Confession time — I am not a systematic theologian. So when it comes to saying something about the Trinity, the theological hairs on the back of my head start to stand up. I get a little nervous, to be honest, certain I will say something wrong, something incorrect, something, well, heretical. And truthfully, I just don’t think I get the Trinity. I know — you shouldn’t be able to “get” the Trinity, to understand the Trinity. But I feel like I should have some grasp of it. And, truthfully? The texts for Trinity Sunday don’t help me much.
So what is a preacher to do?
Here’s what I am thinking. Maybe, the Trinity is not so much about who God is, but reveals more about to what God is committed. Yes, God is God, God is Jesus, God is Spirit — that’s the who. But together, it’s all about relationship. Our God is a relational God. Yes, it’s at the core of who God is but also, it’s at the core of what God does, what God needs the church to be. This helps me when I think about what difference the Trinity makes for how we do church in the world today. If Trinity Sunday is merely a nod to ecclesiastical arguments made long ago, or an apologetic to make the Trinity great again? As I mentioned last week about a sermon explaining the Holy Spirit, boredom will likely set in — and early on — guaranteed.
But if you preach that the Trinity changes how we live our lives, how we recognize the presence of the Kingdom of God in the world? Well, then maybe a few more ears will perk up and listen. And if you imagine for yourselves that the Trinity matters for how you pastor? Then instead of benign and generic comments about the Godhead, maybe your sermon on the Trinity will actually matter more to you, to your congregation. If you preach that the Trinity means that the church is fundamentally about relationship, then perhaps people will begin to realize that the church is not a building but a way of being in the world.
A Trinitarian way of being in the world means that the autonomy of the church is a myth, which means that our own autonomy egregiously hurts the other. Sovereignty is foreign to the God witnessed to in Scripture. Self-rule and self-sufficiency leads to decisions that in no way imagine the effects on others, the life and death consequences that ensue when you can only think of yourself. And so, if you preach that belief in the Trinity means that leaders of the church are held accountable to initiating, building, and maintaining relationships, then perhaps they will imagine that is at the heart of what a life of discipleship looks like.
And if you preach that the Trinity insists that relationship is what truly matters, then that becomes the litmus test for what faith looks like in the world. It is the test for leaders in the church whether or not they are actually Trinitarian. There are a lot of binitarian believers out there. Even unitarian. As if Jesus can be extricated from the God of the Bible. As if Jesus can be separated from the God of Scripture who could not NOT be in relationship and therefore calls to Abram. As if Jesus showed up and erased the history of God’s relationship with God’s people.
Relationship, you see, is rather inconvenient truth about God, especially when God is simply a vehicle for your own power and the way of Jesus is justification for decisions meant only to keep your own power. “Our faith is personal but never private, meant not only for heaven but for this earth.“1
But this is the kind of Trinitarian heresy that abounds now in our society. “Jesus is the only way” is an anti-Trinitarian statement. Any kind of speech or act that even hints at anti-Semitism is anti-Trinitarian. Any kind of belief system that asserts a rapture theology with deliverance for true believers with the rest of us sorry souls left to wage battle on evil is anti-Trinitarian. A millenarian mindset, a binary in its insistence that some will be saved and others will not, is anti-Trinitarian. So yes, the Trinity does matter — it matters a lot.
Without the Trinity, people can make claims that justify the hatred of entire peoples and call them animals. Without the Trinity, people can validate their leadership as a manifestation of a self-fulfilled prophecy. Without the Trinity, churches that claim to be church will carry on with self-centered, naval-gazing programs, eschewing hospitality and decency, collaboration and community.
So, Dear Working Preachers, truly preach the Trinity — a glimpse of what can be if relationship is at the heart of who and what the church strives to be. An expectation that we experience the love of God in relationships that are good and whole and solid and loving. A hope that, in the end, the Trinity will outlast those who try to deny its truth or hide in its complexity. A trust that to confess the Trinity means that God is then committed to a relationship with you.