This Sunday the faithful gathered here and throughout the world celebrate the great revelation of God as the Trinity.
The Trinity is not just a theory or an idea about God- the Trinity is who God reveals himself to be in Jesus Christ. The revelation of Jesus Christ is not simply how to live an ethical way of life based on being nice, polite and kind (those things are important to human flourishing, but they are not what the revelation of the Lord Jesus is essentially about). The revelation of Jesus Christ is a revelation about who God is and what God wants- and this revelation is the Trinity.
The Bible indicates that God prepared the world to receive his revelation as the Trinity over the course of time and in particular ways. God indicated first that he actually existed by making himself known to us through his creation and then in more direct ways, he revealed that he was a person who desired to be in relationship with us.
This relationship was expressed in something called covenants. Much of the Old Testament is about how God relates to people through covenants.
Then God revealed that he was not just one of many gods, but the one, true God, whose greatness exceeded that of any other spiritual or worldly power. There is one, true God and anyone or anything that positions itself as a rival to him is a false god.
All these revelations happened in real life circumstances to real people.
Finally, having laid the groundwork, God acted in a most extraordinary way to reveal himself- he accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life. This revelation is Jesus Christ, who is not just one of many prophets or philosophers or great men of history. Jesus Christ is God and through his revelation of God, humanity sees the Trinity.
Before I go any further into the revelation of God as Trinity, let us prepare ourselves, by considering the Church’s scriptures for today- all of which are teaching us important truths about the God in whom we profess our faith.
Our first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy. The Book of Deuteronomy is about how God revealed himself to the Israelites during a critical time. The Israelites had been liberated from slavery in Egypt by God. The people had languished for many years as prisoners of the false gods of Egypt and the one, true God, intervened, having heard their pleading God acted in an extraordinary way and waged war against the false gods of Egypt and defeated them.
The Israelites are coming to terms with all this and the Book of Deuteronomy is expressing how God’s revelation to them came with a renewed sense of meaning and purpose- a unique identity and mission.
This is precisely what the scripture you heard this morning from the Book of Deuteronomy is all about. Moses, the great prophet of the Israelites, reminds the people of what God has done for them and then insists that because of what God has done their lives are now different. Those who live in a relationship with God live in such a way that shows forth that relationship. This relationship expresses itself by keeping the commandments of God, and it is keeping the commandments of God that lead to human flourishing.
What does this mean to us?
First, it means that we do not believe that God is some kind of cosmic force that exists at a distance from the world. The God of the Bible is intensely interested in human affairs and acts in the world in ways that are seen and unseen. The God of the Bible is personal, and this means that we can have a relationship with him and he with us.
Second, it means that faith in God is not merely a matter of having the right ideas about God or of having emotional experiences about him. Instead, faith in God expresses itself in our acceptance of a way of life, this way of life is the embodiment of God’s commandments.
We live in a culture that prizes autonomy and doesn’t like commandments, especially God’s commandments. We certainly like to command, but being commanded ourselves is something we have a strong aversion too. But commandments are essential to being in relationship with God.
Now if the word commandment makes you bristle with resistance because of your cultural conditioning, then think of the commandments as a way of life. Our first scripture for today is saying that those who are in relationship with God will live a particular way of life. If you want a description of that way of life, the Ten Commandments are a good place to start.
Lastly, in terms of this way of life, it isn’t just something we can make up for ourselves. Instead, our way of life, like our relationship with God is a reality that we receive from God. Again, this kicks against the cultural understanding of “spirituality” that has come to mean ideas and feelings about God that I choose because they reinforce my opinions, support my causes and serve my needs. The Bible presents a different vision of spirituality, which does not mean the relationship with God I make up for myself. It does mean: the relationship that God offers to me- and this relationship expresses itself (in its most succinct form) in the Ten Commandments.
We are free to make up a spirituality for ourselves, the Bible acknowledges this, but it also has a name for made up spiritualities- such things are called idolatry- worshipping false gods rather than living in a relationship with the one, true God.
But who is the one true God? St. Paul testifies about the one, true God in today’s excerpt from his great letter to the Romans, one of the most important and influential texts in the Bible.
Who is the one, true God? The one true God is revealed in Jesus Christ, and in this revelation, God defines our relationship with him as being not only a matter of commandments, but of being a member of his own family. This means that in Christ, God reveals that he desires to relate to us as a father relates to his children.
Now I know that trends in the culture and the experience of some with their own fathers make this testimony seem problematic. The culture presents fathers as buffoons or oppressors (and many fathers in the culture seem willing to rise to these expectations).
But our reference point with how God is our Father is not the culture or even our experience of our own fathers. Our reference point for how God is our Father is the Lord Jesus’ relationship with God as his Father, a relationship that expresses itself in the qualities of fidelity and mercy and grace. This is how God is Father to Christ and through Christ, this is how God is our Father.
Therefore, the reason the Church privileges praying to God as our Father has nothing to do with culture, and how culture has understood what it means to be a father. Our faith in God as Father is not just one, big projection of cultural or personal experiences of fathers. Instead, the Church privileges calling God our Father because we receive from Jesus Christ as our very own relationship with God, his relationship with his Heavenly Father. Praying to God as our Father means that God desires to relate to us the way that he relates to the Lord Jesus! The revelation of God in Christ is God’s way of showing us in the most concrete, particular way possible how he wants to be in relationship with us.
We receive this relationship in a particular way, and this particular way of being in relationship with God is identified for us in the Gospel for today by the Lord Jesus himself. We receive our relationship with God through our Baptism. This is why Baptism is important and necessary, because without, we are lacking an extraordinary gift that God in Christ wants us to have, and without which, our relationship with God is less than what God intends for it to be.
This relationship, that God gives to us in Christ, a relationship in which he reveals himself as our Father, is the move God makes to reveal the Trinity.
Now I know, that you have probably heard priests and preachers telling you for years about how incomprehensible the mystery of the Trinity is, and this is true, but the fact that the Trinity is deeply mysterious to us can become a reason to dismiss the importance of the Trinity. What happens as a result of that dismissal is really dangerous. Because then we are tempted to reduce God to whatever it is we want him to be rather than accept him on his terms. Usually this expresses itself in taking our ideas and feelings about God and creating idols out of them.
We Christians do not just profess faith in theories, ideas or feelings about God, but in the revelation of God as the Trinity.
A lot of bad preaching and teaching about the Trinity has resulted in the impression that the Trinity is an invention of theologians or the hierarchy of the Church. No!
As I have said, the Trinity is how God reveals himself in Jesus Christ.
The Trinity is how God reveals himself and describes himself to us in the revelation of Jesus Christ. The Gospel that the Church proclaims is not just sources for life lessons or texts of historical interest. The Gospel are testimony to the revelation of God in Christ as being much more than we thought he could be- and this “more than we thought” is the Trinity. So, then what is it?
The New Testament evangelist John identifies the Trinity with the succinct statement that God is Love, which is the best description of the revelation of God as the Trinity.
Why? I’ll tell you. Listen to this:
That God is love does not simply mean that God is capable of doing loving things, but that there is a relationship in God that precedes his relationship with us. Love is not just something that God does, but is mysteriously, who God is. This relationship is called the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is out of this relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that God loves us- that he creates us, redeems us, and makes us holy.
Please don’t sentimentalize any of this. The revelation that God is love is anything but sentimental, for it means that God will create a world he doesn’t need; offer himself as a servant to those who would use and abuse him; venture out into a creation that has become hostile towards him; suffer and die for the sake of creatures who hate him; and seek a relationship with those who would scorn him; forgive those who don’t deserve his forgiveness- all this God does because he is the Trinity, because he is Love.
That’s what the Church celebrates today. That’s what Jesus Christ reveals the Trinity to be. That’s the God in whom we Christians believe.