“Three Faces for God”

Year B, Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6:1-8 and Psalm 29  •  Romans 8:12-17  •  John 3:1-17                 DSC_0430

Seraphs with tongs full of live coals, the voice of the Lord that breaks cedars and flashes with flames, God enthroned on high in clouds of incense, communities of God’s heirs, secret conversations by night and a wind blowing where it will. These are images from scripture this week prompting us to ponder the Trinitarian nature of God. 

The doctrine of the Trinity is a human construct illuminating our understanding of the three “faces/persons” of God we encounter in the New Testament ­ God the Creator, Jesus, Son of God and the Holy Spirit. There are numerous theological explanations and constructions of the Trinity. Personally, my image of the Trinity is a circle of light rather than the triangle image of doctrinal history. It comes from my own theological imagining that these three “faces/persons” of God generate the Love that makes the very fabric of the universe and all creation. The circle is always flowing with Love between Creator, Christ and Spirit. And overflowing into all creation. I can enter the circle at any point, through any of the “persons”, to be held in this Love. It is a never-ending flow of communal Love that creates, redeems and sustains ALL.

The vision imagery of Isaiah 6 and the nature imagery of Psalm 29 evoke the grandeur and awe of God the creator in community with all creation. In these texts creation –as tangible as trees and as mystical as six-winged seraphs – gathers to praise the Almighty God who can never be described in completion. God’s presence and persona is too vast. So the writers pick one aspect of God to imagine so we can grasp something of how God works in the world. As in Genesis when the world is spoken into being, God is known as voice in these two texts. The voice calls the prophet personally and all of creation to witness to God’s glory, majesty and power. The worship and witness are also call the people God to put complete trust in their maker. “May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (Psalm 29:11)

Romans 8 and John 3 speak to us of the Son who has come to reveal the vast love God in human flesh and presence. And we find imagery of the Spirit that binds humanity, divinity and creation together in communal Love. Despite Paul’s rhetoric about his concept of the separation of spirit and flesh as a follower of Jesus the Christ, the Romans passage ultimately delivers us an image of the heirs of God – joint heirs with Christ – living within the Trinitarian community of God in three persons. It is the Spirit that binds the believers to one another in God as they suffer and celebrate the glory of Christ. My imagination creates God’s people in that ring of endless light and love that for me is the Trinity. I am reminded of the work of John August Swanson, particularly his painting, “Festival of Lights.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_August_Swanson )

In the secret darkness of night Nicodemus, the learned religious leader, comes to Jesus, the radical rabbi who proclaims and embodies God’s love, with questions. And Jesus answers are both straight to the point and enigmatic. Jesus answers in imagery and metaphor. As the Son of God, come to proclaim God in the flesh, I AM, Jesus connects Nicodemus to the Spirit. Perhaps being born from above through connection to the Spirit is entering the Trinitarian circle of love and light through a heart full of trust, rather than only through doctrine and reason. For me intentionally returning to God with my whole self, body, mind, heart and soul, is being born again into who I am created to be in God’s image. And it is stepping into eternal life again and again in the midst of the chaos of earthly life.

So what are the stories we create to help our children, youth and adults understand the Trinity? Which image from scripture will you choose as a jumping off place for your sermon, children’s time or education event? You can enter the Trinity from images of the Creator and creation, from images of God’s redeeming  presence in Jesus, or from images of the sustaining and challenging movement of the Spirit. Any of the entry points will take you to the heart of the Divine. 


Robert Wilhelm tells the story of “The Lesser Monastery on Mount Athos” at his website, The Art of Storytelling. (http://www.storyfestjourneys.com/listen-to-stories-here/tales-from-the-peoples-of/european-tales/greece/a-legend-of-mount-athos.html ).

This is a beautiful story that illuminates the idea that one can enter into the heart of God through any of the “faces” of the Trinity. Three priests and a lay brother are the only inhabitants of the monastery. Yet it is known for the quality of spiritual guidance a pilgrim receives within its walls. The story unfolds by revealing how the gentle monk and gatekeeper, Gregorio, chooses which priest to send to a pilgrim seeking inspiration and nurture. And in the end you discover that each of the three represents one of the “faces” of the Trinity. You can only hear Bob tell the tale on his website. There is no written transcript. However, the tale is simple (not simplistic) in its movement. The outline of the plot is easy to grasp. Listening to the telling can be a meditation and prayer experience for your soul as you learn to tell it in your own way.

If you have chosen to focus on the Isaiah text in worship you can find a wonderful image of a seraph (technically a “cherubim”) in Madeleine L’Engle’s novel, A Wind in the Door. The cherubim in this story is named Proginoskes and provides a unique visual image for a “six-winged seraph”. He/She has a pivotal role at the climax of the tale. Perhaps it will inspire your own story of Isaiah’s call from the standpoint of one of the seraphs. 

Finally, I return time and again to the story of Oringa and the hare as a wonderful tale for young children about the presence of God’s spirit made tangible in our lives. I first encountered it in Barbara Berger’s book, Animalia. (You can find the book on Amazon and she is listed as Helen Barbara Berger there.) This book has very brief wisdom tales of human encounters with animals. Many of the humans are Christian saints or holy men and women from other faith traditions. Berger’s illustrations are breathtaking. You can find the story of Oringa and the hare at the websites below.

Blessings on your story journey,

Jane Anne 

©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2015 and beyond. Text and photos may be reprinted with permission only.


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