2 Corinthians 13:11-14
By Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God.
The Son is not the Father. The Father is not the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is not the Son.
A Trinitarian Life
I am on a presbytery committee that supervises people who are in the process of being ordained as pastors. One of the steps that they have to do is write a statement of faith and then read it to the committee, after which we ask questions. A couple years ago, after one young lady read her statement of faith, she was asked a question about the Trinity. She said that she sometimes connects the Trinity with Batman movies. That caught our attention. Batman is the Father. Robin is his faithful sidekick – the Son. Batwoman is the Holy Spirit, the sexy counterpart who only shows up when the ratings need a boost. That is a description of the Trinity that I have never heard before.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Every year it comes the week after Pentecost. All our songs and liturgy this morning focus on God who is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I have a confession to make. I believe in the Trinity, but if I’m honest, I don’t spend much time thinking about it. I don’t remember studying the Trinity in Seminary. In 28 years of being a pastor I’ve only preached one sermon on the Trinity. I don’t even remember hearing anyone else preach about the Trinity.
I have a sense that the Trinity is one of those doctrines that we all give lip-service to. We don’t necessarily disagree with it but we don’t really think about it, wrestle with it, or try to figure out how it makes a difference in our lives. Every now and then we pull it out, dust it off and then put it up on a shelf where it is safe, and can be ignored.
The Trinity is one of two basic Christian doctrines. There are two beliefs that set Christianity apart from all other religions – the Incarnation and the Trinity. Every other religion, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, and any other non-Christian religion, will reject one or both of those beliefs.
We know about the Incarnation, Jesus is fully God and fully human. We may not fully grasp it, but every year at Christmas we talk about and celebrate the Incarnation. I doubt that Trinity Sunday will ever rival Christmas as a Christian holiday, but I’d like to suggest that we need to spend more time thinking about, praying to, and worshipping the Trinity. What I’d like to do this morning is briefly explain the Trinity, then share with you three truths about why the Trinity matters.
There is no place in the Bible that explains the Trinity. In fact, the word Trinity is not even mentioned in the Bible. There are, however, passages that point to the Trinity, including the two that we read this morning. Psalm 51 shows that the Holy Spirit was not something new at Pentecost. In fact, the Spirit was present at Creation. Paul’s benediction in 2 Corinthians is one of the clearest statements of the Trinity, but it doesn’t explain it.
The Trinity was first mentioned in 170 AD, and was developed as a doctrine in the 4th century, at the Council of Nicea. Augustine, the great theologian of the early church, made a series of simple statements explaining the Trinity:
The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. The Son is not the Father.
The Father is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Son.
That is the Thought for Meditation in the bulletin. Augustine added one more statement that sets the Christian belief in the Trinity apart from all other religions – “There is only one God.” There are three separate persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each one is God, but there is only one God.
A pastor was preaching about the Trinity, trying to explain it as I’ve been trying. In the middle of his sermon someone shouted out “We don’t understand what you’re talking about!” Some of you may be thinking the same thing right now. The pastor responded by saying “You’re not supposed to understand the Trinity. It’s a mystery.” It is important to have a basic understanding of the Trinity, but we will never take away the mystery. Our job is not to understand God, but to worship God. Therefore, rather than trying to explain the Trinity, let me share with you three truths about the Trinity that make a difference in our lives.
First, the Trinity suggests that we are not essential. I’ve heard pastors say that humans were created because God needed an object to love. God is love and needed someone to love. Therefore he created humans. The Trinity means that within God there are relationships of love: The Father loves the Son and the Spirit. The Son loves the Father and the Spirit. The Holy Spirit loves the Father and the Son. Before humans were created, God existed in a perfect relationship of love. God did not create us because he was lonely and needed companionship.
You can’t love something that is essential. You simply need it. Love is always a choice. God didn’t need us. He chooses to love us. There is nothing you can do to make God love you more than he loves you right now. Let me say that again, there is absolutely nothing you can do that will make God love you more than he does right at this moment!
The truth that you are not essential means that God can run the universe without you. God can solve the problems of this world; poverty, hunger, injustice, violence, without your help. God can run this church without you or me. God can run your business, your house, even raise your children, without you. I’m not saying that he wants to do any of those things without you, but God can. No one is so important that he, or she, is essential.
That isn’t a putdown. Instead, it is an incredibly freeing message. Because we are not essential we are free to receive God’s love for us. We are free to bask in that love and rejoice in God’s love. We are also free to respond to God’s love by worshipping, by loving others, and by participating in God’s work in the world. We are not essential.
The second truth that the Trinity shows us is that God is personal and relational. There is a tendency for theology to become heady and abstract. We define God with concepts and principles – God is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent. God is the prime mover. The Westminster Confession of Faith was written back in 1648 and for years was the primary theological document for Presbyterians. Listen to how it defines God:
God is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty; most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no
means clear the guilty.
Does that move your heart? Is that a God you want to love and worship, and be in a relationship with? There are truths in these ideas, but they are too abstract and impersonal. God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is personal and relational.
When our daughter, Alli, came home she said that she wanted to watch all the Star Wars movies. Last Saturday we watched the first one, Episode IV. Friday night we watched the second one – The Empire Strikes Back. How many of you have watched any of the Star Wars movies. In Star Wars theology god is The Force. It is a power that is impersonal. The goal of the Jedi knight is to understand The Force and be connected to it so that he can control it. When God becomes abstract concepts and principles we try to understand God so that we can control God. But the truth is that we can’t control God. God is a mystery, beyond our understanding. However, we can be in a relationship with God. God is personal and relational God. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit all love each other.
That leads to the third truth about the Trinity. We are invited to be in a relationship with God. We know God not by defining God and understanding him, but by being loved by God and loving God in return. We worship God not as an abstract idea or principle, but as God reveals himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. We love God not because of programs and projects, but because we have first been loved.
Here is a fantastic thing: you don't need to understand the Trinity to worship the Trinity, pray to the Trinity, and enter into the life of the Trinity. Let me see if I can illustrate that. Several years ago I read an article about the sun. Let me quote it.
Deep within the core of the sun, the temperature is 27 million degrees. The pressure is 340 billion times what it is here on Earth. And in the sun's core, that insanely hot temperature and unthinkable pressure combine to create nuclear reactions. In each reaction, 4 protons fuse together to create 1 alpha particle, which is .7 percent less massive than the 4 protons. The difference in mass is expelled as energy, and after one million years, through a process called convection, this energy from the core of the sun finally reaches the surface, where it's expelled as heat and light.
That doesn’t make a bit of sense to me. Maybe some of you understand that, but I don’t. However, I don’t need to understand how the sun works to get a tan, or to know that the sun brings warmth and light and helps my garden grow. I don’t need to understand the Trinity to be loved by God, to worship God and to believe that God wants a relationship with me.
Friends, the Christian life is not a spectator sport. We don’t watch God from the sidelines. We can’t worship God from a safe distance. We can’t study and learn about God while keeping him at arm’s length. The Christian life means participating in the life of the Trinity. God is a personal God who wants a relationship with you.
Think of the three members of the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, holding hands in a circle, dancing and celebrating their life and love for each other. They stop, break the circle, and one of them reaches out to you, inviting you to join the dance. The good news of the Trinity is that we are not essential. God chooses to love us. Our God is a personal and relational God, who invites us into a relationship of love.