Trinity Sunday, May 22, 2016, 11 AM, UBC Digby
J G White (Romans 5:1-57; John 16:12-15)
In the Church year, this Sunday is called Trinity Sunday. God is One, but also Three Persons. God in three Persons: blessed Trinity. But, why? Why is God like this? Or, at least, why do we Christians find God to be this way? What’s Three for? Why not just One: God be God?
John 16:12-15. Four verses from the four pages of Jesus’ talk at the Last Supper with the disciples. As with last week, here is a saying about the Holy Spirit, promised to come in the future. But when he, the Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. In this teaching, we hear Jesus speaking about Himself, about the Father who is God, and about the Spirit: who all seem to be sharing and giving things to people. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. A few hundred years after Jesus spoke these words, His followers settled on a description of God called the Trinity. God is One God. God is also three Persons, so to speak.
What’s here in John 16 is beautifully worded, but still limited, inadequate, awkward. It is human language, after all. God the Trinity is simple enough for us to know but beyond us in our understanding and explaining.
Why do we say God is Three and One? These Three are for Salvation. Our experience of being saved is deep and broad, and we find the God who saves us is Three and One.
We have this section of the Bible called the Book of Romans, and here is some thorough Christian teaching about God and salvation. The book is in two parts we could call: how to explain it, and how to live it. The tiny bit Angela read today is a little chapter well-loved by teachers and preachers of sin and salvation. And, of course, it is filled with all the special words that have so much meaning. Words to express some important things about humankind and God: Justification, Faith, Peace with God, Access to Grace, Hope of sharing God’s Glory, God’s Love.
Fred Buechner wrote of how such big words lose their power.
Take any English word, even the most commonplace, and try repeating it twenty times in a row — umbrella, let us say, umbrella, umbrella, umbrella — and by the time we have finished, umbrella will not be a word anymore. It will be a noise only, an absurdity, stripped of all meaning. And when we take even the greatest and most meaningful words that the Christian faith has and repeat them over and over again for some two thousand years, much the same thing happens.
But I keep using them, Buechner writes. And so do we all. And our re-telling of the same truths comes out of those traditional words.
We can hear afresh what Good News the Trinity works in our world. (Romans 5:1-2, Msg)
By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.
Our Maker, our Master, our Mighty Spirit, all are involved in the new life we are given and get to live, even now. Salvation is a life, a life lived with this Trinity, today.
I was impressed more than a week ago by a statement made in a tribute to Idella Morine at her funeral in Bear River. Of the many things a granddaughter’s husband said, one was this. That Idella believed that if there turned out to be no afterlife, no heaven, no mansion just over the hilltop: knowing and following Jesus was worth it just for this life of salvation here and now.
This thought brings us to a second reason for God to be the Trinity. These Three are for Relationship.
God is in relationship already, before/without creation or anything else to love and enjoy. John Donne said, No man is an island entire of itself… Perhaps even the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is telling us that Our God is not an island entire of Itself. The One we worship is a Community of love, all within Godself.
As Jesus talks about the Spirit in John 16, He speaks of a sharing between Himself and the Spirit and God the Father. The Spirit “will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears… He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine,” said Jesus.
It seems strange, doesn’t it? But Christ paints this picture of the Three Persons of God in this friendly, cooperative, generous relationship. Father, Son and Spirit are almost submitting to each other.
And then our Creator shares with us humans: glory, and suffering, and knowledge.
At the heart of our story is the suffering of God – Jesus who is brutally executed. Relationship is remade with people by our God who even comes to us to be abandoned and face death.
I see in this suffering of Jesus, this abandonment by God the Father, is like our own split selves: detached from our own emotions, our memories, our past actions, and our present habits. We bury many things, our insides a split up and the hurting parts sometimes hidden. “My self, my self, why have you forsaken me?” we could cry out, taking a page from Psalm 22. Even God completely has experienced this, as the dying Jesus says, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?!” That can only happen if God is more than one.
And then the relationship is restored: Creator, Son and Spirit – and the fellowship of God and humankind is healed. So our story of God is of a God who is more than one, and even gets separated from Himself, so that we can be one, united with God.
I hear it said, again and again: there is a difference between a human being and human doing… So God is our Image: God is in relationship, even without and before creation. Without God doing anything. If the New Testament can say “God is love,” then we can say “God is relationship.” Our view of God as the Trinity points to this.
You may know of Karen and David Mains, American Christian authors who have been in radio ministry for many years. M A I N S; not to be confused with Canadian David Mainse of 100 Huntley Street: M A I N S E.
It was twenty years ago that Karen wrote:
These years, I am chasing Trinity. Each Sunday, I hear the cry in my heart, “Sursum corda! Lift up your hearts!” I lift up my heart to the Trinity. I will learn from the One-God-in-Three that I am molded best by relationship, [that I am incomplete without dialogic formation, that I can only become what God intended me to be my humbling myself to reciprocity.]
(Karen Burton Mains, Stories for the Christian Year, 1992, p. 170)
There is a third point to this sermon. It had to be a ‘three point sermon,’ eh? For Trinity Sunday. Why is God Three as well as One? These Three are for Discipleship.
God, in these three ways, three Persons, offers us a life path of being a complete disciple, a learner, an apprentice. I say this because of Romans 5 and all the talk of what God does through Jesus, and the actions of the Spirit, pouring love into our hearts. I look at that chain of development: suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope. To be a disciple of Jesus we are always in development and in training with the Master. The Salvation God provides for us is a whole life. The continuing touch of the Spirit works on us from the inside out.
In John 16 Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit who will come to continue His teaching and guiding. We especially think of the Spirit as the One who does some inner work on our human spirits, making us Holy like God. Special, good and pure. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” After Jesus’ life here, after the Bible was written and completed, all these centuries later, God still guides and leads and trains and teaches.
One Bible commentator has warned: This is in some ways a frightening promise, for it can be quoted to bless every new notion, and footnote with authority all manner of behavior as well as prophecies as to the fate of the world, the time of the eschaton[end] , and the certain will of God in every crisis. (Fred B. Craddock et al, Preaching the New Common Lectionary, 1986, pp. 20-21)
You can walk through our town and read a sign that says: Sometime in Sept of 2053 the First Resurrection is to take place. This is the month and the year. 38 years from 2015. This is not the day or the hour.
Is this from God? Did the Holy Spirit teach or reveal this to someone to share with our town? I’ll let you be the judge. Suffice it for me to say that the Spirit is in accord with Jesus the living Word, and with Creator God, of the whole story of the Bible.
Someone reminded me of a little, old tin at our cottage, with a narrow spout on the top. It is a tin of Three-In-One Oil. I guess it was long before WD-40 people used Three-In-One Oil. Developed in 1894, what does it do? It cleans, lubricates, and protects. On thing that is three things: cleaner, lubricator, protector.
God = Three/Trinity = One/Unity
Like how physics understands light. A particle and/or a wave. We can’t pin it down. But it is so real, so present and powerful in our lives.
We can’t pin God down. But we can experience God as One, and as Three. A God who saves the world. A God who relates to us. A God who welcomes disciples.