I feel like I’ve been starting many of sermons recently the same way: “I didn’t want to preach about this topic today.” Well, today’s subject is the Trinity and, you guessed it, I didn’t want to preach about it today. Talk about a difficult subject: never mind that the Trinity is a bizarrely complicated topic that is really difficult to explain – people have literally killed each other for disagreeing over it. As early Christians sought to define their faith and tried to come up with a definitive explanation of the Trinity, those who disagreed were declared heretics and thrown out of the church or worse.
Whenever think about the Trinity, I always hear that song “Three is a Magic Number” from the old cartoon “Schoolhouse Rock.”
Three is a magic number
Ya it is, it’s a magic number
Somewhere in that ancient mystic trinity
You’ll get three
As a magic number
The past, the present, the future,
Faith, and hope, and charity,
The heart, the brain, the body,
Will give you three,
Its a magic number
Ok, it’s not really profound or anything – just what pops into my head.
It takes three legs to make a tripod or to make a table stand,
And it takes three wheels to make a vehicle called a tricycle
And every triangle has three corners,
Every triangle has three sides,
No more, no less,
You don’t have to guess
That it’s three
Can’t you see?
It’s a magic number
A man and a woman had a little baby
Yeah they did
And there were three in the family
And that’s a magic number
That’s the part that always got me. Tripods and tricycles were sort of interesting but the parents with the baby, that had a way of tugging at my heartstrings.
I’m still trying to understand the Trinity but that piece there really seems to start to get to the heart. The Trinity is about relationship. And three in a relationship creates a new situation.
Three people in a relationship changes it – unfortunately not always for good. Three in a relationship have to find time for each other, have to divide attentions – it creates all sorts of complicated dynamics.
Much of the training and work I do around leadership and relationships reminds me of how complicated relationships can be – especially relationship triangles. If Ralph comes to be about his relationship with Penelope, there’s nothing I can do about it. I can listen to Ralph and be with him but I have no effect on their relationship together. We’re each one corner of the triangle and the corners that have a line connecting them have to be in direct conversation and relationship.
Relationship triangles – especially love triangles – have been the subject of literature and drama for centuries. Something about the subject draws us in and captures our attention in books and theater and TV. It’s not a new concept; it goes back thousands of years, including in our own sacred scripture. That’s probably because these stories are mirrors that reflect back some of the ways that we have continually chosen to imitate the wrong model and follow the wrong desires.
From the very beginning, the stories of our faith illustrate how triangles can go wrong.
“Eve’s desire for the forbidden fruit doesn’t spontaneously arise in her. It is suggested to her by the serpent; and then she suggests it to Adam. They have modeled the desires of each other, fellow creatures, rather than the desire of their Creator. The result is rivalry — chiefly with God. In what is a beautifully condensed narrative, the story-teller cuts right to the chase of rivalry: the serpent convinces them that God is holding out on them and that they can know what God knows. This rivalry quickly descends into violence: their oldest son kills the younger in a rivalry” ironically over whether or not God desires blood sacrifice.
This is the sin we repeat over and over again: substituting our judgment for God’s judgment while mistakenly presenting it as God’s judgment.
Rivalry continues through the Bible – Sarah and Hagar, Jacob and Esau, Moses and Pharaoh, Joseph and his brothers. Over and over again, humanity falls short of living out the love of God. Over and over again, God attempts to reveal the Divine Love to us in a way that we can imitate.
Then comes the incarnation – Jesus living among us, as one of us. Jesus reveals God’s love in every word and every step even to the point of going freely to the cross; victimized by humans but choosing self-sacrifice over revenge. Jesus chooses the Spirit – the inner dynamic of relationship with God – and in doing so Christ chooses love.
“Jesus gives up the spirit to God on the cross, God gives the spirit back to Jesus at the resurrection, both give the Spirit to us as a new way to be human.”
God’s love has been revealed to us over and over again – at creation, through prophets, in the incarnation and resurrection. The Spirit takes the mantle from Christ and continues to reveal God to us even today.
Three is a magic number, providing strength and stability for tripods and tricycles and relationships. As Holy love continues to be revealed to us through the Spirit that lives in us, we can avoid being drawn into bad triangles and focus on the good.
As we walk in the midst of grief and struggle, through the darkest vale of tears we are invited into the Divine triangle – to experience and live out the love of the Trinity.
The words may not explain it all, the images and metaphors only get us so far. Maybe it’s only when we let go of trying to figure it all out, trying to know what God knows, that we can truly understand.
May the love of God: Creator, Christ, and Spirit be with us and guide us. Amen.
 Alison, James The Joy of Being Wrong pp. 108-109