Isaiah 61:1-3, John 14:15-17, 25-27
May 22, 2016
When I was in Seminary, I was student pastor of the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Berwin. And I like to tell the story of the day we got a certain letter at the church. It was from “Publishers’ Clearing House.” It was addressed to “Trinity Church,” and it started off, “Dear Mr. Church, you may already have one a million dollars!” (Do they still send out those crazy things?) The funny thing was, that later in the letter, it started getting more personal, “So Trinity,” it said. “Why not mail in your response?”
I often think about that when I think about the Trinity – the church doctrine after which that church was named. This is Trinity Sunday, the day we remember and celebrate what we refer to as our “Triune God.” That is, we worship one God in three “persons.”
We’re taking a step backward from Pentecost, and we’re going back to the story of Jesus with his disciples in the Upper Room. We’re looking at some of the last things he wanted to tell them, to prepare them for the time when he would not be with them any more. He knew that time was coming. I wonder if they could have possibly known!
Well, here in John’s
Gospel, we have the most complete account of what Jesus said that night. I remember as a young boy being in my home church, were the pew Bibles were all “Red Letter Editions.” That means the words of Jesus were in red. (Anybody have one of those bibles?) Well, I remember that I used to sit there and try to find the pages with the most red ink. Yeah, it looked like I was really being “studious,” but that’s what I was really doing. And I remember that the most red words were found here in John 14. These pages contain this long discourse, which is sometimes called “The Farewell Address of Jesus.”
So yes, John wrote down a lot of what Jesus said that night. And I’m having us look at the part where he told them about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments, and I will pray to the father, and he will send you another counselor.” or in some versions “another comforter.” That’s the Trinity right there! The “Son” is telling them that the “Father” will send them the “Holy Spirit.” That’s all three persons!
I think you’ll agree, though, that the Trinity is not an easy thing to understand. It’s hard to “wrap our minds around it!” For one thing, the word “Trinity” does not actually appear anywhere in the Bible! Of course it’s spoken about – first here in the upper room, and then throughout the New Testament. The Apostle Paul often referred to it in the closing of his letters. He would write, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” be yours…” That sounds like a Benediction, doesn’t it? It sounds like the Trinity.
When we’re trying to understand the Trinity, we use different “examples” or “comparisons,” that help us. You’ve heard some of this before. For example, water is H2O, but it can be found as ice, water, or steam. It’s all the same substance, but it takes different forms. The clover is a three leafed plant. Each leaf is composed of three parts, but it’s all considered to be one clover leaf. (Oddly enough, the same thing can be said of poison ivy!)
These are the kinds of things that help us make sense of the Trinity. Because, this is all to say that we are not “tritheists.” In other words, we don’t worship three Gods. We are still “monotheists” – like our Jewish friends – like these disciples. We worship one God, in three “persons.”
Now, I want you to imagine what these “good Jewish boys,” would have thought about all this. They worshiped one God. They were “steeped” in their religion all of their lives – probably more than us! They knew their Torah! They all knew the great “Shamah Israel” passage from Deuteronomy 6. That was the passage they had written on their doorposts. (And the Jews still do to this day!) “Shamah Israel!” it says. “Hear O Israel! The Lord your God is one God!”
Well, now they were finding that their “one God” was to be experienced in three persons. One God, three expressions. That’s the doctrine. And it wasn’t easy for them, and it’s not easy for us, either! I know I sometimes have a hard time understanding this. (Like when I’m trying to write a sermon about it!) I’ll bet you do, too. Oh, sometimes we try to separate them out, and we say that the three persons are “creator,” “redeemer,” and “sustainer.” But it’s not as simple as that. In John chapter 1 it says this about the Son. “All things were made through him…” That puts Jesus in the role of creator, doesn’t it? So it’s not that simple.
What I’d like to do today, is to give you a couple of thoughts about this. I’d like to suggest that the three persons of the Trinity have to do with how our one God relates to us, personally. Maybe this will help your understanding.
Think about it this way. First, there was “God ‘above’ us.” That’s the “Father” of the Trinity. And we’re cool with that. God is “aloof.” God is “way out there.” God is easily held at arms length. “Don’t get to close to us, God!” “Don’t demand too much of us.” “We’ll do our ‘religious duty,’ and that’s it.” That’s the God the disciples had known all their lives. I’m not saying they held God at arms length, just that that’s how they thought about him – detached, above, over all things.
That’s “God above us.” Well, along came Jesus, and now all of a sudden we’re talking about “God ‘with’ us” – “Emmanuel.” That’s God the “Son.” And that’s nice! That’s an amazing thought! Now God “walks beside” us – literally, for these disciples! There’s more intimacy there. But that’s also a little more “uncomfortable,” isn’t it? God is not quite so “aloof” any more. There’s more direct interaction. There’s more “scrutiny” over our lives. There’s more accountability. There are more things expected of us in that relationship. It’s now become “personal.”
That’s different, isn’t it? But that wasn’t the end of it. There was one more step. Now we have “God, ‘above’ us,” “God ‘with’ us,” and then, after Pentecost, there is “God ‘in’ us!” That’s God the “Holy Spirit.” In a way, that’s the most uncomfortable of all. God lives in our heart. All the “aloof-ness” is gone! God knows us most intimately! Actually he always did. But now there’s no doubt! That is uncomfortable, isn’t it? But at the same time, that can be the most comforting, too!
Those are the ways God relates to us. So the question is, where do you stand in all of that? Are you comfortable simply with “God above us?” Is that it? Or are you also aware of and thankful for the work in your life of the second “person” of the trinity. Are you a follower of “the Son” – “God ‘with’ us” – Jesus Christ
Then, having known Jesus, do take things one step further, and do you seek the fellowship of the Holy Spirit – “God ‘within’ us?” Again, that’s the most uncomfortable part, and yet it is also the most comforting. It is God in our hearts every day. That’s why I chose to use the word “comforter” here. The Holy Spirit is the “other comforter,” the “other counselor” Jesus told his disciples about.
So I ask you, on this Trinity Sunday, “Are you Trinitarian?” Do you worship the “Triune God?” And in closing, let me echo the words of the Apostle Paul and say, “May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Love of God the Father, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be yours this day, and always. Amen!”
Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, help us to know you in all three “persons.” Help us to know your power, your grace, and your abiding presence. Help us to grow closer to you, as you dwell within us. Help us to have the power to be your people, wherever you call us. For we pray in your name, Amen.