Last weekend, we had a wonderful celebration for the Day of Pentecost and the coming of the Advocate called the Holy Spirit into the world and into the lives of the disciples.

I think we may well have experienced just a tiny bit of the power of that Spirit as we expressed the love, joy, generosity and faithfulness of this community in so many ways. Along with the text from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, we heard in John’s gospel a portion of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to those same disciples. Jesus tells them about this new revelation, the Spirit of Truth he calls him, who will teach them everything they need to know. This weekend, Trinity Sunday weekend, we hear another part of that going away speech and explore a little more deeply this idea of not only the Holy Spirit but of the mysterious and, quite frankly, improbable reality that our God—our monotheistic, “there is no other God but me” God—is actually triune, a three in one God.

Dorothy Sayers, the great English writer and poet, used to tell the story of a Japanese man who patiently and politely listened to a Christian trying to explain the concept of the Trinity to him. The Japanese man is very confused:

“Honorable Father, very good.

Honorable Son, very good.

Honorable Bird, I do not understand at all.”

Lots of us don’t understand ‘Honorable Bird,’ not even those who spend their lifetimes studying it, analyzing it, theologizing about it and writing about it. But it is foundational to the Christian faith. The statement of belief we say together every weekend, The Nicene Creed, is a direct result of conversation and debate and no doubt prayer among the 1st and 2nd century Church Fathers about who God is, what God is like, how God relates to us and we to God. How can God be both one and three? If Jesus is God, why do the Gospels record instances where he prayed to God? Who is the Holy Spirit and where does he/she come from? What does it really mean for God to be three-in-one? Open your minds and come along with me as we try to figure some of this out.....

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which means literally “triad,” defines God as three consubstantial persons or expressions. The Greek word is hypostases. These three persons are distinct, yet are one substance, one essence. This is the great mystery of our faith: one God but three distinct persons, who are co-equal, co-eternal, that is, they have existed together from the beginning of all things, and consubstantial, of the same stuff, and each is God, wholly and completely. All of the work of Creation is understood as a single operation common to all three divine persons, in which each shows forth what is distinct to them in the Trinity. So, we say that all things are “from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.” I like the interpretation “from the Creator, through the Redeemer, in the Sustainer.” So, God is one in essence and three in person and these definitions express three crucial truths: (1) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, (2) each Person is fully God, (3) there is only one God.

Take a deep breath!

The fact that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons means, in other words, that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. Jesus is God, but He is not the Father or the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, but He is not the Son or the Father. They are different Persons, not three different ways of looking at God.

The personhood of each member of the Trinity means that each has a distinct center of consciousness, without dividing God into three parts. And they relate to each other personally—God the Father or Mother or Creator regards themself as “I” while regarding the Son and Holy Spirit as “You.” In the same way, God the Son regards himself as “I,” but the Father/Mother/Creator and the Holy Spirit as “You.” And, while the three members of the Trinity are distinct, none is inferior to the other. Instead, they all have identical characteristics, all are equal in holiness, in mercy, in power, in love, in justice, in knowledge, and all other qualities. Each person of the Trinity is God. Having said all that....all three Persons of the Trinity are one God because they are all of the same essence. Essence means the same thing as “being.” Since God is only one essence, God is only one being, not three.

So, what the heck?? Why does any of this matter? Why is it important for us to know and understand three persons in one God of the same essence each being all God all the time.....ACH!! This “thing” we call the Trinity is actually THE, most crucial doctrines to understand when you want to know God, when you want to know yourself and when you want to know and understand community. We are made in the image of God.

As bearers of that image, we need to know about the Trinity if we want to reflect God.

Even more importantly, the Trinity teaches us about relationship. We are made in the image of a God who is and always has been in a loving relationship and in communion. God IS relationship. As theologian Mark Ballenger puts it, God has existed within the community of the Godhead for eternity and since we are made in his image it should not be a surprise that humans are made to be in community. We need each other. Human beings are made to live within community and to have meaningful, loving relationships with other humans.

Another thing the Trinity teaches us is that love and unity always exist together. The oneness of God and the love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not separate. God’s love unifies and because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are perfectly one, they can love each other perfectly. Perfect love, as we know, casts out all fear. Perfect love is kind and patient not full of envy or pride. It honors other people, it’s unselfish and rejoices with the spirit of truth. It’s always hopeful, always trusting, persevering all things. It never fails. Paul’s description of love IS of the relationship in the Triune God.

Jesus is trying to tell the disciples about who God is in his farewell speech. What we heard last week and this week in John.... “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me....And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate....When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth....The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything.....If you love me, you will keep my commandments.....all of it, is about the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit, and how the disciples will learn to reflect the ever-loving, ever-communal Triune God in their relationships, in their families, in their communities and in the larger world. In God the Creator, God the Redeemer and God the Sustainer, we see the example by which we need to live. As God’s image in the world, let us look to the Trinity.