One of my favorite novels is Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. I remember when I first picked it up. It was hard reading. I think it took 50 or more pages to get into the story, but boy was it worth it! It is a powerful story about the human condition. The main character Raskolnikov is young guy in a simple yet complicated life. His life is hard and seems near the edge. In the course of getting to know him, we learn that he feels like his is predestined to murder and rob an elderly woman named Alyona Ivanovna. He devises and carries out his murderous plan and then is racked with guilt and feelings of horror.
Why bring up Raskolnikov? He was a conflicted character, and in the novel, we (the reader) get to see his inner struggle. We see his movement within his own-self. You have all probably heard the idiom, I am of two minds, meaning being undecided, but Raskolnickov was not just undecided; he was conflicted, nervous, fearless, desperate, and in-control–all at the same time. There are times when we all have multiple feelings simultaneously. We are both brave and cowardly, at the same time. We have inner movement. I will use myself as an example. To my wife, I am one way; to my children, I am another. To you, I am another, and to you, I am yet another. Am I the same person? Sure I am. Am I two-faced? No. Each way represents a different part of who I am. The differences are relational. The reason I can be one way to my wife is the long relationship we have developed over many years.
Raskolnikov represents a literary example of this multifaceted way of being. He feels different things and there is inner-movement within his character. He ends up getting caught for his crime (hence the title Crime and Punishment). As we consider the Holy Trinity on this Memorial Day wknd, we can think in terms of God’s divine movement within God-self. The Trinity helps us understand God, and, in turn, ourselves and ourselves as Christians.
We know Jesus. We study his life and works, the things he said (or the things the Gospels attribute to him). We study his death–an innocent man made to suffer on our behalf. We revel in the glory of Easter and the empty tomb. We know God–the Creator, the one from whom all blessings come, the great Lord of life and everything that is. This is the God to whom we pray, ask questions and seek help. We know the Holy Spirit (sort of). In fairness, we probably do not know the Spirit as well as God the Redeemer (Christ) or God the Creator. The Holy Spirit is guiding light in our lives, God who is still with us and moving.
How do these three different aspects of God come together to form the Holy Trinity? There are many complicated explanations about the Trinity. For example, Sabellius, a man who taught in Rome during the third century, taught the heresy of modalism. There is also the heresy of Tri-theism (there are three gods). One of the harder Trinitarian heresies is docetism (the belief that Christ only appeared human, but was really God all along; this is a problem because how do you crucify someone who only appears, but doesn’t really exist?). There are more heresies, but the concept of the Holy Trinity is much easier to understand than we make it: the Trinity is God’s divine movement within God-self.
In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus’ words, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Why can they not bear it? There is a Trinitarian conflict going on, both on the page of scripture and in the mind of Christ. As one who is fully divine, Jesus continues experiencing God the Creator and is aware of God the Spirit or Sustainer. These are not modes, shape or parts in a play. This is God’s divine movement and it is taking place in real-time with God-self.
Jesus refers to the Spirit of truth. We (or his first listeners, or the audience of the gospel) will be guided by this Spirit. For us, who gather here today, this is the Holy Spirit. It is part of God existing as three persons, while remaining only one God. The Trinity, like so much in our faith, is about relationships. We relate to the Jesus we know in the Bible, but we do not experience Jesus firsthand. Instead, we experience him as God the creator of this world and the continuing leadership/engagement of the Holy Spirit.
In the often cryptic language of John, we get this word play: “The Spirit of truth will guide you into all truth; for it will not speak on its own, but will speak what it hears and declare things to come.” This is the revelation of God to us, and it continues. The Holy Trinity might seem like a complicated subject (& the opportunity for a boring sermon this time every year), but it helps us understand who God is.
Literature and a character like Raskolnikov are not the only metaphors to use in understanding the trinity. We celebrate Memorial Day this weekend. Many people get tomorrow off from work/school. But, the day is a day of remembrance for those who died in service to our country. This can be a problem for us to fully appreciate. The last time a foreign army invaded our country (on our soil, not counting terrorism) was 1812. Since then, we have fought all our wars on foreign soil. For many people, Memorial Day becomes little more than a chance to barbeque with friends, but it is about remembering.
As we remember those who have died for our protection, we remember wars and how times of conflict bring out the multifaceted aspect of who we are, as people. We are complicated beings. The soldier does not make the person. For every soldier or sailor who dies, there are hopes, dreams, futures lost, and loved ones left behind. We remember them this weekend, and we bear in mind the person they are, not just the battlefield on which they fell. We give thanks for their sacrifice and pray for this complicated world.
As we seek to grow in our faith (& studying the Trinity is part of growing), we realize that Jesus was not the end or the beginning of God. 4.5 billion years ago, when the molecules started coming together to make this planet, God was there and participating in the act of creation. God was present incarnate (in human form) when Jesus walked on this planet. The Trinity is a way of understanding something that is incomprehensible.
Tomorrow, when we wake and think about a bright new day, God will be there, leading, nudging, and participating in our life, as we experience the Holy Spirit.
Below, you will see a video of this sermon from Trinity Sunday, May 26, 2013.