Sermon: The Trinity and Law of Three
Scripture: Genesis 1.1-5
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date: June 11, 2017, Trinity Sunday
Today on the church calendar we are taking the time to pause and celebrate Trinity Sunday. Following immediately last Sunday’s Pentecost celebration, Trinity Sunday is a day we remember the character and type of God we love and serve. The Trinity has been much debated by scholars and religious greats for 2,000 years and I do not kid myself into thinking I have anything important to add. Yet, I want us to think critically on the Trinity and today’s scripture passage will provide us the foundation from which to look at the oft-ignored Trinity of God.
This morning’s scripture is a timeless old passage many people have heard before. I am speaking of the first description of Creation in our Bible. This morning, the lectionary has us reading through the entire week of Creation which goes into chapter two of Genesis but I will be reading simply the first five verses of Genesis 1.
1:1-2 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. 3-5 God spoke: “Light!”
And light appeared.
God saw that light was good
and separated light from dark.
God named the light Day,
he named the dark Night.
It was evening, it was morning—
The Creation. I am choosing to only read the first five verses because the Creation Story itself gets people thinking about all sorts of things, some of which are not too helpful. Engaged discussion on the Creation has often brought disagreements between fellow Christians as well as derision from those outside the Church. Why is this?
Well, we tend to look at life through binary lenses and we bring those binary lenses into our reading of Scripture. For example, a binary way of looking at the world sees things as either this way or that way. Complex issues are reduced to either black or white; now I don’t know too many people whose lives are as simple as black or white. I imagine everyone here would say that his or her life has many different shades of gray in them! So, with the Creation accounts, our human tendency is to assume one of two positions as we read this Story. On one hand, we read the Story from a pre-critical point of view and understand that the earth is only between 6 and 10,000 years old according to the biblical accounts of Creation and the history of humankind in the Bible. Pre-critical readers understand that each day of creation was a literal day and it took God six full days to create the universe and humankind.
On the other hand, others will read this Story from a second point of view called a critical reading of the Story. They are going to point to the sciences of geology and biology and argue that the world is really 4.5 billion years old. They are going to see the comparison and contrasts with the Hebrew telling of creation with other ancient creation narratives from other cultures. A critical reader will hold that the Hebrews took elements of the ancient Sumerian story of Gilgamesh and rewrote it in a way that highlighted the Jewish understanding of a monotheistic God.
Consequently, when we look at the world through binary lenses, our faith and intellect are forced to choose between this way of understanding Creation (i.e. six literal days) or that way of understanding of Creation (i.e. the Hebrews co-opting another culture’s narrative). Binary thinking often posits two sides against the other. Either “I’m right and you’re wrong” or “you’re wrong and I’m right!” Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a third way to approach the scriptures? There is.
You see, a third way of hearing our text today is simply taking what the pre-critical and critical reader say for what they describe. Together, pre-critical reading leads to a critical reading that ultimately delivers us to a third, post-critical way of reading Scripture; post-critical reading also called a literary reading of the text, is simply looking at what the Scripture says about God’s relationship to His creation and to people. A third way of approaching scripture does not bog itself down into the minutia as to whether or not the world is 6,000 years old or 4.5 billion years old. A literary reader may find it interesting that the Hebrews may have taken passages of her Creation Story from the Gilgamesh narrative. But what the third way of reading scripture does is to force us to intellectually, spiritually and emotionally reflect on how this creative God and this Story is active in our lives this very moment. It reads the Bible as it is at face value. This third way of approaching Scripture opens up new understandings and possibilities for ministry!
Are you still not sure about the challenges of looking at the world through binary, black and white lenses? Look at our country’s election this past year. Look at the recent election in Great Britain this week! It was the Labor party over and against the Conservative party. It was the Democrats over and against the Republicans. The binary way thinking and looking at the world and values has shut down Washington as opposing sides of Congress draw lines against each other. Today’s elected officials seem to have forgotten how the Founding Fathers understood that American Democracy would only work when both sides could come together and compromise thereby creating a fresh, new way forward. The political term we use is a bipartisan stance worked out through a compromise which can only occur when there is an engaged relationship with the other. The authors of our Constitution seemed to understand either/or thinking would not make our country great. They assumed our leaders would be virtuous enough, humble enough to come together in a relationship and honorably move forward with an as yet undiscovered new way through a dilemma.
It’s at this point I want to remind us that as Christ-followers, we do not look at the world through binary lenses. Our Christian faith is built upon a ternary understanding of God and the universe; our view of the world is built upon the Law of Three, i.e. the Trinity. Sadly though, many Christian profess Trinitarian thinking but live a functional binary spiritual relationship with God focusing solely upon God the Father and God the Son, Jesus to the exclusion of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps they focus on God the Father and God the Holy Spirit but cut Jesus out as being superfluous. Somehow, we forget the way forward is made possible by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit moves us from dualistic thinking of this or that to a both-and-even-more possibility!
We see this in today’s scripture. It was not just God the Father who created the heavens and earth. The scripture says “God” created, breathed life in the universe. In Genesis 1.26, the scripture relates that on the sixth day of creation, “God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” Here is one of the first overt references to the Trinitarian Godhead. God did not say, “Let me make humankind in MY image” but instead, “Let’s make people in OUR image.” And like our text today indicates, it’s the Father and Son manifest in Holy Spirit who broods, floats, relaxes and hovers over the chaos and bringing form and life from a previously empty state of being.
Scholar and Episcopal priest, Cynthia Bourgeault, says that in this way, the third force, i.e. the Holy Spirit, acts as a midwife for the Father and Son. It acts on the desires of the fullness of God to bring into life something brand new.
The Law of Three and the Trinity is a dynamic process that brings birth, growth, and change. The interplay and relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit are generative in that together they create something new, a fourth previously unseen way forward! Their interplay at Creation brought forth the universe and all life. It is inherent in the Law of Three to spin its collective energy outward in ever-widening circles of artistic, creative newness.
The Reverend Bourgeault gives us examples. When a seed, the earth, and the sun come together, a fourth item is created called a sprout. When flour, water, and a fire’s heat is added, a fourth is created called bread. When a plaintiff, a defendant, and a Judge come together, a fourth way is created called a resolution. When a ship’s sails, keel and helmsman work in synchronicity, a ship’s course is created and sustained. When a proton, a neutron, and electron have interplay, a fourth entity called an atom is formed. When God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit dance together, light emerges and creation is formed. The Law of Three means the whole Christian notion of Trinity is not some ancient theological abstract; on the contrary, when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit spins and dances and encounters a church or a person, a fourth way forward presents itself through new life, new energy, or a possibility for new ministry to be born!
This past Christmas season, I was sitting on our patio watching a fire in the pit. There were two logs left and their light grew dim and the crackling sounds were no longer heard. I’ve learned through years of camping about the law of three. I’ve seen many fires that dwindle down to two pieces of wood and the fire begins to die out. What is needed is a third log tossed at an angle onto the two and energy is formed and new flames burst up, more heat is generated, and the crackles and pops begin again. It’s the Law of Three.
Christian mystics believe the whole universe is held together by the Trinitarian dance of the Father, Son, and Spirit. They believe that we need to become re-enchanted with the mysterious Law of Three and the Trinity in order to apply it to all aspects of our lives new options for ministry, for reconciliation, and for healing will reveal themselves to us.
Politically, it reminds us to work together for compromise so that we can generate a fourth new totally unforeseen way that’s beyond liberal and conservative that is indeed called just.
Environmentally, it reminds us to move beyond either believing in climate change or denying climate change whereby we can come together and create a fourth way forward that meets humanity’s needs while ensuring our planet will be available for future generations.
Spiritually, it means we suspend reading our Bibles pre-critically or critically and instead look at what God is actually trying to get across to us in the scripture. Spiritually it means we cease and desist saying some people are more deserving of God’s love while saying certain others are not worthy of grace at all; instead we are called to intentionally express that love of God in ways we never imagined! Spiritually, it means that Christianity’s opposing sides need to work together and generate a fourth winsome and gracious expression of God’s presence in ministry to people who have fallen through the cracks or pushed to the margins because of our own infighting.
Beloved, thanks for hanging in there with me through this very thought-full subject. My prayer is that as each of us leaves today, we will be thinking about the Trinity in brand new ways. Specifically, I want us to leave and ask ourselves how the Triune God is working in your life this very day? What new thing, new ministry, new relationship is the creative expression of God trying to have you display? What new fourth way forward is God’s Trinity and the Law of three churning up in you? Let’s pray.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 The Message by Eugene Peterson.
 Please see http://www.icr.org/article/how-old-earth-according-bible/ accessed on 6/9/2017.
 Richard Rohr, with Mike Morrell. The Divine Dance. The Trinity and Your Transformation (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2016), 93.
 Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three. Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity (Boston: Shambhala, 2013), 45
 Ibid., 15-17.
 Rohr, 70.
 Bourgeault says, “The interweaving of the three produces a fourth in a new dimension…The first and most important point is that linking the Trinity to the Law of Three adds predicative capacity. It explains why the inherent dynamism that Bruteau calls agape love must create new worlds; why it cannot remain locked up with a great intra-Trinitarian circulation.” Bourgeault, 89.
 Retired firefighter and church member, Walter Kahr, reminded me that when learning how to put out fires, firemen and firewomen are told that a fire is made up of three parts: Material, Oxygen, and a heat source. When approaching a fire, the goal is to separate one of these three from the other two.