Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday C, June 12, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
Lectionary texts: Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5.1-5; St. John 16.12-15.
“The Catholic Faith is this: We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father: another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is: such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost.”
These words come the Athanasian Creed which summarizes a proper Christian understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. We believe—and Scripture affirms—that there is one God who exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Not three gods, not one God who goes by three different names, but as the Thirty-Nine Articles puts it, “There is but one living and true God… And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
This is some mind-bending stuff, right? It’s difficult to explain and understand. How can God be both one and three? The math doesn’t seem to add up. It’s beyond our comprehension. It defies human logic.
Although many have sought to find an analogy to the Trinity in nature or human life—the phases of water, the parts of an egg, Neapolitan ice cream—all of them ultimately break down and fail to capture the mystery and complexity of the Triune God.
This begs the question: is the Trinity really that important? Is this just some obscure component of Christian doctrine that philosophers and theologians debate? Does it have any kind of bearing on our day to day lives? Does the Trinity actually matter?
This morning, I hope we will see that the answer to that last question is a resounding yes. Just because the Trinity is beyond our comprehension does not mean it’s not worth our contemplation. There is a reason the Church Fathers fought to clearly articulate the doctrine of the Trinity and to defend it against those who denied it. The Trinity does matter. It is central to our understanding of who God is and what He has done for us, and it has practical significance for the Christian life.
As we take a closer look at our lectionary texts, we’re going to focus on one specific implication of this doctrine: it’s through the lens of the Trinity that we get a clear picture of the love of God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
First, the Trinity helps us see God’s love in who God is.
Our two readings from the Old Testament point us back to Creation. Psalm 8 identifies God as Creator. The heavens, the moon, the stars, and all creation is God’s craftsmanship, the “work of [His] fingers” (v. 4a). Of course, we know this to be true from the very first verse in the Bible, Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
But notice that our reading from Proverbs 8 suggests that when God the Father created all things, He was not alone: “When [Yahweh] established the heavens, I was there . . . when he made first them skies above . . . when he assigned the sea its limit . . . I was beside Him, like a master worker (Proverbs 8:27-30). Not only does the speaker claim to be present at Creation, but also to have taken an active role in it. In fact, we’re told that this One existed with God “before the beginning of the earth” (Proverbs 8:23). The speaker here is God’s Wisdom portrayed as a person. But this is more than just imagery. It’s more than just a creative way of talking about God’s wisdom. Many theologians identify God’s Wisdom in Proverbs 8 with God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.
This is similar to what St. John says in the prologue of His gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1, 3).
St. John identifies Jesus with God’s spoken the Word, the power by which He brought all things into being— “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3).
Gen. 1:2 likewise shows the Holy Spirit’s involvement in creation: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
Creation, then, was the work of the Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is why in Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” While we don’t have a fully developed doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament, we see the fingerprints of the Triune God from the very beginning, even before the beginning.
What I want us to see here is that God has always been three-in-one. As the Athanasian Creed puts it, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “coeternal.” This helps us to understand a rather enigmatic statement about God in the New Testament: that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). That sounds nice, but what does it really mean? Notice that St. John is not talking about God’s characteristics; He doesn’t say that God is loving or that God shows us love, but that God is love. He is telling us something about who God is in His essence. The doctrine of the Trinity reveals what this means: throughout all eternity, the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit have existed in what theologian Timothy George calls “ a holy community of love” (George, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?, 83).
This has important implications for how we think about Creation and about God’s love for us. Have you ever thought about why God created human beings? Was it because He was lonely and needed a companion? Was it because He needed someone to worship him? No! God did not create us because He lacked something or needed something from us but to invite us to share in the love that He has always enjoyed within Himself. As George puts it, “God has chosen to love us on the basis of his own free will and not out of coercion or necessity. With full intentionality he has decided not to remain a divine cocoon within Himself.” (p. 84). Brothers and sisters, what greater love could there be than this?
The Trinity enables us to see God’s love in who God is. But it also helps us see God’s love in what God has done.
While our Old Testament lessons pointed us to creation as a work of the Trinity, our New Testament texts show us the Trinity at work in salvation. As we’ve seen, God created humankind that we might participate in the love He has always shared within Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. But when Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, sin, death, and suffering entered into the world. Humanity’s relationship with God was marred. Conscious of their sin and of God’s holiness, Adam and Eve “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8b). The curse of sin wrecked God’s good creation and prevented mankind from enjoying full and perfect fellowship with God.
But God was not content to abandon the people He created to sin, death, and exile from His presence. Out of love for us, the Father, Son, and Spirit act in perfect unity, but each with a distinct role, to rescue us from the effects of sin. As John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” Even in that most famous verse from the Bible, we bump up against the doctrine of the Trinity. Because of His love for us, God the Father purposes salvation and sends the Son.
Because God the Son loves us, He takes on human flesh and stands in our place on the cross, taking upon Himself the wrath of God, the punishment that we deserve for our sin. Through the work of God the Son, our New Testament lesson tells us that we can be reconciled to God the Father: We are “justified by faith and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
Just as the Father sends the Son, so the Father and the Son send us the Holy Spirit who according to our readings “guides [us] ins all truth” (John 16:13) and “[pours] God’s love . . . into our hearts” (Romans 5:5). The Spirit also fill us with the “hope of sharing the glory of God” (Romans 5:1, 5). Through the Spirit, we experience God’s indwelling presence, but this is just a “down payment” (c.f. Eph. 1:14), a guarantee that we will one day have complete fellowship with God in the new heavens and the new earth, free from sin, suffering, and death.
Because of the redemptive work of the Father, Son, and Spirit, we have the hope that one day we will share perfectly in the love of the Triune God, just as God intended from the beginning.
As we close this morning, I want to share one final practical implication of the doctrine of the Trinity, an observation I came across in a Trinity Sunday reflection from Fr. Greg Gobel. As we have seen today, the Father, Son, and Spirit are one God—they are perfectly united—yet they are each distinct persons with their own roles. In the Trinity, we see the perfect cohesion and unity and personality.
We live in a world that seems more disunified today than ever. We are divided along racial, political, and socio-economic lines. But the good news of the gospel is that God is not only reconciling us to Himself, but to each other, that we might be one just as He is One. One day, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will dwell together in perfect unity with God and with one another. As Fr. Greg puts it, “We will live forever as one with God [and each other], through Christ, and yet will continue to fully be our unique selves.”
We get a glimpse of this coming unity in part now through the Church, the body of Christ, made up of many members united together in Him. As we come to the Lord’s Table today, together we will affirm, “Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.” May we remember that the day is coming when we will dwell with God and with one another in perfect unity and perfect love.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.