Who Is God?

Trinity A – Who is God?

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

June 18, 2011

It was Christmas Eve, 1968.

The Apollo 8 had just taken its crew of 3 astronauts into orbit around the moon –

it was the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon.

Astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders were on board.

Perhaps some of you were watching TV as the photos came beaming back to earth.

The astronauts attempted to explain what they saw.

As they looked at planet earth from space –

this fragile planet in all its beauty, wonder, and majesty –

they found their own words were insufficient.

Instead as they looked out from space at the earth,

this is what they said:

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…”

They read the first 10 verses of Genesis.

Faced with trying to describe the indescribable,

they read the words that we just heard.

Sometimes our own words are not enough.

Sometimes things are just

so beautiful, so marvelous, so wonderful,  so exquisite,

so powerful, so awesome, so breathtaking, so spectacular,

so intimate, so personal, so holy, so precious

that a single adjective – a single name-  cannot do them justice.

And that is why we have the Trinity.

We have one God.

Yet, our one God has many ways of relating to us,

and we think of that relationship as 3 persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

If you look in the Bible, for an explanation of the Trinity, you won’t find it.

You won’t even see the word Trinity.

It’s not there.

Jesus didn’t talk about it.

The disciples didn’t talk about it.

Even the apostle Paul  who seemed like he wrote down every single thought he had, didn’t mention it.

If you ask me for an explanation of the Trinity, you’ll be disappointed.

I can’t explain it.

But before you suggest that I go back and take another seminary class,

let me tell you that Martin Luther said not to worry.

He said the Trinity is not meant to be understood – it will always remain a mystery.

The Trinity is not meant to be understood –  it is meant to be experienced.

When the early Christians were living out this newborn faith called Christianity,

they realized that they just couldn’t use one word to describe their experience of God.

Scholar Elizabeth Johnson notes[i], that they experienced God as

  1.  beyond them,
  2. within them, and
  3. with them.

They experienced God as utterly transcendent – beyond them,

within them as the historical figure Jesus,

and with them presently as the Spirit within their community.

They began to talk about God in this threefold pattern saying:

“the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Johnson writes that early Christian letters and gospels are filled with these words.

They appear in hymns, in greetings, in confessions of faith,  in liturgical formulas, doxologies, and short rules of faith.

Two thousand years later, it hasn’t changed.

Every worship service, still we greet each other with those words:

“the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

And you say….”and also with you.”

We can’t explain the Trinity,

but we still experience the Trinity.

God is utterly transcendent.

God is beyond us.

We bow before him.

We acknowledge his power and authority.

We marvel at his creation.

When we enter one of the great cathedrals of Europe or our worship space here,

we know it is a different space.

It is different from a school auditorium or a conference room.

We sense something beyond us here.

We experience the transcendence of God the Father – God beyond us.

When we take the hike up to upper temple at Camp Nawakwa after dark,

and lie back and look at the stars,

gazing at the constellations,

we remember how small we are and how great God is.

We experience the transcendence of God the Father – God beyond us.

When we travel to northern Arizona,

and stand at the south rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time,

we are aware of the magnitude of creation.

We experience the transcendence of God the Father – God beyond us.

God is beyond us – but God is also within us as Jesus Christ.

We receive the grace of Jesus Christ.

We receive the forgiveness of Christ.

We receive the healing of Christ.

We receive Christ within us.

When we serve others as Christ did,

we experience God the Son – God within us.

When we forgive others as Christ forgave us,

we experience God the Son – God within us.

When we look at others and see Christ in them,

we experience God the Son – God within us.

When we stand at the communion table and receive the body and blood,

we experience God the Son – God within us.

God beyond us, God within us, and finally, God with us – the Holy Spirit.

When we accept a call to serve as an usher or teacher or finance committee member or scout leader,

we accept the call from God with us – the Holy Spirit.

When we use our gifts to play sports or make a speech or fix a lawnmower,

we are using the gifts of God with us – the Holy Spirit.

When we pray for guidance about a decision,

we are looking to God with us – the Holy Spirit.

When our conscience nudges us about something we’ve done or said,

it is God with us – the Holy Spirit.

God will not be contained.

God is beyond, within, and with us.

–          all three – all at once.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the love of God,

and the communion of the Holy Spirit

be beyond, within, and with you forevermore.  Amen.


[i] Elizabeth A. Johnson, Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (New York: Continuum, 2008), 204-205.

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