Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
Today, we celebrate a mystery. It is Holy Trinity Sunday, when we celebrate the peculiar nature of God as being at once three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – while yet remaining one in substance. It’s baffling. It’s nothing that any of us can understand, though councils and theologians and thinkers throughout Christian history have tried.
Rather than stand up here and try to explain a mystery that is, at the end of the day, unexplainable, I would instead like to talk about what we, as a community of faith, can learn from a God who is both three and one; a God who, when you think about it, is always in community.
Whatever your opinion of the book The Shack, one thing that it does incredibly well is to illustrate the idea of the Trinity as an intimate community among the three persons of God. In The Shack, the Godhead is depicted as 3 women, living in a house together, sharing every aspect of their lives together, from the extraordinary to the mundane. The author’s vision is a useful one for us, helping us remember that the Trinity is a community of three distinct and yet singular expressions of God, joined together by mutual affection and common purpose. When we celebrate the Trinity, we celebrate a God who does not exist alone, but rather in community.
We need this image of the Trinity as “divine community” to help us better-understand our lives of faith. In my last sermon, I referenced a quote from Sara Miles’ book, Take This Bread, where she came to “the truly disturbing, dreadful realization about Christianity: you can’t be a Christian by yourself.”
The prevailing language of popular Christianity is language of “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior,” where faith is a private matter between you and God, and spirituality is something that you can explore behind closed doors. But this is not the way that God intends faith for us. One of the fundamental truths about the life of faith as revealed by the community of the Trinity is that, for better or for worse, faith is always lived in community.
The very act of the creation of the world was a community event. God, we read, created the heavens and the earth, and the Spirit, we read, hovered over the waters, and Jesus, we read, is the divine Word through whom all things were made, and that without him not one thing was made that has been made. From the beginning, God acted in community to bring forth the world.
And when that world was marred by sin and plagued by brokenness, when humans suffered and creation groaned, God the Father sent God the Son to become human, empowering him with the Spirit that descended upon him like a dove at his baptism. The fullness of God entered the fullness of creation and lived among us, full of grace and truth.
Jesus lived a ministry that led him to the cross, where the community of the Trinity comes into fullest view. That Jesus suffers and dies on the cross tells us that even suffering and death are bound up in the wide embrace of God.
The theologian Jurgen Moltmann writes, "Only if all disaster, forsakenness by God, absolute death, the infinite curse of damnation and sinking into nothingness is in God himself, is community with this God eternal salvation, infinite joy, indestructible election, and divine life" (The Crucified God, 246). Within the community of the Trinity, God himself has experienced all death and all life, all fear and all joy, all forsakenness and all love. Moltmann goes on to proclaim the good news that the world-transforming Spirit of love, "justifies the godless, fills the forsaken with love and even brings the dead alive, since even the fact that they are dead cannot exclude them from the event of the cross; the death in God also includes them"(249).
Moltmann’s powerful words speak to the idea that there is absolutely nothing whatsoever that can separate us from the love of God. As Paul says, “since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
The divine community of the Trinity represents a love that is so expansive that we can find hope, even in suffering, for the Trinity itself has experienced both the depth of suffering and the height of joy. This is why we need a God who does not exist alone, but rather who exists in community. For when we see the Trinity as a “community of God,” we get a vivid picture of a divine community that offers the fullness of life to all who believe, precisely because this divine community has bound up all life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – into the hope of resurrection.
The Trinity is a place where creativity, need, hope, suffering, and salvation are all shared. This, too, should be true of our life together in the community of faith, both within the walls our church and out in the world.
The true community of the Trinity models for us a true community of faith where we pull together to take care of one another. We take the time to care for neighbors and strangers alike, in a faith-driven hospitality that eclipses boundaries and divisions.
The true community of the Trinity models for us a true community of faith where we grieve together with those in our midst who are grieving. We sit and watch and wait with all those who are suffering, letting their burdens become our burdens, and knowing that our own sufferings will be taken up and shared by those who are bound to us in faith.
The true community of the Trinity models for us a true community of faith where we rejoice at creation and share in the work of creative acts. We appreciate the ways that God reveals himself to us in the created world, whether it be nature, or friendship, or art, or the ability of our minds to create thoughts and ideas.
The true community of the Trinity models for us a true community of faith where we come together seeking salvation and receive the assurance of our hope. We as a church gather together on days and at times that look strange to the world, to do something as bizarre and wonderful as worship. The life of faith draws us into a community of believers who gather around the Word of salvation and the Table of grace, finding our hope in the visible and invisible signs of God’s eternal grace given to us in faith for the sake of salvation.
I’ll warn you – the community of faith doesn’t much look like the community of the world. It’s not a community lived out via Facebook, or a community of cul-de-sacs where we live lives inside of our comfortable homes, out of view of the neighbors. It’s not a community built by constructing boundaries around the people we like who share our interests. It’s not a community that depends upon liking the same sports teams or clothing designers or living in the same neighborhood or being of the same socio-economic group.
The community of the Trinity binds up in itself the very contradictory notions of death and life and everything in-between. So also we are challenged to be a community of faith that is willing to take the risk of embracing differences and opposites and difficulties, even as we embrace common hopes and dreams.
On this Trinity Sunday, we are posed with this challenge: to let the mystery of the Trinity be our mystery, to let the wide reaches of God’s love be the wide reaches of our love, and to let the depth and intimacy of the divine community of God be the depth and intimacy of our community of faith. For our community of faith is bound together by the knowledge that we, indeed, are at peace with God through Jesus Christ, living always in hope, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.