The advantage of serving a church in New York was that Trinity Sunday could usually be dumped off on a seminarian. The advantage of being retired is that Trinity Sunday can usually be ducked. There were many years in between where I had to face it dead on. What do you suppose inspired the Church to dedicate a Sunday to a doctrine, especially one as squishy as this one?
Our regular Tuesday morning lectionary study group met this morning to work over the lessons for Trinity Sunday, and, as usual, each of us fell into one heresy or another trying to find the right way to explain the Trinity to congregations in a variety of denominations. I doubt that any of them will care very much what any of us has to say, nor will they remember it as one of the great sermons of the year.
To be sure, we Christians know and understand God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Scripture, tradition and our own experiences reveal God to us in just these ways. At the same time, the Church has never been able to pin down the doctrine of the Trinity in such precise language as to satisfy everyone, or even anyone. Glimmers of brilliantly illuminated insight quickly dissipate. The Nicene Creed is all but incomprehensible to the average person sitting in the pew, and in many denominations it is not known at all. The Chalcedonian definition reads like a Jackie Mason monologue. The Holy Spirit is an afterthought in one and ignored in the other. No wonder other religions accuse us of being polytheists.
One of the problems is our hubris at not only trying to define who God is but of insisting that God be bound by our very human constructs of what a Trinity should look like and how it should behave. We would be better served by simply declaring that, through Christ, God has been made known to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, without trying to define it any farther than that. Speaking for myself, I like to think that I am a rather orthodox Nicene Christian whose understanding of the Trinity was more fully informed by the late Katherine Mowry LaCugna (God for Us: The Trinity & Christian Life; 1991, Harper Collins). The fact is that orthodox as I might claim to be and try as I might, I cannot hold a comprehensive unified view of the Trinity in my head. One “person” or the other keeps popping out as a rather unique individual existing within a hierarchy at that. How embarrassing! And so it gratifies me when LaCugna writes: “The doctrine of the Trinity is more like a signpost pointing beyond itself to the God who dwells in light inaccessible. …Ultimately, the only appropriate response to the mystery of God revealed in the economy is adoration.”
Therefore, my recommendation for Sunday’s sermon is to joyfully sink into the mystery of God that has been made known to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit: ever with us, ever for us, ever in us. Try not to explain too much. By all means, avoid attempts at profundity. Some apocryphal bishop is said to have been asked by a young priest what he should preach about on Trinity Sunday. The answer was to preach about five minutes and sit down. Good advice.