Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday C, June 16, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
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Lectionary texts: Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5.1-5; John 16.12-15.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity, the day when we focus on the triune nature of God, i.e., God in three persons. But as our video pointed out, this is no easy task for mere mortals, especially for someone with a peabrain like mine, and I will leave it to the Great Thinkers, the Church Fathers and Doctors, to explain the nature of the Trinity. For Small Thinkers like me, I have found it helpful to understand our triune God by looking at how God has chosen to reveal himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we look at each, we must always remember that while we are talking about three different persons, we are also talking about One indivisible God. Clear as mud? Wonderful. We’re off to a good start.
Before we look at how God has chosen to reveal himself to us, let us keep in mind that while there is no formal doctrine of the Trinity articulated in the NT, a formal doctrine would eventually have to be formulated by the Church based on the writings of St. Paul and others. Take, for instance, these introductory verses found in his first letter to the Thessalonians:
This letter is from Paul, Silas, and Timothy. We are writing to the church in Thessalonica, to you who belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. May God give you grace and peace. We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ. We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true (1 Thessalonians 1.1-5a, NLT).
Notice carefully how St. Paul describes the nature and work of God in three persons. He speaks of the Father’s great love for us made known in and through the work of the Son, mediated by the work and power of the Holy Spirit. So let us not fall for the baloney that the doctrine of the Trinity was some unnecessary and overly-complicated human invention. It’s not. It comes directly from God, who chooses to reveal himself to us as such.
Especially appropriate for Father’s Day we begin with God the Father, the ultimate Progenitor, Creator of all that is and Source of all life. As Genesis 1-2 tell us, God created the heavens and earth, himself existing from all eternity (try wrapping your mind around that little nugget!). Genesis tells us that God created this vast cosmos out of nothing, giving us a glimpse of God’s awesome power. As St. Paul would tell the Romans, we worship a God who creates new things out of nothing and who raises the dead (Romans 4.17). So we can have confidence in God to accomplish his purposes. Because God is good, God created all things good and then enigmatically created humans in his image to bring God’s goodness and wisdom to bear to run God’s creation on God’s behalf (Gen 1.26-28; Ps 8). As Genesis 1-2 also tell us, before our first ancestors rebelled against God, they lived in perfect communion with God the Father, obeying his creative intentions (bearing his image faithfully) and enjoying the perfect health, peace, and happiness that accompanies perfect communion with the Father. This poignant picture of the Father communing with his human image-bearers reminds us that God created us to share in his glory and to enjoy perfect happiness, health, and freedom, the kind that comes only in obeying God’s good and creative intentions for us. If you are interested at all in obeying the general will of God the Father, pay attention to the creation narratives.
But if we are going to have any kind of relationship with God the Father, we have to know more about him than his creative work. We have to have some idea of the Father’s nature as well. Is God really lovable? Is he worthy of our first loyalty and ultimate obedience? Before the Fall, our first human ancestors instinctively and consciously knew the answers to these questions because they enjoyed perfect communion with their Father, and God chose to reveal himself to them in ways they could comprehend. After the Fall, this knowledge was lost (Gen 3.8-10) and as a result, the power of Evil and Sin ushered in madness, Death, alienation, and chaos into God’s good world, corrupting it and causing God to curse it and us. Why the curse? Was it because God just doesn’t know how to have a good time? Is it because the Father is a divine child abuser as some have arrogantly charged (a charge so ludicrous that it illustrates unhappily how our sin-caused alienation from God has caused us to no longer know God our Father)? Certainly not! God cursed his good creation and creatures because God can tolerate no evil or injustice in his world, and that is ultimately for our good. As we shall see, if we hope to spend an eternity in the Father’s direct presence, who wants to be bedeviled by the Evil, folly, chaos, madness, and alienation we experience in our fallen state?
But if we only look at God’s justice, we miss huge parts of God’s nature. For despite our attempts to usurp God’s power and our ongoing hostility and rebellion against God, the heart of the Father beats love for his wayward children. Hear what Scripture has to say about the love of God: Saint John tells us that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3.16), and that anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love (1 John 4.8). The psalmist characterizes the Father as “merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation” (Ps. 145.7-8). Jesus tells us likewise when he tells us to imitate the Father by loving our enemies as well as our friends (Matthew 5.43-48). Elsewhere, the psalmist declares how precious the Father’s love for us is because God saves both humans and animals, providing us with much-needed shelter from the storms of life (Ps 36.6b-7).
Scripture also declares God’s patient, steadfast love for us, despite our ongoing rebellion. As you listen to these gracious words, imagine your heavenly Father speaking them to you and take heart.
But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom; I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Others were given in exchange for you. I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you. “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will gather you and your children from east and west. I will say to the north and south, ‘Bring my sons and daughters back to Israel from the distant corners of the earth. Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them’” (Isaiah 43.1-7, NLT)
My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all. How can I give you up? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like [my enemies]? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy [Israel]; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath (Hosea 11.7-9).
Do you hear the tenderness and compassion in these verses? Israel had indeed been intent on running away from their God, but the Father’s generous heart would not give up on his wayward children. This is the love and compassion and mercy and tenderness we give up when we thumb our noses at God and refuse his gracious overtures. This is what causes us to live in darkness and chaos, feeling alone and afraid. This is the cost of human sin and rebellion against God the Father.
But as these OT passages attest, God is not put off so easily because God the Father is good and faithful, even in the face of our unfaithfulness as St. Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim 2.13). And so at just the right time, God the Father took on our human flesh (or in NT parlance, the Father sent the Son) to free us from our slavery to Sin and Death and to establish the basis for restoring God’s good creation gone bad. St. Paul summarizes it best in his letter to the Galatians. Pay careful attention to the trinitarian nature of this passage and the role of each:
But when the right time came, God sent his Son [God became human], born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir (Galatians 4.4-7, NLT).
Why did the Father do this? Because he desires life and goodness and health, not death and destruction and chaos. And so the Father’s love for us was and is made known supremely in Jesus, the Son of God. The coeternal Son who existed with God from all eternity (Jn 1.1-5) took on our flesh to destroy Sin’s power over us and to bear the Father’s just wrath on our sins to spare us and make us fit to stand in God’s direct presence forever (Rom 5.6-11, 8.1-4; Rev 7.9-17). All who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to be a sacrifice for our sins, and who was raised by God from the dead, are washed clean by his blood shed for us on the cross. As St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson this morning, this was an act of pure grace on the Father’s part. None of us deserve this mercy because before Christ’s Incarnation, we were still God’s enemies. But those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and only those who believe Jesus is the Son of God, are no longer God’s enemies. Instead, we are God’s children (Jn 1.12) and therefore we have a future hope and inheritance: God’s new world, the new heavens and earth. In Christ, we see the very heart and face of the Father healing the sick, casting out the demonic, and defeating Evil and the powers behind it. And because of the resurrection, those of us who are united to Christ by faith are promised a share in God’s new world. As St. Paul reminds us in Rom 6.3-5, those who have a relationship with Christ, i.e., who are in Christ, share in both Christ’s death and resurrection (and if we love God and others as he loves us we definitely are “in Christ”). I don’t have time to develop this today. Suffice it to say that St. Paul proclaims to us that eternal life, bodily life in God’s new world where we live directly in God’s presence, unlike we do right now, is our destiny (1 Cor 15), i.e., we are resurrection peeps. Christ’s resurrection also validates the unlikely claim by the NT writers that on the cross God defeated the dark powers (Col. 2.13-15) who have invaded his world and corrupted it, wreaking havoc and pain and misery and suffering on anyone and everyone. If you do not see the Father’s love for you made known in the Son’s work and love, you are truly to be most pitied.
God the Father makes all this known in and through the power of his Holy Spirit, who reveals God’s truth to us, makes Christ known and present to us, and equips us to live like the truly human image-bearers God created and wants us to be. In other words, he makes us living stones in God’s new Temple built on Christ (1 Peter 2.1-6). Without the Spirit, we cannot possibly know God or Christ. We cannot possibly know the Truth. We cannot possibly love or forgive or be gracious or merciful or kind or compassionate. As our Creed proclaims, he is the Lord, the giver of life. Even when you hear lousy sermons on the Trinity like this one, the Holy Spirit will overcome and make God in three persons known to you. He makes your prayers efficacious and gives you power to serve and be humble, to be genuine people of God. There’s much more, but I’m out of time.
So why should knowing God in three persons matter to us? Just this. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have overcome our sin and rebellion, restoring us as truly human image-bearers of our Father. If you want to live life with meaning, purpose, and power, the only way you can do that is to know and worship our triune God because this is the real God, not some false or incomplete imitation of the Real Deal. This one God wants to heal us and equip us to be real children who bring to bear God’s love and goodness to his broken and hurting creation. How can we do that if we don’t know the Father’s love made known supremely through the Son and imparted to us in and through the Spirit? If you seek wholeness and healing and blessing in the midst of a chaotic world, if you seek to love as you have been loved, if you seek real comfort for your grief, if you are aware of the Father’s great love for you despite your sins and rebellion, you are already in his loving grasp. We cannot imitate him who we do not know and we come to know our triune God through prayer, Scripture, the Eucharist, tradition, and fellowship, all in and through the power of the Spirit. Most of all, we know we worship the real God if we are resurrection peeps who claim for our own the promise of Christ’s resurrection because only in his resurrection will we know completely the love, mercy, kindness, and justice of God to heal us and make us entirely whole again. Of course we’ll schlep along in this mortal life and get it wrong at times. Many of us will get it wrong more than we’ll get it right. But despite this, we don’t lose hope. Because we know God our Father, we dare believe in his great promises to heal, redeem, and restore us, promises validated in the Son of God’s death and resurrection. We know it because we are God’s people who have the Holy Spirit living in us. Let us therefore live as people with power and hope and love, with charity and great grace, daring to allow the Father to make himself known in and through us by faithfully imitating Jesus the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity, not only today but every day, 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.