Texts: Proverbs 8:1-4, 21-30; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
Trinity teaches us about who God is. Trinity teaches us not just that God is in relationship, but that God embodies relationship: relationship is fundamental to who God is. Looking through scripture, we see that it is full of stories of God being with: God is at the beginning in the garden, walking beside humanity. When Adam and Eve are cast out, God goes with them. God travels with Israel through the sea and across the desert, resides among the people in the temple, speaks to them through the prophets. Withness is so much of what God does that we can’t tell the story of God without it. Even our experience of God speaks to a fundamental relationship between the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In Jesus, God is with us; and even after his death, resurrection and ascension, he is still with us in the Spirit of Truth.
This means that when we are gathered as Church, a community forged in the name of God, that community has the ability to teach us something about God. In the 1st letter of John, it says that we love because God first loved us, that love is from God and everyone who loves is born of God. (1 John 4.19, 7) The love of our community of faith comes from God and teaches us about God. The diversity of ideas and values, of experiences and beliefs and opinions that appear in community teach us about who God is. As we learn to love the people that are so very different from us whom God has called to this community, we begin to learn little by little about the God who brought each of us here.
Community, however, is not God. Our love, unlike God’s, is imperfect, and so we divide ourselves by race and class, by politics and opinions. Even in our churches, created and shaped by our triune God, we segregate ourselves into like-minded, like-looking people. The fact that our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is overwhelmingly white is not just an embarrassing fact in a diverse world; it is a tragedy because the picture of God that our congregations give us is incomplete, and it is too easy for us to forget that God is bigger than what we see in our sanctuaries.
When I was growing up, I was taught that all people are equal, regardless of skin color. I was instilled with the belief that all people are beloved by God. In seminary as I went around visiting different churches—Mennonite, Orthodox, Foursquare Gospel—but I never went to visit the African Methodist Episcopal church. I was intimidated. I don’t know why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I simply wasn’t used to being in a place where not everybody else looked like me. I still have not experienced the image of God incarnate in that part of the Church, and I know I am poorer for it.
Race is only one way we divide ourselves, but however it happens, our division is almost always a loss. When we segregate ourselves into groups along the lines of politics, beliefs, ethnic background, sexual orientation or anything else, we cut ourselves off from a fuller understanding of God by cutting ourselves off from other people whom God has created, called and claimed. And so our unity is, as yet, an imperfect reflection of the perfect unity of God.
We have all experienced this, whether among siblings or between spouses, in congregations, offices, and social circles. This congregation has survived a hard time not all that long ago during which many people left due to hard feelings. Our ELCA continues to feel the pain of so many congregations that left after our study in human sexuality, which was intended to make our church more welcoming and inclusive of all God’s people. Our sisters and brothers in the United Methodist Church are now facing division over the same issue within their church.
Sometimes division is necessary. Sometimes it is inevitable. We cannot please everybody all the time, and we cannot remain silent in the face of injustice, but neither do we always need to agree in order to be in community. Unity is not the same as uniformity. Sometimes churches split or people leave over issues that do not need to be divisive. Whenever we gather, it is worthwhile for us to ask who is missing. Whose voices are not joined with ours? Whose ideas are not represented? These may be aspects of God we are missing.
In the midst of painful struggles and deep questions we have the promise that Jesus gave his disciples on the night of his arrest: that though he is going where we will not see him, he sends us the Holy Spirit, who will lead us into all truth. The Gospel of John says from the beginning that Christ came to reveal God to us. Jesus promises that his work of revealing God continues today through the Holy Spirit, and imperfect as it may be, the Church gathered here is a community in which that Spirit is still at work.
As we stumble along together along life’s journey, through our mistakes and our wrong turns we are never alone. Our triune God is with us, just as God always has been—hearing our prayers, feeding us at the table, moving our hearts to action, uniting us across the walls that divide us, both real and imagined. Just as our God is mysteriously united in Trinity, God mysteriously unites us in this meal. As we come to the Eucharist, we gather around one table to share one food—the body and blood of Christ.
God’s grace given to us in the sacrament is enough to bring us together across time and space, across life and death; certainly, it can bring us together over the petty differences of politics and ideology. God works to unite us with all who come to this table, and that is what makes us community. This meal is concrete, living proof that the Spirit is still leading us into all truth. Together we will help one another follow along the way.
So you see, the idea of a God who is triune might not be something we will ever be able to understand, but understanding the trinity is less important than experiencing the trinity. Our triune God is in relationship with us, just as we are with one another, and helps us to be in relationship with the world in a way that we never could on our own. If we learn anything from Trinity, I hope it is how separate individuals and congregations and denominations can be distinct and yet also united, just as is true for God: Father, Son and Spirit.