“Is the Trinity that Important?”
Matthew 28:16-20 “Is the Trinity that Important?”
Before reading: Today is Trinity Sunday! Wa-hoo! The Scripture reading is from
the very end of Matthew’s Gospel. The women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, went to see the tomb to pay their respects to the Teacher, whom they dearly loved. They were greeted by an earthquake and an angel of the Lord, who gave them a message for the disciples. As they left the tomb with a mixture of fear and great joy they ran into Jesus. They “took hold of his feet, and worshipped him.” Jesus sent them to the disciples to tell them to meet him in Galilee. We go to Galilee today with the disciples to see what happened.
Please read from your Bible Matthew 28:16-20 or go to the website Scripture to
read the Gospel of our Lord and return for the sermon.
1. Jesus passed on to the disciples and us a commission:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in
the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to observe everything that I have
commanded you.” (28:19)
Throughout Scripture God has revealed God’s self as more than one. In
the benediction of Second Corinthians, Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (13:13) In Ephesians, “So (Jesus) came and proclaimed peace to you who are far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (2:17-18) 1 John 5:5-6 talks about the Trinity: “Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.” Also, passages from the Old Testament speak of the Spirit of God and about the wisdom of God who existed at creation (Proverbs 8:22ff) or the Messiah or the Son of David who is to come.
Scripture reveals a “Threeness” to the one God. There is no uniform,
formal understanding of God as Trinity, three persons, in the Scriptures. We have only shadows of this inner life of God, this community of persons. It is unique and mysterious, the boundaries of understanding grey and fluid; yet, our understanding of who God is affects who we are as the church. Does the doctrine of the Trinity influence who we are as the church, the people of God who follow Jesus Christ? If so, how does the Trinity shape our community of God called the church?
2. The Trinity is a doctrine of theology that the church has wrestled with
from her conception. How is Jesus related to God? What is the nature of that relationship? Then, how are God the Father, Jesus the Son of God, and the Spirit related?” The early church asked these questions over the first several centuries.
Scholar Donald McKim writes that some early church theologians made
Jesus and the Holy Spirit subordinate to God the Father. The early church decided that thinking was not orthodox and named it a heresy. The third century theologian Tertullian, an early church Father, gave us the term “trinity” and that there is a unity and a trinity in God. From this we get the understanding we have today that the “Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – share one substance while being three persons.” (Introducing the Reformed Faith, p. 25) Another early theologian Arius suggested that Jesus was the Logos created by God, and therefore, “There was a time when he was not.” The Son would thus be a creature and not divine. This led to one of the first church councils to settle the issue raised by Arius in June of 323 AD. The council ended by saying that the Father and Son are coeternal. Another council of the church was called in 381 AD where the Nicene Creed was developed with an expanded statement about the Holy Spirit. (Ibid, 26-27) This understanding of the Trinity helps us understand God even better. But, is the Trinity really that important for us today?
3. The late Dr. Shirley Guthrie, my professor of theology at Columbia
Theological Seminary, addresses this question in his book Always Being Reformed by introducing the concept of “perichoresis: The Social Trinity.” Guthrie writes: “The concept of perichoresis goes back to the eighth-century Greek theologian John of Damascus. Peri (as in perimeter) means “around.” Choresis means “dancing” (as in the ‘choreography’ of a ballet). Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are like three dancers, holding hands, dancing around together in joyful freedom.” Guthrie then explains what that means for us:
“From this perspective of Western monotheism this image of God seems
to suggest not one but three personal gods. But perichoresis invites us to think in a new way about meaning of ‘one’ and ‘personal.’ The oneness of God is not the onenesss of a self-contained individual; it is the unity of a community of Persons. And ‘personal’ means by definition interpersonal: one cannot be truly personal alone, but only in relation to other persons. Such is the unity and personal character of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are not three independent persons who get together to form a club (or a dance group). They are what they are only in relationship with one another. Each exists only in this relationship and would not exist apart from it. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live only in and with and through one another, eternally united in mutual love and shared purpose….
“Now it is no longer possible to consider thinking of God the Father first
of all as a solitary number-one, ‘top’ God, with a begotten Son and proceeding Spirit who are somehow inferior to ‘him.’ Now there is no above and below, no first, second, and third in importance; no ruling and controlling and being ruled and controlled; no position of privilege to be maintained over against the other two; no possible rivalry between competing individuals. Now there is only fellowship and community of equals who share all that they are and have, each living with and for the others in self-giving love, each free not from but for the other.”
Now, here comes the payoff for us, Dr. Guthrie writes:
“It follows that if in God’s own deepest inner being God is God-in-
community, then that is also what God is in relation to us. The freedom and power of such a God is not freedom and power to do anything God pleases, to dominate and control. It is God’s
freedom to be with and for us, setting us on our feet and
empowering us to be God’s faithful covenant partners
(‘junior partners,’ to be sure) in God’s work in
and for the world.” (pp. 40-41)
4. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” means that we
participate in God at the depth of God’s being and are calling people to be a part of that community. In our baptisms, we became a member of that community of the Trinity, “junior partners” in the Trinity of God. We are inviting people to become part of the community of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit along with us. Now that’s a community that has some clout, rubbing elbows with
God God’s self.
Of the number of different understandings of God in community I like
the fifth century theologian St. Augustine’s understanding of the Trinity. All three persons of the Godhead are fully and equally God. “While these three are identical in their substance, (their unity), they are distinguished by their relationships (their diversity).” Augustine’s analogy for the Trinity that I like is his analogy of the experience of love. “The experience of love
demonstrates a lover, an object loved, and a bond between them – the love that unites them. This, said Augustine, was analogous to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Spirit is
the bond of love that unites Father and Son in the divine
Trinity. Thus, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).
(27, McKim, Ibid)
Conclusion: God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
How we understand who God is as the Trinity is vitally important to
who we are as the church. As God is a community, we are a community, too. We are who we are only in relationship with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and with one another. We are commissioned to invite others, all others, to become a member,
a “junior partner,” for sure, of the community of God, Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit, and you and me.
As Dr. Guthrie wrote, “Now there is only fellowship and community of
equals who share all that they are and have, each living with and
for the others in self-giving love, each free not from but for
This community of God and humanity is bound and known by love.
That’s what the Trinity means: a community of God in love.
Humanity is bound inextricably together in this mass human community
on this beautiful, limited earth. Unity and not division is necessary
to battle the global pandemic and systemic racism.
Future humanity depends on us today to build a community based on
love of one another, that means to love of our neighbor.
That community of love starts with not buying all the toilet paper to
hoard for yourselves and yours. The community of love is
complete when humanity kneels before God the Trinity
bound together by love.
The community of love is fulfilled with loving and respecting all human
beings no matter their skin color, religion, ethnicity, gender, or
For humanity today, there is nothing more important than each of us
being a member of a community of love. Humanity learns that depth of love by looking at God in the community of the Trinity, of which we are a part, “junior partners” in the dance of life. Come know love.
Come, join the dance.