Readings: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5: John 16:12-15
The threefold theme continues in the readings set for this Trinity Sunday. The first from Proverbs names Wisdom (Sophia in Greek) as a co-creator at the beginning of time. Then we hear from the apostle Paul writing to the Romans to affirm faith in Jesus`s message about the indwelling experience of God`s Spirit and its ongoing effect in our lives. And the third reading is from John`s gospel which has Jesus seemingly speaking about himself but in fact represents a growing early second century theological concept of Jesus as dovetailing in with the Spirit of truth.
Humans have named the divine mystery within the universe, which we call `God`, in many different ways down through the ages. Some are easier to understand than others but I think many Christians look askance at the Hindu religion with its devotions to gods and goddesses, not understanding that they are seen as but differing manifestations of the one divine being known as `Atman`. So perhaps it should come as no surprise to hear that Moslems also look askance at our Christian concept of the Trinity. To them, having three namings is a form of idolatry - hence their insistence that there is `only one God and Allah is his name`. But then again as Gregory of Nyssa said, `Every image of God is an idol.` He was a bishop who made significant contributions to the formation of the Nicene Creed and the doctrine of the Trinity in the mid third century AD.
But why was so much energy put into developing such a doctrine? After all the Old Testament had many different names for God. The most mentioned is YHWH (Yahweh)seen as so sacred it cannot be spoken. It carries the sense of `I AM` or `the Ever Present One` and is translated as LORD in English texts (also occasionally as Jehovah). Our English word God is used to translate the next most numerous name Elohim, seen in Jewish tradition as the `Creator and Judge` of the universe, and also Eloah `Mighty, Powerful One` and `El `Strong One`. But then we get the statement in Deut. 6:4 Hear O Israel, the LORD (YHWH) our God (Elohim) is one LORD (YHWH).
There are many other divine forms in Hebrew Scriptures including feminine words such as `ruah -breath, spirit`, and `shekinah - the glory or indwelling presence of God` which Paul refers to in his Letter to the Romans. And today in our reading from Proverbs we also hear of `hokmah - wisdom` as co-creator with God at the beginning of creation. There is evidence to show that Jesus valued the wisdom strand of Judaism much more highly than the priestly one. In fact I would suggest that he may well have based his inclusive understanding of God`s kingdom on Proverbs 8 and 9, literally enacting the wisdom feast in the Last Supper.
But in spreading out from Palestine into the rest of the Mediterranean Basin, early followers of the Jesus Way were facing a world where trinitarian concepts were common - like the father, mother, son combination of Egypt`s Osiris, Isis, and Horus, or the triple goddess representing maiden, mother and wise crone of Greece and Celtic tribes. This is why, when St Patrick ended up in Ireland, he had no problem explaining the Christian concept with his shamrock image.
The reality was that `three` had long been seen as a sacred number in many cultures in the ancient world. As Aristotle had written back in the fourth century BCE: `All things are three, and thrice is all: and let us use this number in the worship of the gods; for, as the Pythagoreans say, everything and all things are bounded by threes, for the end, the middle and the beginning have this number in everything, and these compose the number of the Trinity.`
So by the mid 3rd century AD when Christianity became the official state religion under Constantine, it seems as if a process of redefinition over and against existing trinitarian concepts took place resulting in `the God-in-one but in three persons` doctrine of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Revd Michael Earl writing for the With Love to the World booklet images this as being `like three people linking arms together in a perpetual dance of love` . He goes on to say `The very nature of God is a three person community of love, which in grace spills over into, and embraces the world, extending God`s invitation of relationship to all humanity.`
But I`m not sure what Jesus would have made of this divinisation because he only ever called himself the `Son of Man` meaning the Human One. Neither am I sure whether this sense of `personhood` makes much sense anymore - our modern minds are more in tune with energy dynamics. So I`d like us to turn to this image which I originally made as a wall hanging when I was doing printmaking for an art class. Not long before I`d come across a great quote by Hermes Trismegistus who said that `The nature of God is a `circle` whose centre is everywhere and circumference is nowhere`.
It had set me thinking as to where the trinity belonged in that. So in a large circle supposedly without circumference, I put three other circles trying to represent what Christians see as the triune way in which the divine universal dynamic we call `God` is revealed to us. The first is physically through our senses engaging with creation represented by the yellow circle, where we can feel blessed and loved too. Sometimes we talk about God as our Father but I prefer the word Creator and for me creation provides the primary experience of God. Its cycles even with the storms of life speaks to me, and its beauty uplifts me when I feel down.
And that brings me to the second way in which the mystery of God is experienced and that is spiritually, which I represented with a red circle - the colour we had last week at Pentecost when we remembered about God`s Holy Spirit coming to transform. I see this as a life-giving energy not only inspiring us to show loving kindness and compassion towards others but also permeating the universe like a force or intentionality moving life ever onward. And this comes through in our bible, our other primary word of God, starting in the first chapter of Genesis where we hear of how God`s spirit (ruah) was there at the beginning and will always be there despite whatever happens.
And this third circle in blue represents for me how the mystery of God is also revealed to us relationally through Jesus. He showed us that we can trust that God is with us even in our suffering and death. He also showed us in his own life and ministry on earth how God`s kingdom, God`s intention is for us humans to live in peaceful and loving relationship, as brothers and sisters, as God`s beloved.
And it`s interesting how, there at the point where all three circles overlap, the colours yellow, red and blue blend together to form a brownish mix, which I see as the colour of our earth. It`s almost as if we humans are also contained within this Triune nature and links in to Jesus`s sense of the Human One like a Christ potential deep in the heart of God.
And is not this `being in God and vice versa` on a feeling relational basis what distinguishes Christianity from other religions? For Buddhism, Hindhuism, Islam and Judaism, being enfolded into the divine tends to be viewed as a future possibility, and conditional on behaving appropriately. But for Jesus` there`s a sense of immediate presence, of embodied divine connectivity come what may. In our relating with one another in love and compassion, we are also relating with God. And this is what the writer of John`s gospel is struggling to express in Jesus`s supposed final discourses, a snippet of which we heard today.
This trinity stuff is challenging indeed but I would agree with Carl Jung who when asked by an interviewer whether he believed in God said `No, I don`t believe in God - I know God!` It`s not so important for our heads to understand as for our hearts to know, to experience God - for Jesus revealed that God is longing to be in relationship with all of us regardless of who we are or what we have done. It is up to us to open ourselves and trust, to believe in ourselves and others as beloved which is not so easy when going through times of suffering (as Paul acknowledges in his letter to the Romans). Our sign outside Live life loved sums it all up - it`s a triune mantra in its own right!
Perhaps on this Trinity Sunday, we could be asking - How do we see ourselves and our own community of faith expressing this image of God into the world? In what practical ways are Jesus and Paul`s calls to peace and love being seen in our church? Where is the Spirit calling forth new life in us? Is there anything that must be surrendered before that can happen? And so we ask a blessing:-
Creator God, sustain those who are nurturing others in your kin-dom;
Companion Christ, support those who are struggling on life`s journey;
Celebrating Sophia, enable us to respond to the call to share in your wisdom feast. Amen
`The nature of God is a circle whose centre is everywhere
and circumference is nowhere.` (Hermes Trismegistus)