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Trinity Sunday, Cycle C


If we think that we must try to explain God on Trinity Sunday, it is understandable that we face this assignment with apprehension. However, if we see this as an excellent opportunity to praise God by sharing enthusiastically some of the biblical expressions of God, we will be able to enjoy the experience immensely. The texts selected for Trinity Sunday, Series C, provide some beautiful expressions of faith in God with which we can do this.

Psalm 8
One of the advantages of this psalm is that it is understandable and appealing even to the younger children and to the theologically unsophisticated. Because of this, as we use this psalm in the Trinity Sunday worship service we should simplify the vocabulary, using words such as “exalted” with “important,” “majesty” with “greatness,” and “adversaries” with “enemies.” Then the reader should comment that the psalm is easily understood and ask the members of the congregation to close their eyes and to picture the images of the psalm with their imaginations while the psalm is read or sung. The time that it takes to prepare to present our biblical texts in innovative ways during our worship services is well spent. “One size fits all” with no variety in our presentations of biblical texts leads to monotony and boredom, apathy and non-participation. With proper preparation, we can recover much of what was lost when the oral presentation of pre-biblical material was cast into written form.

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
This portion of the personification of wisdom as an attractive female hypostasis of God in Proverbs 8 is an excellent text for Trinity Sunday in that it demonstrates that the wisdom hypostasis, along with other important hypostases of God in Israelite thought such as the ruach (“spirit”) of God, the panim (“faces”) of God and the dabar (“word”) of God were available, along with the hochmah (“wisdom”) of God and the shekinah (“presence”) of God in the development of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Apparently, elements of the hochmah, shekinah, and dabar hypostases were applied to the stories about Jesus and the sayings of Jesus by early followers of Jesus, as we see them in what we call the “Q” materials and in the Fourth Gospel particularly. These elements, along with others, were applied to Jesus and perceived as the “Son” of God over a period of several centuries in the process by which Jesus after having been depicted as the “Son” of God became within our Christian formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity Jesus as “God the Son.” God as the Father of Jesus in a special sense became generally for us as Christians “God the Father.” The hypostasis ruach (“spirit”) became “God the Spirit,” and soon more specifically “God the Holy Spirit” to complete the Trinity. While we can know no “facts” about God, we can study, understand, and share information about how our concepts of God have been and continue to be developed.

The potential existed within the Israelite hypostases of God for still more complexity in our description of the nature of God. Female figures such as wisdom, or perhaps wisdom incarnate in the Virgin Mary, could have come in but were not adequately developed by the time of the fourth century. It is important for us to note that most of the early Christian Trinitarian discussions were conducted in the Greek language, in which attention was focused on the Son and on the Holy Spirit as hypostases of God. When the discussions were expressed in Latin within Western Christianity, the Greek word hypostases became personae. The Latin personae (“faces,” “masks”) became the English “persons” (one God in three hypostases, one God in three personae, one God in three “persons”).

Especially on Trinity Sunday, we should say with confidence that we believe in One God, revealed to us as creative, life-giving Father, as vital, youthful Son and Savior, and as correcting, chiding, comforting, counseling Spirit in God’s world for us, in God’s Word for us, and in God’s life for us.

Romans 5:1-5
In writing this Epistle to the Romans primarily to Gentile background followers of Jesus within their house churches in Rome during the mid-fifties of the first century, urging them to accept Jewish background followers of Jesus back into their house churches as leaders, Paul emphasized that all people sin and fall short of the glory of God. He wrote that it is not on the basis of a person’s religious or cultural background or by good works — not even by trying to live in accordance with God’s Word — that we have access to the grace of God. It is by faith that God has been active for our salvation now and forever in a very special way through the death of Jesus for our sins and through our belief that God has made Jesus alive again that we shall have peace in the presence of God. After a digression about boasting in the hope of sharing in the glory of God and about boasting in the problems and difficulties that we face for the sake of sharing the gospel, Paul returned to his major point that the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit given by God to us.

John 16:12-15
The Johannine followers of Jesus, not having the Jesus of history accessible to them, wrote about the Spirit of Truth whom Jesus would send to lead them into all truth. The Johannine followers of Jesus claimed that they had the Spirit of Truth among them and through this Spirit of Truth Jesus continued to speak to them. The Johannine Jesus who speaks in these “farewell discourses” is the Johannine Jesus of many decades after the crucifixion. The Johannine Jesus reveals what the members of the Johannine community believed about Jesus, about the relationship between the Johannine Jesus and the Father, and between the Father and the Son and the Spirit of Truth. What we have, therefore, in the Romans 5:1-5 text and in this John 16:12-15 text are some of the biblical “raw materials” from which the Christian doctrine of the Trinity was formed.

What then shall we proclaim next Sunday? Which texts shall we use as the primary basis for our message? We realize that although we cannot comprehend or understand or explain God, we can and must share these biblical expressions about God and we must apply them to our lives in our own particular situations. We should not try to reduce the Trinity concept to more simple dimensions. We should, instead, expand the concept beyond the ways that it is usually perceived and presented. We should do this by using the rich, biblical images within the texts selected for our use on this coming Trinity Sunday. As always, we should emphasize that our Triune God is one God who is perceived in many ways and in three particular ways by us as Christians.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen