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Romans 8:12-17

Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2021

St. Martin North Vancouver


“Describing God”

I speak to you in the name of the one true and living God, whom we name Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

How can we describe God?  Words often fail us although many have tried.  Prophets and teachers and apostles have all helped us to form images of the mystery we call the Trinity.  God is one.  And God is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Many preachers have felt the pressure on this Sunday, of all Sundays, to come up with the analogy par excellence of the working of this theological construct.  God is like a shamrock. God is like an egg.  God is like water in its three states.  We all fall short of course.  God is not like anything else in creation, so how can we compare what we do not know?  The only way, it seems to me, to describe God is to get to know God yourself.  

Today we have three stories of people of faith getting to know God better.  A prophet- Isaiah; a teacher-Nicodemus; and an apostle- Paul.  What can they say to us about our own faith journeys?

The prophets had the task of bringing God’s messages to the people.  To do that, they waited and listened for visions.  Sometimes they saw images or perceived stories.  Sometimes they felt themselves in the presence of the Holy One.

Isaiah was a prophet who shares the story of his call to ministry.  He is in the Jerusalem temple when he encounters the glory of the Lord so powerfully that the building cannot contain it.  Looking up at the holiest of holy places, he sees God seated on a throne and the hem of his robe, the bottom part of his heavenly garment, fills the temple.  Isaiah doesn‘t tell us much about God’s appearance: whether he was old, or had a beard, or looked like the illustrations in children’s bible books.  What he does remember vividly is how he felt.  The awe and the terror of being an unworthy mortal glimpsing this divine glory.  And then, the forgiveness and power that flows into him when God reaches out to pronounce him holy.  In this moment, Isaiah comes into closer relationship with God, and so is made ready to do God’s will.  

The teachers recounted what God had done and what God expected of his people.  They searched the holy scriptures and the histories to understand the commandments.  With prayer and meditation, they struggled to find ways to help others follow God’s righteousness.

Nicodemus was a teacher who needed to know how God was revealed through what Jesus was saying and doing.  He visits Jesus privately, hoping to learn how to describe God better from another teacher.  At the time, Nicodemus doesn’t realize that he is seeing the presence of God in the face of this other young rabbi.  The conversation turns to how to recognize the power of the Spirit.  Jesus speaks of a new birth that brings a person into right relationship.  The way to the life of the Spirit is to recognize and believe in God’s Son.  In finding love through Jesus, Nicodemus finds God.

The early Church proclaimed Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God.  Pointing to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostles showed what God is like.  Even those who had not seen the earthly Jesus were led to believe that the face of God shines in him through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul was an apostle that had never met Jesus.  He knew the Jewish God through his study of the scriptures and was at first very opposed to these Christians who were proclaiming that their risen Christ was the image and embodiment of God.  After all, the commandments told Jews not to make any image or idol.  God was too big to fit in a temple or a human body.  But when Paul had a vision of Christ on the road to Damascus, he had to revisit everything he thought he knew about God.  The law that was given from Moses to the people of Israel was meant to help people stay in right relationship with God.  But even those like him that had devoted their lives to prayer and observance found it a real struggle.  Like Isaiah in the temple and Nicodemus in the night, Paul felt unworthy before God’s holiness.  Flesh alone couldn’t overcome the barrier between human and divine.  God’s help was needed so that people could enter into a life in the Spirit.  And with Jesus’ intervention, Paul met God again, as if for the first time.

It is good to tell the stories of others who have encountered the divine.  Their descriptions of their experiences encourage us in our spiritual journeys.  And it is helpful to express and teach what we believe God is like.  That is why we have the creeds of the Church.  We say them together as a public affirmation of faith. They attempt to put into words the relationship God has with humankind and creation.  But again, even the most carefully chosen phrases will fall short.  Each of us understands the words within the context of our own lives.  That is why the witness of our faith community is important too.  We live into what we believe when we meet and pray and serve each other.  All these things may help us to describe God as we reach out to others in the world.  

Ultimately, though, we cannot just know about God, or rely on another person’s description.  We are invited to know God. The mystery and the beauty of the Trinity is something each of us encounters in relationship.  Our God is a web of love that we name Spirit, Son, and Father.  Each person reflects on the whole.  Living in the Spirit, living in the way of Jesus, living in the love of the Creator: these add up to our Christian faith.  When our words falter in describing God, what can we do but turn back to know God more deeply?  Amen.