Sermon; Trinity Sunday
When you get right down to it there are only a few things that fall under “doctrine” in the Church, those things that the Church says are required to be an orthodox Christian. Those things include: God created; Jesus was fully human and fully divine; Jesus was sinless; Christ died, risen, will come again; baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and the Trinity, 3-in-1 and 1-in-3. Almost everything else is up for debate, and can therefore fall under “discipline” as opposed to doctrine. And once again we spend this first Sunday after Pentecost exploring and honoring that aspect of the Godhead that confuses people to no end – the Holy Trinity.
On this day preachers everywhere try to articulate the concept of the Trinity to their congregations. And congregations every year try to wrap their brains around this particular concept. Either that or they sit dumbfounded as the preacher drifts further and further into heresy.
In some places the Creed of St. Athanasius will be read. In others, people will hear about water, apples, eggs, fingers, or clovers. Last year I handed out a sheet listing all the major heresies and what classifies as orthodox Trinitarian understanding. And I've often said that, when talking about the Trinity, anything more than “3-in-1 and 1-in-3” will get you in trouble.
A Facebook friend of mine, seeing my post about writing today's sermon, suggested I simply show pictures of kittens.
So here we are once again proclaiming our belief in the Trinity and trying to explain the unexplainable.
First, where did we, or how did we, come up with the doctrine of the Trinity? Because it is not self-evident in reading through Scripture. In fact, there is only one place where the Trinity is explicitly referenced and that is at the end of Matthew: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Additionally, the word “Trinity” does not appear anywhere in Scripture. (Mention that the next time a “biblical literalist” spouts off about why he or she hates a certain class of people.)
Trinitarian theology was first explicitly developed by Theophilus of Antioch around the year 180 c.e. Different views and expressions arose over time that were later determined to be unorthodox or outright heretical. Eventually the doctrine was defined at Nicaea and Constantinople in 325 and 381 respectively.
So where do we get this idea of the Trinity in scripture if that word never appears and there's only one outright reference to it? Well, like God is revealed in a variety of ways and over time, the doctrine of the Trinity was slowly revealed in a variety of ways and over time. Here are the most common scriptural references that Christians take as revealing the Trinity:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters. And God spoke. – Genesis 1
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre. He looked up and saw three men. – Gen. 18:1-2
Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. – Matt. 28:19
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. – 2 Cor. 13:13
In these and other places Christians began to see and formulate the idea that God exists and is revealed in three persons, one substance, unified but self-differentiated. And through their study and prayer and discussion, the doctrine of the Trinity arose.
This is all well and good to help give an understanding of where and how the doctrine originated. And it probably helps to have an idea of the difference between orthodox and unorthodox understandings. But how can we understand it? How can our human minds understand something so deep and mysterious as the nature of God? Because regardless of the various examples, the Trinity is not water, apples, fingers, or clovers.
I think the answer might be found in the relationship of a dance. Think about the greatest pair of dancers in our history – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Those two did amazing things when paired together. Or maybe you would prefer the image of ice dancers at the winter Olympics. Or maybe you can see it in Dancing with the Stars.
However you imagine it, dancers may be our best image of the Trinitarian God.
God the Father is represented by the dance itself. The dance is a series of choreographed moves designed to bring two people together. Their reason for being is the dance. And as the dancers move together, the dance can be seen as its own entity.
God the Son is represented by Fred Astaire. He was both a dancer and a choreographer. Through his influence, he brought others into dancing. Besides dancing with another person, he also danced alone. But when we watch him alone we recognize that the dance is incomplete without another. That other, that third person of the dance, or the third person of the Trinity, is Ginger Rogers.
God the Holy Spirit is represented by Ginger. She makes the dance complete. Ginger worked with Fred to enhance, tweak, and complete the choreography. Like the Holy Spirit blows where it will and we know not how, Ginger danced perfectly with Fred “backwards and in high heels,” and most of us know not how.
This image of the Trinity as a dance has been made before, so it isn't my idea. But out of all the explanations and examples we have for the Trinity, I believe this is the best one.
Two people dance in and around a relationship that has three distinct aspects – the dance itself, and each of the two partners. The dance itself is the reason for all. The dance generates the first dancer and the other partner proceeds from the dancer. None is greater than the other, none is less than the other. And like dancers often say, “The dance was in me from the beginning,” so it is that the dance didn't create the dancers, but that they were there from the beginning. The dance and dancers are united but also differentiated, just as the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are united but differentiated.
The dance, as with the dance of Astaire and Rogers, when it comes together perfectly is unified in the three parts, and the three parts reflect unity. The same can be said of the Godhead where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.
The Trinitarian Godhead is a dance of three equal parts. When we participate in a dance, or when we participate in a loving relationship, the Trinity is manifest in us and we help reveal God's glory to the world.
As followers of Christ who worship the One God in Trinity, may we go forth from here and teach the world to dance.