“The Trinity” preached at Duke Chapel

From a sermon by Dean William Willimon at Duke Chapel, 1999

…There is a kind of effusiveness about God, an overflowing quality.
Augustine spoke of this in a passage in his great The City of God. Augustine spoke of the “plentitude” of God. As evidence of this, Augustine mentioned the effusiveness whereby God created all of the flowers in the world. We might have stopped creating flowers after one or two beautiful specimens. But God didn’t stop, God kept creating multitudes of flowers, all in different shapes and colors and kinds. Not only are they beautiful, Augustine notes, but note the glory of how they will turn their heads toward the sun, bending towards the light. We might have been content, as humans, with just a few flowers and their beauty. God didn’t stop with a few, because God is effusive, overflowing with love and creativity. There is a plentitude there.
I feel sorry for Fundamentalist Christians, who earnestly attempt to reduce this effusive, overflowing God to five or six “fundamentals.” It is tough to get this God down to a list of five or six of anything, because our God is effusive.
So, as Christians, we don’t have one Gospel, we have four. Four Gospels! One might have thought that we could have stopped with one, saying to ourselves, “Matthew fairly well got it right, let’s all go with Matthew.” But no, an effusive, ubiquitous, plenitudinous, and overflowing God requires at least four Gospels to talk about God and Christ.
And one way the church has historically attempted to talk about God’s plenitudinousness and effusiveness, God’s ubiquitous and loquaciousness, is through the Trinity. Don’t think of the Trinity as some incomprehensible doctrine of the church, though God’s plenitudinousness is often beyond our incomprehension. Think of the Trinity as our earnest, though groping attempt, somehow to put into words what we have experienced of the overflowing love of God.
Sometimes you hear people say, “Well you are a Christian, and I am not, but the important thing is that we all try to believe and serve God. Right?”
Christians are not those who believe in some amorphous, vague concept of “god.”
Christians are those who believe that God’s name is Trinity. God is not simply God, God is the Father, God is the Son, and God is the Holy Spirit.
We might have been able to say, at some early point, “well we all believe in the same God.” However, we believe that God came to us as Jesus. We believe that Jesus is God. And after experiencing that, all of our notions of God had to go back to the drawing table. If Jesus Christ is God, then we have a challenge in talking about God.

read it all here: Duke Chapel


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