May 27, 2018/ Trinity Sunday/ Richard E. Holmer
First Lesson: Isaiah 6:1-8, Second Reading: Romans 8:12-17, Gospel: John 3:1-17
How do you picture heaven? It’s quite common for people to describe heaven in terms of what they already know. That is, heaven will be like earth – only more so: the best of everything, earthly life perfected. And so heaven is imagined to be like Camelot, where the weather is always perfect, there is plenty of food and drink, dogs don’t bite, bees don’t sting, no mosquitoes. Everyone is healthy, all live in lovely homes – and there’s no waiting for a tee time. Even the descriptions of heaven in the bible read like extrapolations of human ideas of luxury: gates made of giant pearls and streets paved with gold. It’s natural for us to conceive of heavenly things in human terms.
And how about God? When you think of God, what do you picture in your mind? The Man Upstairs? A Great Parent in the Sky? The King on a Throne? The Supreme Judge, watching our every move? The Ultimate Architect and Designer of all things? The Unmoved Mover? Scripture reminds us that we have been created in God’s image. So it’s tempting for us to then recast God in our own image. Because we are made in God’s image, God must be like us, we think. (Which of course is faulty logic – like looking through the wrong end of binoculars.) Is God the Great Spirit? Is God the Life Force? (as in Star Wars) Is God some Invisible Power, like ultraviolet light or radio waves? Of course, we can always point to Jesus as the best picture we have of God (which is true). Yet we don’t actually know what Jesus looked like, do we? And when Jesus prayed, to whom was he speaking?
Like our Jewish friends, Christians are Monotheists. We believe in One God (as the creed begins). Christians affirm the central doctrine of Judaism expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Shema) “Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord.” Yet we have a distinctive understanding of the one true God. We know God in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So when we speak about what we believe in our creeds, there are three Articles, one for each person. When we begin our worship, we begin in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. When we are baptized, we are not baptized Lutheran – nor are we baptized only in the name of Jesus. We are baptized in God’s full name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Because we believe God is a Holy Trinity, triangles are a useful symbol: Equilateral Triangle, Three equal sides, making one figure. And so we have these beautiful windows to serve as a reminder of the Trinity.
Of course the Trinity is more than a symbol for God. God isn’t a triangle. God is not an abstract theological construct. God is not an impressive sight to behold. We sing, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” yet God is not an imposing edifice. Nor is God a dazzling light or an imposing fire.
What Christians believe from knowing the Trinity, is that God is a relationship. Pastor and theologian Sam Wells offers this insight: “God is a relationship of three persons, so wonderfully shaped towards one another, so wondrously with one another, that we call them one – but so exquisitely diverse and distinct within that unity that we call them three.”
The Holy Trinity is at once simple and mysterious. A simple diagram helps to explain: Look at the triangular stained glass window. Picture Father at the top. Son at one corner. Spirit at the other. In the Center is God. The lines that form the three sides all say “Is Not.” Lines from each point of the triangle aim to the center, saying “Is”. We believe God is three in One, and One in Three; eternally equal in being, power and majesty.
We call the Father the Creator, and so he is. Yet the Father did not create alone. Christ was present at the Creation. John says about Jesus: “He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him.” And the Holy Spirit was also present at the Creation, as we read in Genesis 1:2. “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.”
We call Jesus our Savior and Redeemer – and he is. Yet it is God the Father who so loved the world that he gave us his Son.(John 3:16) And it is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
We call the Holy Spirit the Sanctifier. That’s right. Yet scripture teaches that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. We do not believe in three Gods, or a God divided into three separate functions. Our God is One.
This belief is essential to our faith and understanding. God is mysterious, holy and awesome. As God says of himself: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. For as the heaven as higher than the earth, so are my thoughts higher than your thoughts, and my ways higher than your ways.” (Isaiah 55) For now, you and I can only know God partially, as Paul observes in I Corinthians 13. “Now I know in part, then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.” What we can and do understand is this: God is not static, God is dynamic and alive. God is not stationary, unmoved and unmoving – God is active and vibrant, responsive. God is more like a Verb than a Noun – because God is that ever-flowing relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Dare I say: God is a healthy, spirited love triangle – love flowing freely and continually, potently and eternally between the Three Persons of the Trinity.
So to get an approximate picture of God, we can imagine a holy, eternal, loving family, a triad, composed of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – continually sharing love that is alive, pure and steadfast. Which is why St John can say quite simply: God Is Love. God is this magnificent fusion reaction of constant, overflowing love. God is a relationship – and that relationship exists and is expressed in LOVE. Thus when St Paul sings the praise of love in I Corinthians 13, he is not focused on the love between husband and wife. (Although this passage is often read at weddings.) First and foremost Paul is describing the love that is the real substance, the genuine reality of God: love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love that rejoices in the Truth. Love that is the ultimate Truth. Love that never ends –because God never ends.
The Trinity offers rich insight into the nature of God. Helps us to know what we mean when we refer to God – and to whom we are addressing our prayers and praises. And understanding the Holy Trinity matters for another important reason. Listen again to Pastor Sam Wells: “The life of the Trinity is so shaped, not simply to be in perfect relationship with itself – but to be in relationship with us. Those are the two dynamics that live at the center of the universe: God’s perfect inner relationship, and God’s very life shaped to be in relationship with us through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. There isn’t anything in God that isn’t relationship.”
Theologians have long speculated about why God decided to create the universe. Why is there something instead of nothing? Why create humans in the image of God? Answer: So that God would have even more to love, more beings to be in relationship with. So that love might abound. Wells again: “…the inner life of God is always a relationship, always an intimate, trusting dynamic exchange – and so when, in the miracle of grace, you and I are invited to be in relationship with God we’re invited to join a relationship that’s already going on.”
When you join a congregation, you become part of a community relationship that is already going on. (When we came to St. James. When you joined.) It’s a similar process when we come into a faith relationship with God: we enter into the life of God’s ongoing loving relationship between Father, Son and Spirit. This is the very thing Paul is describing in our Second Reading from Romans: The Holy Spirit has called and gathered us into the most intimate and powerful relationship of all. By Baptism, you and I have been adopted into the eternal company of the Holy Trinity. You have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
This is, of course, the good news proclaimed in John 3:16: God so loved this world and everyone in it, that he gave us his Son, Jesus, so that through the Son we might be saved – that is drawn into our eternal, loving relationship with the Father and the Spirit as well as the Son. That’s what it means to be Saved.
When you think about it, this is what Jesus is teaching when he teaches us how to pray. Jesus doesn’t tell us to pray to “His Father”. He says pray to “our Father.” Christ’s Father is our Father, too. This is the Holy Relationship at the very heart of all things – relationship which, by grace, includes us all. You and I have been welcomed into this relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It begins at baptism and continues forever. Which is why whenever the Holy Trinity is invoked (in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit) it is good and right to remember our baptism, to recall our adoption as God’s daughters and sons – and to make the sign of the cross.
In conclusion, we know that Christ has given to us the mission to make disciples – to welcome others into blessed and holy relationship with God. Remember, Jesus came to show God’s love is not just for some, not just for us – but for the whole world. You and I have the privilege and the responsibility of sharing the good news of God’s great love, a loving relationship that welcomes and embraces all people. People got it wrong back in the sixties. Love is not God. That’s a bit naïve and sentimental. Yet we know and believe that God is most definitely Love. Ultimately, abiding in love with the Holy Trinity and with one another is what life is all about. It’s what Jesus calls Abundant life!
Thanks Be to God.