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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Jn 16 12-15 Trinity Sunday
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
June 6, 2004

Every morning last week, I dressed as a rabbi and sang the Hebrew alphabet song with Barney the purple dinosaur. It was Bible School. I don’t normally dress as a rabbi and sing Hebrew with Barney. I also got to sit in my office and hear our younger daughter leading the infant nursery in a Ring-Around-The-Rosie Marathon. After about the fifteenth time, the adult leaders got so slap-happy I thought I was going to have to call for oxygen. It’s very difficult to concentrate on writing a sermon about the Trinity under these conditions.

Temporarily moving the nursery into the library next to the pastor’s study was a stroke of genius on Cheryl’s behalf. It’s hard for a preacher to get too serious about esoteric doctrine when twelve feet away a one year-old is hysterically screaming for his bottle. It was tempting to think about driving down to Starbucks, to get into my own little sermon-writing world. But here I was, surrounded by first-century Nazareth, simulated by children in hand-made yarmulkes and adults in bathrobes. If the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wasn’t here, no amount of Venti Mocha Frappachino could bring it on.

“[The Holy Spirit] will glorify me,” Jesus said, “because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine.” It’s hard to explain the Trinity under any condition. It’s hard to understand how the Spirit brings the Father and the Son, all three persons co-existing directly before us, in a world where diapers need to be changed, where adults are sighing, smiling, and doing crowd-control, where the realities of always having too much to do and too little time to do it, a world where “multi-tasking” has worked its way into common usage. It’s hard to understand stuff like the Trinity under the most peaceful of conditions, much less in the real world.

And yet, if you took a walk down the halls of Bible School, if you smelled the flatbread baking, and the herbs herbing – if you watched the kids dancing and singing, if you saw the grown-ups happily working their tails off – you would have experienced God at work in a variety of ways, all at once. Separate classes, separate lessons, but one purpose. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one,” we taught the kids in Hebrew. The great Shema, the prayer of Deuteronomy 6. “Shema ha Israel ya elohim ya etad….” The old African proverb that was in vogue a few years ago kept coming to mind: “It takes a village to raise a child.” And here we were in our own simulated village all last week, joyfully multitasking for God.

If God can be served in a variety of ways, it would make sense that God could exist in a variety of ways, too. Some of us hear God in a child’s laughter. Some of us see God in the work and the people of a Mission Trip. Some of us find God in beautiful music. Some people will insist they find God on the golf course, which is impossible, but a sweet thought. As we find the Father, Son, and Spirit in our children’s laughter, in our missions work, in our music, and so on – as we discover each one of those persons of the Triune God we learn a little more about a God who’s so great that one word (or even two) just won’t do.

Sometimes it is hard to understand the how the doctrine of the Trinity relates to the real world. Perhaps it would be helpful to remember that God is not a doctrine. God is greater than even the best assembled human words. God is. How we are in relation to God – how we are as fathers, sons… mothers, daughters… unholy and occasionally holy spirits – how we are in relationship with God is something we can understand. And if we can understand, and hear O Israel, maybe we can be one, too.


It’s rare for people to think about God in exactly the same way over the course of their life. When you were little, you may have thought about God looking like some sort of grandfather. A bearded old man on a throne. As a teenager, God might have been the Palestinian rebel Jesus, turning over the tables of traditional thought. Some of the old gospel hymns portray God as a sword-brandishing military hero of the soul. I grew up during the 60’s and 70’s, in the heyday of the liberal Protestant Presbyterian church, so I’ve always pictured God as a someone sitting cross-legged on the floor (twenty-five or six to four). I came along during the time when God was so accepting, and so much the property of minority social movements that if you weren’t a feminist-liberationist-anti-creationist-save-the-whale-ist, well, you just didn’t really know Jesus. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or because I’m just tired of being confused that I’m getting more traditional in my images of God.

And that’s just the point. No matter how deeply we think about God, our images of God are, well, images. There’s a commandment about making images of God, one of the “thou shalt nots.” Our images might not be graven, but they can be so engraved on our minds that we mistake our own beliefs for the truth. The children we’re raising in our virtual villages are going to have their own images of God. They’ll learn to challenge our images, just as we learned to challenge the images of the last generation. Hopefully these will be peaceful challenges. God is a big God, and the Bible’s a big book. Hopefully we can practice what we preach, and hold to the basic tenet of the Shema, so that even in our human and idolatrous diversity, the Lord our God is One.


The Lord our God is One, and will continue to be One, no matter how scattered and chaotic our lives get. The Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is insurance that even though God may appear to us in different ways at different times, God will not be split apart. The Trinity is also assurance that even though you may see God as Father-ish, and I may see God as Son-ish, and someone else may see God in some Holy Spirit-ish kind of way, we don’t have to be split apart from each other.

Last week was one of those weeks when I feel as though God has dumped me into the washing machine and turned the agitator on high. You ever have weeks like that? You get all tossed around but you come out cleaner than you went in. I – more correctly, our church – went from pretending to be Jewish and singing along with Barney, to preparing for a funeral, to conducting a wedding, to rejoicing over a new birth. All mixed up together. Kind of like the Trinity. All mixed up. Together. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Mother, daughter and adopted grandmother. Worshipper, mourner, loud-laugh-until-you-cry-er.

No matter how shaken up we may be, God is One. And praise be to the Triune God that we can try to have unity in God. The kind of unity that God provides doesn’t require all that much stretching of the imagination. God’s unity requires forgiveness, and love, and respect. In the real world. I think we taught some of that in Bible School this past week. By the grace of God we taught some of that in all the other things we did, too. Whether at church or at home, at work or at school – by God’s forgiveness and love a lot of weird and different persons can become one.