The Triune God is Calling, Calling, Calling

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Trinity Sunday
June 12, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: The Christian idea of the Holy Trinity is derived from a careful reading of the Bible, and it's not just theological inside-baseball talk meant to confuse outsiders. Rather, it's an important way to understand who God is and what God is calling us to be and do.

Hard as you might look, you won't find the words "Holy" and "Trinity" next to each other in the Bible. What the church teaches about the Trinity is a derived doctrine.

That is, if you read the Bible with discernment, putting together such passages as the one we read today from John with other passages like the last few verses in Matthew - where Jesus tells his disciples to baptize people "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" - the logical conclusion is that God is triune. And God is one. And those two assertions don't contradict each other.

People have naturally asked whether the Trinity refers to three different gods. Or one god with three, say, masks, addresses, aliases. Or a divine committee with a president, vice president and secretary-treasurer. Or is it simply a doctrine designed to keep the know-it-alls from thinking they know it all?

In the end, much about the Trinity is shrouded in mystery for many Christians but also for many outside the faith, including Jews and Muslims. Both Judaism and Islam are insistently monotheistic, but they aren't monolithic, meaning that all Jews are not on the same page theologically and neither are all Muslims. But Christianity, too, is both tenaciously monotheistic and theologically divided.

The divine essence cannot be divided

About a decade ago, a theologian and teacher from Yale Divinity School, Miroslav Volf, wrote a wonderful book called Allah: A Christian Response . It was his answer to the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. He said definitively yes. But to defend that answer, he had to confront the doubts of Muslim scholars about the Trinity because many of them believed Christians worshiped three Gods.

Over quite a few pages of deep theological reflection, Volf drew some clear conclusions. Among them are these:

As we ponder the Trinity - and try to imagine why it makes any difference to the way we live - it's important first to set down a general rule that might help us a little. This is the rule: The persons of the Trinity never work at odds with one another.

This may seem like a silly and even arcane point, but it becomes crucial when we try to understand what Jesus was doing for us on the cross. Some people have proposed that Jesus's suffering there was an example of divine child abuse. But if the members of the Trinity never work at odds with one another, that's a terrible and badly misleading thing to say.

Just who is this God in three persons?

So what can we say about the three persons of the Godhead and how each of those persons is God's revelation to us of the divine identity?

Well, God is the creator. The great 20th-century theologian Paul Tillich called God the ground of all being. And that's been a helpful image for some people.

In the beginning, says Genesis, this creator God, who already existed, created the heavens and the earth. How did God do this? Through words. God spoke the world into existence.

"Let there be light,"4 God said. And there was light. "Let this and let that," God said. And this and that came into being. So just looking at the creation should give us some sense of a creator. We should affirm that this highly complex and carefully orchestrated universe is a clue about the creator.

What does that mean? It means there's beauty, awesome beauty within atoms and out in the vast cosmos. It means that God goes running off on creative tangents, as author Annie Dillard describes it, tangents that result in a bazillion kinds of butterflies and six bazillion kinds of insects and birds and more snakes than you can shake a stick at - to say nothing of thousands and thousands of galaxies and DNA so long and complex it simply takes our breath away.

"The creator," Dillard concludes, "loves pizzazz."5

So God is a creator. God reveals that, just as God is also revealed to us as Son and Holy Spirit, as the John passage we read today suggests. God calls to us through each person of the Trinity. Each voice is a little different, each plea uniquely stated. But the goal is the same. God wants our hearts to come home because where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also.

God wants to give us transformed lives now and the gift of eternity in the Lord's healing presence. So to deliver this message God does not depend simply on a snail-mail letter to us, though the Bible should be enough. No, God phones. God emails. God texts. God sends a personal messenger who is this very God in person, God incarnate. And God makes the divine presence available to us through the Holy Spirit. Each person of the Trinity is an avenue for God to reach us, a channel of God's grace.6

God is always searching for and calling us

Religion often is defined as humans searching for God. But Christianity asserts that God searches for us - not only through the message of the creation or the sense of God's spirit in our midst but through God's incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth. So if God's natural creation is one way of reaching us, teaching us, calling us to commit our hearts, then Jesus is another way. And the Holy Spirit is a third way.

God speaks. But we must listen. God the Father calls to us through the creation. God the Son calls to us through his life, ministry, death and resurrection. Jesus shows us how to live and shows us that he himself is life and truth. God the Holy Spirit calls to us by connecting to our hearts, by convincing us of our need for a savior, by reminding us who God is, by regenerating us and preparing us to receive forgiveness. As Jesus said in the passage we read today, the Holy Spirit "will take what is mine and declare it to you." So there's no separation between the two - or among the three.

Being Trinitarians is not an easy theological position to maintain. It's easier to become what we might call a unitarian of the first or second or third person of the Trinity. A unitarian of the first person would be someone so attached to the creator and the creation that she forgets what Christ has done for her and that the Holy Spirit is calling her to be whole and free.

A unitarian of the second person of the Trinity would be someone so focused on Jesus and a theology of salvation and redemption that he has little room in his heart for the free movement of the Holy Spirit or even a rightful place for God the creator. A unitarian of the third person would be someone so in touch and in love with the more sensational gifts of the Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, that he has little room for God the creator or God the Son.

This kind of third person unitarian might insist you're not a real Christian unless, like him, you've experienced what he calls a baptism of the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues and have all kinds of other ecstatic experiences. Those things may well have their place in a fully developed Christian life, but if they constitute the whole of one's theology, they're out of balance.

Trinitarians have a balanced theology. They experience the call from God in different ways and say yes to those calls. They show they are grateful for the gifts they've been given, grateful for forgiveness, for salvation, for the model of discipleship Jesus reveals.

If we spend our time merely arguing about how many members of the Trinity can dance on the head of a pin, we're wasting our time and God's. It's only when - having understood how God calls us through each person of the Trinity - we, in response, give our lives to God that any of this makes sense. So let's remember that we are Trinitarians because that's how God has chosen to reveal who God is. God is creator, redeemer, sustainer. Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

As you leave this place and seek to be a disciple, listen to the call to you from God the creator, God the cross-bearer and God the comforter. Yes to all three will be a yes to the one true God, to whom be all glory and honor, now and forever.

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