A sermon for Trinity Sunday, June 12, 2022
I’m going to start today’s sermon on the Trinity with a special note on the gendering of God.
Jesus was a man. That is a clear part of our historical understanding of Christ, and the term Son of God, is fairly unambiguous. And, even in that, Jesus referred to himself as the bride awaiting a bridegroom, as the mother hen gathering her brood, so while we can think of Jesus as a man in physical, mortal flesh, that is not the totality of Jesus’ identity and tips us off to his reality as being both fully human and fully divine.
God is neither male or female, having created creation in God’s (and the Heavenly Hosts!) image both male and female God created them. The gendered attributes attributed to God are a means of connecting our own understanding of pieces of God at work in creation as reflected in the lives and actions of others who we know as gendered (or not!) people. And, in that attribution, we cannot capture the wholeness or entirety of God, whose true reality in many ways surpasses all of our understanding.
This brings us to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit should also not be referred to in gendered terms, at least not in any limiting manner. In John’s gospel today, we see the gender pronoun “he” used for the Spirit of truth, but in the original greek the terms used are all gender neutral (and biblical greek certainly also has both masculine and feminine denotations for words), so it would be better to replace the several instances of “he” in the translation with “the Spirit” or better yet the singular pronoun “they,” as that is a more accurate interpretation of the source text.
I wanted to start here today because I think it is important for our conversation on the Trinity to start from a place where we remove limits, labels, or boxes within which we hope to neatly and accurately define the divine by our limited human language, a limited language that has been used to exclude and put barriers of access between creation and the divine, when the true reality of the Trinity is that it is for all of creation, accessible to all in creation, and an opportunity for us to more fully experience the true power of God in relationship with us as creation.
It is also helpful for us to remove our limits because it illustrates how unimportant, and simply silly, our attempts to limit the gender expression of others in creation are because we have a God whose presence in this world cannot be fully expressed through one gendered identity, and if creation is created in God’s image, than the fullness of God’s image that is not bound by our limited understanding of a gender binary must also be expressed and realized in this creation.
Which brings me to Proverbs and our understanding of Wisdom, one of my favorite understandings of the Holy Spirit at work since the beginning of creation.
First, Wisdom is a feminine pronoun in hebrew, which does primarily assert either masculine or feminine unto every word (even words like book), so we can keep the “she” in the translation, and I think this helps us expand our understanding of how gendered pronouns do not have to have limits placed upon them.
Wisdom is with God from the very beginning, even before God set about creating this creation. Wisdom is with God through the creating:
“When he established the heavens, I was there…
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.”
And, wisdom is promised to be with us again and forevermore by Christ, letting us know that “the Spirit of truth,” an expression of eternal wisdom, will be with us as our advocate in this creation.
This expression of God at work in the world, this pouring of God’s love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us, is our connection point to the ongoing work of God in creation, our reality in this creation as co-creators with God, our hope in this creation of continually evolving and working towards realizing the kingdom of God made real here in creation.
The Trinity then stands for us as a means of connecting to God through the different expressions of God’s work in and throughout this creation, historically, presently, and into the future.
There have been many attempts to define exactly what the Trinity is in clear and concise language, but each attempt by its very nature is incomplete.
A favorite youtube video (9 years old!) of mine titled “St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies” tackles, quite humorously, how our attempts to define the Trinity through analogies typically winds up with us expressing a condemned heresy of the ancient church.
The point of the video is that analogies used to describe the Trinity (for example, the three states of water, or a three leafed clover) only get us so far in understanding how God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit coexist as one in unity, but lack the totality of the reality of this divine relationship. The video ends by pointing us back to the Creed of Saint Athanasius, which we find in our Book of Common Prayer beginning on page 864.
Athanasius writes in part:
“And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance…But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal…For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords…And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. He therefore that will be saved must think thus of the Trinity.”
What does this mean?
It means that the Trinity is a divine mystery but not a mystery that is incomprehensible or incapable of being understood.
It is a mystery because God’s movement in this creation exists outside our limits of understanding.
It is also capable of being understood through our experiences of God in creation and the faith that we have placed in the reality of the Trinity and the interactions of each in and within this creation and in our own experiences of faith.
The mystery aspect is why we have often tried to limit or clearly label the reality of God’s work in this creation, to limit or label the very identity of God at work in this creation, whether God’s self, Jesus, or the Spirit.
But, if we simply accept the reality of the divine mystery and know that it isn’t a mystery that is in need of solving but rather a mystery in need of our letting go of our preconceived notions of what is possible within our often limited understandings of this creation, then we can learn and experience the true reality of God at work in this creation as God, father, mother, creator, as Jesus the Son, the bride, the mother hen, as the Holy Spirit, Wisdom, Advocate, Breath of God, and through our faith we are rewarded with a relationship with this Holy Trinity that affirms our call as Christians, that gives us strength, that inspires our work, that leads us into creating the kingdom of Heaven here, now.
Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever.