These days we hear a lot about truth and what truth is. Sure, facts help when it comes to truth but facts, like everything else, are subject to interpretation. Understanding things and seeking the truth all depend on our perspective. We all have certain biases towards this and that, and we cannot escape them. We try, but the color through which we see things is often challenging to break free from.
Now, I am not saying one cannot change their perspective; that is what growth is all about. What I am saying is it is not easy. But I also like to remind folx that yesterday’s truth may not be today’s truth, so our image and definition of truth can and should change over time. I am sorry to say, but the truth is not concrete, nor should it be. But for now, let’s stick a pin in this discussion of truth.
Today is Trinity Sunday, the day that preachers all through Christendom fret because it is the day, we come closest to heresy if we get it wrong. For centuries preachers and teachers have been trying to explain something that is, in my mind anyway, beyond human understanding. How can three be one yet distinct from each other? What is this about energies and proceeding from? I will sail close to the wind on this one and try to avoid the fires of eternal damnation.
What we call the ” doctrine of the Trinity” was formalized with the adoption of the Creed at the Council of Nicaea in 325. This is not to say that teachings did not exist before this, but this is the point in history when the Christian Church proclaimed this is what we believe. This “doctrine” is what makes us trinitarian Christians. We baptize in the name of the Trinity and consecrate in the name of the Trinity.
To boil it down, there is only one God: in three parts. I can try to explain it like this. I am one person, but I am also a husband, father, and minister. I am one person with one essence, yet I have three distinct roles to play in the world. Okay, before we get too far along, I am not equating myself with the Trinity. Put the torches away. St. Patrick described the Trinity using the shamrock with its three leaves emanating from a single stem.
Last week, the focus was on the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, as we saw in the readings, is the one who brings the strength, the one who emboldened Peter to stand and preach the Gospel for the first time. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings understanding, as we saw when each person present heard the words of Peter in their language, or rather they were able to understand what Peter was saying. And the Holy Spirit is the guide who leads us on the path.
Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Is this an early Trinitarian formula? Perhaps, but the middle part of what Jesus is saying needs to be the focus.
Jesus begins by saying he is the way. We have talked about this before. Jesus did not come to start a new Church; in fact, Jesus was not a Christian nor, might I add, were his early followers. Jesus came to reform the practices that already existed. Much of the structure of the worship of the Church even today comes from early Temple and Synagogue worship.
Jesus came to show us a different way, a different path, and that way is the way of love. When we separate it all when we get rid of the buildings and mission and ministry, what are we left with? We are left with love. All that Jesus commanded we do, he did from a place of love. Not conformity, but love. Jesus did not leave us with a book of rules; in fact, he reformed the rules and summarized them; love God, love everyone. He took ten and simplified them to 2; that is the way.
Jesus also says that he is life, for our spiritual life is founded and grounded in his teachings and example. We find our greatest spirituality in following the way that Jesus left us. How can we hope to advance in our spiritual life if we are not helping those around us? It is through the life of Jesus that we live, and it is through our lives that others might live.
And now we come to truth.
Truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Something could happen right here amid all of us, and we would all have a different version of that event. Does that make some of us liars? No, we all see things differently. In Jesus’ day, people witnessed all that the Gospels say that he did, yet they did not believe. We have stories of Jesus walking on water, healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, feeding the 5,000, and rising from the dead, yet people refused to believe. In one place, Scripture says, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” We believe what we choose to believe.
So, what is truth? Jesus asked this very question of Pilate but did not provide an answer. The question is not “what” is truth but “who” is truth, and the answer is Jesus. Jesus says,” I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus does not say this book is the truth, or this Church is the truth; I am the truth. The Word of God is not written in some book, the Word of God is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us; that word is Jesus, and by looking at what Jesus did and what Jesus said will reveal the truth.
But truth is different for everyone; how do we determine the truth?
Start with a simple question, does my belief further God’s kingdom of love here on earth, or does it hinder it? Does this law or politician I support further God’s kingdom here on earth or hinder it? Does my church and what we stand for further God’s kingdom here on earth or hinder it? Unfortunately, some Christians spend way too much time worrying about what comes next rather than taking care of the here and now.
In the Lord’s prayer, we pray that God’s will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. The kingdom of God is not some far-off place. It is the here and now, and our job as followers of the way is to see that it happens.
We need to be working towards bigger tables with more seats rather than smaller tables with walls built around them. God needs warriors not to defend God’s word but to work and fight for those with no voice and those who cannot fight. God does not need defense; God’s people do!
One last point about the Trinity. The Trinity is about union; the Trinity is about communion. The Trinity is about inclusion and not exclusion. Religion comes off the rails when we start talking about things like a “personal relationship with Christ,” and we need to have Christ as “our personal savior.” Christianity is NOT personal; it’s communal, and the Trinity is a prime example.
The Church is at its best when the Church works together, and the Church is at its worst when the Church is in opposition to itself.
At the start, I mentioned that the doctrine of the Trinity was formulated with the acceptance of the Creed that came from the Council of Nicaea. That Creed also contains the phrase “we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Now I know some have a hang-up with the word catholic, but we will let that go for now. The Church needs to be and should be one. Do we need to be one in doctrine or practice? No.
There is a saying often attributed to Augustine of Hippo, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity,” What is essential to the faith? Well, for me, it is love; everything else takes a back seat. Can I love my Baptist friend who does not share the same belief in the Eucharist that I do? Yes. Can I love my Congregational friend with a different view of church governance? Yes. Can I love my Jewish friend that does not believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Yes.
Our oneness, our Holiness, and our Catholicity come not in some form of worship of doctrine but in our love and desire to be one with each other in the essentials. Therefore, let us work to find common ground and work together for God’s kingdom here on earth in faith and in love.