It's not about the math

Trinity Sunday

In the name of God in all forms, for all creation.  Amen.

This is the one Sunday of the year where people sometimes tend to expect me to abandon the way I preach the rest of the year, and for once, to do something entirely different – outside my norm.  Through most of the year folks are generally happy hearing about my stories about my life or the movies or TV shows that I watch, or the significant relationships that shape me – and hearing about how, for me, those examples of real-world, lived experiences of today connect us to the stories of God, Christ, and Spirit that were written ages ago.  Most of the year that’s fine.

But on Trinity Sunday, people seem to think I’m going to suddenly show up and be a different person – a different preacher.  I hope he’ll forgive me for calling him out, but maybe last Sunday, or the Sunday before the subject of today came up and John Simonelli made some comment about how I must “really be looking forward to that day!”  Because preachers always seem to complain about having to preach on the Trinity.

The thing is, it’s never really bothered me.

When I say it feels like people suddenly expect me to be a different preacher, it’s because it seems like people who are thinking ahead to Trinity Sunday are imagining that the sermon will be more like an academic lecture than it normally is.  I’ve certainly known preachers through the years whose sermons could be confused for academic lectures – and God bless them, there’s a place for them in this church, but it’s just not a place where I would feel comfortable or excel.

But the reason a lot of people expect an academic lecture on Trinity Sunday is because it is a Sunday in celebration of a doctrine – a teaching.  And, moreover, the way this doctrine has typically been “explained” is through the lens of an impossible to solve mathematic equation.  The Holy Trinity: the God who created, the Christ who embodied, and the Spirit who imagines and empowers – this Trinity of holiness is explained like a logical fallacy that is meant to be solved.

In a world where 1 cannot equal 3 and 3 cannot equal 1, explain how 1 equals 3 and 3 equals 1.  Show your work.

It’s like those stories that float around on the internet about ridiculous and irrelevant interview questions that hiring managers at Google and places like that are rumored to ask.  Questions like “how many hair cuts do you think happen in America every year?” or “how much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?”  The theory is that seeing how a person performs in an interview to an essentially unanswerable question like that gives the hiring manager a chance to see how they think, and to use that as a predictor of how they’ll perform on the job.  It makes sense.  The thing is – over the course of tens of thousands of interviews and hiring decisions made, the evidence suggests that there is actually no correlation between how an interviewee performs in a crazy question and how they will perform in their actual work.

And I think the same is true for us.  I could preach the smartest sermon in the church today.  I could reference great scholars and ancient texts and talk about early church fathers and creeds and all that.  And no matter how “smart” that sermon might have been, it doesn’t mean that anyone is going to walk out of here any better able to solve the unsolvable math equation.

And here’s something else: if, somehow, I were able to find the perfect sermon that would actually make you all suddenly able to solve the unsolvable equation, I still doubt if that would correlate at all to you walking out of this room better prepared to seek and serve Christ.  It just doesn’t add up.

But you know what?  Nicodemus fell into the same trap.  He came to Jesus at night to try to save face in his community – a community where he was a leader, because the teachings he was hearing had been stirring something within him.  But he came to Jesus for more answers, because while the stirring was real, it was unsettling.  Something didn’t add up.

He was looking at this new teaching through his own eyes.  Through his own experience.  The wisdom of Christ called to him, but he couldn’t quite grasp it with only the tools he held.  It sounded to him like he was being told that 1 equals 3 and 3 equals 1.  In his universe of understanding it didn’t work that way.

But part of the teaching that we inherit in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a recognition that in God, there is a new way of seeing relationship – a way that transcends the furthest we tend to go on our own.  In God, the individual reaches its fullest potential in community and in collaboration with others.  No one aspect of that fullest potential supersedes any other.  They all need each other.

The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity shows us in yet another layer the importance of working together – the supremacy of union.  Though so much of our culture celebrates the individual – “me” – the message of this faith is more oriented to “we” than it ever is to “me”.  It’s counterintuitive.  Through the logic that this world teaches us, it doesn’t add up.  It’s like saying things that can’t be the same are the same.

And that’s really what community is.  It’s saying that things that can’t be the same – different people with different experiences, and gifts, and baggage, and perspectives – these inherently different beings still share a sameness, nonetheless.  Community says, despite the different things we bring to the table and the different things we need from the table – we commit to honoring the new wisdom that emerges from our shared perspective and our shared efforts.

That is a central element of the Christian message.  That by God, through Christ, and with the Holy Spirit we are better together than we were before.

I absolutely agree that you can meet God on a hiking trail, or on a golf course, or at the symphony.  I know it because I’ve met God in places like that, too.  I often do.  But you can only be a Christian with other people.  You can only be a Christian by joining together with others in this same search.  We do it here in this room, and in the ways that this community reaches outside this room through media and technology.  So “together” means something new now.  But it is together.

So, no.  I’m not going to try to help you prove the impossible equation today.  Math was never my strong suit, anyway.  I just know that the more we add together, the closer we come to whole.  And I believe that’s where Jesus is calling us – to wholeness.  Together, we find our way.  Amen.