Over the winter, Grey Wilkes learned to swim.
Having recently moved to a house with a pool, her parents wanted to make sure she could navigate the waters as soon as possible, safety fence notwithstanding. Instead of floundering in the waters, Grey has learned, should she fall in, to float on her back and then to kick her way to the edge. I wonder if our encountering the mystery of the Trinity might be a little bit like Grey learning a new response to being dropped into water; rather than reacting with fear and seeking to control the water around her, to become master of it, she now calmly floats, allowing the water to be what it is, finding her place in it, and then using her newly acquired habit to relate to those waters.
I have a tendency to come to things like the doctrine of the Trinity and to splash about, all throat-clearing and weight-shifting and brow-furrowing. “Well you see, there’re three. And there are, I mean, there is, one. God. Three. God. One.” Generally, my mind and mouth become a tangled mess, and my spirit just leaves the building completely, shaking her head and rolling her eyes as I splish and splash and in not too much time, end up drowning in words and phrases and analogies and nonsense. So I wonder if maybe we’re meant to learn a new response to mystery.
Rather than exhausting ourselves with floundering effort, seeking to bring the complexity of God down to our bite-sized level, maybe the mystery of this three-in-one of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is meant to be enjoyed, is meant for us to float around in, to find as the water in which we swim. Indeed, the hints at the Trinity revealed in the very beginning of our Scriptural canon, read this morning, suggest that this confounding truth is the very foundation of our existence and boundary of our being, while also hovering just beyond the reach of even the most flexible and impressive of human minds.
We find that the doctrine and creed of the Trinity is not just a heady theory posited by theologians in ages past, but the bedrock of our lives, God’s own revelation of who he is and from that, we learn who we are; this doctrine is a window into the truth that undergirds all creation.
It’s a mystery that we can’t ever unravel, but to just toss it over the side is to shut the door on what God wants to tell us about himself. Through the Trinity, God is opening himself up to each of us, sharing his deepest self, hoping, as we ourselves do, to be accepted and loved for who he is. Just as we spend time learning the character and desires of our own beloved spouse, or children, or neighbors, or friends, God longs to be known by us.
So dive in with me this morning. Allow the edges of our pool to be the creeds, the Nicene affirmation we’ll say together in a few minutes, the Apostles’ Creed, part of the Daily Office and other systems of prayer, and even the Athanasian Creed, found in the back of our prayerbooks, complicated and wordy as it is. There are plenty of facets of God that are mysteries, things we’ll never comprehend, but there’re also plenty of characteristics of God that we know comprise him, as well as things we know aren’t who he is. Though we now see as in a mirror, dimly, we can make out important and elemental contours of this God and to learn how to recognize and respond to the call of this particular God in our lives.
If God is One, that’s intellectually manageable; I can see that, understand that — plenty of other religions agree with me there. If God is Three, that’s also something our minds can wrap themselves around, there are religions that would agree with me there, too; but if God is both Three and One, we’re suddenly out of our depth. There’s no way to get to the bottom of that swimming hole. There’s no math that can solve that problem.
God as three and one makes us admit that God is beyond our reckoning. We can’t control this God, we can’t completely map out this God. We drown if we insist on trying to figure it out, we can get waterlogged, bogged down, we can miss the point if we insist on engaging God only with our minds, only in the reason of our beings, trying to protect ourselves with our mighty intellects, rather than using all these pieces that God has put in us as ways to relate to him. Our minds are engaged, of course, we’ve been given great abilities for thought and civilization and intellectual intimacy, but we’ve also been created as bodies, to encounter our Creator with our fingers and flesh, to learn love through the soft snuggling of a child, and selfless love of nursing someone who’s ill.
Not only our minds, but also our bodies, and even our spirits, are meant to wade into this pool of the divine, to be sensitive to this God who surrounds us with all our senses, sight, hearing, taste, and touch, with our heads and with our hearts.
In the beginning of the world, a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. In the beginning of the church, a wind from God swept over the gathered faithful, filling them with the breath of the Holy Spirit, the living air that awakens, strengthens, and moves all holy activity. God, three and one, is the very water in which we swim; out of his Trinity and his unity we are made.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, is the one through whom all things are created. God spoke the Word — capital W — and light came to be. The sound of God’s voice made all of this surrounding us, the sound of God’s voice spoke each of us into existence.
We learn something about who God is and who we are by considering why God created the world at all. Since God is Trinity, three persons, he didn’t create the world or humanity because he was lonely — he had his own company built in; it wasn’t that he needed entertainment or companionship. God in the Trinity created out of love, not out of lack; God created out of something that he already had, the intimacy and love of companionship, of abundance. You see, the creation story here in Genesis is set apart among various creation mythologies from the ancient world. The Greeks and Romans thought that the earth and its inhabitants didn’t come to be in peace or in love or in light, but out of strife, out of war, out of destruction, as a result, or side effect, of a falling out with one god or another.
The creation of the world in most all other accounts is a side effect at best, and a disaster at worst. This difference, how Genesis stands apart, tells us something about the one true living God who we worship: rather than using his energies to make sure that his place is cemented, shoring up his position of power through the use of force and of violence, this God places creation at the center of his world, his making, creating, his artistry is the lifeblood of everything that is. God creates out of love, not out of loneliness, not out of pity, not out of chance. Each of us came to be not by happenstance or by accident, each of us is here this morning not thanks to our alarms or our determination, each of us enjoys friendship in these pews and in our neighborhoods and workplaces and families not because of pity or duty.
God breathes life into our lives, into our very beings, because of his joy in creating and making, his delight in companionship with himself and with each of us. The deepest and truest vision of creation is not in violence or shortage, division or dissension, darkness or despair, but the truth which undergirds all creation, the great work of art that God has made, is love, and care, and abundance. In this truth, may we rest, may we float in God’s enveloping care and love.
As Jesus, God incarnate, ascends, he leaves us with one final revelation, one final charge. He tells his disciples to swim in waters of baptism, to invite all the world to this pool party, and dispelling any fear, he tells us that the water is fine, it is made up of the Father, of the Son, of the Holy Spirit.
At bottom this story is all about God opening up his heart to us, showing through his Word and action who he is, how he cares for you and for me, how he longs to swim more deeply with you in the waters of his being.
The creation story in Genesis and in the Gospel of John, the wide story of salvation which unfolds throughout Scripture, finding its climax in the coming of Jesus to earth, God crawling down into creation, of his outpouring of love even to the point of death, it’s God always seeking to get closer to us, his creation, his joy, his work of art.
He’s different from any other God in any religion, in his Trinity and his unity, in his urge to create as an outpouring of love, in his deep desire for intimacy, knowing and being known by his creation. This is the God who invites you to sit with him at his table, to rest in his loving arms, to guide the pathway of your life, to lead you through valleys and mountaintops, to finally come to his home, having walked each step with you, promising to be with you always.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.