Trinity A 11-6-2017 A & C Ex 34 1-8, Song 3YM 29-34, 2C13 11-13, Mt 28 16-20
God is Trinity – triune; three persons, yet one God. We use many special names for each of the three persons we know as one God; names that’ve been handed down to us, or new ones. The names are often very rich in association and significance, but none is complete; none says it all. At times, one name seems more helpful than another. But later, another name might suddenly light up with new meaning for us. Let’s ponder a few of them together.
- The Father: Using words from the Lord’s Prayer, we call God our Father in heaven. That’s language of belonging; of family. But in our prayers, we also call God our maker and our judge. Judge? That sounds distant; threatening. The prophets tell us that God watches to see that we care for the needy and the poor; that God requires us to be faithful and just. And the first five books of the Bible tell us that the Father’s true Name is so holy that we dare not even pronounce it (YHWH). Another of God’s names is plural (Elohim), and yet God is one. And Jesus speaks of God as the God of people who are, to us, long dead, and yet who are alive in God’s presence. (Mk 12) ……
- The Son: We know Jesus by another name; Immanuel (Isa 7-8, Mt 1) – God with us. Some people call Jesus God with skin on – Jesus, the God we can touch; the God we can sit down and eat with. And Jesus is also our rôle model for life. He’s the nearest thing we’ll ever get to a clear view of the invisible God; gracious, passionate, kind, good and wise. By living and dying our mortal life, Jesus is for us God who knows from the inside what it’s like to be one of us. Jesus is right with us throughout our life-journey. We know Jesus as the one who has returned from the dead; who told us not to let our hearts be troubled. And so we need not fear even our own death.
- The Holy Spirit: In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Spirit is the creating wind ר֫וּחַ from God in the beginning (Gen 1), the Breath ר֫וּחַ who gives life to the creature of dust (Gen 2), the Breath ר֫וּחַ in Ezekiel’s valley of the dry bones who raises countless dead to new life (Ezek 37), and she is Wisdom who guides and inspires us (the Wisdom books). A few weeks ago, we heard Jesus call the Holy Spirit our advocate, (Jn 14) our guide, our comforter, our counsellor, helper and mediator. We experience the Holy Spirit as God within and amongst us – the giver of spiritual gifts and fruits – the sanctifier (1 Cor 2, 12, 14; Gal 5; Jn 17).
We’re probably used to this language because most of us have come to church for a long time. But if anyone in the street asks me to explain it, I certainly find myself a bit tongue-tied. I have to go back to the stories to describe what all this means to me – the Bible stories, and my own story.
For example, God our Father in heaven, our maker and our judge; without some background, that sounds pretty threatening frankly. Is God watching whatever I do and scoring me for it? How can I be sure that God out there is going to understand why I do something before judging me for it? I might have failed to be kind to the poor and needy because I was avoiding danger. I could have been in a hurry and not noticed them. I might have been upset about something and not concentrating. There are any number of reasons why I might not do something that God wants me to. Does God care about that?
Our reading from Exodus today tells me that I shouldn’t be quite so defensive. In that story, God has just been really badly let down by the people. God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and fed and watered them on their journey to the Promised Land.
Yet just as God and Moses were ‘cutting the ultimate deal’ as they put it in New York, drawing up the covenant which sets out an everlasting relationship between this people and God, the people down the bottom of the mountain got tired of waiting and worshipped a statue they made of a calf. What should our maker and judge do about that, do you think? What would your Father say?
We heard just that today. God sent Moses back up the mountain with two new tablets of stone to inscribe, appeared to Moses as promised, entrusted the Holy Name to Moses, and then said, [I] “…7 [keep] steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” Now I know there’s that bit about “ …visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” But steadfast love for a thousand generations – that takes us out to about the year 23,000 before God might consider giving up on us.
And what’s the judgement process like? I said Jesus is the best picture we’ll ever get of what God is like. Think of the worst thing you’ve ever done and then imagine what Jesus might say. Do you feel like you’ll get a fair hearing? In Rom 8.34 Paul writes that Jesus is at the right hand of God pleading our case for us. So yes, there’s judgement, but it’s tempered by the most amazing Grace. God, who knows what it is to be a frail mortal pleads our case before a judge who’s declared steadfast love for us and still about 880 generations of our descendants.
And then the Holy Spirit – Jesus calls the Spirit our advocate. Moses and Ezekiel call the Spirit the breath of our life; the Wisdom literature calls her our Mother, and at our baptism, she draws closer to us than our own hearts. So is Trinity just an idea? No; it’s God who reaches out to us, God who draws alongside us, God who is the very breath we live by. Could we fully know Grace in any other way – God with us to the end of the age?