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Trinity Sunday ~ "Shamrock, Triangle, Ice" ~ Dr. Susan McGurgan

It was just about 20 years ago,

when I was sitting in my office,

feeling sorry for myself

because I had too much work,

and too little time.

And no matter how often

I looked at those little squares on my calendar,

and no matter how many times

I arranged and re-arranged

the stacks on my desk,

that calendar didn’t get any emptier,

and those stacks never got any smaller.

And then the phone rang.

And Rev. Dick Eslinger,

a contributor to this site,

a friend and colleague

for longer than I care to admit,

asked me to preach at his Methodist Church

on a Sunday he would be out of town.

It will be easy, he said.

A parishioner would conduct the service,

and all I had to do was preach.

And in the silence that followed,

all of the reasons why I couldn’t,

and all of the reasons why I shouldn’t,

and all of the reasons why I needed to say “no”

rushed to mind.

And then,

in that enthusiastic voice of his,

he exclaimed,

“And the BEST THING is,

the best thing is,

that it’s Trinity Sunday,

and you can tell my congregation

everything you know

about the Trinity!”

And the silence on my end of the line became deafening.

The Trinity…

Everything you know about the Trinity.

With a generosity I didn't deserve,

he took my silence for profound theological thought,

and somehow his parish and I stumbled through the experience

of a Catholic lay woman preaching Trinity Sunday

in a Methodist Church in suburban Cincinnati.

In the years since,

I have led RCIA groups,

taught Basic Doctrine,

and explored the Trinity with preachers, ministers, students and children.

And it has never become easier.


the silence is still deafening.

This is a doctrine hard to grasp--

a mystery so deep and so complex

that we struggle to comprehend it,

much less, describe it.

St. Patrick is said to have pulled a shamrock from the ground,

pointing to three leaves on a single stem.

A popular RCIA handout shows a triangle with equal sides,

and three intertwined circles.

A young mother leads her children into the kitchen

to point out

flowing water,



Our attempts,

no matter how creative,

always fall short.

Our analogies,

no matter how evocative,

always limp just a little.

Our images and illustrations can bring us

to the edge of something beautiful and grand,

but even the best

offer no more than a blurred and fleeting glimpse of the mysterious.

We begin our worship in the name of the Father

and the Son

and the Holy Spirit.

We are marked at baptism

with water poured

in the name of the Father and the Son

and the Holy Spirit.

Most of the prayers we say,

end with the words,

in the name of the Father

and the Son

and the Holy Spirit.

And despite all of the painful ways

we try to keep our denominational differences alive,

despite the old wounds

and new insults

that separate one Christian from another,

It is our firm belief in the Trinitarian God

that unites us--

that reminds us

whether we are Methodist or Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, or Orthodox,

that we are truly

one body,

one faith,

one people.

We are created by the Father, who generates,

redeemed by the Son, who is begotten,

enlivened by the Holy Spirit, who proceeds.

Jesus never defined the Trinity for us.

He didn't spell everything out

in something quick and easy to read,

like theological Cliff Notes

or an illustrated Trinity 101.

He didn’t leave us a detailed road map

where X marks the spot of enlightenment.

Jesus just didn’t teach that way.

Instead, He teaches us in parables

that are often difficult to understand.

He teaches in conversations

that challenge us to see the world with new eyes;

in images that invite reflection;

in actions that lead to wonder.

He teaches in surprising encounters

that bring us face to face with the living God.

The theological textbook Jesus left us

was his life.

And when we still didn't seem to understand,

He left us his death and resurrection.

He left us the paradox of the cross

and the miracle of the empty tomb.

And perhaps most astonishing of all,

He left us each other.

Throughout his life,

Jesus invited people to gather as disciples,

and form themselves into a community.

Zaccheus, come down! Tonight I am dining at your house!

Come and see!

Suffer the little children to come to me.

Take and eat.

On the very night he was betrayed,

he taught us how to wash each other's feet,

and asked us to break the bread of life together.

Even as he was dying on the cross,

He commended us

into the care of one another.

This message of community and solidarity was so important,

that He walked out of the tomb

to promise us that we will never be alone.

In community.

Always in community.

And I think,

that’s how we begin to understand the Trinity.

In community,

and through our relationships with one another.

Before the liturgical changes of Vatican II,

we used to hear this reading from John,

each and every Sunday:

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God…

And the Word

became flesh

and pitched a tent among us.

We worship a God who became flesh.

We worship a God who loves us enough

to pitch a tent among us and share our lives.

God comes,

not to live alone in some temple,

perched high on a mountain,

or in a museum

safely locked behind glass.

God comes,

not as a stranger who stays for awhile

and then moves on.

No, the Word became flesh

and dwelled among us in a family.

That same God

continues to call us into families, and friendships, and communities.

That same God

calls us to become involved with one another,

to accompany one another,

to encounter each other,

to go out to the peripheries,

and pitch a tent.

These relationships in community

teach us something about each other--

and in doing so,

they teach us about the nature of God.

They remind us that we are created in the image of a God

whose very being--

whose very essence

is relationship.

What makes God, God,

is relationship.

God is ONE, but not solitary.

God is ONE, but not alone.

God is ONE, but in relationship.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit are not simply names that we call upon in prayer,

but reflect distinct persons in one divine nature.

This relationship is so dynamic;

so powerful,

that it explodes galaxies into life.

This relationship so intimate;

so close,

that when we conform ourselves to Christ,

we discover that we are never



This relationship is so filled with love

that it overflows into our lives

and onto our altar--

Full measure.

Packed down.

Poured out.

Jesus said,

I and my Father are one.

And I will send you an Advocate,

I will not leave you orphans.

When we really stop to reflect on this mystery,

It's not surprising

that we can only sit

and contemplate its beauty

in stunned and grateful silence.

We may find the doctrine of the Trinity

hard to understand,

and even harder explain,

But the Trinity is real—

as real as the fierce love a mother has for her child;

as real as the longing we feel for healing and mercy;

as real as the bonds drawing us into relationships of love and friendship.

These relationships point us to the mystery of the Trinity--

they are a foretaste of the glory planned for us by the Father

before time itself was born.

The doctrine of the Trinity means that relationship,




love of other,

are not merely pleasant attributes of the life of faith,

or a sign that we are good.

They point to the deepest and most profound


about the being and nature of God.

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