Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Trinity Sunday 5/30

      Theoretically we shouldn’t need to have a Trinity Sunday because every Sunday should be a celebration of some aspect of the Trinity because it is the core Christian doctrine of God, it’s how we talk about God every week of the year.  That is how the Orthodox Church deals with it; Trinity Sunday is not on their calendar, but it is on ours tempting the preacher every year to try and explain the Doctrine of the Trinity in 12 to 15 minutes.  Somebody said though, that if you try to talk about the Trinity for more than three minutes you’ll more than likely slip into some heresy so I guess this better be a really short sermon or I better talk about something else. 

      People have come up with ways to try and better understand the Trinity and I’m sure you’ve heard some of them.  Legend has it that St. Patrick used a shamrock to demonstrate how three distinct leaves made up a single plant.  Others have found the image of light, heat and sun to be helpful or maybe ice, water and steam as three different forms of one chemical compound H2O or another one is how one person can at the same time be mother, daughter and sister for example.  They’re all efforts to get at the three in one, one in three nature of the Trintiy.  From my own confirmation I remember three overlapping rings with the center where they all overlap representing the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit with the outer part of the rings representing the uniqueness of each of the persons.  It always reminded me of the Ballantine beer logo though, which used the same symbol with the rings representing purity, body and flavor.   

      Without being sacrilegious, these images can be useful, none of them is perfect, in fact they’re probably all flawed enough to be considered heretical in some fashion, but even recognizing their imperfection they can still be aids in trying to make sense of that which we really can’t make sense of.  One of the more helpful things I came across said that theology regarding the Trinity is and always has been like playing a catch up game; the words are always trying to catch up to the reality of who God is.  So our doctrine doesn’t make God triune; God is triune.  Our language and our explanation though, are always running to try and catch up with this reality. 

      The doctrine of the Trinity is not strictly biblical; it’s never laid out in so many words in the Bible, but it is hinted at in texts like today’s gospel in which Jesus is speaking, with part of his speech referencing the Spirit of truth who will provide guidance, and another part referencing the Father, “All that the Father has is mine.”  So there in just a few verses you have all three persons mentioned along with hints about the relationship between the persons. 

      In the Romans text, Paul, while not using the term Father, mentions God, he mentions our Lord Jesus Christ and he mentions the Holy Spirit so again you’ve got the three persons included as he talks about justification.  The passage from Proverbs is a little different; it’s more binatarian than Trinitarian with Lady Wisdom talking about being there with the creator as the earth was formed, “Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth—when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.  When he established the heavens, I was there.”  It’s a beautiful passage talking about two persons, not three but the closeness of the relationship between the two is perhaps what we should pay attention to. 

      For me though, maybe the most interesting of today’s lessons is the psalm.  It’s the least Trinitarian of the four, but it has a lot to say to us concerning our relationship with God.  Psalm 8 is a psalm of praise; if you were to read through the psalms starting with number one, it’s the first psalm of praise and remember praise is understood as the attitude we want to have toward God; “O Lord, our lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”    It’s not the attitude we always do have, but even in the psalms of lament and disorientation, the honesty of those emotions is intended to move the psalmist, to move us back to proper orientation which is centered on praise.   

      But here in Psalm 8 we can easily picture the psalmist on a hillside, looking at the awesomeness of the starry night sky and just being overcome with the wonder of it, able to do nothing but praise the one who created it all.  But this psalmist does do more, more than just offer praise; “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, what are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them, human beings that you should care for them?”   

      Along with the praise we have one of the most profound questions that has ever been asked by anyone.  “What are human beings that you should be mindful of them and should care for them?”  The reason it is so profound is because at the same time, the psalmist recognizes both his insignificance and his significance in the eyes of this awesome God.  On Trinity Sunday this psalm in a sense distracts us from all the questions about the inner essence and being of God and the relationship between the three persons, questions that we can’t answer very well anyway, and instead it leads us to questions about ourselves and our relationship with this God and those are probably more useful questions for us to ask anyway. 

      One of my professors at seminary talked about this significance and insignificance in terms of human beings as created co-creators.  I’ve probably talked about the created co-creator thing before but I think it’s worth remembering.  As human beings we are part of God’s creation, part of the work of the God who created all the natural beauty around us and it’s not hard to feel insignificant and puny in the face of all that is.   Whether it’s a shepherd of long ago awed by the night sky, or one of us taking a walk up Sugarloaf and looking around at Lake Superior and the surroundings or if it’s looking at pictures taken by the Hubble space telescope that shows thousands of galaxies far, far away and you realize that earth is just one tiny planet close to a relatively modest star in one galaxy out of millions and each of us is just a tiny speck on that one small planet.  “What are mortals that you should be mindful of them?”   

      But mindful of them God is.  There are many parts of creation, much of God’s work that is much more impressive than the most impressive human specimen you might find, yet humans have the unique ability to be co-creators with God and to affect the rest of creation positively or negatively with the decisions we make.  Everything else just does what it does, and other parts of creation can be affected by what happens, but there are no decisions to be made.  That volcano in Iceland affected things but it didn’t consciously decide to erupt, it just happened.  Human beings however, are different.  We are able to make decisions; with us things don’t just happen.  As a result we are sometimes effective stewards of that which God has given us rule over, making responsible use of natural resources, sometimes not so effective, the oil spill in the Gulf being the most recent example of humans negatively affecting creation. For better or for worse though, we are related to the creator in ways that nothing else is.   

      The doctrine of the Trinity describes a God whose essence is relational and there are some wonderfully abstract and hard to understand ways to talk about the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity.  What’s remarkable is that we are invited into relationship with this wonderfully complex God.  We are not all we can be without being in this relationship (some would say God is not all God can be without this relationship).  And with that relationship, we are given a unique role to play, but we can’t play the role, we can’t be who we’re supposed to be unless we know about the relationship, unless we know we’re good enough to be in the relationship, unless we know of our significance. 

      Sometimes our Lutheran theology can seem to be overly focused on reminding us of how bad we are. “I a poor, miserable sinner confess unto thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended thee and justly deserve thy temporal and eternal punishment.”  That was the Missouri Synod confession of my youth, p.15 of the The Lutheran Hymnal.  It’s not that it’s not true, it is; but we also have to know that while we are poor, miserable sinners, we also have forgiveness through Jesus Christ and because of that we are good enough.  We need that reminder too, that we are good enough to be in this relationship with this Trinitarian God who is mindful of us and has crowned us with glory and honor. 

      It’s impossible to fully comprehend the doctrine of the Trinity or the God it describes; ultimately it is best to just offer our praise as we sing and confess our faith.  But as we think about these things and as we consider the relationship we can be part of, we see our significance and our insignificance, we see that we are both humbled and exalted by the Trinitarian God we praise.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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