The sermon below is a mediation on how Christians experience a Trinitarian God. We read the assigned lectionary readings for the day, but this sermon is thematic.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday is an unusual celebration in the life of the Church because it is the only celebration that we have which observes a doctrine rather than an event.
The concept of God as ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ is in the bible, but no-where does the bible actually use the word ‘Trinity’ or ‘Triune’. In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity – this whole idea of God being three persons in one divine being – wasn’t ratified as an official belief of the Christian Church until the Council of Nicea in 325. To make matters worse, it’s a doctrine that’s not terribly easy to understand or to express. Almost any attempt to talk about the Trinity results some sort of technical heresy.
Here’s a quotation, from John Wesley speaking about The Trinity: ‘Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the triune God!’
Wesley says something that I suspect that most of us agree with: that no matter what scripture tells us, what the church tells us or even what our own experience of God tells us, we are aware that, as human beings, we will never fully grasp all that God is until we meet with him face to face.
So this morning, rather than talking about doctrines and ideas, I simply want to meditate on how God’s faithful people experience him. And I want to suggest that the doctrine of the Trinity has something to do with relationships being at the very core of who God is.
God the Creator
First of all, I want to think about the fact that God the Creator, the first person of the Trinity, created us to be in relationship with him and with other people.
If you go back to Genesis, the biblical stories of human creation tell us that the first human beings lived not only in relationship with each other, but also in direct relationship with God and with the natural world.
We are told that God made human beings in his own image. What does this mean? We have the ability to think, to reason, to tell right from wrong as well as the ability to choose to do what is right.
As part of our ability to choose to do what is right, we have been given the ability to love other people. This is how God the Creator, the first person of the Trinity, made us: to be creatures who are in relationship with each other and with God.
I don’t think it’s surprising that we call the first person of the Trinity ‘Father’, and there are even a handful of maternal images of God as mother in the bible. In the same way that the parents give life to a new-born baby, so too are we dependant on God for our very existence. In a very real sense, God is our Father and our Mother.
And parental love is most often experienced as a love that is both determined and unconditional. Like a good parent, the love of God our Father and creator is offered to us no matter what we do. We have the freedom to reject God’s love but, like the Father of the prodigal, God will never withdraw his offer of love from us.
The first person of the Trinity will never stop being our Father or our Mother. As the relational creator God, the Father may correct us, the Father may let us experience the consequences of our actions, but he will always seek to guide us so that we learn from our mistakes and grow into more mature human beings.
God the Redeemer
Of course, it’s not always easy being a human being. And the God who Christians worship is not just a God who is ‘out there’ and who is completely unknowable.
Indeed, God’s desire for us to know him and what he is like was such that he came to live among us. The second person of the Trinity became human and as Christians we have heard all the stories: the stories of his birth, his mission and his death.
Jesus Christ came among us. He trusted himself as a helpless baby to two young inexperienced parents. He placed himself in human hands and made himself vulnerable in relationship with human beings in many ways.
Jesus also said that if we have seen him, we have seen the Father. Jesus showed us God’s way to live, but he taught by example as well as by words.
Jesus didn’t just call us to be agents of healing in our relationships, he went around healing people. He didn’t just tell us that the last shall be first, he went into the homes of prostitutes and extortionists and he accepted their hospitality. He didn’t just say ‘blessed are the peacemakers’, he refused to be the revolutionary, conquering hero Messiah that the people wanted.
Jesus didn’t just command us to forgive. He forgave those who he encountered during his ministry and he forgave all of those who nailed him to the cross. He didn’t just proclaim the resurrection, he rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples after his resurrection.
At the end of the day, the vast majority of people who come to the Lord come to know him because of a relationship they form with other Christians. The Apostles and Jesus’ wider group of followers and disciples were privileged to know him first hand, and the universal Church of believers passes down the knowledge of the love of God to other people through their relationships and by the example of the way they live.
God the Sustainer
But, important as relationships are with our fellow Christians, human interaction is not the only way in which we are born in faith and by which we grow in faith.
The Spirit of God, the Third person of the Trinity, lives in the lives of all who are born again. Jesus himself said that he had to go away in order for the Holy Spirit to come among us. If the Father is ‘God beyond us’ and the Jesus ‘God among us’, the Spirit is ‘God within us’.
We are told that the Holy Spirit dwells inside us as believers. The Spirit dwells within individuals believers, but is also active and present in the universal Church of God.
I don’t know about you, but I think the Holy Spirit is probably the most difficult person of the Trinity to describe in words, yet the Spirit is also the person of the Trinity who we most directly experience. The Holy Spirit is not an abstract thing like the prevailing mood or atmosphere of a party or gathering. For those of us who did not have the opportunity to know Jesus personally, the Spirit is God’s real and ongoing relationship with humankind.
God promises that the Spirit dwells within all of us who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and this is a trustworthy fact, a promise that we can hold on to even during the times of our lives when we don’t think we can feel the Spirit. But the working of Spirit, like all that God does, is not confined to believers. Because of our own ongoing relationship with God through prayer and study enabled by Spirit, we can learn to recognise God’s movements in the world and discern where he is working.
Today is Trinity Sunday. A Sunday that is devoted to the celebration of a doctrine.
But, properly speaking, I think it’s a Sunday devoted to mediation on our relationship with God and God’s relationship with us.
It is not doctrine that brings to us faith but relationship and experience, with God and with other Christians.
I’d like to close my meditation this morning by reading to you from Ephesians, Chapter 3:14-21. Close your eyes, if you’d like to, and listen to these words from Holy Scripture.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.