Trinity Sunday, Year C
June 10, 2001
Old St. Paul’s, Baltimore
The Rev. Timothy E. Schenck
One plus one plus one equals…one. I wouldn’t necessarily use this reasoning in math class or on the SAT’s or when balancing the checkbook. But one plus one plus one does indeed equal one; at least when you’re doing Trinitarian math. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit equal the full expression of the one, living, and true God. And while we celebrate and praise the triune God each and every Sunday, this particular day, Trinity Sunday, challenges us to examine how the ultimate expression of “oneness” touches our lives, our hearts, and our souls.
From a purely rational perspective, of course, one plus one plus one doesn’t equal one. Any first grader can tell you that one plus one plus one equals three. Everybody knows that. Even someone as mathematically challenged as I am can count to three. And three is an important number in the church. The fullest expression of God is found in the three persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I sometimes joke with people that the real reason I went into the priesthood was because all the math I ever need to know, can be found on the first three fingers of my right hand. If you can count to three, you’re well on your way to a basic understanding of Christian theology.
But the significance of the Trinity is so much more than just a mysterious mathematical equation. It’s the very source of our life. It’s the starting point, the ending point, the Alpha and the Omega, of who we are and how we live in relationship to God. The Trinity is the full revelation of the God “who was and is and is to come.” For it is God who creates us, Christ who redeems us, the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us. And these actions take place not in isolation but in a unity that surpasses human understanding. For while the blessed Trinity is God’s fullest revelation to humanity, it is also divine mystery. We experience God through the three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but we can also never fully understand and comprehend the fullness of God’s glory. One plus one plus one equals one but we don’t really know how or why.
And it’s not for lack of trying! Theologians have written volumes on the subject of the Trinity, professors have taught entire courses on the subject of the Trinity, and church- wide councils have been convened on the subject of the Trinity. And I get about 8 minutes from this pulpit on a Sunday morning in June. Now I’m not complaining. But I can’t tell you exactly how one plus one plus one equals one or exactly why one plus one plus one equals one. The concept of the Trinity cannot be fully explained but it can most definitely be experienced. When we worship in this sacred space together and revel in the awe of God the Father’s creation, when we are touched by the redeeming love of God in Christ, when we allow our lives to be guided by the power of the Holy Spirit, we experience first-hand the power and presence of the Holy Trinity. When we reach out to others in love, when others reach out to us in love, we experience first-hand the power and presence of the Holy Trinity. The “oneness” touches all of us.
I should point out that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity that has been handed down to us was not arrived at easily or without controversy. Much blood was shed before and after the Council of Nicaea in the year 325 AD, from which we derive the Nicene Creed recited each week in our liturgy. At the heart of the matter was Christ’s relationship to God. Was Christ truly divine, “of the same substance” of God, equal in every way, or somehow lesser than God? If there was only one God, how could Christ and the Holy Spirit also be considered part of that one God? Wouldn’t that make three Gods, not just one? Again, it’s the question of how one plus one plus one equals one. Given the degree of religious apathy in today’s society it’s hard to imagine your average person fighting in the streets over this issue but that’s exactly what happened. Everyone had an opinion on the Trinity from emperor to peasant. And it was literally seen as an issue with life or death consequences. The tradition that we’ve inherited was forged out of this battle and the resolution achieved at Nicaea. The council affirmed the equality and divinity of the three persons of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And we affirm this aspect of our faith each Sunday when we say the Creed. “I believe in one God…and in one Lord, Jesus Christ…and I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son.”
Over the years, some have questioned whether the Creed plays a useful or helpful role in our worship. Do people really know what they’re saying? Does the doctrine of the Trinity matter to us in this day and age? When we speak the words of the Creed out of a deep sense of conviction and faith we see the Nicene Creed for what it truly is: a uniquely bold statement of our faith. Without the doctrine of the Trinity expressed with such power in the Creed, the Christian message just doesn’t hold together. Without a belief in the co-eternity and the co-equality of the three persons of the Trinity, our faith lacks its very foundation. Through grace we are forgiven, healed, renewed, and loved because of the power and presence of the one, living, and true God. We may not be able to explain it, we may not know exactly how one plus one plus one equals one, but we can experience the power of the Trinity each and every day. Because to seek God, to know God, to love God is to seek, know and love the blessed and mysterious Trinity. And this isn’t the realm of “fuzzy math,” but of divine truth and love.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2001