We’re in the midst of a sermon series on ‘The Seven Truths that Changed the World: Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas.’ The ideas outlined in the book are like a greatest hits of what Christians believe; the book itself, however, is far from a hit. It, pardon me, sucks. Having said that, up next is the Christian belief- perhaps the most peculiar of all- that God once took flesh and walked the earth. So this weekend we’ll be talking about those big churchy concepts ‘incarnation’ and ‘trinity.’ And so that’s what’s on mind this week.
On one level the language of the Nicene Creed is beautiful and poetic: ‘…light from light, true God from God…’
On the other hand, jargon like essence and person are, in fact, antiquated philosophical concepts. Were the creed being hammered out in 2011 instead of 381 the Church would no doubt use different language. Nonetheless it’s critical (and life-giving) to appreciate exactly what the Creed is attempting to express.
By Trinity the creed wants to convey that God is not the God of the philosophers and civil religions (absolute power etc.). God is sovereign, costly love that liberates and reconciles. God’s love for the world in Christ and now at work in the Spirit is not accidental, temporary, secondary or incidental to God’s identity. There is no darker side to God’s character that is different from what we learn in the story of Jesus Christ. God just is self-giving, self-expending, other-affirming, community-building love. The exchange of love we see on the Cross, the declaration of delight we hear in Jesus’ baptism, the self-emptying we find in the incarnation at Christmas IS who God is and always has been.
In previous posts, I hit hard the point that who we are as creatures are persons who’ve been made to love, desire and worship God. To be human is to love, I argued, not believe or think.
We are these sorts of creatures because this is the sort of God who have in the Trinity.
Here’s a dusty, impressive word to add, one that comes straight from this Sunday’s scripture, Philippians 2: Perichoresis
It’s means ‘mutual self-emptying’ or ‘mutual self-giving.’ When we talk about the immanent Trinity, who God is internally and eternally, we believe God is perichoretic love.
By saying God is three persons, what we mean is that God is in God’s own life a community of self-giving, vulnerable love. God is a community, Father, Son and Spirit, where love is eternally given as a gift and nothing is expected in return. This is why God pouring himself out into Jesus’ flesh and emptying himself of power on the Cross isn’t a seismic shift in God’s identity. God doesn’t change with Jesus. It’s who God has always been.
Remember, we’ve been made in the image of this three-personed God. So who God is has implications for who we are, or, at least, how we should understand ourselves as we were intended to be.
A few therefores:
By Trinity the Church confesses that God’s fundamental identity is personal love shared in relationship.
Therefore, to be human is to love in relationship. In a sense, every call to worship in a church service is a call to return to or discover our humanity. You can’t be human, and you certainly can’t worship this God, without loving relationships in your life.
God’s life is one of deep, profound, joyous communion.
Therefore, we embody God’s life and connect to it not as individuals but as a community. If the God who says ‘Let us make humankind in our image’ is a Trinity, then we comprise God’s image not as individuals but as a human community. It’s all of us together that make up God’s image. This is why the most ancient iconography for the Trinity is not three circles or triangles but the portrayal from Genesis 18 of the three strangers feasting together at a table. The community feast as image of God’s immanent life.
God’s life is unchanging but is dynamic in that its a constant exchange of self-giving love (This is why the Spirit is often described as the exchange of the Father and Son’s love).
The reason so many feel alive and connected to God during experiences of sacrificial, self-giving love (the service, mission-trip high people often refer to) is because this is who God is and who we’ve been fashioned after.
God’s life is one in which difference (Father, Son and Spirit) exists in peace and harmony.
Therefore at the heart of creation, at the root of all things, is not chaos or violence but an original peace. Annie Dillard, the nature essayist, made famous the line that creation ‘is red in tooth and claw.’ Trinity reminds and stretches Christians to look upon a seemingly ambivalent and violent world and see a still deeper harmony and peace.
Because God is within God’s own life a community of difference and peace, peace among God’s creatures is not a hopeless ‘ideal’ but a part of the very fabric of creation.
We are creatures made to love one another because the Creator himself is a community of mutual, self-giving love; a community where difference and peace exist in infinite joy.