A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Trinity Sunday

The Hospitality of Abraham, Andrei Rublev (1411)

Trinity 2019
Rev. Doug Floyd
Isaiah 6:1-7, Psalm 29, Revelation 4:1-11, John 16:5–15

On Trinity Sunday, we are invited to meditate upon The trinity, our Triune Creator who is One God, Three Person: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is above and beyond all our thoughts and experiences. So to speak too much of the Trinity can be confusing at best.

Years ago, I attended a rather heady conference on the Trinity. At times it was difficult to keep up with the rapid fire arguments of the speakers. Then on the final day, Alister McGrath offered the following simple thought, “The Trinity is not a puzzle to be solved, but a mystery to be worshipped.” He was not denying the need to reflect upon and study the Triune God, but at the end of all our thoughts, we are still left in awe before the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is, and was, and is to come. World without end.

In his beautiful little book, The Christian Vision of God, McGrath relates the following story about the wonder and mystery of God. “Augustine spent 20 years of his life writing De Trinitate (‘On the Trinity’), a major treatise on the Christian understanding of God. A story—sadly, almost certainly apocryphal—is told about this book. Augustine was pacing up and down the Mediterranean shoreline close to the city of Hippo Regis, deep in thought. How, he wondered, could he hope to compress the immensity of God into words? While walking, he noticed a young boy filling a container with water drawn from the sea, and pouring it into a hole in the sand. Having done this, the boy did the same thing again and again.

Intrigued, Augustine asked the boy what he was doing. The boy replied that he was in the process of emptying the Mediterranean Sea into a hole he had dug in the sand. Augustine told the boy that he was wasting his time. He would never get the immensity of the ocean into such a small cavity in the sand. Unperturbed by this piece of well-intended criticism, the boy responded vigorously: ‘And you’re wasting your time writing a book about God. You’ll never get God into a book.’”[1]

I do not expect to get God into a sermon this morning. I simply pause in reflection before the before the One who is before all and after all and through whom all exists.

Instead of approaching the mystery of the Triune God through overly an complicated theological discussion, it might be more helpful to think and meditate upon our own encounter with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Apostles encounter with Jesus Christ, and how God’s people across the ages have passed on the Gospel story.

We are immersed into the mystery of God’s love and life before we can even begin to think or speak of this great wonder. Scripture says that no man comes to the Father unless the Spirit draws him. Each of us first encounter the mystery of the Triune God in our own lives as the Spirit opens our hearts to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and draws us to the Heavenly Father. These encounters may or may not be emotional.

Francis Collins, the former head of the Human Genome Project was treating a dying patient, and she asked him what he believed. Though Collins considered himself an atheist, this question provoked him, stirred him, haunted him. He began puzzling over the question of God, and eventually came to faith in Jesus Christ. His experience was not specifically emotional and yet the Spirit of God was bearing witness in his heart to the truth of the Gospel.

Dame Julian of Norwich encounters the love of God when almost at the point of death she has a series of visions of the cross and Christ’s love. She didn’t die and spent the rest of her life writing about those visions and experiences of God’s love. One phrase from chapter 31 of her reflections has sounded across the ages with encouragement to trust in the faithfulness of God. She writes,

And so our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts which I could raise, saying most comfortingly: I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well; and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well.[2]

As we encounter Christ, we experience a deep assurance that all shall be well. Maybe not in this moment or even in this life, but in the grand faithfulness of God, all manner of tings shall be well. Our faith in Jesus Christ continues to shape us throughout life even as the mystery of God’s all surrounding love unfolds throughout lives.  

The New Testament writers are bearing witness to the same kind of encounters with Jesus Christ. Before the cross, disciples responded to Jesus as a teacher and even a great leader, but there was no imaginative possibility that they could make the leap from leader or king to God or Creator. Jesus was human. How could they imagine him in any other way? But then, after the resurrection, they bear witness to Jesus in a whole new way. The New Testament is a record of their encounters with God in Jesus Christ. As the Holy Spirit brings Jesus’ words to remembrances, the Apostles write Gospels and letters and bear witness of the relation between Jesus and the Father and the Spirit.

In today’s Gospel, we hear John recording the trinitarian words of Jesus at the last supper. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” [3] Jesus is speaking of the Father and the Spirit in such a way to reveals God as a communion of Father, Son, and Spirit.”

The entire New Testament is a record of witnesses to Jesus and His life. Each of these writers speak of a personal encounter with the truth of Jesus Christ in their own lives. They also begin to see the witness of Jesus through all of Scriptures (our Old Testament). The early church fathers and mothers will read their own experiences of God’s love in light of this Biblical witness. As the church grapples with these Biblical testimonies, the church will begin to articulate Christian faith.

Why does the church eventually use the language of Trinity to speak of God? Because the early Church Fathers are grappling with the personal testimonies of multiple New Testament writers who have encountered the witness of God in their lives through Jesus Christ. The testimony of One God, Three Persons give us language to speak of God in way that is consistent with the New Testament writers while rejecting other ideas about the divine that would have been in the ancient world.

God is not immoral as some of the mythological tales communicate.

God is not part of this creation though he sustains this creation and is free to participate in it.

God is not an angry deity come to enslave or destroy us, but God has demonstrated his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  

God is not petty chieftain that requires we pay him for protection or care, but God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

As we enter the church, we enter a communion of love rooted in the worship of the Triune God. When we are baptized, we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. When we enter the nave each week, we pass through the baptismal fount as a reminder of our baptism. Some of dip their fingers in the water of tap their forward, chest and shoulders as a way remembering their baptism. They may whisper silently, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

This Triune worship will continue as the people approach the throne of God in prayer. Each collect of prayer is rooted in the Triune relation of God. We address the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.  For example, the collect for purification begins the service. We begin by addressing the Father,

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

We rehearse the Nicene Creed each week and as we do, we rehearse the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each phrase of the creeds are worthy of meditation and prayer. In the creed, we confess that the Creator of all things is the Father. This indicates a relation of love, of care, of protection. Throughout the Old Testament we read texts that testify to the fatherly care and provision of this Creator. We confess that our salvation was bought through the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, who came down from heaven, was born of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit and who lived and died for us for our salvation. We confess the Holy Spirit who gives life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who is worshipped with the Father and the Son. This trinitarian vision points us to a church that is made to reveal the love of our Triune God through our personal relations.

In the worship of God’s people, in the Scripture we study, and in the communion we share with one another and with the saints across the ages, we begin to unfold the mystery of our faith, the mystery of the witness in our hearts of God’s love. We begin to unfold the beauty and the wonder of the Triune God. And this communion of holy love will continue to unfold throughout our lives and throughout our lives to come.

[1] Alister McGrath, The Christian Vision of God (London: SPCK, 2008), 54–55.

[2] Julian of Norwich, Julian of Norwich: Showings, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh, The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978), 229.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 16:12–15.


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