One Story, One God, One People

A series of interconnected hearts held together by a cross in the colors of the progress Pride flag

Trinity B-24
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

John’s gospel reminds us, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18). What our eyes cannot perceive is nevertheless detected in, with, under, and above lived experience. The apostle Paul finds God in the intimacy our groaning. Paul writes, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes with groans too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). The trinitarian life of God’s Self abides in the human being at prayer—the Trinity inside of us, in our body’s sighs, our wordless prayers. “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Paul says, “it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (verses 15b-16).

This is a bold claim which the church, through the centuries, has often worked to undermine. This is because it applies, not only to each of us who call ourselves Christians, but to everyone, everywhere, and always. “Abba” is the Aramaic word Jesus used for God. It is a word little children use father, or ‘daddy.’ “For Abba so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Where Jesus meant to build bridges, the Church of Christendom and Empire built walls. They treated grace like a product only the church could dispense and control. They built a fence around the gospel and charged admission. The bold claim of discipleship still applied equally to everyone, everywhere, and always but God’s abundant grace was limited and meted out only to the right type of Christian, which of course, changes according to whoever is in charge.

But thanks be to God, the walls of Christendom are beginning to fall. Enslaved people, woman, and LGBTQIA+ people find welcome. God’s good creation, all manner of living things, find renewed voice. It’s written on the walls here at Immanuel, in worship folders, and the website. “We are committed to welcoming all people to this place, no matter where you come from, no matter your age, race, socioeconomic or family status, no matter your gender identity or sexual orientation. Grace is for everyone, or it isn’t grace. It’s that simple! It’s that amazing. Thanks be to God.”

Many of us learned to sing an old bible song when we were children which proclaimed the simple truth. “They will know we are Christians by our love.” This simple, reliable guiding principle also works in reverse –we can recognize our siblings in Christ, regardless of race, clan, religion, or no religion by the love they display for us and for one another. Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:16). Let us return to Abba. Let us sit as his table and drink from his living water. Let us learn from him what we are.

Jesus called God, Abba, but within the early Christian community, confusion soon arose as to how we should address God. In addition to Abba, Jesus spoke of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. The gospels called Jesus the anointed one, the savior, the Christ, the logos. Jesus was living water, the bread of life, the light of the world, the rock, a mother hen, the true vine, and the good shepherd. Early Christian communities wondered and debated about the relationship between Jesus and God, Jesus and the Spirit, and the Spirit and God.

Christians wondered and debated about this for nearly three hundred years before finally arriving upon the name, “Trinity.” Trinity became the name in which we baptize. The name in which we confess our faith. Trinity is not a mathematical statement. It’s a name that encapsulates a whole lot of gospel teaching in a single word.
Trinity means God is relationship itself. It’s one thing to say that God values community. Or that God thinks community is good for us. It’s altogether more to say that God is communal. That God is relationship, intimacy, connection, and unity in diversity. If the Three is the deepest nature of the One — then who are we to isolate ourselves and/or to exclude and to cut off others?

Trinity also means that God is sacrificial love. The Trinity at its heart is an expression of deep, unfaltering, and life-giving love between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the image of that you and I were created and into which you and I are called. The relationship between the persons of the Godhead is not a relationship of domination, power-mongering, manipulation, or jealousy. It is a relationship of unselfish, sacrificial love. We are the children of a mysterious, fluid, diverse, communal, hospitable, and loving God who wants to guide us into the whole truth of who God is and who we are.’ (Debi Thomas, “The Undivided Trinity,” Journey with Jesus, 5/31/2020)

Trinity means God sees you. God loves you. God calls you to honest, intimate relationship. God calls you and equips you to be fully yourself. No boxes. No binaries. No stereotypes. Just you. Just us. Just all of us dwelling together in the shelter of the Lord to be the hands and feet and voice of Jesus for a suffering world.
The world, its creatures, and its many peoples are suffering now. We are threatened by political strife, by the approaching climate storm, by the breathless and unbridled rise of artificial intelligence, by an economy of extraction and mass death that views God’s children and all of creation as mere ‘resources’ to be exploited to maximize profits for the few.

Anthropologists tell us groups of more than 140 people cannot function without shared stories to focus and direct their shared imagination and energy in creative and collaborative ways. People that become an ‘us’ through their shared stories will quickly organize to undermine, exclude, exploit and destroy anyone or anything that is ‘not us.’

We cannot rise to address the many challenges we face today because our stories are broken, and in many places, have shattered. Stories of what it means to be faithful to God differ from one community to the next. Our stories of what it means to be an American citizen are in dispute and under threat. But we have that story. It goes by the name of Trinity. Christians have the antidote but only if they are willing forego the copyright and let go of the franchise. The God of grace revealed in Christ Jesus has power to end the divisions that plague us and begin the healing of the nations and ecosystems, all peoples, all creatures, people of every religion and no religion.

Our ancient siblings in faith grab us by the elbow and make us look at the world with new eyes. ‘See,’ they say—’God made light, the dome of the sky, the waters and the dry land, the sun, the stars, and the moon. The universe is not a collection of objects, but a communion of subjects (Thomas Berry). Nothing stands alone. Each living thing is different yet part of the whole.’ Be beautiful. Be you. Discover your true self in all your many colors. Become part of the dance of the Trinity. Love somebody. Be compassionate. Be forgiving. Be kind. Be human. Be the body of Christ. Together, we do God’s work with our hands. Then we become a living sanctuary of hope and grace.