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Trinity Sunday

Readings: Exodus 34:1–8, 2 Corinthians 13:11–13 & Matthew 28:16–20

I wonder how many of you are familiar with the saying “it doesn’t make one iota of difference”? I had no idea of the origins of this saying until I started studying theology. The English word ‘iota’, which means “an extremely small amount”, derives its meaning from the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet ιώτα (pronounced ee-oh-tah).

A very serious dispute arose within the Church early in the fourth century regarding the nature of God and the nature of Jesus. Arius, who was a priest in the city of Alexandria, argued that Jesus was the first act of creation; that God created Jesus, and in turn everything else in Creation was created through Jesus. In this sense then, Jesus was inferior to God, and was not the same as God. This view of the nature of God, and Jesus, came to be known as Arianism. The dispute that ensued threatened not only the unity of the Church, but also the unity of the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine. 

Following a number of years of civil war, Constantine had united the empire under his rule in 324CE. The dispute in the church threatened the unity of the empire that Constantine had fought to achieve. In 325CE Constantine summoned the Council of Nicaea, a meeting of the bishops of the Church, and he ordered the bishops to find a resolution to this dispute concerning the nature of God. The outcome of the council was the defeat of Arianism, and the formation of the statement of Christian Faith, known as the Nicene Creed, which was based on belief in the Triune God or Holy Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Key to the resolution of the dispute was the use of two Greek words to describe the nature of God – homoousios (meaning the ‘same substance’) and homoiousios (meaning ‘similar substance’). The council decided that God and Jesus were of the ‘same substance’ (homoousios) and not of a ‘similar substance’ (homoiousios), meaning that Jesus was not created by God but was the incarnation of God. The only difference in the spelling of the two words was an additional ιώτα in homoiousios. Hence the saying, “it doesn’t make one iota of difference”.

You might be wondering what all the fuss was about? You might be thinking, what difference does it make if Jesus is God, or if he was created by God, and then everything else was created through him? Well, there are some very complicated theological answers to this question, which I’m not sure that I fully understand myself! So rather than trying to explain those, and confusing both you and myself, I’ll instead tell you the reason why I think it is important to believe that God and Jesus are the same. If God revealed Himself to humankind, through His incarnation in Jesus, then God knows what it means to be human. He can relate to the pain and anguish of human suffering, which for me makes a huge difference when I look at all the human misery that exists in the world today, and has existed throughout human history. It means that we are not alone in our suffering. God knows what we are feeling.

The Bible, through the Old Testament, tells us that humankind became estranged or separated from God, because people began to think they didn’t need God; they began to desire things in their lives that they thought would bring them happiness, and when it did, albeit perhaps only for short periods of time, they made less and less time for God in their lives. They became more and more self reliant and self sufficient. But the Old Testament is also filled with stories of how these people eventually fall victim to their desire; how their greed and arrogance become their downfall. And the Old Testament is also filled with stories of how God never abandons humankind; how He continues to seek ways for humankind to be reconciled to Him.

The New Testament is the story of how God finally did reconcile humankind to Himself. He was incarnate in Jesus and became truly human, and through Jesus He revealed Himself to humankind and showed people how to live as He originally intended them to live, with love and compassion for one another. The death of Jesus on the cross was the ultimate act of love and self-sacrifice, for as it is written in the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16 NRSV)

We might ask ourselves at times, “How is the Holy Trinity relevant in our daily lives”? Or perhaps worse still, we may not even think about it at all. I find it helpful to think of the Holy Trinity in this way: God the Father is the designer and maker of all Creation, of everything that we can see, touch and experience in the world around us; God the Son has by His own life and death has brought us back into relationship with God, and shown us both what it means to be human, and also how to be human; and God the Holy Spirit, by guiding us to lead lives that are full of compassion, love and respect for others, makes us acceptable, not only in the eyes of our fellow human beings, but more importantly, acceptable in the eyes of God. 

Catherine Mowry LaCugna described it this way: “God’s face and name are proclaimed before us in creation, in God’s words and deeds on our behalf, in the life and death of Jesus Christ, in the new community gathered by the Holy Spirit.”

The Lord be with you.

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