In the name of the Trinitarian God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I welcome you. You are welcome, with all of the things that make you uniquely you, with all the things that make you different from me, with the events and the influences in your life that have shaped you to be the person you are in this moment. You are welcome, just as you are, especially as you are, into the divine community that is rooted in and encircled by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, a community that is built on mutual relationship, that renews us every day.
Today is Trinity Sunday, where we focus on this God of ours whom we call Three-in-One and One-in-Three and has been the subject of much theological debate for almost two thousand years. So we’re not going to cover everything in the next ten-plus minutes. But if there is something about today that I do hope you remember, it’s that “welcoming strangers into relationship” is probably the most important thing about the Trinity that you need to know. “Welcoming strangers into relationship.” This is what the Trinity is about, and it’s how we are meant to experience God.
So, first and foremost, God is relationship. We say God is love, and so we can also say that God is relationship. God is the relationship of our Creator, whom we traditionally call the Father, with the Son, whom we know as Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit. Got that? God is the relationship that exists between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. You can’t separate one of them from the other two, and call that single one God, because if God is relationship there’s no relationship with just one person. There must be others. One-in-Three.
At the same time, you can’t have a relationship where the others are the same as you. The Father is not the same as the Son, and the Son is not the same as the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the same as the Father. Each in their own way is unique from the others, different or strange to the others. And that’s why we say that God is Three-in-One - because the one relationship is made up of three, kind of like one braid is made up of three strands. A strand by itself isn’t a braid, and a braid isn’t a braid with only two strands. The one braid itself is made up of three strands, but it’s one braid. One-in-Three and Three-in-One.
But of course we’re talking about the living God, and not about an object like a braid. And that’s really important because the living God is communal relationship, relationships as it exists in community, which means that it’s dynamic and always-changing and always-growing. God is a relationship that is built on each person––Father, Son, and Spirit––being different from one another––strange to one another––but always equal and always open. And this difference, or strangeness, together with this equality and this openness is what makes this divine relationship so life-giving. New life only comes into being when something or someone allows itself to be changed by coming into contact with that which is strange. There is no new life if there is no strangeness and no openness. There is no new life if there is no change.
The early church Elders described this three-in-one, life-renewing divine relationship with the word perichoresis, which means dancing around. They envisioned the Trinity as a three-person dance, with each weaving in and around the other, creating a beautiful circular dance that goes on forever. But the problem with this idea of perichoresis or even just this idea of God as three-in-one relationship is that it seems kind of independent from us. What does the Trinitarian God have to do with us? It’s not that we’re selfish, it’s just that it’s hard to care about the Trinity when it seems completely self-sufficient without us. The Trinitarian God seems to have its dance partners - what does it need us for? And why should we care about its dance?
Well, there’s a reason that I began by welcoming you to the divine community that is rooted in and encircled by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And that’s because in the middle of this perichoretic dance of the Trinity––in the circling and interweaving of divine relationship––is a space. There’s always a space in the middle of a circle dance, and this space is divinely purposed. That is, God has deliberately left a space in the heart of the dance, in order to welcome in those who are different. Just as God comes to live in our hearts, God welcomes us to live in the heart of the Trinitarian relationship.
And this is profound for two reasons. The first is that this welcome is extended to us because we are different from God. We are not divine. We are human. We are as strange to God as God is to us. But God wants our strangeness. God chooses us for our strangeness. God invites us into the heart of God because we are different, not in spite of it. God welcomes all of our different differences because, through all of these combined differences, God creates new life.
And, in God’s welcoming of us into God’s heart, God becomes open to us. We often think that it’s us becoming open to God, but it’s so much more than that. The relationship of openness that exists in the Trinity is extended to us. We become open to God and God becomes open to us. God welcomes us to experience renewal in God and, dare I say, to renew God. This is what it means to say that our God is communal relationship. Our Bible has many examples of God being moved––changed––by the experiences of God’s people. That is what is to be in relationship–to be open to and to be changed by the ones with whom we’re in relationship. This is what God welcomes us to when God welcomes us to live in the heart of the Trinitarian relationship.
When we live in the heart of this Trinitarian God––in this relationship built on welcoming difference and being open to those who are strange to us––we are renewed. We receive new life, and we experience the glory of God. In our our first reading, we heard the words from Isaiah that we repeat in our Communion liturgy, “Holy, holy, holy Lord ... the whole earth is full of [your] glory.” (adapted from Isaiah 6:3). Did you notice that it’s the earth that is full of God’s glory? God’s glory is down here, amongst us, in our relationships with one another, as we live our day-to-day lives in the heart of God. Down here is where the Trinitarian relationship, the essence of God, is felt most fully. In our relationships, as we echo and repeat what God has done for us, as we welcome strangers into our hearts, and we open ourselves to them, to be changed by them, and to be renewed through them. In these things down here on earth, we experience God’s glory most fully.
In the church, this happens in Holy Communion and in Baptism. In Baptism, and today in the baptism of this dear one, we stand alongside God in welcoming new strangers into the heart of God and into our midst. Babies in particular are strangers to us, even if we know their parents, because babies are their own people, but we don’t know who they are yet. And so we welcome them as strangers––as God welcomed us––knowing that as they join us in the heart of the Trinitarian dance, that we are open to them and they are open to us. We rejoice as the Holy Spirit ushers strangers into our midst in Baptism because we know that in their joining us, and in us joining them, in the heart of God, we are all renewed.
So what does this all mean? I said that the most important thing to remember today about the Trinity is “welcoming strangers into relationship.” To live as a Christian, to experience the fullness of God’s glory, today, and every Sunday, and indeed every day, we are called to welcome strangers into relationship with us. As the Trinitarian God has sought us out to draw us in and be changed by us, we are called to seek out those who are strange to us––whether they’re strange because they look different from us, or dress different, or have had a different upbringing, or have different ideas or even different beliefs. We are called to seek out strangers and to welcome them into our lives––into our hearts. To be open to them and their strangeness, to see our strangeness through their eyes, and to allow ourselves to be changed by them. To receive new life through them. We are called to say to strangers what I said to you at the beginning: In the name of the Trinitarian God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I welcome you. You are welcome, with all of the things that make you uniquely you, with all the things that make you different from me, with the events and the influences in your life that have shaped you to be the person you are in this moment. You are welcome, just as you are, especially as you are, into the divine community that is rooted in and encircled by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, a community that is built on mutual relationship, that renews us every day.
As God welcomes you, may you welcome others, until we are all together in relationship in the heart of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.