Today is Holy Trinity Sunday. Each year, on the first Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the Holy Trinity. This is the only church festival that celebrates a doctrine. And this doctrine leaves theological heads spinning. Martin Luther once wrote, “To try to deny the Trinity endangers your salvation; to try to understand the Trinity endangers your sanity.”
So let’s get a little crazy today. Let’s look at the Trinity. Here is the main thought for today’s message. The Trinity takes us to God’s heart. Let me say that again. The Trinity takes us to God’s heart.
Hans Bruntjen was as modest and humble a man as you would hope to meet. He was an expert fisherman and a master woodworker. When I left as pastor of Galilean Lutheran Church, I received a cross as a gift. But this was no ordinary cross. Hans made it. And then he explained it to me.
The cross is a Trinity Cross. The base is a circle, symbolizing unity and completeness. There are no corners for hiding. There are no sides to take. There is one center. And from that center radiates a threefold cross. At first I thought of the three crosses when Jesus was crucified. But Hans corrected me. The three crosses, he said, stand for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Each cross is an image of the others. Each cross is supported by and depends on the others. Each cross is intertwined with the others. Hans said this is how the Trinity looks to him—intertwined, interdependent, and rooted in the one center.
But why three crosses, I asked Hans. In his wonderful German accent, Hans said, “Ach! Don’t they teach you pastors anything in seminary? God’s who life,” he said, “is about self-giving. God’s whole life is cross-shaped, whether we talk about Father, Son or Holy Spirit. I built this cross,” Hans concluded, “with the crosses coming out of the center towards us. God’s self-giving love comes to us. The crosses aren’t about what God looks like. The crosses are about how God works!”
Hans Bruntjen was one of the best theologians I ever met. God’s heart is self-giving love. The Trinity takes us to God’s heart.
We don’t always understand this. Let me illustrate. Little Johnny and his family lived in the country, and as a result seldom had guests. He was eager to help his mother after his father appeared with two dinner guests from the office.
When the dinner was nearly over, Little Johnny went to the kitchen and proudly carried in the first piece of apple pie, giving it to his father who passed it to a guest. Little Johnny came in with a second piece of pie and gave it to his father, who again gave it to a guest.
This was too much for Little Johnny, who said, “It’s no use, Dad. The pieces are all the same size.”
God’s heart is self-giving love. We are invited to live the same way. The Trinity takes us to God’s heart.
So, if I had to pick one image to define the purpose of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, I would pick a dinner table. Nothing defines and describes Jesus’ earthly ministry better than open and inclusive table fellowship.
In Luke 15:2, for example, Jesus is criticized because he eats with the wrong sorts of people. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” the Pharisees and Scribes grumble.
In Luke 19, Jesus chooses to eat dinner at the home of Zacchaeus, a notorious sinner. Here is how Jesus summarizes that action. “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Is this image of the dinner table an accident in Jesus’ ministry? No, it is a peek into God’s heart. The Trinity takes us to God’s heart.
Hanging in our bedroom is a copy of “The Icon of the Holy Trinity.” This icon was created by Andrei Rublev in 1410. This is an image that begins in the Old Testament. Abraham welcomes three strange visitors to his tent in the heat of the day. He serves them a marvelous meal. During the meal, he discovers that these three strangers somehow are God—making a house call. Like many Christian readers of the Old Testament, Rublev sees the three visitors as an image of the Holy Trinity.
I want you to notice just one thing today. The dinner table has three guests—and four sides. The picture invites you to consider taking your place at that table with God.
Please don’t skip over this theme. Just for once, maybe, let’s make this more than a ho-hum assertion. The Maker of all things wants you in God’s life. The Redeemer of the universe wants you in God’s life. The Sustainer of Creation wants you in God’s life. At the heart of God is a sign that says, “Welcome, child—Welcome, sinner—Welcome, friend.” That sign is at the place reserved for you and you alone. And God will do anything to get you to the table.
The Trinity takes us to God’s heart.
I invite you to open your heart today to God’s heart. God pours out everything so that you and I can be filled. Today we come as close to God’s heart as we can get. God invites you to open your heart to that self-giving love. In prayer, praise and worship, you can say to God, “Touch my heart. Fill me today with your love. Change my heart to be what you want. Make me yours, O God!”
And in that heart, the Holy Spirit brings New Life to birth.
Brenda and I enjoy the PBS series entitled, Call the Midwife. The series is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth. She worked as a midwife in London’s impoverished East End, beginning in the late 1950’s. The show has its share of love affairs and tragedies. But the center of the story is always about delivering new babies.
Dozens of times we have heard mothers cry out in anguish, “I can’t do this!” And dozens of times we have watched a midwife wipe the sweat off the mother’s brow, swab her chapped lips and gently assert, “Yes, you can! I will help you!” And minutes later a life is laid on the mother’s breast.
The Holy Spirit brings New Life to birth. That new life is launched in God’s victory at Easter. Easter becomes personal as that new life changes us from the inside out every day. And that new life works through us to bring new life to all.
So think today about the Holy Spirit as midwife. First, the Holy Spirit doesn’t just wind us up for the day and then leave us to our own devices. That’s how many of us think—that we’re on our own. But that’s not how the Spirit operates. In his book, The Awakened Heart, Gerald May offers this comment. “I think it hurts God,” he writes, “when religious people cannot trust God’s presence with them all the time.”[i]
In my first call, I was fortunate to know a gifted lay preacher from another community. Sometimes he led worship while I vacationed. Sometimes he preached so that I could hear a sermon and worship with my family. He was a farmer, and he always prepared sermons in the same way. He kept a pad of sticky notes in his tractor cab. When he got a thought or an idea or an illustration, he wrote it down and stuck on the window of the cab. By the end of the week he had his sermon.
I will never forget one of those sticky note ideas. He was reminding us of God’s closeness all the time and every day. “God is closer to me,” he told the congregation, “than my dirty underwear.” It took us a moment to get past the image itself. Then the Good News came through. The Holy Spirit doesn’t set us spinning and then walk away. The Holy Spirit works in and through us at every moment of every day.
The Holy Spirit brings New Life to birth.
The Holy Spirit breathes with us through the pain. I had the honor of being my first wife’s labor coach during two deliveries. I discovered that what I said made little difference during the most painful moments of the process. In fact, the less I said the better things went at those moments. But two things did matter. I never let go of her hand, even though I thought she might squeeze the bones right out of it. And I breathed with her through the pain.
When life gets really real, our mouths are not up to the task. In our traumas and trials, we cannot find the words. That’s why we all struggle to know what to say to someone who is grieving. Human words cannot speak the unspeakable. Human lips cannot utter the unutterable. So the Holy Spirit breathes us through the pain.
Our calling to is “bear love.” Earlier I mentioned Gerald May’s fine book, The Awakened Heart. May discusses what it means to “bear love.” We endure the cost of loving. We carry love to others and spread it around. And we bring love to birth in the world.
That’s why Trinity is really about doing rather than talking. The primaballerina, Isadora Duncan, was once asked to explain a dance she had performed. “I can’t explain the dance to you,” she replied. “If I could say it, I wouldn’t have to dance it.”
If we could just talk about God’s love in Jesus, then we wouldn’t have to dance it, or do it. But God’s best work is too deep and mysterious to be trapped in mere words. Birth is a process, not a lecture. New life is a miracle, not a model.
The Trinity takes us to God’s heart. And in that heart, the Holy Spirit brings New Life to birth.
[i] Gerald May, The Awakened Heart, page 85.