Reflection June 18, 2017
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday, June 11, was Trinity Sunday. As expected, I preached on the Trinity. I would like to place much of that sermon in this week’s Advance.
If I were to ask: who or what is God? How might we answer? We might answer that God is the One who made all there is, including each of us. Such an answer would not be wrong and yet such an answer falls far short of who God is.
We might answer that God is Love, like our brother John asserts in his first Letter. Such an answer would not be wrong and yet such an answer falls far short of who God is.
We might answer in the words of the 20th Century American theologian Paul Tillich that God is the Ground of All Being but then we would look at one another with great puzzlement on our faces.
We might answer that God is “Abba” as Jesus taught us so long ago and such an answer would be right but this answer needs some unfolding.
We heard in Sunday’s preaching text how the Risen Christ commissions the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. So we might well answer my question by stating that God is a Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Such an answer would be right but this answer also needs some unfolding.
God is the greatest mystery there is. As I have preached many times in sermons and in writings, our language breaks down when it comes to talking about the Mystery of Almighty God.
If there is someone here this Sunday morning who can explain the Trinity of God, I would happily offer this pulpit to him or her. And truth be told - if such a person is here this Sunday morning - someone who can actually explain the Trinity and the inner dynamics of God - such a person would necessarily keep quiet. There are deep intimacies that cannot be shared and deep mysteries that necessitate silence.
But being the foolish person that I am, I will try to open up some thoughts, some hesitant hints, about the mystery of God - some halting words about the Trinity of the Almighty.
This is attempted with one caveat, which comes from an old friend and scripture scholar, Barbara Bowe (who went home to God too early due to brain cancer). Dr. Bowe wisely taught that talking about God is trying to say the least wrong thing - since EVERYTHING we say about God is, by definition, wrong.
Every year on Trinity Sunday, I preach on the Trinity despite the fact that in my very long ministerial and educational life, I have never once heard a sermon preached on the Trinity of God. As Alexander Pope noted: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” - so let me foolishly plunge headlong into the abyss!
I’ve said in the past that when we speak of the Trinity of God as 3 persons in 1 - we must be cautious. It might be better to speak of the Trinity of God as 3 distinct manifestations of God. When the Council of Nicaea (in present day Turkey) proclaimed God to be a Trinity (in 325), there was no understanding of the Trinity as 3 persons in 1 - but rather the Trinity was understood as one divine substance in 3 relationships. But let us keep in mind that God cannot be numbered!
In Western Christianity, the Trinity of God is usually portrayed as a bearded old man (representing the Father), Christ as a young man, and a dove, representing the Holy Spirit. But in Eastern Christianity, the Trinity is often portrayed as 3 people who are identical in every way. (There is such a painting at our own Art Institute.)
I believe that the Eastern Christian representation is more accurate theologically - or at least less wrong - than our common Western Christianity portrayals of the Holy Trinity.
However let us always keep in mind that God cannot be divided. The Trinity of God is not 3 pieces of a puzzle that when put together constitutes the Almighty God. God cannot be numbered nor can God be divided.
We might also well understand that God cannot be imagined in any way without doing some damage to our relationship with the Living God. Bless Michelangelo’s famous portrayal of God in the Sistine Chapel fresco, the Creation of Adam (1510). But we can be sure that God is beyond even the amazing imagination of Michelangelo!
While recognizing that all concepts of God get in the way of our relationship with God, words are what we have. We must keep trying to understand; faith always seeking understanding!
Here is something we can cling to from the present day Lutheran theologian, Jurgen Moltmann (my favorite theologian): “Only astonishment can grasp God.” It might be good to re-read this poignant statement!
Everything in creation is relational. Everything in our cosmos is relational, from galaxies all the way down to quarks. Quarks are never found individually but always in groups. So it is with all life and all creation.
It should come as no surprise, then, that our Almighty God is, at heart, a dynamic, divine, relationship. We are on holy ground when we approach the Holy Trinity. As our brother Paul wisely taught us: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.” (1st Corinthians 13:12)
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643