On Experiencing God: The Three in One
June 4, 2023
God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Today’s sermon is titled On Experiencing God: The Three in One.
I remember a story I heard about a little girl who asked her Sunday School teacher for a bigger piece of paper. She said, “I want to draw a picture of God.” The teacher said, “Well, no one really knows what God looks like.” The little girl sat up tall in her chair and said, “When I’m finished with my picture they will know!”
We are not really encouraged to imagine God, are we? Our western minds are trained to learn, to acquire knowledge and then use that knowledge to adapt to and to control our environment. We are so driven by our intellect, by our minds, that the ways of the heart are often overshadowed. To attempt to imagine who and what God may be, however, we must engage the heart.
In our church calendar, today is Trinity Sunday, a time when we usually focus on a triune construct of God, God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I prefer to think of God as Parent, God as Teacher, and God as Spirit, but let’s face it, we can not know who or what God is, we have to rely on our experiences and then play around with inadequate words that make up even more inadequate theories about the nature of God. We have been doing this for a couple thousand years now, so how about we try to experience the nature of God instead. Biblical scholar Carole Crumley writes, “We want to know, analyze and explain the Trinity by our intellect, when what we are talking about is mystery; mystery can be known only by the spiritual heart.”
This does not mean we have to abandon our scriptures. In fact, the scriptures offer us surprising latitude in how we may experience the nature of God as Parent, Teacher and Spirit…the Three in One. Let’s first consider the experience of God as Parent. For those of us who have positive, healthy memories of father figures in our lives, it can be comforting to think of God as Father, but keep in mind that in the Jewish tradition, the word God is not even spelled out in full; the middle letter is always missing as a reminder that we can not fully know the nature of God. Were we not so dependent on pronouns, we would never want to limit God to one gender or another, so it is increasingly acceptable in academia to alternate referring to God as masculine and feminine, as Father and Mother. In fact, I had a professor who insisted that if we use one pronoun, we must alternate between the two. So I encourage us to not be too narrow in our thinking about God. It would be an act of respect, in my opinion, to not put limits on what is limitless.
There is scriptural basis for expanding how we think about God and how we may experience God. We find it right in the very beginning, in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, where we are offered two different and distinct creation stories. In these two stories, the nature of God could not be more different. The God in Genesis 1 comes across as commanding and remote; the God in Genesis 2 is present, described as walking with Adam and Eve in the garden. I encourage you to read the first two pages of the Bible because they offer two very different ways to conceptualize God. To the many who claim to take every word of the Bible literally, I have not yet met such a person who can explain why there are two creation stories that so blatantly contradict one another. To me, the very existence of these two accounts communicates that we should keep our hearts and minds as open as possible.
For example, what about that reading we had this morning from the first chapter of Genesis, verse 26, where a plural pronoun is used, three times? God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” That should get us thinking; perhaps instead of thinking about God as Parent, we could consider God as Parents. As a child of divorce, I like that. I like that a lot.
Another way to experience God is God as Teacher. We focus most of our studying on God as Teacher as, each week, we learn about the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, God in human form. Jesus is, to me, my Guru, my brother, and my Friend. Through his teachings and through his life example I find there is enough to contemplate and practice for a lifetime, maybe more.
When Jesus was nearing the end of his life, he promised his Friends, “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will remind you of everything I have said to you.” The word for “spirit” in Hebrew (ruach) is feminine; and in Greek (pneuma) it is neutral, neither feminine nor masculine. The Holy Spirit is formless and ever-present. Like the wind, the Holy Spirit is unseen; only the effects are apparent. I experience the Holy Spirit as what connects us, one with another, and what connects us to the force of Goodness that is God.
When I was 13, I travelled to the outer banks of North Carolina for a week with my youth group. We went to a Baptist camp called Caswell and a few other youth groups were there for the week, as well. The adults had nearly every minute planned to keep us out of trouble. Each night, after dinner, all the kids would gather in one large room and there would be some kind of programming, but on our last night there, the adults planned something unusual. The room was lined with candles, each casting a golden light. All the chairs had been taken away and we all found places on the floor. Emotions were already running high because we all new that the next morning we would be returning home and leaving our new Friends, or new crushes, behind. One of the adults started playing guitar and together we sang so many familiar songs, mostly hymns. I can not fully describe what transpired in that room that night, but all I can really say is that as we sang all those love songs to God, it became apparent that something very unusual was happening. We were looking at one another and smiling and crying and laughing and singing. We were high on love and I had never felt anything like it before. No one wanted to leave that room that night; I think it was the presence of the Holy Spirit with us.
This model of the Trinity, of God as Parent, Teacher, and Spirit is a gift that remains wrapped and undiscovered unless we begin to unwrap it and work with it. This model of the Trinity is an invitation to look for the various ways God is made manifest in our lives according to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Sometimes we need a parent to remind us everything is going to be alright; we are loved, we are safe, we are seen. Sometimes we need a teacher to lead us to deeper understanding of ourselves and others so we can experience more love in our lives. Sometimes we need the assurance of the Holy Spirit reminding us that there is more to this reality than what meets the eye.
In closing, it is my hope that you have received an invitation today to look for various ways you may be experiencing different aspects of the triune God, the three in one, Parent, Teacher and Spirit. We can not yet know for sure the full scope of the nature of God, but one day, when we are free of our bodies and our spirits return home, I think we will then know in full. Until that time, I am so grateful to be wondering with you about such wonderful things as this. May we be boundless in our imaginings of God. So be it. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer: Infinite Spirit we call God, I thank you for our pasts and all the experiences that have made us who we are, in this moment. May our lives be a testament to all we have learned along our life journey and may we be ever mindful to respect the chosen paths of our brothers and sisters, so that we not stand in judgment, but rather uphold each other in kindness and encouragement. Help us, Lord, to be kind and encouraging with ourselves, as well, and remember that all change begins with us. May we radiate your love in all we think, say and do. May we all be ministers to those who are in need, giving of ourselves however we can. Help us to make time to write that note, to make that phone call, to send that message, to reach out in service and in love. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.
Benediction: I leave you with the following words from 2 Corinthians 13:13: May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.