Figuring God

Posted by on Jun 19, 2014 in Faith Words |

Words of Faith

Rev. Rita S; Platt

June 15, 2014 (Trinity Sunday)

“Figuring God”


Scripture: Genesis 1:26-28, 30b-31, Matthew 28:16-19


Today is Trinity Sunday.   What is the Trinity? God is three . . . is one . . . is three. It makes perfect sense.

I’m sorry… you look confused. Maybe I spoke too quickly; let me try it again.

God is three . . . is one . . . is three.

Let’s be honest. It’s hard to wrap our brains around the Trinity. Sure, we’ve all heard the shamrock idea: just as the shamrock is one plant with three leaves, God is one God with three faces. Or maybe we’ve heard the water image: just as water can take three forms in ice, liquid, and steam, so God has three forms.   But these images don’t help us figure it out; they don’t answer many of our questions.

The truth is, the Trinity is a great mystery that is hard to understand and even harder to explain. And yet, it lies at the foundation of what we Christians believe about God. Almost every creed of the church affirms our belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And each year on the Sunday after Pentecost we observe Trinity Sunday.

Is the Trinity just an obscure doctrine that we give lip service to because the church calendar tells us to? Does it have anything to do with our daily living?   One God in Three persons.

Marcus Borg is the author of a book entitled The God We Never Knew. In it Borg suggests the Latin and Greek words translated as ‘person’ do not mean what person most commonly means in English. For us, ‘person’ means separate being. But ‘person’ in the ancient texts refers to the mask worn by actors in Greek and Roman theatres. And he goes on to say “To speak of one God and three persons is to say that God is known to us wearing three different ‘masks’… in three different roles”1. We experience God in 3 different roles.

Let’s look at some of the stories in scripture to flesh this idea out a little more:

Genesis 1 recounts the power of God the Creator. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. A loving and powerful God made the universe in all its vastness and mystery. The stars, the planets, the oceans, and the mountains—all of it came from the hand of God. But this creator God is not just concerned with the grandness of the universe. God also created each one of us to be unique, to have special gifts and special purpose. Your life and my life matter to God. We have a place in this universe and a calling to fulfill. It is God who has created us in love and calls us to live in love. So, yes, that makes sense. It is easy to figure out that God the Creator is relevant to our daily lives.

One way that God teaches us how to love creation and one another is in the person of Jesus Christ. As Matthew and the other gospel writers tell us, Jesus walked alongside us on this earth to show us the face of God. And in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God becomes our Redeemer. Now, we spend a lot of time in the church talking about Jesus. We learn about Jesus’ teaching, his example, his healing, and his love. The gospel stories give us something tangible to hold on to. Jesus gives us all sorts of guidance on how to live our lives. It’s not hard to figure out that Jesus is relevant to our lives in many ways.

What about the Holy Spirit? For many of us, the Spirit is very relevant to our daily living. We recognize the Spirit’s activity all around us: in those little nudges to call someone or pray for someone, in the peace that surrounds us when we undergo surgery, in the inspiration that comes when we least expect it…like something just pops in our head. Many of us know the Spirit as our sustainer, our inspiration, our daily guide.

We see daily evidence of God our Creator. We strive to follow the concrete example of Jesus the Christ. We try to be open to the signs of the Holy Spirit around us. Individually, the three persons of the Trinity make sense to us. But what does it mean for the three to be one and the one to be three?

In the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, there is an icon of the Holy Trinity painted by Andrei Rublev sometime around 1400. For those of you who are unfamiliar with icons, they are pictures, but not like ones we hang on the wall. The Orthodox use icons in prayer. The believers are to gaze at them until they become like a window into the heart of God.

This particular icon portrays the three persons of the Holy Trinity as three angels sitting together at a table. The head of each angel is inclined toward one of the others, so that there seems to be a circular movement around the table, connecting the three to one another. On the table is a chalice. What this image reveals to me is that in God there is a living, loving community. From the beginning of time until the end of the age, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have existed as a holy community of love and grace. In Genesis we read “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”

So, as we reflect on the Trinity, don’t let it be just a vague, dry doctrine for us. Don’t write it off as something that’s just too complicated for us to understand.

Let’s think about the community of love that has been within God since the beginning of time.

Let’s accept God’s invitation to be a part that community. A community that believes

God is not a distant being but is near at hand. God is not primarily a lawgiver and judge but the compassionate one. And the religious life is not about requirements, but about relationship.

And let’s make every effort to make sure that same God be revealed in our community. The Trinity teaches us that no one ever stands alone. We cannot be Christians without being connected to one another. Sorry. If we’re going to embrace God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, then we’re going to have to embrace each other. Not just the folks who are inside the church’s four walls this morning, but everyone because the love we find in the Trinity, the communion we find with one another, is not just for our own sakes. It’s meant to be shared. It’s for the sake of the world. John 3:16 reminds us “For God so loved the world…” If God loves the world, and we are created in God’s image, we need to constantly strive to make sure everyone is included.

The world needs love. The world needs grace. The world needs community. May the Triune God help us to share the message with all of creation.


Borg, M. J. 1997.  The God We Never Knew. Beyond dogmatic religion to a more authentic contemporary faith. NY: New York. HarperCollins.