Trinity B: Three-in-One Plus One!

Three-in-One Plus One


Dear Partner in Preaching,

Imagine with me for a moment, the delight you would experience in discovering that you had a long lost uncle or aunt who had made you the heir to their estate. Can you see it? You’d wake up one morning and discover that they had left you riches beyond count, that your major financial worries were over, and that you really didn’t have to worry all that much about the future.

If that scenario happened, how would you feel? What would you do? Or, more to the point, what would you do differently? And here I don’t mean what would you run out and buy – though I suspect that most of us would treat ourselves to something 🙂 – but I mean something more along the lines of, what would be different about your day-to-day attitudes, practices, habits, and outlook? How would knowing that your future is absolutely secure change your present?

I ask because it’s just this scenario that the Apostle Paul is describing in these few verses of his Letter to the Church in Rome. Note the language he uses:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:15-17a).

According to Paul, we are not only God’s children, but also heirs, and not just heirs, but co-heirs with Christ. Now, stop here for just a moment and think about what Paul is really saying. That God considers us co-heirs – that is, equal inheritors of all God has to give – with Christ, God’s only begotten Son.

Not only that, but Paul goes on to describe the difference it makes. Rather than being afraid – of the future, of what people may think of us, of our status, of our standing with God – Paul invites us instead to imagine a life of courage, the courage of those who have been adopted by God and invited into the full measure of God’s blessings and riches.

Jesus says much the same to Nicodemus, inviting him to image that we have the opportunity through our life in the Spirit to be born anew, born from above as God’s children, those so precious God was willing to give his only Son as testament to how much God loves all of us.

All of which brings me to the Trinity. (Betcha didn’t see that one coming. 🙂 ) Look, here’s the thing: I don’t for a moment pretend to understand the Trinity, and quite frankly I don’t frankly trust those who say they do. (Goodness, but even Augustine said it was beyond him.) But I do know this: at the heart of our understanding of God as somehow three-in-one is the notion that you can’t fully or finally understand God without talking about relationship. That God is so full of love that there has to be some way of talking about that loved shared in and through profound relationships. Some say that’s why God created the cosmos and humanity in the first place, to have more people to love. But the Trinity goes even further, saying that from the very beginning of time the dynamic power of love that is at the heart of God’s identity and character can only be captured – and that dimly! – by thinking of the love that is shared. (Perhaps it’s simply impossible to think about love that isn’t shared.) And so God’s essential and core being has always been a giving and receiving and sharing of love that finally spills out into the whole of the universe and invites all of us into it. First through creation and God’s series of covenants, then and pre-eminently in the sending of God’s Son to demonstrate in word and deed just how much God loves us, and now as the Spirit bears witness to God’s ongoing love for us and all creation.

Which means, I think, that when we talk about the Trinity as God being three-in-one, we really haven’t captured the heart of the doctrine and reality unless we recognize that God is three-in-one in order always to add one more – and that’s us, all of us, an infinite “plus one” through which God’s love is made complete in relationship with all of God’s children. And that’s what these passages testify to – the profound love of God that draws us into relationship with God, with each other, and with the whole of creation and the cosmos.

So I’ll ask again: what does it mean for us to live knowing we are God’s beloved children, adopted and chosen and named co-heirs with Christ? And when I ask this, I’m not actually doing the heaven-and-hell-thing, as if you can sum up our life as Christians as a get-out-of-hell card. Rather, I mean what difference does it make NOW? What difference does it make to know that you are unconditionally loved? That you have immeasurable value in God’s eyes? That no matter what to do – or is done to you – and no matter where you go, yet God always loves you and cares about you?

I sometimes wonder if part of the reason so many of our people have a hard time connecting faith to everyday life is simply because we don’t take God’s promises seriously enough. And so perhaps this week, Dear Partner, after opening up this incredibly expansive and jaw-dropping promise that we are all born anew through the Spirit and declared co-heirs with Christ, we might ask people to think about what decisions they might make this week knowing they have God’s unconditional love and confidence? How might their relationships look different in light of God’s promises? How might the challenges at school or work be put in perspective when they remember that they are co-heirs with Christ? And what kind of risks might they take in their relationships or careers knowing that the creator and sustain of the universe has their back?

You probably remember the parable about the eagle who was raised with chickens, and so stood in its barnyard scratching for corn as it watched these glorious birds (eagles!) fly the skies. According to Paul, we’re all eagles, and perhaps our task this week is simply to remind people of that and send them out to fly. After all, it’s the three-in-one God who has invited each and all of us to be God’s “plus one” at a heavenly feast that begins this very week.

Blessings on your proclamation, Dear Partner, as your words help set people free in the Spirit to live lives of courage and creativity. Thank you; even more, thank God for you.

Yours in Christ,