Sermon ArchivesSunday's Sermon
Holy Trinity Sunday ___ John 3:1-17 ___ May 27, 2018
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, giver of life; breathe into us that we may hear a word of truth this day. Draw us into communion, enable us to love, conspire to make us one with you for the world you so deeply love. Amen
Let’s be honest, Holy Trinity is an odd Sunday. It is odd because it is a festival lifting up a theological doctrine of the church, a rather confusing and mysterious doctrine. I wish I could say that over the years and my many and varied attempts of preaching on this doctrine actually made a difference in the lives of the faithful. I don’t say this out of any sense of self-deprecating humility, but rather out of a profound sense of realism. And the reality is, the Holy Trinity really is confusing and it really is mysterious and more often than not any attempt to explain the Trinity ends up being wrong.
Let me give you an example. I, Stephen Blenkush, am one individual—but I have a variety of relationships to others, several “modes,” “roles” and/or “personalities.” Just in terms of family: to my wife, I am “husband”; to my son and daughter, I am “father”; to my two sisters, I am “brother.”
“Stephen in three persons, an unholy trinity.” Makes sense, right? Sort of—but it is wrong! In theological terms we call this “Modalism” and the church has declared this a heresy. And we commit heresy every time we try to draw some sort of analogy to explain this divine mystery.
In Sunday school I remember hearing my well intentioned teacher try to explain the Trinity with an analogy to H2O, otherwise known as water. As you know from your science classes—water, or H2O can be experienced in three forms or modes, as steam, ice and as liquid. Nice analogy, but theologically, a heresy called modalism. As I said, most of our efforts to explain the Trinity end up like that—heretical.
So what are we to do with this odd Sunday, this festival of the church? Do we ignore it? Skip over it? Obviously those are options and they are options many communities of faith choose to do. We could do that, but I believe we would miss something helpful and profound, even though it is both confusing and mysterious.
How about we look to scripture for help? I suggest this because our Scripture lessons for today do tell us some things about God, utilizing a Trinitarian understanding of the nature of God without actually using the word “trinity.”
In our first reading from Isaiah we heard the line, “Holy, holy, holy,” which can be understood as a reference to the Trinity—if one is so inclined.
The writer of Romans refers to our crying out to God with the words “Abba, Father” and to a believer being a “joint heir with Christ,” which is an allusion to Jesus the Christ being the heir because he is the “Son of God,” and to the “Spirit of God” letting us know that we are children of God.
So, we have “Father,” and “Son” and “Spirit” but no actual definition of how these three “persons” work together to be one God.
And our reading from John’s Gospel contains Jesus’ famous conversation with Nicodemus—with language about being “born from above,” (from a parental God) and “born of water and the Spirit,” and “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” While there are three “persons” here, nowhere do we find the word “trinity” or any explanation of how God is both three and one at the same time. Confessing? You bet.
But here is the Good News--we really are not required either to figure out the Trinity nor to explain it. And I don’t believe there is any real value in trying to define, label, dissect or analyze a mystery such as the Trinity. I do believe however when we try to define the Holy Trinity in clear, crisp, antiseptically clean and philosophical language; we prevent ourselves from being drawn into the relationship with God that the doctrine of the Trinity reveals to us.
All that being said, does that mean we are to ignore this odd doctrine? By no means! Rather than ignore it, let us consider—at the risk of wandering into heretical territory-- the following observations.
Let’s start with this observation—the Holy Trinity helps us maintain a healthy balance in our view of God and the spiritual life. Most of us, most of the time, tend to be what I call “closet Unitarians;” that is, although we believe in the idea of God in three persons, the fact is that spiritually, emotionally, practically – we quite naturally relate to one of the three persons more than the other two.
Some of you may see God as high, mighty and powerful, the creator of all that is; “immortal, invisible, God only wise,” as in the classic hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” and our reading from Isaiah proclaims. If you are in this camp, this image of God brings out a sense of reverence, a sense that when we gather for worship in a sanctuary we are on holy ground, a place set apart and dedicated to God Almighty. The key words in this relationship are: Reverence an Awe. It was this sense of God that inspired the building of the great majestic cathedrals of the world as well inspiring the great musical composers of history to create great anthems of praise and glory to God.
Others may center their faith on Jesus the Christ, our Savior and Lord. They focus on the central story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection as well as his teachings of how we are to love God and love neighbor with all our heart, soul and mind. When Jesus is at the center of your faith it is common to respond to others the way Jesus responded to others, by loving them, forgiving them, serving them, caring for them, welcoming them. In short, the sentiments found in Matthew 25 that talk about feeding, healing, welcoming and caring for others is close to your heart and your call to discipleship. And the key word is not so much a word, but a symbol, the cross, the reminder of God’s great love for all of humanity—“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…”
And last but not least, though harder than the others to nail down, some of you might gravitate by nature and inclination to the Holy Spirit. I have noticed that those who are drawn to the Spirit tend to get impatient with theological discussions or doctrinal debates. They long to feel God in their lives; yearning for nudges of the Holy Spirit to guide them in their daily walk. At the same time, those who are leaning on the Holy Spirit are also a tad bit more prone to take leaps of faith because they sense the Spirit’s presence and this gives them confidence to move, act and trust.
I suspect if you really thought about it, you might be able to pin point where you are on this Trinitarian continuum. And if you really thought about it some more you might realize that your place on that continuum has shifted over the years, I know mine has, and it will no doubt shift again and again. So what are we to make of all this? Once again, consider these three things…
Here’s is the first thing you need to know and trust--each of these is an authentic way of experiencing and relating to God. For a healthy spiritual life, balance is needed, and the doctrine of the Trinity helps us keep our balance by reminding us of those aspects of God we do not easily see. The Trinity reminds us that the God who created the universe is also the God who lived among us in person of Jesus Christ and is the same God who nudges us and comforts us in our day-to-day lives.
The second thing we need to know and trust is this, if each of us tends to identify with an aspect of the Trinity at a particular time. And it is safe to assume that the person sitting next to you has been and doing the same thing. It also means that every community of faith needs that healthy mix and balance, as well as the Trinitarian shift that we all go through in order to be a healthy and balanced congregation and this is both a grace thing and sometimes a very messy thing.
Let’s face it—we all get jazzed by and motivated in matters of living out our faith differently. Some of are moved by the music, others by wrestling with scripture, others are fulfilled by rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands in the mix of things, some find meaning in extending hospitality to others, some will spend time in prayer, while others gain great joy by giving of their time, talents and treasures. And this is all good, because all are needed to lift up the Body of Christ, to give glory to God and to share the Good News of the Gospel.
And here is the thing, when everyone is jazzed, when everyone is doing what they do best, by what they are drawn to, working with their gifts, the community of faith is a beautiful, exciting, energizing thing to see and experience. The church is at its best when this happens.
The flip side, the messy side of that picture can be seen when everyone is doing his or her own thing without regard to others, without communication, without concern for others, when we forget to be gracious, when we forget the other person or persons. It is frustrating when everyone is busy--but nobody is on the same page or going in the same direction, spinning their wheels and not getting anywhere.
And let’s be honest, this happens from time to time. We see this happen in a variety of relationships: families, friends, organizations, our nation and even in our churches. At times like this it is good to slow down, take a deep breath, re-focus—not on ourselves, but on God, the One-in-Three who is calling, stirring, shaping, transforming and healing our lives and the lives of our communities. This is the beauty of this divine and mysterious diversity that blesses the church and those the church interacts with.
And here is the third thing you need to know and trust: The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that even God exists in community, in a family so to speak, a family of equals who share one calling, and one goal, and one life—while existing within that community, that family, as unique individuals who are stronger together than they could ever be apart. If God as Trinity, as “God in three persons,” is like that, what does that say to us about our life as Christians, our life as the church? If we are made in the image of God (and the Bible says we are), and if God needs community (and the Bible says God does), then we need community too; we need and are a community that is called together to move in the same general direction, to love one another, and to serve the world – in imitation of, as the image of, the Holy Trinity, God in three persons, in the world. And there is absolutely nothing wrong or heretical about that. Amen!