God in Three Persons

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday Year A, June 15, 2014 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you would prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 1.1-2.4a; Psalm 8.1-10; 2 Corinthians 13.11-13; Matthew 28.16-20.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is Trinity Sunday where we celebrate the ineffable mystery of the one undivided God in three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Since there is an impenetrable mystery here when talking about our triune God (one God in three persons), there has been a train wreck of false teachings about the Trinity throughout the Church’s history (check out the humorous video below). Not wishing to add to the carnage of that train wreck, I have found it helpful to talk about how God has chosen to reveal himself both in scripture and in history to help us begin to wrap our minds around the Trinity and that is what I want us to look at briefly this morning.

We begin, of course, with God the Father who is the Creator of all things and the Sustainer of all life. As our OT and psalm lessons beautifully and wonderfully attest, in the beginning there was the eternal God who called into existence his good creation, culminating in God creating humans in his own image to rule his newly created world. As God’s image-bearers, God intended for us to reflect his glory out into the world by being wise stewards over it and to reflect the goodness of creation back to God in worship.

But then human sin and rebellion entered the picture and things went badly wrong in a hurry. We humans weren’t content to be God’s wise image-bearing stewards. We wanted to be rulers of God’s world based on our own authority, not God’s, and our sin allowed evil to gain a beachhead in God’s good creation to corrupt and despoil it. The rest of scripture is the story of how God intends to rescue his good but fallen creation and creatures from the ravages of evil, sin, and death. So in one sense, the Bible is all about God’s faithful love toward his creation and stubborn and rebellious human creatures. Despite our persistent rebellion against God our Father and Creator, God remains faithful to us and promises to heal and restore his creation, mysterious and enigmatic as that can seem to us at times. This is the essence of the love of God about which Paul speaks in his apostolic benediction in our epistle lesson this morning and we see the story of God’s love for his creation and creatures bracketed in the Bible: God’s creation made good but corrupted (Genesis 1.1-3.24) and God’s good but corrupted creation restored in a mighty act of new creation (Revelation 21.1-22.21).

Consistent with God’s good intentions for his image-bearing human creatures to be wise stewards and rulers over his creation on God’s behalf, we see God’s plan to rescue his fallen creation unfold in his call to Abraham to be a blessing to the nations of the earth (Genesis 12.1-3). Through Abraham’s descendants, the people whom God would call to be his holy people and who would later be known as Israel, God intended to bring his healing love to the world to rescue it and us from our sin-sickness and all the evil that our sin-sickness allows to operate in God’s good creation to corrupt it.

But Israel turned out to be part of the problem instead of the solution. So in the fullness of time, i.e., when the time was exactly right in the scope of God’s eternal plan of salvation, God became human and entered our history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (Galatians 4.4-5). This is a profound mystery in itself because as John proclaims boldly at the beginning of his gospel, Jesus, the Word made flesh, was with God and was God from the very beginning, and through him the world was created (John 1.1-3, 14). Nowhere does John (or the other NT writers) explain how this worked, only that it did, and we are called to believe it on the basis of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We believe that Jesus is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, fully God and fully human, who came to announce the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven by word and mighty acts of power. We further believe that on the cross, Jesus defeated the dark powers of evil (Colossians 2.15; 1 Peter 3.22) and reconciled us to God by bearing himself God’s just punishment for our sins and the evil they produce so that we would not have to (Romans 8.3-4; Colossians 1.20). This is what Paul is referring to in large part in his apostolic benediction when he talks about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God offers to heal and rescue us in and through Jesus, not because we deserve to be rescued but because of God the Father’s great love for us as manifested in God the Son. Put another way, if we want to see the face of God and know God’s character, we are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus because he is the very image of God the Father (Colossians 1.15-19).

And of course God’s rescue plan for his good but fallen creation and creatures was demonstrated most powerfully in Jesus’ resurrection. When God raised Jesus from the dead, he not only defeated our final enemy, death, God also gave us a glimpse of his promised new creation in which death is vanquished forever and all things are made new and healed completely. Our Lord’s resurrected body is a lasting reminder that creation matters to God and because God remains faithful to his creation and us, new creation and eternal life is our destiny, not death and destruction. As Paul put it, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1).

As we saw on Ascension Sunday, the risen Jesus has returned to heaven (God’s space) to assume his rightful place as ruler of all creation. As Jesus told his disciples in today’s gospel lesson, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him by God the Father. As we have talked about before, this doesn’t mean that the world is now as Jesus intends it to be, only that he is working to build on his defeat of the dark powers won on the cross to take the world and us from where we are—living under the rule of evil, sin, and death—and bring it and us under the rule his life-giving love (cf. Colossians 1.13). More on this in a moment.

The problem with Jesus’ ascension (if we can call it a problem) is that he is no longer bodily present to his followers as he was before his ascension. So what are we to make of Jesus’ promise to us in our gospel lesson to be with us always? Enter the third person of the Trinity: God the Holy Spirit. As Jesus made clear to his first followers, he is present to us in the power and person of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who hovered over the face of the waters at creation (Genesis 1.2), who raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8.11), who came with power on all believers at Pentecost (Acts 2.1-21), and who will give life to our resurrected bodies at Jesus’ Second Coming (1 Corinthians 15.43-44). It is only in Jesus’ presence with his people in and through the person of the Holy Spirit that we are healed and cleansed of our hard-heartedness and sin-sickness so that we are prepared and equipped to be the holy people God calls us to be. This is what Paul is talking about in his apostolic benediction when he talks about the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit’s presence in us individually and corporately as Jesus’ body, the Church, we have no hope of ever having God’s image fully restored in us so that we can have our character and therefore our pattern of living transformed that will enable us to live faithfully as God’s holy people in the manner of Jesus, i.e., that we will be saved/healed.

Why is this important? Because as we saw earlier, King Jesus is working to build on his victory over evil that he won on the cross to reclaim God’s good but corrupted creation from Evil (remember this is the overarching purpose of God the Father). And here is the astonishing thing. King Jesus is doing this through us his followers! Now we may question God’s wisdom (or even God’s sanity) in choosing this path, but this is consistent with God’s intention for his human creatures to rule wisely over God’s good creation. Our reservations about King Jesus using his people to help bring his kingdom on earth as in heaven (the emphasis is on helping because only God can fully bring in the kingdom on earth as in heaven) would be well justified if we were not Spirit-filled people. If that were the case we would continue to be the selfish, back-biting, greedy, and hard-hearted people we naturally are without the Spirit. But because we are Jesus’ people, we are filled with the Spirit and are therefore equipped by our Lord to build on the saving foundation of his kingdom that he established by his life, death, and resurrection. We are called to be his people who think, speak, and act like King Jesus and we are assured that he is Lord and ruler of this world who will guide us in the ways he wants us to go as we do.

So what are we to do? Jesus tells us in our gospel lesson. First, we are to make disciples. We are to train people to learn what Jesus’ kingdom message—God’s plan to rescue and heal his good but fallen creation and creatures—is all about, to help others learn to imitate and follow Jesus by denying themselves and taking up their cross, and to announce the Good News that is in Jesus to a world that desperately needs to hear it but often doesn’t want to hear it. This means we need to know the Bible’s overarching story and what it means to follow Jesus ourselves. If we don’t know our Story and model these behaviors, how can we hope to make disciples of others? This is a massively important command. Had the first disciples ignored it like many of us do today, how could the kingdom come? God’s world still may be in terrible shape but think what it would be like without the love of God operating through his faithful people. So how are you doing in this area?

Second, we are to baptize these new disciples. This isn’t an option, primarily because from the very beginning, the Church has made it clear that the sacrament of baptism ties us intimately to Jesus’ name and with his death and resurrection (Romans 6.3-5), and we are called to make Jesus’ name known to the world! An unbaptized Christian is an oxymoron.

Third, and related to making disciples, we are to die and teach others how to die. Following Jesus requires a radically different worldview in which we must put to death with the help of the Spirit all that corrupts and defiles us: our idolatry, selfishness, hard-heartedness and all the rest. We are to follow (and call others to follow) the personal morality in the Sermon on the Mount, to rule as Christ calls us and not as the world does, to forgive as Jesus commands us, and to be God’s wise stewards of his world. Again this requires that we are firmly grounded in God’s word, in prayer, and in fellowship with each other, all in the power and presence of the Spirit.

Worshiping (which dictates following) our triune God and all that it entails is never easy. As Matthew tells us, from the very beginning some of Jesus’ followers doubted or were hesitant (the Greek word Matthew uses, distazo, can mean either). Unfortunately Matthew doesn’t tell us which meaning he had in mind or why some doubted or hesitated. But it’s easy enough to figure out. The fantastic nature of the resurrection and ascension as well as Jesus’ call to us to be participants in building the kingdom simply boggle the mind and challenge our preconceived notions about who God is and how God should operate. But we are to obey and not be afraid because God the Father promises to be with us always in the person of Jesus, God the Son, in and through the power of God the Holy Spirit. That means, of course, we can embrace God’s Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.