“Christian Mantra”

In the Name of the Holy Trinity: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

The Inquirers’ classes at Incarnation vary a great deal. They depend on the interests of the people who are attending that year and on their knowledge of the Christian faith.

But I can count on every class to wonder about the doctrine of the Trinity. Participants will say, “I believe in God, but I don’t know about ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” They will be curious why the Christian faith needs this complicated understanding of the divine.

And I would agree that the Trinity is among the most difficult ideas proposed by the Christian religion. On the face of it, the doctrine seems to require mental gymnastics. As the hymn says, “Three in one, and one in three.” In mathematics, that doesn’t calculate!

But we don’t believe in the Trinity simply because it is part of church tradition. We believe in it because it makes sense of what we know of the world, and what we know of human beings, and what we know of God.

Today, I would like to offer two arguments in favor of the doctrine: one that defends the Trinity from the broad intellectual perspective of our knowledge of reality and a second argument that shows the effect of this doctrine on our souls. We can then see how the Trinity expands our vision and enriches our lives.

According to the Trinity, God is first understood as the “Father” or Creator of the world. Later, the same divine reality enters the human sphere as “Son” or Redeemer. Still later, after the Son returns to the Father, God remains in the world as the “Holy Spirit” or Sanctifier—the source of all that we call, “spiritual.”

Now I would claim that this intellectual expansion of the idea of God fits perfectly with our scientific knowledge about the world and about human beings. For example, The Old Testament Lesson today gives an imaginative account of creation.

In modern times, scientists felt that this story was basically false because it implied that the universe had a beginning in time. The scientists held that in fact the universe has always existed.

But more recently it has become evident that there was an initial event–a Big Bang that gave rise to the material world. While this new research doesn’t prove that God was behind the Big Bang, it does suggest that our concept of God the Creator is compatible with science.

A similar claim can be made about the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son. Secular philosophers used to teach that, every year, humanity is getting better and better. The evils of the world are gradually being eliminated by technology and systems of social welfare. And so human beings thought that they had no need of Christ the Savior: we could bring peace and justice to the world by ourselves, without God’s help.

But then came World War I, and World War II and the Holocaust, and more recent tragedies like Ruanda and 9/11. Today, few people believe that humankind is on its way to perfection! More than ever, we seem to need divine salvation. We need a Redeemer who shows the way for the world to escape from its evil.

And a parallel defense can be made of the Third Person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit. People once believed that the economic benefits brought by modern society were all that they needed to be happy.

Now, even folks who aren’t very interested in organized religion recognize that consumer goods don’t bring complete happiness. We need the spiritual in our lives along with the material.

The doctrine thus has intellectual power in helping us to understand the world. Yet, at the same time, I would argue that it enriches our prayer lives.

The Trinity is commonly expressed in several ways. The Gospel lesson for today presents the most famous summary of the doctrine. In the lesson, Jesus appears to his disciples for the last time before ascending to heaven, and he tells them what they must do, now that they will be on their own.

Christ says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit…”

This statement is known as the Trinitarian formula. In addition, there are formulations, such as the one with which I began this sermon: “In the Name of god: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.” Such alternatives avoid suggesting that God the Creator is male—a false idea which has never been part of classical Christian teaching.

A third version of the Trinity is found in a letter of St. Paul, which we heard in the Second Lesson. This formula is a favorite of mine because it hints at the spiritual richness of the doctrine. In conclusion to his letter, Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

These words end our Morning Prayer service: I like to repeat them at the close of my personal prayers, and before I go to sleep at night.

In addition, I find that the Trinitarian formulas serve for me as mantra. The term, “mantra,” is Hindu in origin: it refers to a short word or sentence that is repeated many times in order to focus the soul.

Invoking the Trinity by repeating its words reminds us of the infinite reality of God.

Now it might seem odd to think that we need to remind ourselves of God! But, in daily life, we do sometimes need to recall that God isn’t just an abstract concept.

So the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” can enter our lives and give us strength when our inner resources are exhausted. “The fellowship of the Holy Spirit” can renew our ties with friends after a period of conflict. And “the love of God” reminds us that, appearances to the contrary, the world was created so that love and peace and justice and other values can be realized.

The doctrine of the Trinity, then, is an intellectual gift, and a spiritual blessing. A gift and a blessing for Father’s Day—and for every day.

And now unto the Holy and Blessed Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.

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