Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday B, May 31, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
Lectionary texts: Isaiah 6.1-8; Psalm 29.1-11; Romans 8.12-17; John 3.1-17.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is Trinity Sunday, the day when we stop and reflect on the one holy and indivisible God who has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This God in three persons is frankly a mystery and greater minds than my peabrain have been tripped up trying to explain it (watch the video below before proceeding).
Yet it is important for us to know and love our triune God (God in three persons) because this is how the one true and living God has chosen to reveal himself to us (and it also puts to rest the lie that we all worship the same God because other religions emphatically do not worship God in three persons). So rather than try to explain the unexplainable, I want us to look at how we interact with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, all the while keeping in mind that we are talking about one God, not three. Confused? Good. Then I’m off to a great start.
We must, of course, begin with God the Father, creator of heaven and earth, and the author and source of all life. As the creation narratives in Genesis affirm, God created our world and this vast cosmos out of nothing and declared it all to be good. And then God in his wise providence chose to create image-bearing creatures, humans, to be stewards over his good creation. We must understand this very clearly. God created all things to be good and God loves his creation and creatures, especially his image-bearing ones, you and me (Genesis 1.1-2.25).
But as Genesis 3.1-24 sadly narrates, we humans did not get the memo about being God’s image-bearers whom God created to be his wise stewards. No, we wanted to be God’s equals instead of God’s creatures (cf. Philippians 2.6). Our resulting sin brought about God’s curse on both us and creation so that the goodness of God’s creation became corrupted. Our sin also allowed evil to establish a beachhead in God’s good world and our lives to further corrupt and destroy what God had originally created as good.
But here’s the thing about God the Father. While God did pronounce a curse on our sin and rebellion so that death entered into God’s good world and we humans found ourselves expelled from paradise, God did not choose to destroy his good creation gone bad and start over from scratch. Instead, God chose to redeem and restore it and us, and here we are given the first glimpse of the Father’s loving heart and faithfulness. We see God’s love and faithfulness for his sinful and rebellious creatures poignantly illustrated in the story of the Fall. After Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of knowledge and had their eyes opened to their altered relationship with God, they hid from him in the garden, just like we do when we sin. And what was God’s reaction? He searched the garden for his wayward creatures just like he searches for us when we go astray because God created them and us to have a living relationship with him as a Father would with his children. We should not take offense at this analogy because it does not mean God does not want us to grow up. Rather, it means that God is Creator and all-knowing while we are not, and we must act accordingly. It also means that God never intended to create us so that he could destroy us later after we failed the test by trying to be God’s equals.
The point for us to remember here about God the Father is that God is a good, faithful, and loving God (among other attributes) who created his world and us to be good and to reflect God’s goodness and glory out into the world. This is the world that our sin corrupted and open-ed the door for evil to operate. This is the world God intends to redeem and restore because God loves us and is faithful to himself and us. Why then do so many of us see God as an ogre?
The rest of the biblical narrative is about how God the Father is going about rescuing his good creation from the ravages of evil, sin, and death, first through his people Israel and then through God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. I don’t have time to review God’s calling of his people Israel other than to say that it was part of God’s eternal plan to rescue his world through human agency, a fitting strategy considering the role for which God created humans in the first place. But Israel failed to live up to her calling and as we know all too well, human sin separates us from God and interferes with us coming to know God and having the kind of relationship with God we were created to have. We see this manifested in our OT and psalm lessons. Notice Isaiah’s reaction when he comes into the presence of God. He is acutely aware of his sinful nature in the presence of God’s holy perfection. Notice too that neither Isaiah nor the psalmist attempt to describe God because God is indescribable and unknowable unless God chooses to make himself known to us. This makes it pretty hard, if not impossible, to know God and to develop any kind of meaningful relationship with him without some outside help.
But God in his tender mercy and love for his sin-sick creatures and good world, came to do what Israel could not. God became human for the purpose of rescuing his world from evil, sin, and death as well as to make himself more fully known to us. What better way for God to condemn sin and evil without destroying all of creation than to become human and take the full weight of human sin and evil on himself? This is exactly what Jesus told Nicodemus he had come to do in our gospel lesson and what Paul and the other NT writers affirm in their various letters (see, e.g., Romans 8.1-4; Colossians 1.19-20; 1 John 2.2, 3.8). God does this, of course, because God loves the world and wants no one to perish. In Christ crucified we see the heart of the Father for his image-bearing creatures being made fully known to us. As Paul made clear in his letter to the Romans, in Christ God did for us what God’s Law could not do. God rescued us from evil, sin, and death and without Jesus’ atoning death, we are still dead people walking who have no hope. But if God intends to redeem and restore his good world corrupted by human sin, the first thing God had to do was to reconcile his image-bearing creatures with himself so that we would be made ready to reassume our rightful role as God’s wise stewards over his promised new world, a world that we were given a glimpse of in Jesus’ resurrection.
The NT writers speak boldly about this new world, especially Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.1-58 and John in Revelation 21.1-22.21. It is a world in which evil and sin have been conquered by God the Son’s blood shed for us and in which we will get to live directly in God the Father’s presence. And let’s be clear. We are talking about new creation, not some ethereal or disembodied existence. The promised new creation is consistent with the love and faithfulness of God the Father and could very well signal the beginning of a new project, just like the original creation signaled the beginning of God’s current creative project.
But what about the interim? We obviously do not live in that new world yet. Does that mean we are still without hope? Are God’s promises really true? And what about our relationship with God? Are we still in the dark? How do we know that in Jesus we see the perfect revelation of God the Father so that the unknowable becomes knowable to us, at least as much as we can bear in this mortal existence of ours? Answer. God the Holy Spirit.
As both Jesus and Paul remind us in our lessons this morning, it is not possible to be God’s adopted children without the presence of the Holy Spirit living in us and testifying to us that Jesus is indeed God the Son who has taken away the sins of the world by his blood shed for us. Among other things, God the Spirit makes his truth revealed in Scripture known to us by opening our hearts and minds to his word. God the Spirit also brings healing of all sorts to us to repair the ravages that sin and evil have brought upon us. And it is in and through the Spirit that Jesus continues to make himself and his presence known to us.
Moreover, as Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, it is in the power of the Spirit we are enabled to act as truly human beings who are done with sin and who have in faith said yes to God’s invitation to us to live as the fully human beings he created us to be, i.e., to pattern our lives after Jesus. This creates a sense of debt in us. Now normally debt creates in us all kinds of anxiety and distraction. When we are heavily in debt, we tend to fixate on it and worry about our ability to pay it off. But this is not the kind of debt Paul is talking about. We have been freed from the power of evil, sin, and death by God the Son’s blood shed for us. And by God’s grace in and through the power of God the Spirit, we are given hearts and minds to see this is really true, that God really does love us enough to die on our behalf so that we are spared death and eternal separation from him, a state that utterly goes against the original creative intent of God the Father. And because by the power of the Spirit we believe this to be true, we no longer are slaves to our sin or have any good reason to fear death. We don’t fear death because in Jesus’ resurrection, we know that God has conquered death and when our mortal bodies are raised from the dead on the last day, death will be abolished forever, thanks be to God!
When by faith we appropriate this great truth, our awareness of the debt we owe God for what God has done for us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, must create in us a sense of release and relief, not anxiety. We no longer have to fear for our eternal future or the future of those we love who are in Christ. And while we do not automatically stop sinning, our sin and rebellion no longer form a pattern of living. Indeed, because we are profoundly grateful for God rescuing us from all that is evil and corrupt, the Spirit sets our hearts on fire so that we can love and serve God as his fully human creatures in the manner he always intended. This can sometimes be messy, in part because we are still weighed down by our mortal bodies and in part because the Holy Spirit does not take us over and make us robots who slavishly follow God’s commands. How can love exist in a relationship like that? No, the Spirit’s presence is God’s assurance that he is real and his promises to us made supremely known in and through Jesus are true.
So what does this all mean for us as we live our lives in the midst of a fallen world? What does it mean for those who have major health or economic or family problems? What does it mean for those who are suffering from loss of any kind? It means first and foremost we have real hope and power because we worship our Creator, God the Father, who created us in his image and is working in ways we cannot always see or comprehend to restore his glory in us (cf. Romans 3.21-26). When things go south, we are naturally inclined to think God is punishing us. Perhaps sometimes God is, but we must be very circumspect about drawing such conclusions because as we have seen, we worship God the Father who loves us and is faithful to us, and who wants to restore us to a right relationship with him, a relationship that our sin took from us. When by grace we have the faith to know that God is always for us and wants the best for us and will use even the hard times to help us grow in our faith, it gives us a new-found strength and power to persevere, and even to find joy in the midst of our suffering (cf. Romans 5.1-5) because we believe God is powerful enough to even make good come out of the brokenness of our lives.
Worshiping God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit also reminds us that we are freed from the terrible slavery to our sins and promised an inheritance in God’s new world, a world that will be so fantastically beautiful, right, and good that we cannot comprehend it fully. It means that sin and death and evil have been conquered and will one day be vanquished forever. And the Spirit’s presence in and among us means that we will always have the fellowship of God and his people. This means that we never have to fear being alone or abandoned or unremembered. The world may treat us in this way but God the Holy Trinity never will because it is the testimony of both the OT and NT that God is always with his people and always remains faithful to us.
Last, as we worship our triune God and attempt to pattern our lives after God the Son, we realize that it really is good and right to be fully human beings because Jesus was and is the perfect human being, and our humanity is good and right in God’s eyes because we are his image-bearing creatures. When we repent of our trying to be equal with God and learn the humble obedience that our Lord Jesus displayed in his life, we will learn what true joy is all about as well as discover purpose for living. Don’t ever dismiss this latter gift. It’s what helps keep us ticking. Without hope, without purpose for living, we shrivel and die a gradual and terrible death. Worshiping God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is the only real antidote against falling into this dehumanizing hell because we are assured that God has done what it takes to give us the needed power to live as he created and desires us to live.
In closing, I have not attempted to offer you any theory about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Instead, I have tried to lay out how God has chosen to reveal himself to us in and through Scripture, in and through Jesus, and in and through the Holy Spirit. This is how we meet and come to know and love our triune God because this is how God has chosen to reveal himself to us. May that be sufficient for us and serve to remind us that we really do have 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.