In my own experience of teaching and learning, any instruction that is more than a cold abstraction comes from lived experience with the subject at hand.  When it comes to the issues of the source and meaning of life, the shorthand reference to that source is simply called “God”.  And the humbling truth is that all our best thoughts and words about God can only function as a hand-drawn map that locates what we have experienced about “God” and what God is like.

The process of doing this reflective map-making, the work it takes to produce all this thoughtful locating and identification is in a very real sense what “theology” is about.  “Theology (that is, the “study of God”) is by its very nature a daring and high stakes enterprise.  The late writer, teacher, and theologian, Frederick Buechner illuminates the delicate balance between the humility and the daring that good theology demands.  Agreeing that “theology is the study of God and [God’s] ways.”  Buechner impishly adds this light-hearted addendum about the experience of this elevated study.  He writes, “For all we know, dung beetles may study [people] and [our] ways and call it humanology.  If so, we would probably be more touched and amused than irritated.  One hopes that God feels likewise.”1

Let me take a step back from approaching Trinity Sunday and its specific teaching to offer a few contextual items.  

The first is to reiterate what is perhaps this day’s most significant element; and if you wish to smile or chuckle or roll your eyes over my oft-repeated code word, “relationship”, it’s ok because the heart of the Doctrine of the Trinity is all about the reality of God whose eternal nature is relationship.  Moreover, God’s nature is the perfect and complete expression of relationship.  You and I call it Communion, but what happens at the altar rail pales by comparison.  All of which speaks to the basic truth of the entire matter: to play on an old campaign phrase, it’s the relationship, dummy!

The second item that needs to be noted about the Doctrine of the Trinity is that it is a teaching about what is fundamentally and intimately a mystery.  In this regard, I think that too many of us get tripped up by this word “mystery” because we confuse the two kinds of mysteries.  One type is the kind of mystery you solve.  As in a murder mystery, if you want to get to the vital truth of “who dune it?”, what is unknown about the murder must be unveiled, revealed, solved.  Too often, it is this very familiar type of mystery – the ones that need to be solved – that occupies our focus.  But this is not the mystery of the Trinity.

The Trinity is involved in another, more profound sense of mystery.  This type of mystery does not conceal the truth; nor do we think our way to it.  Rather, this kind of mystery holds the truth which is in and of itself the mystery.  Again, I turn to Buechner for illumination.  He suggests thinking about the mystery of who we are.  The more you try to understand about yourself, the more you realize that there is to know.2  And so it goes…  In this second kind of mystery, solution is not the goal or the focus.  Instead (and this is the discerning point), this type of mystery is meant to be lived – lived in and lived with: Experienced.  In terms of the Trinity’s notion of “God”, the Holy One is a mystery that you can never nail down.  Rather than nailing down the “solution to the mystery, it must be lived.  Think of love and why we love and the experience of being loved.  It is a great and life-giving mystery, one that is both beyond our full understanding and in our daily experience.

The Doctrine of the Trinity is not a math problem to be solved or even a truth to be proven.  It is not that kind of “mystery”.  It is not that kind of “teaching”.  This may speak to the confusion over the place of the Trinity in our faith lives, a point that the great, 20th century, Roman Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, observed.  Rahner is known to have said that most of us are “functional monotheists”.  While the Trinity is absolutely foundational (and unique) to Christianity because it reveals “the heart of the nature of God”, yet, the centrality of the Doctrine of the Trinity has made almost no difference in the lives of the vast majority of Christians.

Perhaps being human and liking to have solutions that allow us to believe that we are in control, the challenge of the Trinity lies in its notion of God as a perfect relationship; and  therein lies the problem.  Relationships are not about solutions, and healthy relationships are not about control.  Rather, they are meant to be about living in Communion with one another, which is to say in a word that relationships are meant to be about the unhindered flow of love and the life love provides.  

“Prove that you love me!” is a question that is never too far from our deepest, relational yearnings.  But love can’t be proven, only offered and received, that is, love is a participation in the movement of love’s flow, a flow  that generates life.  And in this experience, we call this a “God-life”.

Lest anyone think that this is all philosophical clap-trap, scientists and contemplatives (that is, those who are devoted to serious and thoughtful prayer) – in their respective arenas they both confirm that the foundational nature of reality (what is really real) is relational.3  According to the biblical teachings and the experience they convey, this is so because the Creator of all reality is relational.  

This is the main teaching point of the Doctrine of the Trinity.  In the tone of the Book of Genesis, Trinity reality says that “in the beginning is the relationship.”  Communion is life’s reality because relationship is the foundational character and very nature of God.  

OK: Let’s bring this Trinity talk down to earth and ask about what the implications of experiencing this relational, communing God are?  What are the summary components of the teaching that is Trinity?  Here are five, very brief suggestions to ponder.

1.  The God-life, the reality of Communion as the expression of God’s nature and life, is extravagantly and unhinderedly generous.  

2.  Trinitarian reality means that the universe is not against us but is benevolent, which in turn means that God is not someone we are to be afraid of but that God is on our side.  In terms of last week’s sermon, the Creator of heaven and earth is our eternal “advocate”.  

3.  This crucially means that God does not so much promise us a distant heaven to escape to but invites us into God’s own experience of life as friends and co-participants.4  Hence, we know the God beyond us, the God beside us, the God within us.  This is the intimacy of knowing God and sharing in the life God provides.

4.  In terms of the grammar of the Trinity, “God” is a verb, not a noun.  God is the flow, the “holy water” that brings life.  Therefore, “sin” is any resistance to that life-giving flow.

5.  From all this, we quite appropriately worship God, and in so doing always “awakening to” the realization that we inevitably become what we worship.  [Everyone is religious; the problem is what we worship.]

The Holy Trinity: the mystery of God for us [the Father]; the mystery of God beside us [the Son]; the mystery of God within us [the Holy Spirit] are all the same mystery.  Trinitarian perspective and language are a way of saying something about the way we experience God and the life God offers.  Consequently, Trinitarian perspective and language say something about us, as well.  

This sermon’s point is that the Trinity is not nearly as abstract as we are wont to make of it.  Three in One: One in Three.  It’s a dance, the steps of which we can and need to learn, but the mysterious and wonderful truth is that God is the dance!.  Amen.


1. Frederick Buechner. Wishful Thinking: A Theological Alphabet, p. 91

2. Wishful Thinking. P 64

3. Richard Rohr. “Trinity Week 1: Monday, 2/25/2017

4. Rohr. “Jesus in the Trinity”

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