Today is Holy Trinity Sunday, the only festival that is a celebration of a doctrine of the church. Through the doctrine of the Trinity we lift up the true nature of God. The word “Trinity” does not appear in scripture, nor does any kind of teaching specifically naming God as Triune. But understanding God as three manifestations in one became an important doctrine, a cornerstone of the faith, in the early church. Our first reading for today describes the creation in Genesis. The story talks about God as creator, and the wind sweeping over the face of the waters is God’s Holy Spirit. In the beginning of the Gospel of John we are told that the Word, which means Jesus, was present at creation. Creation itself becomes the work of the Trinity.
Our brief reading from the Gospel of Matthew was not included in most of the older manuscripts that survive. It was added on to the end of the gospel later by another writer, but it still reveals that baptism took place in the name of the Triune God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – from fairly early on in the church. We could look for more clues about the Trinity throughout scripture, but it strikes me that Paul, in the blessing he offers at the end of his second letter to the members of the Christian community in Corinth, encourages us to think about how our belief in the Trinity affects our lives as Christians.
Commentator David Lose gives a short definition of a Trinitarian congregation: “one that sees itself as called and sent by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed for the sake of the world God created and loves so much.” He concludes that Trinity Sunday gives us an opportunity to “describe our sense of why we exist as a community of faith and to articulate a vision for moving forward in the mission and ministry entrusted to us by the triune God.”
From Matthew, we learn that the Christian community is uplifted by worship, faith and – believe it or not, doubt. Worship and faith go together very nicely. We need to honor the Sabbath and gather at least once a week because it often seems that it can be challenging to maintain the message of the good news for any longer than seven days. The affirmation of faith that we insist on – that God created us and all that exists, and that God also knows about us, cares for us, and wants to use us to care for the world – is very bold. We have to repeat it and share it over and over again in order that we will truly believe and live it. Congregations with a sense of mission are clearly marked by this commitment to worship and share faith together.
But what about doubt? Why is that included as a basis on which to build a strong congregation in mission? In all of the gospel accounts none of the disciples believe in the resurrection. They all express doubt, even when they are confronted with the resurrected Jesus. He has to do something, or say something, to erase their doubt. Matthew tells us that even as they were gathered on the mountain, between two worlds, rooted in their history and standing at the edge of a new world and a new time, some of Jesus’ followers had doubts. And yet Jesus commissions them to go out into the world, spreading the message, sharing the Good News, and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We are just like those first disciples, people made up of faith and doubt, hope and fear, successes and failures. That’s why it is so helpful to remember that doubt is part of our life as a faith community. It makes us more open to welcome people no matter where they are on their faith journey. Sometimes it feels strange or difficult or maybe naïve to believe the gospel message, but we know that we are not the first to feel that way, nor will we be the last. We don’t have to worry about it, because ultimately God will take responsibility for keeping God’s promises. It isn’t up to us, we don’t have to take on that responsibility. God accepts and loves us for who we are and, in spite of our doubts, still sends us out with the great commission.
As a congregation in mission we don’t stay up on the mountain top, no matter how beautiful the scenery or inspiring the view, we come down into the world. It is the church, when it functions at its best, that equips us for life in the world. We come to church to be inspired to carry out God’s work to love and bless the world in our daily lives, our relationships and all the activities we take part in. Sometimes we share our faith with others, but we always live our faith by being good and compassionate towards our neighbors, our loved ones, all those we come into contact with. We are called to be faithful in all aspects of our lives so we carry on the mission Jesus gave us to care for those in need.
Luther said “To try to deny the Trinity endangers your salvation, to try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity.” How many of you remember the classic example of Trinity that we were taught in Sunday school – water. Water is three in one – liquid, solid and steam. All unique, yet all the same. St. Patrick missionary to Ireland, used a three-leaf clover to teach the concept of Trinity. My new favorite is the fidget spinner. When I first saw the thing, being a pastor and all, I noted that it evokes the Trinity. Although I certainly recognized the potential, I have to admit that the man on the cutting edge of fidget spinners as theological tools turns out to be Pope Francis.
He noticed that people, both adults and children, brought the gadgets to his Wednesday audiences, so he ordered several through Amazon. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke reported that “he’s fascinated by them, and right away he saw the theological value in the Tri-Fidget Spinners. He’s taught himself numerous tricks and maneuvers, and he’s working on coming up with a few of his own. He’s gotten quite a few Curia members hooked on them as well.”
In his homily for Trinity Sunday this year, he surprised the congregation by taking a fidget spinner out of his pocket and using it to teach the Trinity. He explained that the spinner reveals the mysteries of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “As the spinner spins faster, the three arms seem to become a single disc, yet they maintain their individuality. It is one, yet three, even when I do a trick with it.” He then proceeded to do a hand transfer, which I have no idea of how to demonstrate. He went on to explain that just as an improperly balanced spinner won’t work very well, “our faith will falter if our view of God is likewise improperly balanced.” He said he could not execute the behind-the-back move (which of course he proceeded to do) if the spinner was unbalanced. “No, I tell you, no! It is the same if we don’t balance God equally as Father, Son and Holy Spirit!”
Never one to miss an opportunity, the Vatican is in discussions with local manufacturers to develop and market a Pope Francis spinner, tentatively called “The Papal Plane.” Burke said, “Since the Holy Father’s interviews have caused a lot of nervous fidgeting and head spinning during his pontificate, it seemed the logical choice.”
We can find theological proofs of God as Trinity, and we can employ three leaf clovers and fun gadgets to help us understand the nature of God as three-in-one. But perhaps the best illustration is found in Paul’s blessing (and the blessing we open our services with) as he closes his letter to the Christians in Corinth – he appeals to them to live in Christian fellowship grounded in the triune harmony of the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.