Images of God: Four Elements of the Holy Trinity
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
June 12, 2017

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily for Trinity Sunday on June 11, 2017 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Exodus 32:4b-6, 8-9; Daniel 3:52-56; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; and John 3:16-18.

It’s Trinity Sunday. I don’t know about you, but over the years, I’ve heard some really lousy homilies on Trinity Sunday. And they’re all variations on this theme: the Holy Trinity is impossible to comprehend, and then the priest tries to explain it for 10 minutes.

We’re going to strike out in a different direction today: I’ll be inviting us to reflect on how we each experience God as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. And to get us started, I’ll offer three images of God that many people have, even though they sound really silly. The first is old man with a flowing white beard, radiating light, who knows the answer to everything. The second image is the Norse God, Thor; he’s up in the clouds, watching us, waiting for us to mess up so he can zap us with a lightning bolt. And the third image of God is one that’s common to people my age, from Generation X: God as Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy. He’s lovable. If you push him, he just giggles, but at the end of the day, he’s isn’t very substantial. 

Our readings today abound with the words “LORD” and “God.” As we enter more deeply into this Mass, let us be present to the LORD God of all grace and all mercy.

I’m about to ask you to do one of those things that makes people really uncomfortable at church. I’m going to ask you to move so that you’re sitting in pairs. I’m going to guide us through a discussion, so please find someone to sit and talk with. 

Here’s how it’s going to work. In rapid-fire succession, I’m going to present five images of God as Father and Creator from the Bible, the saints, and contemporary theology. Then, each pair of people will have 90 seconds to discuss both your image of God as Father and Creator, and which of the images I presented is most challenging to you. You’ll each have 45 seconds, so talk fast! I’ll ring this prayer bell to indicate when it’s time to switch. Then, we’ll repeat the same pattern with each of the other aspects of God that I like to call “the four dimensions of the Trinity.”

Ready? Here goes. Five images of God as Father and Creator:

  1. Jesus describes God as a merchant who sells everything to purchase a pearl of great price.
  2. God appears to Moses as a bush that burns but is not consumed by the fire.
  3. Sr. Doris Klein has created a sculpture of God as an old woman tenderly holding Adam in the moment of creation.
  4. In the novel and the movie The Shack, William Young depicts God as Elousia, a large, African-American cook who says that she is “especially fond” of any person you mention to her.
  5. Fr. Dick Sparks reports that if you ask people who could take God’s place if he needed a day off, most people will respond their grandma. You know that she loves you unconditionally, but she’ll enforce her rules.

OK, talk with your neighbor. What’s your image of God as Father/Creator? Which of the images I mentioned is most challenging to you?

Ready for another round? Here goes. Five images of God as Son and Redeemer:

  1. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for the lost sheep.
  2. In several books of the Old Testament, our Jewish ancestors present a character named “Lady Wisdom.” She says that she was present at the creation, that she walked with the Israelites through the Red Sea. We believe that that Lady Wisdom is also Christ, the totality of the second person of God.
  3. I often think of Jesus as my brother. Sometimes in prayer, I will ask him to walk beside me as I talk with him.
  4. St. John calls Christ the LOGOS, the Word of God. In the beginning was the Word, and in Jesus, the Word became flesh.
  5. St. Irenaeus says that God the Father has a plan for how all the universe will come together in peace and harmony at the end of time. And he says that the name of that plan is “Christ.”

OK, talk with your neighbor. What’s your image of God as Son/Redeemer? Which of the images I mentioned is most challenging to you?

Third round. Five images of God as Holy Spirit and Sanctifier:

  1. A traditional depiction of the Holy Spirit is as a dove.
  2. I sometimes think of the Holy Spirit as my internal compass. If I quiet myself in prayer, the Holy Spirit directs me which way to go.
  3. St. Paul says that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we can’t find the words. I often think of the Holy Spirit as when we trust our “gut” or intuition.
  4. Our Eastern Christian brothers and sisters talk about the Holy Spirit as the thing that eventually “divinizes” us humans so that we are ready for heaven.
  5. The Holy Spirit is the breath that the Father breathed into the man and the woman to make them living beings.

OK, talk with your neighbor. What’s your image of God as Holy Spirit / Sanctifier? Which of the images I mentioned is most challenging to you?

Finally, the Christian concept of God as Holy Trinity has embedded in itself the idea of community of love, three persons in relationship with one another. Here are five ways to think about that:

  1. As the First Letter of John succinctly says: “God is love.”
  2. In modern times, people have suggested that God is like an incandescent light bulb. The Father is the power, the Son is the light, and the Holy Spirit is the heat.
  3. At the Baptism of the Lord, we see the Trinity together: as Jesus comes up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends and the Father’s voice is heard.
  4. St. Andrei Rublev painted a famous icon of the three angels visiting Abraham, but it is intended to also be interpreted as the Trinity – three equal persons, looking towards one another.
  5. At the creation, the Father created the world through the Word (Christ), as the Spirit blew upon the waters.

OK, last chance to talk with your neighbor. What’s your image of God as community? Which of the images I mentioned is most challenging to you?

And now, let us baptize this child into this community of love, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.