Once upon a time, a pastor was trying to describe the Mystery of the Trinity to a group of children in the three minute window her church allotted for a children’s moment. Our United Methodist Discipline describes the Holy Trinity in our Articles of Religion saying:
- Article I — Of Faith in the Holy Trinity There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
That is an excellent definition, but a lot to explain to a group of early learners in three minutes. The pastor had made a nice 3 leaf shamrock out of green construction paper and labeled the leaves: Christ, Creator, and Spirit. As she said “the clover has three leaves but is one plant so to God…” an eager kindergartener interjected “What about 4 leaf clovers?”
Do we make enough room for mystery in our creeds? I love the humility of our Prayer After Communion, “we give You thanks for this Holy Mystery in which You have given Yourself to us.” The inbetweenness of awe and wonder dances within faith, hope and love. If I tried to describe to you my love for my children words would fail me. I could only approximate that experience. Complex truths like faith, hope and love resist our best definitions. We can’t reduce the Trinity, the Incarnation or Salvation down to 3 sentences. Jesus taught the deepest truths with parables, stories, and approximations: “A widow sweeps the house looking for a lost coin”, “a parent runs to embrace their ragged child who blew their inheritance in desolate living”. Music often holds our deepest truths, perhaps because it dwells beyond simple definitions. When I want to tell my grown children how much I love them, sometimes I revisit beloved bedtime books we shared 20 years ago. An almost asleep Little Nutbrown Hare declares “I love you right up to the moon.” Big Nutbrown Hare whispered to their now sleeping child “I love you right up to the moon- and back”. (Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney)
If we can’t accurately describe our deepest loves, how can our words contain mysteries like Incarnation, Salvation, orTrinity? The Apostle Paul confesses that we “know and prophecy only in part.” (1 Corinthians 13) When Jesus appears to the disciples on Easter, Luke 24 tells us “they were wondering and questioning in the midst of their happiness” and worship. Does valuing mystery, welcoming wonder, and inhabiting awe open us to a truer worship?
Do we have Wisdom and Understanding enough to hold onto our beliefs with the playfulnesses of Psalm 51: “In the beginning, Wisdom was with God, having fun, smiling before God all the time. She was frolicking with God’s inhabited earth and delighting in humanity.” Maybe mystery better explains the Holy Trinity than 10 slide powerpoint.
Article I — Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
Let’s begin by acknowledging that the word Trinity does not appear in the Bible. In Matthew 28, Jesus invokes the Trinitarian formula, “baptizing (the new disciples) in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” But our belief in the Trinity requires Biblical interpretation, inductive thinking, or reasonable imagination. Could the interpretive work necessary to name the Trinity remind us to do theology with humility and to hold our truths loosely?
We Methodists believe: There is but one living and true God, everlasting,
We believe God is living, active, and moving like the living waters of a stream. (John 4) Can we prove a living God? Under a darker sky than we moderns will ever see, Abraham and Sarah looked up at the galaxies and saw God. They heard God whisper “try to count them” (Genesis 15) There is a sense of awe and “everlasting God” in learning that scientists know our world is 4.543 billion years old: 4 billion is pretty close to “everlasting”! Hebrews 11 tells us “Faith is… the proof of what we don’t see.” A sense of awe whether looking at the stars, holding a baby, or kneeling at the Lord’s Table humbles us, softening our hearts and the lines that define and divide us.
There is one God, everlasting, without body or parts
This 400 hundred year old creed reminds us that the church has always affirmed that God exists beyond body parts. God is beyond binary notions of biological gender. Our Lectionary fittingly wobbles fixed notions revealing God in female form. The Divine She keeps us from standing too firmly on fixed formulas. Created from the beginning, She calls out to all: “wake up you people, learn something!” God is beyond male or female.
There is one God, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness;
You may hear God’s Power thundering over Niagara Falls or in a bee’s buzzing in that clover you let grow wild in your backyard. Bees “buzz” by beating their wings at over 230 beats per second, vibrating the air around them into a lovely buzzing sound. You may find God’s Wisdom, Power, and Goodness flowing through you as you share a book with a child at Project Transformation, raise the walls of a new home in Waverly, or pass the peace of Christ with a free popsicle at Pride.
There is one God, the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible.
We believe God is always creating, restoring and preserving life. We see God in every act of forgiveness, peacemaking, hospitality, and love. We see God in every resurrection, restoration and transformation.
In unity of this Godhead there are three persons of one substance, power, and eternity
—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
This idea of God as “Relationship” is as old as Genesis 1 where God said, “let us make humans in our image”. We hear Relationship described in “the God of Our Ancestors: the God of Abraham, Sara, Issac and Rebecca”. David prays “do not cast me from your presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me”. (Exodus 3 & Psalm 51) Indeed, we “are not too far from God Kin-dom” whenever we live in unity with others- “loving God as we love ourselves. ( Mark 12)
And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons,
We believe God exists within the Unity of Relationship. God dwells in Unity. God’s nature and being is Love: God is Love. (1 John 4) Love can only exist within Relationship. Lovingkindness brings unity- theology not so much. In John 17, Jesus prays that we might know the Unity of God: “Holy Father, I pray that they might be one as we are one.” Should unity be the goal of Christ followers? There is no Unity created by compulsion or by punishing or mocking those who disagree. (2 Corinthians 9 on generous hearts) Having driven 26 hours to Maine, pulling a camper and 4 bicycles through New York City during rush hour with a spouse and two middle schoolers, I believe Unity may surpass all other holy mysteries. God’s deepest nature radiates unity, peace and love. If we take one thing away from Trinity Sunday, let us consider God’s Three-In-Oneness: co-creating, sharing power, radiating Love while dwelling in perfect Unity. Do we radiate Unity, Love, and peace-bringing?
Debating mysteries like the Trinity feels like important work to some defenders of the faith. But, can we prove to a standard of mathematical certainty Jesus’ equation “that the last will be first”? Can we argue someone into forgiving 70×7 times? Can we prove that Love “is the more excellent way”? The Writers of 2 Timothy 2 warn us “before God …not to engage in battles over words… Avoid foolish and thoughtless discussions, since you know that they produce conflicts. (don’t) be argumentative. Be kind, patient and gentle with all people, allowing God to change people’s minds!” (adapted) There is nothing foolish about the Trinity, but trying to argue someone over to a Trinitarian worldview, may lack the Relational grace that allows Unity to grow. Why do we feel the need to zealously defend holy mysteries that we can’t even adequately explain? Show us Jesus by the way we live, love, and radiate unity.
Holy mysteries like the Incarnation, Grace or the Trinity puzzle us. They humble and soften us. They remind us of what we do not know- the things unseen that matter the most. Today, we ponder the Unity of the Godhead: United in Love. Let us not be divided by doomed efforts to narrowly define faith, explain hope and limit love. No, let us inhabit awe, value wonder and practice praise. Let us see God in the unseen wonder that buzzes all around us.
Belmont’s own Ned and David Henry’s beautiful song invites us into such holy wondering:
“Is that not God glowing on the horizon?
Is that not God rolling on the sea?
Is that not God pushing up the mountains?
Is that not God in all of you and all of me?
Is that not God Crying in delivery
Is that not God Learning how to breath
Is that not God Reaching for its mother
Where can I go, to hide from you?
My lord, oh my soul, fill with gratitude
If it’s all I ever do.
Is that not God Shuffling in the prison?
Is that not God Sleeping beneath the trees?
Is that not God Crying at the graveside?
Is that not God Soaring in the heavens?
Is that not God Whistling in the breeze?
Is that not God In every resurrection?
Is that not God In all of you and all of me?
Where can I go- to hide from you?
My lord, oh my soul, Fill with gratitude
If it’s all I ever do
Is that not God In every resurrection?
Is that not God In all of you and all of me
Brother Henry “Is that not God” can be found at