Is three really a crowd?

Signpost for Sunday 31 May 2015, Trinity Sunday: Isa 6:1-8; Ps 29; Rom 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

If you’re a vicar or a priest and it’s your turn to preach this week, apparently you’ve drawn the short straw. For many people the Trinity is a mystery which, apparently, lots of clergy dread having to preach about.

Here’s why: you won’t find the word ‘trinity’ anywhere in the Bible. It’s something that came about to solve problems raised, ironically, by three beliefs that were going round the early church in the first three hundred years after the death of Christ: Adoptionism, Sabellianism and Arianism.

Adoptionism was the belief that Jesus is an ordinary man who became the Christ and Son of God at his baptism. (In 269 AD, the synods at Antioch condemned Paul, their Bishop, because that’s what he believed.)

Sabellius was a third century priest who went about teaching that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are essentially one and the same. He said the three names simply describe different aspects of a single being. (Sabellius was excommunicated for heresy in Rome around 220 AD.)

Arianism (an idea attributed to a priest called Arian who lived aroud AD 250–336) says “the Father existed prior to the Son who was not, by nature, God but rather a changeable creature who was granted the dignity of becoming Son of God.” Pardon?

See the problem? Hence, in 325 AD the Nicene council came up with the doctrine of the Trinity.

History is all very well, but I came across another way of thinking about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit this week. My take on it is that maybe it’s OK to think there are three ‘beings’ involved after all. Because if you think the idea that having a relationship with your God is important, then the number three is worth thinking about in terms of relationships.

My mum always said that two kids playing together was fine, three was a nightmare. And we all know the cliché, two’s company, three’s a crowd. But why is that? Well, two people can easily have a conversation. With three people it’s harder. For three people to have a meaningful conversation, each of us has to be more attentive. We have to listen to more than one person, more than one point of view. Maybe God thinks that’s what relationships are all about.

Paul

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