Sermon preached on Trinity Sunday (3rd June 2012) by Rev Steve Smith
It was AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO who introduced the idea of the Holy Trinity in the 4th Century. He came up with the idea of God’s having One ‘Essence’ but Three ‘Persons‘.
This was some three hundred years after the events recorded in the gospels and the letters of the new testament (it was these letters that were the first written documents of the early church, the gospels were written down after the letters of Paul and the others).
In our readings for today we have
ISAIAH 6.1-8- The vision of God results in awareness of self and of our relationship to God – in light of which there is a move to contrition (I am of unclean lips) and action –“HERE AM I – SEND ME”
ROMANS 8.12-17 ‘FELLOW HEIRS WITH CHRIST’ – not servants – our responses are not ‘duty’ – but – those of a family member – from the heart. Again, the idea of connection to God, relationship with God, as receiving an inheritance from your father.
JOHN 3.1-17 – The ways in which God manifests him/herself and relates to people is in terms of a trinity of being:
· THE FATHER – who ‘because God loved the world so much” ,sends Jesus that through Jesus the world might be saved’… reminiscent of John 1.10 -“…to those who received him, who believed on his name, he gave power to become children of God, born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” The father reveals the essence of a creator God who yearns for relationship with the creation.
· THE SON – to be lifted up from the earth as a sign of God’s love – a bridge between heaven and earth – giving humankind the opportunity for ‘rebirth’. He speaks of what he knows – his relationship to the Father – and that he has been sent , not to condemn but to save the world.
The Son reveals the essence of a healing God who heals at his own, immense, cost.
· THE SPIRIT – For John, the world of flesh and that of spirit are very different. What is born of flesh follows the way of the flesh and what is born of the spirit follows the way of the spirit. There’s a choice to be made and therefore we need a guide, someone to lead us toward the truth. The word for wind and spirit is the same in both Hebrew and Greek so if you use the same word at the beginning and end of verse 8 ‘the spirit blows where it will – and so with those who are born of the spirit’ – in other words, spirit takes after spirit – those born of spirit will follow the ways of the spirit naturally.
The Spirit reveals the essence of a powerful God who guides and liberates, not constrained to the ways of the world.
In his book ‘INTO GOD’, R.G. COULSON (1956) looks at what happens when someone is contemplating a relationship with God. There are, he says, three features (another trinity!) of the person who is in the process of seriously looking ‘into God’. There will be, Coulson says:
- An agreement with the idea that the world needs God (look around!)
- An intensity of their own need for God, their interest in God, their longing for God.
- An appreciation that God is all about relationship – as expressed in the very idea of the Trinity: For the Creator there will be the created and a relationship between the two; for the redeemer there is the redeemed and a relationship between them; for the sustainer, that which is / those who are sustained and a relationship among them also.
An important thing for Coulson is the idea that those who seek God start with studying about God – the scriptures and other things people have written about God. But if study becomes an end in itself, the search for God breaks down – is lost. It is just the mind of the seeker that is involved.. . the heart remains untouched. Such a person is without desire for God, knowing about God but not seeking knowledge of God and relationship to God.
Another book – THE HUMBLE GOD, by DENSIL MORGAN (2005) talks about the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople (the origin of some of the creeds of the Church) coming up with the conclusion that the Christian God is One God in three persons, each relating to the other;
The father as the source of Godhead; the son as ‘eternally begotten’ of the father and perpetually obedient to him; and the spirit, proceeding form the father and responding constantly to both the father and the son.
A thousand years or more later John Calvin put it like this:
“To the father is attributed the beginning of activity and the fountain and wellspring of all things; To the Son, wisdom and counsel and the ordered disposition of all things; But to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity”
Calvin places a certain special emphasis on the Spirit, perhaps because it is the Spirit who ‘Leads us into all Truth’.
Marva J. Dawn, in her book ‘Being Well When We’re Ill: Wholeness and Hope in Spite of Infirmity‘ picks up the theme of the relationship between reality and Truth:
“Reality is what we notice on the surface – what we feel or see, what superficial perspectives we might gain, for example, from television’s evening news. Truth is much larger. It encompasses everything that genuinely is going on. The reality might be that our world looks totally messed up, that war and economic chaos seem to control the globe. But the truth is much deeper – that Jesus Christ is still … Lord of the cosmos, and the Holy Spirit is empowering many people to work for peacemaking and justice building as part of the Trinity’s purpose to bring the universe to its ultimate wholeness. The reality might be that you do not feel God, but the truth is that God is always present with you, perpetually forgiving you, and unceasingly caring for you with extravagant grace and abundant mercy. Not only that, but the very process of dealing with our lack of feelings and our resultant doubts about God is one of the ways by which our trust in the Trinity is deepened.”
This isn’t about saying that you’ve got to get your head round somebody else’s understanding of a three-in-one God ‘or else’!!… it’s about trying to describe the very nature of God … the fact that God is not just into creation but is the very source of everything that ever has been and ever will be. That Jesus wasn’t just a brave guy who sacrificed himself for others but is the expression, the pinnacle, the definition of the self-giving heart of God . That the Spirit isn’t just some wispy depiction of how God is everywhere doing stuff but is the very essence of the power of God and the mystery of God’s yearning to be one with us where we are… God desires relationship with the Creation above all and therefore the idea of the Trinity reflects the fact that God, one in essence, is at heart relational – three persons of the one essence, all relating to one another.
Discussion in twos/threes:
Since we’re talking about trinity – things in threes
- 3 most pressing problems in the world today?
- 3 most important things the church can offer the world in our time?
And finally, if all this thinking and talking about the nature of the Trinity makes you feel that you’ve got to have a degree-level understanding of what it’s all about – for all those people like me here’s what others have said about Trinity that isn’t about getting your head round something that sounds too intellectual for its own good:
Dan Barker “… the word ‘trinity’ appears nowhere in the bible. Neither does Rapture, or Second Coming, or Original Sin. Omniscience, Omnipresence, Supernatural,Transcendence, Afterlife, Deity, Divinity, Theology, Monotheism, Missionary, Immaculate Conception, Christmas, Christianity, Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Methodist, Catholic, Pope, Cardinal, Catechism, Purgatory, Penance, Transubstantiation, Excommunication, Dogma, Chastity, Unpardonable Sin, Infallibility, Inerrancy, Incarnation, Epiphany, Sermon, Eucharist, the Lord’s Prayer, Good Friday, Doubting Thomas, Advent, Sunday School, Dead Sea, Golden Rule, Moral, Morality, Ethics, Patriotism, Education, Atheism, Apostasy, Conservative (Liberal is in), Capital Punishment, Monogamy, Abortion, Pornography, Homosexual, Lesbian, Fairness, Logic, Republic, Democracy, Capitalism, Funeral, Decalogue, or Bible.”
John Wesley– Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God.