June 11, 2017
Fr. Phil Eberhart
This morning is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday morning after the Feast of Pentecost.
Pastors either completely ignore the subject or have a tendency to butcher it with metaphors or pictures that may, at worst, be heretical and at best, may confuse an already difficult topic.
The topic of the Trinity has been described, rightly I think, as "a riddle wrapped up inside a puzzle and buried in an enigma."
- how can something be one in three?
- it seems to be irrational
- even if you understand it, what practical value does it have?
We are just told to accept it by faith and let the theologians worry about the details!
We can trace its development through history and through Scriptures easily enough; we sing the songs: Holy, Holy, Holy, etc. "God in three persons, blessed Trinity!"
Once a year is probably enough though, for most of us!!
But the Trinity has deep ramifications for both who we are and how we relate to others and do ministry in that Name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit! The doctrine of the Trinity is to Christian life and ministry what grammar is to our language! The doctrine of the Trinity is unique among world religions and is, in fact, a major stumbling block - a rock of offense - in the world's understanding of Christianity.
In a sermon it is nearly impossible to delve deeply into this subject! It is a life time of contemplation and study that is required, but more than our comprehending the doctrine, or figuring out how to communicate the doctrine, we need to enter into the Communion of the Trinity itself.
Last week we prayed with Jesus, "as You Father, are in me and I am in You, may they also be in us!" (Jn 17:2)
The Trinity is an open, not a closed circle!! Ho! What a thought!
We are invited into the circle as we come "IN CHRIST" and become, graciously included, partners with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in what the Trinity is doing in the earth!!
John Wesley described that communion with the Trinity as "...a deep, an intimate, an uninterrupted union with God; a constant communion with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, through the Spirit; a continual enjoyment of the Three-One God, and of all creatures in him."
Peter says we have become "participants" in the Divine Nature! (2 Pet 1:4)
Such is the Koinonia of the Holy Spirit that John speaks of in his first letter:
[1Jo 1:1-4 NLT] 1 We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.
The ONE in whom Paul said, "We live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28) lives and moves and has his being as Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
The Trinitarian nature of God is reflected everywhere!! In Divine revelation; in Redemption; Our experience of God in salvation; Our life together as Church, in Worship, Fellowship and Mission!
When I first came to this parish, when it was St. George Episcopal, God gave me a Trinitarian vision of Encounter - Empower - Engage (Worship - Fellowship - Mission) !
Recently I came across a book called Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service! Here, author Stephan Seamands, outlines seven aspects of the Trinity that shape a right understanding of both the Trinity and the ministry which flows from our God, through us, and to the World. Each is contained in a chapter, but I can only give a precis this morning, almost by headings only. I hope that you might get the book and read more deeply:
MINISTRY IN THE IMAGE OF GOD by Stephan Seamands.
Here are the seven aspects of the Trinity according to Seamands...
1. Relational Personhood
2. Joyful Intimacy
3. Glad Surrender
4. Complex Simplicity
5. Gracious Self-Acceptance
6. Mutual Indwelling
7. Passionate Mission
All I have time for is a quote or two, but I hope that this will whet your appetite, like salt, making you Hunger and Thirst for Righeousness and the One who is Righteousness itself.
Christian Psychotherapist and Professor Larry Crabb once said, "We must do something other than train professional to fix damaged psyches. Damaged psyches aren't the problem. The problem beneath our struggles is a disconnected soul.... Rather than fixing psyches or scolding sinners, we must provide nourishment for the disconnected soul that only a community of connected people can offer."
What Crabb is crying out for is authentic Christian community! Where "the heart of God is home, where the humble and wise learn to shepherd those on the path behind them, where trusting strugglers lock arms with other as together they journey on." It's why we call our church, the "Land of Broken Toys!"
It is in community that healing takes place! Human beings, created in the image of the triune God, are constituted in their creation FOR RELATIONSHIP. The Trinity is the IMAGO DEI!
In contrast to that constitution, we in the West have come to believe that we are constituted as INDIVIDUALS. But if we are created In the IMAGE OF GOD - The Trinity, then we exist in relationships.
We can see four characteristics of the Trinity in the Gospel of John:
(2) Full Equality, (3) Glad Submission, (4) Joyful Intimacy and (5) Mutual deference! Just listen:
Jn 1:1 Equals: "The Word was with God, and the Word was God" yet...
Jn 1:14 Submission: "He became flesh and dwelt among us."
Jn 1:18 Deference: seeks to make the Father - not himself - known...
and Intimacy: He is the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart"
Jn 3:34 Submission and Deference: "He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spriit without measure" -- "the Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands" (Mutuality)
These are repeated again in Jn 5, in Jn 8, Jn 10, in the Upper Room discourses, and finally in Jn 17, Jesus High Priestly prayer. Throughout his narrative, John uses these four characteristics to describe the relationship of the Trinity amongst the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
For us we must take the advise given to John Wesley as a young man:
"Sir, you wish to serve God and go to heaven? Remember you cannot serve him alone. You must therefore find companions or make them. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion."
In my undergrad days I wrote a Senior Thesis paper, moving from the Greek word, KOINONIA, to an exposition of its application through the movements of the Spirit which incorporated this aspect of fellowship and small communities of faith. From the New Testament to the Moravian revival, to Methodism and its spread from John Wesley through the Bands and Societies, up to the Charismatic Renewal and the intentional communities at Ann Arbor, MI among the Catholics and in Houston, TX among the Episcopalians.
In every stage of the history of the church, the Church has moved forward in groups of 3 to 5 deeply committed Christians who were passionate about growth in holiness and related deeply and regularly to each other.
When we consider the Trinity, we come to exclaim as Paul did (Ro 11:33) "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!"
A.W. Tozer put it this way: To admit that there is One who lies beyond us, who existws outside of all our categories, who will not be dismissed with a name, who will not appear before the bar of our reason, nor submit to our curious inquiries - this requres a great deal of humility, more than most of us possess, so we save face by thinking God down to our level, or at least down to where we can manage Him."
In the face of the Trinity we are reduced to worship!
Awe is preferable to answers!
Let us pray:
Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit;
Three we name Thee;
while in essence only one,
Undivided God we claim thee;
And adoring bend the knee,
While we own the Mystery."
Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit, One in Three and Three in One: Open our hearts and minds to see and know you as you are, not as we can conceive of You! Help us to live in the relationship we are created to live in, in the way which embraces You, the Wholly-Other with the Love of God, unconditional, full and unfailing. Give us grace, O God, to see in others and in our relationship the reflection of the Trinity, the Imago Dei, made for relationship and complete in life shared together as ONE. Help us to live in the mystery of the Trinity, as you reveal deeper and deeper truths to us from your Word, by your Holy Spirit.
Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy on us.
In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.