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The Rector’s sermon for Trinity Sunday, May 27, 2018


                                                                                                                         

Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17



 

The late Cardinal Richard Cushing once told of an incident from his days as a parish priest.  Summoned to give last rites to a man who had collapsed in a store, Cushing knelt beside the man and began with the traditional question: “Do you believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit?” The man opened one eye and said,  “Here I am dying, and he asks me a riddle.”

           

That may reflect how some of us think about the Trinity, one God in three persons.   There is no doctrine of the Trinity set out in the Bible.  Nevertheless, the teaching is that there is one God in the Blessed Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, what the church celebrates today on Trinity Sunday…the only Sunday during the church year that honors a specific doctrine.  Some people claim to understand it; most simply accept it.  So how did we get here with a doctrine of the Trinity?

           

Before we talk about that, I need to be clear that I am not saying that the Trinity isn’t in the Bible.  While there is indeed no specific biblical teaching that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God in a Trinity of persons, there are a number of passages in the New Testament where the three are spoken of together in significant ways.  The first words in the Book of Genesis, for example, speak of God creating, that same God speaking, ‘let there be light’ (Jesus, being the Word) and the Spirit ‘hovering’ over the creation.  There are references to the Father, and the Holy Spirit at the baptism of Jesus.  And today’s text from Romans 8 is another of those passages.  Paul tells us here that the Spirit leads us to become children of God and fellow heirs with Christ so that we can pray to the Father.  This isn’t a doctrine about how the Father, the Son and the Spirit are related but a statement about how they work together.

 

The Christian church began among Jewish followers of Jesus, who himself was Jewish.  And for Jews, the fundamental belief about God is set out in a verse from Deuteronomy that’s called the Shema`, the Hebrew word for “hear”: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”  There is only one true God, the one whom Jesus called Father, whom he prayed to and called people to put their trust in. The Father is God, our Creator and the one our lives depend upon.

           

Jesus’ mission from the Father was to proclaim the kingdom of God. He trusted completely in His Father and he invited people to share in that trust.  He continued to be faithful even when his obedience to God’s will brought him to death on the cross.  When his disciples were convinced that he had been raised from the dead, they finally believed that his claim to speak for God was true.  His death and resurrection had overcome humanity’s separation from God caused by sin…something that only God could do.  We believe that Jesus is God incarnate because He said so…and we are called to trust in him in a way that is only appropriate for God.

           

But that trust doesn’t come easily.  In fact, the basic problem of sin is that we put our trust in many other things instead of in the one true God.  Nevertheless, people—then and now—believe the message about Jesus that the apostles proclaimed.  They felt moved to believe because of a power beyond themselves.  They identified that power with the Spirit of God who inspired the prophets—the same Spirit who had come upon Jesus at his baptism, and who promised to be with his people—through His Spirit—to guide them and counsel them.  We believe that the Holy Spirit is God because bringing people from the death of sin to a new life was something that only God could do.

           

Jesus Christ is God in human form, his Father is God, and the Holy Spirit is God — yet “the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The doctrine of the Trinity is a way of thinking about and making sense of the actions of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit throughout history.  Our God is always working, always acting, always present in the life of the Christian.  The doctrine is not easily understood, but nothing about God is easily understood.  What’s more important is proclaiming what Father, Son and Holy Spirit do together.

 

In today’s reading from the Letter to the Romans, Paul tells us what the Trinity does for us. In earlier chapters of Romans Paul has spoken about the problem of sin, and how it destroys one’s relationship with God.  He tells us that we can’t restore that relationship by keeping the law, but that God has acted to restore that relationship through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We are justified, put in a right relationship with God, by faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ.  This is certainly good news, but we can’t stop at this point.  Our salvation isn’t just about ‘me and Jesus.’  That kind of religion is all too common.

 

God’s purpose is about forming and saving believing communities.  Jesus made that quite clear during his own ministry.  When he taught his disciples—and us—to pray, he said to ask as members of a community for ourdaily bread and forgiveness of our sins.   And most significantly, we are to pray to our Father. And the Trinity is a community of Father, Son and Spirit, and the Son invites us to share in his communal relationship with the Father and the Spirit.

           

So Paul tells us that those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God, sharing in the relationship with God to which Jesus invited us. And note that the Holy Spirit takes the initiative here, working through the proclamation of the gospel, bringing people to faith, but the Spirit may work in surprising ways.  Jesus compared the working of the Spirit with the unpredictability of the wind, and there are many stories in the Bible and church history of God’s call of people we wouldn’t expect him to call.

 

Christians may think of themselves as servants of God, and certainly we should follow calls to serve God. But Paul says we are not to consider ourselves as slaves.  He says we have not been given a “spirit of slavery.”  So what have we been given?  A “spirit of adoption” as children of the Father.  We are led by the Spirit to share in that special relationship, a relationship so amazing that we can—as Jesus did—call God “Abba”,  a word in Aramaic that would be used by a child in Jesus’ time to address his or her father.

 

This is a matter not just of how we think about God, but about the hope we have in God.  We know that Jesus as the heir and Son of God is the one in whom all God’s promises will be fulfilled.  And as Paul tells us we are fellow heirs with Christ by adoption—“if,” he says, “we suffer with him so that we may be glorified with him.”  That’s a reminder that God’s work in the world is not finished, that as children of God we are called to share in that work, and that that work will sometimes be hard.

 

But the glory to which we are called as heirs with Christ… is the glory of God Himself, a glory that cannot be taken away.  God the Creator, God the Redeemer, God the Sanctifier—one God in three persons.  Can this be totally understood?  Certainly not!  But as believers in the mysteries of our faith, we can rejoice in a Trinity of persons who loves us, has adopted us, and looks forward to the day of our homecoming!



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