The Trinitarian Life

Trinity Sunday
2 Corinthians 13:11-13                                                    
15 June 2014
Elizabeth M Deibert                                                          

The Bible never mentions a Trinitarian life.   The Bible never mentions the Trinity.   The Bible never says, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”   But the Trinity is a crucial doctrine in the church, which first began to be debated after one hundred years of church life.   It is one of those particulars that makes us who we are as Christians.   Usually when I say this in new members’ classes, people get this glazed over look on their faces or they say, “Yeah, I know, but I sure don’t understand it.   Do I need to understand it?   What’s the big deal about the Trinity?”  Well, first of all, you should know that the doctrine of the Trinity was a very hot topic for the first thousand years of the church and misunderstandings of the Trinity are still causing trouble in the church.   But having said the words, Trinitarian and Trinity are not in the Bible, the references to the persons of the Trinity are there, and we are reading today two of the passages which speak in terms that lead to a Trinitarian life.    

First it is appropriate that we should read this farewell of Paul to the Corinthians, as I bid you farewell for seven weeks, praying that this will be a time of renewal for all of us,  as I know that the God of love and peace will be with you, when I am not.    There are many talented and faithful leaders in this church.   You have elected a strong group of elders with diverse gifts.   You have two very capable, devoted, and gifted professionals in Gia and Neil, and beyond them, you have seven outstanding ordained ministers in the congregation.  These folks and others will do a good job with worship and will be there for you in times of pastoral need.   Paul would have been glad to have had so many great leaders in Corinth.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell.  Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Our second reading is the Great Commission.   It is another significant reference to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.   It’s Christ’s charge to us that we make disciples and baptize them in this Trinitarian formula, and his promise to be with us forever.   It is great to be reading this text on the day we send our young mission workers to Guatemala and Haiti for a week as messengers of the peace of Christ.

Matthew 28:16-20

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

So with some help from the late theology professor Guthrie, our friend, who wrote Christian Doctrine, let’s talk a little bit about misunderstandings of the Trinity:  Some people talk about God like a heavenly board of directors with three persons who are equal partners.  The Father handles creation (or in corporate terms, production and maintenance).   The Son handles salvation (sales and distribution), and the Spirit handles the life and growth (customer satisfaction and the development office).   But this separates out the persons of the Trinity and puts them in fixed roles.  This approach does not understand that there is one God whose works cannot be cleanly separated.

Or we might mistakenly think that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three players on a team, who takes turns playing in the game.   God the Father comes out in the first half to do the work of creation (the Old Testament).   Then Jesus comes out to do the work of salvation at half time, as we see in the Gospels.   Then finally the Spirit comes at Pentecost in the second half of the game of life to carry the church forward. 

But scripture teaches that Jesus, the Word made flesh was there from the beginning, and likewise the Spirit.   So we cannot really go with this understanding.

Many people think of God the Father as the big boss and Jesus and the Spirit being under God’s authority.   When you hear people talk about Jesus saving us from the wrath of an angry God, or that the God of the Old Testament is a judge and the God of the New Testament is love, this is a faulty understanding of the Trinity.   Because all of the Triune God is love, wanting our very best, all of the Triune God will not tolerate our sin, all of the Triune God forgives us and helps us.   So it is not that Daddy is mad with you and Brother Jesus is getting you off the hook by taking your spanking for you, all while your mothering Spirit is providing for your comfort and protection.    No, the one who hangs on the cross is God incarnate and the same One who dwells with you in your joy and in the mess of life that you sometimes make.   And that Spirit is called in scripture, the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ.

Some people might want to say that God is one person who puts on different hats – like the person who is a Father, a Son, and an employee.   Or God is like an actor, who plays different roles, changing costumes.   But even that is problematic, because God is always and at the same time being with all people the Loving Creator and Ruler, and the Saving Friend and Reconciler and the Loyal Companion and Transformer of all life.   All of this is happening all the time with all people.     (See Christian Doctrine, 2nd edition by Shirley Guthrie)

So where are we?    We are left with this simple definition of the Trinity – one God who is very personal who lives and works in three different ways at the same time.    There is an ancient Greek word called perichoresis which St John of Damascus used in the 7th Century to describe the holy dance that is the Trinity.   Peri is like perimeter and choresis is like choreography.    This is really the best way to think about God.

So you might not have noticed this, but I am very intentional about using nearly the same Trinitarian language almost every single Sunday as our blessing, to help us all remember the holy dance.   The words are straight out of 2 Corinthians 13 that we read a moment ago – the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.  

So let’s talk about what’s helpful about a life defined by the Trinity, but not by Triangulation.   Psychologists will warn about triangulation and by that they usually mean, one person gets upset with another, and instead of talking to that person about it, she goes to another person and complains about the first person.   Darn it, this happens all the time in families and in churches and in workplaces.     And it is not healthy.    If you are having conflict with a person, it is nearly always best to address the conflict with that person, unless that person or you are so out of control or hot tempered that the conversation cannot be calm and kind and productive.   Oh, but it is so much easier to go to another.   God, forgive us for all our unhealthy triangulation, which disrupts the work of your Trinity, instead of helping you.

So do you see how this connects with a faulty understanding of the Trinity? God the Father is mad at you, so you go ask Jesus to help out, and he rescues you from God’s wrath.    That raises all kinds of theological problems – why would a good God take his wrath out on a good Son, because the rascal children needed a second chance?

Every time we try to understand God with human images it doesn’t quite do the job.   It is better when we understand our life with Trinitarian images.    If the Trinity is a dance of Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer – a dance of maleness, femaleness and childlikeness, a dance of Father, Son, and Spirit, then so should all our life be a dance of listening, cooperating, never dominating, always appreciating and treasuring the steps of the other, as we make our own moves, always organic and flowing, a harmony of lovely sounds which belong together but rise and fall and change and develop in ways that are interesting and challenging and more beautiful together than they are separate.

If all goes well at the General Assembly this week, it will be because our commissioners danced instead of arguing.  If all goes well for Peace Church this summer and even further into the future, it will be because we engage in perichoresis, a Trinitarian dance of life.    Yes, involving three people, in multiple Trinitarian friendships but never triangulating people by two taking sides against another, building an unhealthy bond of tightness to close out another or one breaking off, separating because there is no longer room for three.  

For three to be one, there must be a perfectly blended dance of freedom and responsibility, of joy and struggle, of love and justice, of transcendence and immanence, of separateness and togetherness, of balance in cooperation between each of the three.  Too often in our human relationships, two grow close and begin to exclude one.   It happens with elementary age girls in threesomes – two become too close and exclude the other.   It happens with teen boys – two or three compete until one has won the prize of dominance.   It happens with only child families – one parent & child close, one parent excluded.   It happens with couples who have a troubled or sick child.   Parents get so busy caring for child, they forget their own relationship.   It happens in churches that forget the Holy Spirit because the Spirit is so mysterious, or talk so much about God, God, God, you might as well be in the synagogue for that Jesus, who is God with us, is never mentioned.  There are churches that fixate on Jesus because they assume wrongly that God the Father is angry – better keep a distance from that one!

I love to see a Trinitarian life in this church when an elder and ministry team leader work in concert with their team.   Elder, leader, team.  Also the elder, team leader, and pastor can function in a Trinitarian harmony.  We saw it happen beautifully this past year with our Building Vision Team under stress.   We have seen it a beautiful new harmonious unit with the treasury team – hands working in concert and balance.   The Fellowship Team has been dancing lately too.   I cannot name them all, but when relationships are balanced and strong, the Trinitarian life of the Godhead is at work in you.   Several teams can work together on a common goal like authentic relationships, nurturing discipleship or responsive stewardship.   

Think about this dance, and the importance of giving room for others steps and voices.    Think about it as you struggle with family life and friendship.   We sometimes need the counsel of another, or need to release some frustration, but in that tight moment, do not let it become exclusive.   Don’t triangulate by being excessively critical, judging another’s character or work, or by drawing too close to one, and excluding another.   Good strong marriages are Trinitarian because God is one of three partners in the marriage. 

The Trinitarian life is a dance of grace, mercy, and peace.   It is dance of faith, hope, and love.   It is a dance of justice, kindness, and humility.   It is a life of communing well with God and others.   Not only does the Great Commission have the power of the Trinitarian formula, but the Great Commandment is a Trinity of love between God and others and us.   Love the Lord your God, Love your neighbor and love yourself.    

So stop glazing over when you hear about the Trinity.   Celebrate the wonder and the beauty of God in three persons – blessed Trinity.   Get excited.   Put on your dancing shoes!