Isaiah 6:1-8 Psalm 29 Romans 8:12-17 John 3:1-17
On this Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost, our church celebrates one of its major feasts – Trinity Sunday. We speak of Episcopalians being Trinitarian people, but when asked to explain the Trinity most of us find it difficult to do so.
Each year I feel compelled to say something about the Trinity because it is a major feast day – through it is not really addressed in our scriptures for today. St. Paul does, in Romans, speak of the three persons of the Trinity. He mentions the Spirit of God, saying that if we are led by the Spirit, then we are children of God, and can call God our Father. He then says as children of God we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
Likewise, the gospel speaks of the three “persons” of the Trinity: God, the Spirit, and God’s only Son. It does not specifically call God the Father, but in the scriptures, God is often referred to as “our Father in heaven.” There is no explanation of the Trinity found in the Bible – anywhere. What we do find are references to God, God the Father; Jesus, God the Son; and the Holy Spirit. Where then, does our belief in the Trinity come from – what makes us Trinitarian?
The early church was as divided as we are today in their understanding of the nature of Jesus, of God and of the scriptures. So, in the year 325, the Emperor Constantine appointed a council to arrive at a common set of beliefs all Christians could agree upon. This council met in Nicaea and wrote the Nicene Creed – a version of which we say on Sunday mornings.
I am providing this brief history and referencing the Nicene Creed because I think it helps us better understand the church’s beliefs concerning the Trinity. The Nicene Creed is divided into three major statements of belief. We begin saying, “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty.” Then we say, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.” And, we conclude with, “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all part of ONE GOD. How? That has been the subject of much debate, and many have been accused of heresies for their attempts to answer this question.
My Old Testament professor told us that the people of Israel always got into trouble when they attempted to define God too narrowly. God is always more than we can comprehend. Likewise, I think the nature of the Trinity is beyond our ability to imagine. The three basic beliefs, as outlined in the Nicene Creed, are not.
Getting past the language of the fourth century, let’s move beyond Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and consider what each of these names for God, these “persons” of the Trinity, represent. God creates all that is, visible and invisible. God becomes flesh and blood and lives among us to teach us the truth of God’s love for all of creation – God’s love is immeasurable. God gives us life, inspires the prophets, and sustains us in the life we live.
More important than any attempt to explain the Trinity is our relationship to God – with God, who is described in the Nicene Creed as, “the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.” God, who is described as having come down from heaven “for us and for our salvation.” And God, who is “the giver of life.” It is our relationship with our creator, our redeemer, and the one who gives us life that is important.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus talks to Nicodemus of the need to be born from above. This confuses Nicodemus who takes what he says too literally. Jesus has to explain to him that he is referring to being born of the Spirit. Many Christians today speak of this as being “born again.” Just as we speak of the Holy Spirit as the giver of life, they speak of the Holy Spirit opening our hearts that we might accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
And, they read the following two verses in this passage from John as meaning that without Jesus there is no salvation: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
We can read this passage as saying we are born into sin and need Jesus to save us from sinful nature. The world we are born into is certainly full of sin – but we are born in the image of God our creator. Jesus comes not to us because we are sinful or pay our debt to God for our sins; Jesus comes to teach us the way that leads to true life. We are created by our loving God, loved by God who comes to us in the person of Jesus to teach us the way of love, so that we might be lead by the Holy Spirit and experience true and meaningful life within the love of God.
Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day we remember those who have given their lives in service to their country, our country. We honor those who died serving in the military because their service and their sacrifice are what have protected our freedom and our way of life. Their way of life was to put others before themselves.
Living our lives for others is what Jesus teaches us. Jesus dies upon the cross because of what he says and teaches. What Jesus says, his words, have significant for our understanding of the Trinity. At the beginning of the Gospel of John, it says:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (1:1-5).
A few verses later it says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is the Word made flesh who lives among us, he is the light shining in the darkness, illuminating the path for us to find true life.
The relationship of the three persons of the Trinity can be found here – God creates us, Jesus lights the way for us, and the Spirit of God’s love offers us life. A relationship with God, who creates, leads us, and offers us life is what matters. Jesus teaches us the path to love, an unselfish love, a love of others. All that we need to know about the Trinity is that God wants to have that same relationship, found in the Trinity, with us. A relationship based on love, that makes us one with God.
Let us pray.
Loving God, on this day we not only celebrate our relationship with you as our creator, our teacher, and the giver of life, we remember those whose unselfish service to this country has preserved our freedom. Help us to remember that our lives are closely linked with these men and women who sacrificed their lives for us. We pray also that people and nations everywhere might learn to resolve differences without war and violence that we might live together in peace. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.