a sermon for Trinity Sunday
Our relationships define our identity. But what is our most important relationship?
Before I begin, I’d like to recognize a special group of people. I won’t ask them to stand up because most of them wouldn’t want to call attention to themselves. But they are very conspicuous anyway; they stand out in a crowd. They are fathers who actually came to church on Father’s Day. You guys are great. You could have stayed home and had pancakes in bed, or you could have gone to the lake or the golf course, or you could have been working on your barbecue grill. But instead you came to church and I’d like you all to know that that means something to your children and your wives and your friends here at St. Simon and St. Jude.
“Fatherhood” is a state that not all men achieve and many don’t even desire. The same is true of motherhood, of course; not all adults choose to be parents, even if we choose to marry and live with another person for the rest of their lives. One of the most interesting things that happens to us as we grow older is how we take on different identities based on our relationships with other people. Relationship defines identity. We start out as a child, very dependent on our parents. But throughout most of our childhood, we struggle to become independent of our parents. After all, isn’t that what adulthood is all about? Don’t we define an adult as someone who can live independently and take care of themselves? And as an adult, we can make our own choices pretty much as we please. We become independent. But even as we do this, we are still defined in terms of relationship – independence is the state of being in no relationship.
How about later, when we begin to settle down? We often choose to enter into another relationship, we choose to marry. Now to love someone and to be loved in return is the most amazing feeling in the world. It is truly a state of incredible bliss. Two people who love each other are still individuals, of course. But they think and act more and more as partners, as a couple. This change in relationship has a profound effect not only on what we do day-to-day. It also changes our identity, who we are. Because we are no longer simply individuals, acting in our own self-interest. Soon, we have also become the life-partners. Once we’re married, we become a husband or a wife – half of a relationship. To love someone and be loved in return changes us fundamentally, deep in the core of our being.
Of course, for many couples, things don’t stop there. There’s more, and as anyone who has had a child can tell you, the addition of a child to a marriage really livens things up. Children bring a whole new dimension to the relationship of two people. And with the change in relationship comes another change in identity. Now there are three. Three individuals, mutually loving and being loved in return, and creating something beyond ourselves. We have changed yet again, and now are individuals, and lovers, and creators of still more love. Speaking as a husband and a father, I can tell you that when it comes to relationships, “three” is much, much more than “two.”
So what does all that have to do with us here today?
Today is Trinity Sunday. It is the one day of the church year when we talk about a pretty esoteric teaching of the Church, the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is our attempt, as imperfect human beings, to explain the nature of God. God is one being; God is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now as church teachings go, the Trinity is not hugely exciting – I’m not going to throw someone out of the church if they don’t subscribe to it. At the same time, it is important enough that we remind ourselves about it every Sunday when we recite the Nicene Creed: We believe in one God… It is a symbol, a sign that tries to explain something that is completely unexplainable, that represents how God can be the source of all that exists and all that we aspire to be. The Trinity is how we try to explain that God is relationship.
Notice that I didn’t say that God is in a relationship. That wouldn’t be too much different from all of us. As I said before, as human beings, we are defined by our relationships. And as wonderful as the can be, human relationships are never perfect. Sometimes, we become too concerned with our own individuality. Other times, we become too absorbed by the relationship we are in, and we lose our identity completely. We are constantly struggling and balancing, setting ourselves against one another, even as we try to live into our relationship.
But God is relationship itself, the very idea of relationship, the perfection of all relationship. Because within God, there is perfect love and perfect independence, without any of the trade-offs and compromises we make in a human relationship. God is the very definition of love. Perfect loving of the Father. Perfect receiving of love by the Son. And perfect reflection of their mutual love by the Holy Spirit. God is perfect union, perfect independence, and perfect interdependence, because God’s very nature is perfect relationship, a relationship we know as love.
I know that for some people, the image of human fatherhood and motherhood is less that perfect. Sadly, human relationships are imperfect and broken from time to time. But through our baptisms, we are invited into the most perfect relationship any of us will ever know, joining in the dance of perfect loving and being loved through our relationship with Christ, the Son. In the end, the most important relationship we have is not with our parents or our children or our husbands or wives. The most important relationship we have is with Jesus Christ. Because in the end, we are defined not by who we are, but whose we are – the most beloved possession of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Thanks be to God.