Today is known as Trinity Sunday, a day when we recognize and celebrate the triune nature of God. Some churches do not pay much attention to it, but it is a day to celebrate the one to whom we belong, in life and death, through the gift of our baptisms.
There’s an old story about what happens to people in a crisis. A pilot, a business executive, a pastor, and a Boy Scout were flying together on a small private plane when they suddenly experienced engine trouble. Within a matter of minutes, the pilot said, “this plane is going down. Furthermore, I have noticed that we have only three parachutes on board. I have a wife and children at home. They are expecting me for dinner.” With that the pilot took a parachute and jumped. Immediately the business executive spoke up and said, “Some people think that I am the smartest person on earth. If I should perish in this plane, it would be a great loss, not just to my company, but to the world.” With that, he grabbed for a parachute and jumped. That’s when the pastor turned to the Boy Scout and said, “Son, you are young, and I am old. You have your life ahead of you. I’ve finished mine. Take the remaining parachute and jump.” But the Boy Scout said, “Relax, Reverend. The smartest man in the world just took my backpack thinking is was a parachute.”
It’s a made-up story, of course, but there’s an important lesson in it. Many people today, many smart and successful people, are metaphorically jumping out of airplanes wearing backpacks instead of parachutes. In other words, people are looking for something they can believe in, they are looking for safety and security, but are looking in the wrong places.
Some people think the universe is random, that there is no meaning and purpose to the world we live in. But that is not true. We know that God has a spiritual purpose and meaning to our lives, and truth that is knowable, understandable, and eternal.
The early church articulated this truth in the doctrine we know as the Trinity. Today is known as Trinity Sunday, although you won’t find the word “trinity” in the Bible. Instead, the concept of the Trinity developed over time and was not officially celebrated until the 10th century.
This doctrine, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, properly understood, meets the deepest needs that we have in terms of understanding who God is and our relationship with God. It is on this day that we consider the doctrine of the Trinity, God in three persons.
In our scripture passage, Jesus names them as the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We use these words in baptism, when we say “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Some theologians question whether we really need a Trinity. If you look it up in history, it was not an easy doctrine to nail down. Seminarians and their professors still struggle to find an image to depict the Trinity, maybe its like an egg, the three states of matter, etc.
I like the concept of the second century African theologian, Tertullian, who reduced it to a very simple illustration. He used the example of a tree. The root is wood, the trunk is wood; the branches are wood; one wood, one substance, but three different entities.
Furthermore, he said, the church is like the Trinity, it is a plant that grows, the Father a deep root, the Son that breaks forth into the world, and the Spirit which spreads beauty, fruit, and fragrance.
Augustine, another African theologian in the fifth century described God as three distinct coequal persons who make up one God.
But what if there were no Trinity? Jesus told us to go and baptize people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
What if we baptized people only in the name of the Father: that would deny the very work and person of Christ and the ongoing activity of the Spirit. It would not be a full picture of who God is. You would have a detached God.
What if we baptized people in the name of Jesus saying, “I baptize you in the name of Jesus. Amen.” That would miss the person of God the Creator and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Or what if we only said, “I baptize you in the name of the Holy Spirit,” (the Paraclete in the Greek). We would miss the awesomeness and creativity of God the Father and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh. We would miss the part of God who brought us life everlasting and the forgiveness of sins.
However we look at it, we are interconnected with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is a gift to celebrate. And in today’s gospel passage, Jesus gives his disciples the authority to make disciples of all people, baptizing them in the name of the Trinity.
One of my favorite mementos from my Sunday School upbringing is this little wooden slab with a picture of Jesus standing at the door and knocking. There is a story about a mother and a little girl looking at this beautiful picture.
A mother and child were looking at the picture. After a moment, the mom said, “I wonder why they don’t let him in?” The child considered this and then replied, “The reason they don’t let him in is that they are down in the cellar and they can’t hear him knocking.”
Perhaps you feel like that child today, sick, grieving, troubled, quarantined, angered, or depressed, and you need the combined power of the of the Trinity to lift you up out of the cellar and open the door.
The Trinity, our Creator, Redeemer, and Friend, is with you. This is a gift of the Trinity. This is the truth that allows us to live our lives as followers of Christ. God created us, Christ has freed us from our sins, and the Holy Spirit is waiting to come into our hearts and homes to help us.
Why settle for a knapsack instead of a parachute? Why settle for a parachute instead of a Paraclete? A parachute gently lowers us to the ground. A Paraclete, lifts us to the heavens. Let us pray that we will allow that same Spirit into our lives today. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen