St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Isaiah 6.1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8.12-17; John 3.1-17
It’s Trinity Sunday! In larger churches, the senior priest has the luxury of assigning the sermon to the associate pastor. I don’t have that luxury, so I guess I might as well get on with it. Perhaps I should have scheduled my vacation for one week later and depended on Mark to preach on the Trinity. By the way, I have heard that two excellent sermons were delivered in my absence! Thanks again to Ben Barondeau and Mark Kratochvil, and to Tasi Barondeau and Patty Kratochvil for leading Morning Prayer.
When it comes to explaining or understanding the doctrine of the Trinity, the more wise and truthful approach may be to say nothing. The doctrine of the Trinity is not contained in the Holy Scriptures; it was not formulated for some four hundred years following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. Yet, we catch glimpses of a trinitarian view of God in certain passages of scripture – one of which is John 3.1-17.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. He was a man of considerable stature. It was best he not be seen with one who dines and fellowships with sinners and prostitutes. Yet Nicodemus realized that Jesus had “come from God.” As he said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God” (John 3.2; NRSV). A few verses later, Jesus speaks of how the Son of Man must be lifted up as with the serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness, then Jesus points to the Father and the Son when he states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3.16; NRSV). In this passage, Jesus also speaks of being born of the Spirit. Thus, we have a reference to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Three persons, yet one God. How can this be?
The old images and explanations of the Trinity fail us: The “Threeness” of a triangle, a shamrock, an egg, and of water do not capture the dynamics of the Trinity. How can our finite minds comprehend the infinite nature of God? As Rolheiser tells us, “God cannot be thought, but God can be met. Through awe and wonder we experience God and there, as mystics have always stated, we understand more by not understanding than by understanding. In that posture we let God be God. In such a posture, too, we live in contemplation” (Rolheiser: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/163678f5f2daab00).
So how do we meet the three persons of God? How do we experience God?
I suspect most of us think of God as primarily fulfilling the role of creation, yet the accounts of creation reflect more than one person of the Godhead. Genesis 1.2 refers to the Spirit of God over the face of the waters, and in Genesis 1.26, we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness’” (NRSV). We were created in the image of God – male and female. In John 1 we are told the Word was in the beginning, that the Word was God, that all things came into being through the Word, and that the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. Thus, a trinitarian God is evident in the accounts of creation.
One commentator I was reading while on vacation noted that creation resulted from the bubbling overflow of God’s love. Having witnessed the beauty of Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks, I fully appreciated the view of creation as resulting from the bubbling overflow of God’s love.
God is love. In John 3.17 we read, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (NRSV). As I have noted before, many people interpret this verse very narrowly – if you do not believe in Jesus Christ, you are condemned to hell. For some reason, this does not convey a very loving image of God. In Christ we see the physical manifestation of Gods’ love, God took on flesh and dwelt among us, and showed us how we are to live and to love that we might have life abundant. Given the madness about us, the only hope for our world is to be found in love. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said at the recent royal wedding,
There's power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There's power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There's power in love to show us the way to live . . . When love is the way -- unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive, when love is the way. Then no child would go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way. We will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way poverty will become history. When love is the way the earth will become a sanctuary. When love is the way we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way there's plenty good room, plenty good room for all of God's children.
Cause when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family. When love is the way we know that God is the source of us all. And we are brother and sisters, children of God. Brothers and sisters, that's a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family. And let me tell you something, old Solomon was right in the Old Testament. That's fire. (https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/19/europe/michael-curry-royal-wedding-sermon-full-text-intl/index.html )
I find the media reaction to his address to be rather fascinating – they speak as though this is the good news which they have not heard before! And this is tragic, for had Christ’s Church been preaching and living this love, had we truly been living as Christ’s disciples, this would be old news. The media and the public would not marvel at the message – they would rather recognize the eternal nature and quality of the words which were spoken.
I think most of us may experience God’s presence through the Holy Spirit. When we live close to God, we sense the presence of the Spirit within our lives. Prior to his death, Jesus told the disciples that it was necessary for him to leave such that the power of the Holy Spirit would come upon them. The apostles received the Holy Spirit when Jesus first visited them following his resurrection, but as we saw last Sunday, the power of the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost. It is this power which enables us to live a life of love and radical transformation.
The Trinity is beyond our comprehension, but we experience God in profoundly moving ways – sometimes as loving Mother/Father, sometimes through Christ’s sacrificial love, and sometimes through the power of the Spirit. We should give thanks and praise for these experiences, and recognize they come from a loving God.