a sermon for the 1st Sunday after Pentecost (Trinity Sunday)
Jesus told his disciples that there was much more he wanted to tell them, but they weren’t ready, yet.
Perhaps it is less important for us to understand the Trinity than it is to witness the work of God in our midst.
Today is Trinity Sunday! It’s the day when preachers all over the world get up in front of their congregations to answer one very simple question: What is the nature of God?
Really! That’s it. This is the one day that the Church has set aside to teach that single doctrine of our faith; a doctrine that is uniquely Christian; a doctrine that is so fundamental to everything we believe that our very salvation depends on it; a doctrine so important that as we just heard in the Gospel reading, Jesus himself explained it to his disciples.
And what did he tell his disciples? How did the greatest preacher in history, Jesus, explain the Trinity to his disciples? He said, “Really guys, I have many things to tell you about all this. But you wouldn’t understand.”
I’m not kidding. Look for yourselves! Even Jesus knew that there are just some things about God that are so mysterious, so unfathomable, so far outside our experience, that we just won’t understand them, yet.
So now it’s my turn to try to explain the Trinity and I’d like to start with Paul’s letter to the Romans:
We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we exalt in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also exalt in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Peace, hope, and suffering. These three make up Paul’s “trinity.” The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, the shalom adonai. It’s more than simply the absence of conflict, it is a deep peace which enfolds all creation into God’s kingdom. And hope. For a Christian hope is more than a simple good wish. It is the confident assurance that God is with us always, that God in Christ will redeem all of creation, that God the Holy Spirit is enthusing us and inspiring us and the whole Christian Church throughout the world. Hope that there is more to the world, more to our everyday lives than only that which we can see and taste and touch and weigh and measure. Hope and excitement for what is ahead, for what the future holds, for what God is doing and will do in our lives.
But what about suffering? How in the world does suffering fit into the picture of the Trinity?
As we sit here this Memorial Day weekend, we can’t help but think of the loss of life and suffering that comes with any armed conflict. But on this particular Memorial Day holiday, we also are faced with the suffering of the people in Moore, Oklahoma, where hundreds of homes were destroyed and 24 people died this week. In the blink of an eye entire neighborhoods were turned into piles of rubble because of a freak tornado. Of course, hurricanes and tornadoes are acts of nature and as such, they are often called “acts of God.”
So let me be very clear about one thing. Tornadoes are forces of nature, but they are not caused by God. God no more caused the tornado and the suffering that came as a result, than God caused that guy in Florida to win the $638 million dollar lottery. Both of these events happened purely by chance, according to the laws of our physical universe. God does not cause human suffering, ever.
Instead, God promises to be with us through our suffering. This may sound like rather cold comfort to those who lost a loved one or their home. And yet, even for them, God is present. God was present in the rescue workers and first responders who worked through the night searching for survivors, and in the doctors and nurses that used their God-given skills to save even more lives. God is present in the neighbors who reached out to help other neighbors, inviting those who have lost everything to move in with them until they had another place to stay. God is present with in the thousands and thousands of donations coming in from all over the world to help the survivors pick up the pieces of their lives and make a new start. God is present with the mother’s and fathers who have lost a child, comforting their grief, and when the time is right, giving them the strength to continue with their lives.
There is very real suffering in the world, suffering that we can see and taste and touch and weigh and measure. But as Paul points out, it is from such suffering that we find hope. And hope is the most powerful force of nature there is, because it is only through hope that we every find the strength to survive the devastation of something as terrifying as a force 5 hurricane or tornado. It is only through hope that we can endure the days and weeks in a hospital waiting room, praying for news of recovery and healing. In fact, it is only because of our hope in the God’s faithfulness toward us all, that we pray at all – pray that the lives of the people who have lost everything, will one day be restored to wholeness. Pray that even if we cannot understand why they had to suffer in the first place, God will see them through this disaster.
Jesus told us that there are many things we will never understand before we see him again face to face. The Trinity is probably one of those things. But we can understand that God remains faithful to us even in the midst of suffering through the hope that comes from meals are prepared, and home rebuilt, and people clothed, and worship offered, and lives that have been restored.
We who are at peace with God through Jesus –
We who have the love from God and the love for God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit –
We who are a people of hope, carrying the confident assurance that God is present with us, that we need not fear whatever lies ahead of us –
We may not understand all there is to understand about God, yet. But it is through the work of the Holy Trinity among us, that we come to know that God works in the world for us, and by us, and through us.
And for now, that’s enough of an explanation of the Trinity for me.
Thanks be to God.