Sermon for Trinity Sunday, 12 June 2022
John 16: 5–15
By Revd George Mwaura
Spirit of the living God, speak to our longing hearts and reveal the mystery of the Godhead we celebrate as God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
A man was crossing a busy street in front of a church and was knocked down by a hit-and-run driver. As he lay there, half-conscious, a priest hurried out, and prepared to administer the last rites. ‘Do you believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit?’ the priest asked. ‘I’m dying, you fool,’ cried the man, ‘and you are asking me riddles!’
The Trinity is a riddle, and as modern Christians, it would be an act of spiritual arrogance to assume we have figured it out. Why? Because it is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be explored and lived out. And it’s not just the Trinity: life in general is full of difficult questions that are beyond our comprehension. On Trinity Sunday, Christians celebrate the reality of God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is rather confusing, and even the finest theologians find themselves at a loss to explain it comprehensively. Some use the analogy of the masks worn by actors in the old Greek tragedies. One actor wearing different masks can play many parts; but it is the same actor. Others have used the analogy of roles and relationships. A woman can be a mother, a wife, a daughter, a grandmother all at the same time: one woman but many roles.
These are not perfect analogies, but they will have to do in our quest to understand God in three persons. St Augustine, one of Christianity’s brightest minds was walking along the seashore one day while reflecting how God could be One and yet Three. Suddenly he came upon a boy who was carrying a cup of ocean water to a small hole he had dug in the sand. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked. ‘I am trying to empty the ocean into this hole,’ the boy responded. Augustine laughed and said, ‘That is impossible.’ The boy stared at him unflinching and said, ‘It is no more impossible than you trying to figure the Almighty God in your human mind.’
In that respect, we are all like Alice in her first adventure in Wonderland. Remember how Alice pursued the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole and suddenly found herself standing in a very big hall? There were doors all around her but they were all locked. As she walked around helplessly, suddenly she saw a tiny golden key on a glass table. Alice’s first thought was that it might belong to one of the doors. But, alas, all the locks were too large, or the key was too small. However, the second time round, she came upon a curtain she had not noticed before, and behind it was a little door about fifteen inches high. She tried the little golden key in the lock, and to her great delight, it worked!
Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat hole. She knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander among the beds of bright flowers and cool fountains! But she could not even get her head through the doorway; she was too big. She returned to the little table to find a bottle with a large paper label on it that said, ‘Drink me!’ Alice tasted it, and finding it very nice, she gulped it all down. She wondered what effect it might have on her but she did not have long to wait! She was startled to discover she was now only ten inches high, and her face brightened up at the thought that she was now the right size to go through the little door into that lovely garden. But when she got to the door, she realised she had forgotten the little golden key. When she went back to the table to retrieve it, she found to her horror, she could not possibly reach it, as she was too tiny. She could see it quite plainly through the glass, and she tried her best to climb up the table-leg but it was too slippery. Finally, too exhausted from trying, she sat down and cried her heart out.
The thing is, I genuinely sympathise with Alice. There are far too many secrets, paradoxes and theological mysteries in life and I am just too short spiritually to reach the key. And not just difficult doctrines like the Trinity, but more mundane matters: for example – Why do-good people suffer? Why is life sometimes so unfair? What is the purpose of ageing? Why does God not make faith a little easier to embrace? etc. There is so much that none of us can understand right now. And perhaps that is why I absolutely love the way the Apostle Paul captures this sentiment in his first letter to the Corinthians. Listen: Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even, as I am fully known.
Having settled that, there is a second thing to be said about the Trinity. The secret of successful life does not lie in not understanding, but in trusting. The truth is, we can either spend our lives making ourselves miserable about what does not make sense to us, or we can live joyful lives based on trust in God. An ancient Chinese proverb says, ‘The bird does not sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song.’
I may not be able to understand the mystery of God in three persons, but I can enjoy the incredible beauty of God the creator. I may not understand how a child born to a peasant family from a marginal county in Palestine can be God, but I can read with awe the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. I may not understand much about that Comforter that Jesus said he would send us, but there have been times when the Holy Spirit of God has cuddled me with love and comfort in my darkest moments. The secret of a successful life is trusting God.
So, yes, the Trinity is a difficult concept to explain theologically, and as C.S. Lewis once said, ‘The most frequently spoken word in heaven will be oh, as in: Oh, now I understand. Oh, now I see what God’s plan for me was, or Oh, now I see the reason for the trials I went through.’
For now, though, we do not have that luxury in this world; here, we walk by faith, not by knowledge. But one day, it will be revealed to us. We will be in the presence of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. How can we be in the presence of all three at the same time? Beats me! But as the apostle Paul says to Timothy in his second letter, I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that He is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me… Can you accept that and live by that hope? Friends, there are some answers that are too big for our human minds to contain. But our greatest need is not full comprehension, but trusting that God is with us in every circumstance, whether we experience God as Father, Mother, Son, or Holy Spirit.