05.15.16 Sermon (May 15, 2016) “Trinitarianism 101”

posted Jul 12, 2016, 8:36 AM by David Hawkins

The Acts of an Easter People: Acts 2:1-21 

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 
Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-- in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." 
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 
But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine." 
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 

'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

*New Testament Scripture: John 14:8-17 (25-27) 

Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." 
Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 

"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."
 Sermon: "Trinitarianism 101”  Rev. David Hawkins

Last week, I was inspired by the Youth as they chose to tackle a difficult scripture passage from Revelation. They didn’t shy away from sinking their teeth into the hard words of the final book of the Bible, and they did an amazing job bringing these old, strange words into our 
modern world. 

The Youth inspired me so much in fact, that I decided to honor their work by continuing to look at a different difficult concept, and that is this idea of the Trinity.

And while all you Liturgical nerds out there already know that next week is the when we are supposed to talk about the Trinity, I decided to go ahead and get started early. Because this might take a couple of Sundays to talk through.

The idea of the Trinity defies conventional grammar and rational definition. This idea of one God, but in three persons, has been the source of a ton of conflict through the years.

In fact, one of the great splits in the church, the schism between the Western “Roman” Church, and the Eastern, “Orthodox” Church was a difference in understanding what the Trinity was. It was a relatively small difference. One wouldn’t think that it should have mattered all that much. But it did, and it resulted in a break in communion that has lasted more than a thousand years.

And so, let’s get one thing straight first. Nothing that I am going to say about the relationship between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is going to have an effect on my, or your salvation. While theologians have gone round and round in circles trying to figure what this relationship might mean, and how to talk about it, nothing that we are going to talk about here today is going to alter your relationship with God. That’s between you and Him.

Now, having said that, the way we talk about the relationship between Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit does mean things. At least, Jesus thinks that it means things.

In our scripture from John, we see Philip sort of sticking his foot in his mouth about misunderstanding who Jesus really is, in relationship to God, and Jesus doesn’t waste any time in explaining that if you really want to see the Father, just look at him. If you want to know the way, the life, the truth, then do the things that Jesus did.

And so, Jesus evidently thought that is was worthwhile to consider the relationship between himself and God. In fact, he thought that this relationship was the one thing that would keep his young Christian Community from falling apart after he died. Jesus knew that his followers would be demoralized, persecuted, accused of all kinds of things, and they needed to know that they were not alone.

And so, when he talks to his friends about what it means to know God, he puts it in the most personal terms possible. If you know Jesus, if you walk the way he walks, if you teach, heal, welcome, forgive, feed, clothe the way he does these things, then you will know the Father.

Jesus is the face of God, right before us. Jesus is the will of God, the Word of God, the presence of God, the love and life of God. If we desire to know what God wants of us, we need look no further than to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

This the first thing we need to know about the concept of ‘Trinity’: the connectedness between God and Jesus. In Jesus, we see God. We see what God had in mind for us when he created the universe. We see what God hopes for us when he parted the Red Sea. We see what God desires from us when he fed the tribes in the desert. In Jesus Christ, we see the connection between God and his people. It’s not an academic thing. It’s a personal thing.

And the way we think about their relationship informs the way we think about our own relationships. God came to be one of us. God came to be here for us. And by the way he led his life, he calls to be there for each other.

This sense of mission is at the heart of the trinity. The trinity is not a doctrine that you must believe in order to be a Christian. It is an understanding of who God is that calls us to action.

Of course, up to this point, I’ve only been talking about two persons of the Trinity, God the Father, and God the Son. I haven’t even started talking about God the Holy Spirit.

And that’s entirely Presbyterian, isn’t it? We are pretty leery about talking about the Holy Spirit. We’re not generally willing to go there.

And for good reasons. Discussions about the role and the meaning of the Holy Spirit have been fraught with demands for demonstrations of the manifestation some sort of power of the Holy Spirit in order to prove that you are a Christian; that belief in the Holy Spirit means speaking in tongues, playing with snakes, rolling around on the floor; and that a Holy Spirit oriented worship service means a raucous, thoughtless, irrational expression of Christianity that makes Presbyterians shudder and look away.

If that is what the Holy Spirit is all about, we say to ourselves, then we just won’t talk about it. Or think about it. We certainly won’t consider what the Holy Spirit means for our lives.

But in today’s Scripture, John offers us a different picture of the Spirit. There’s nothing ridiculous or frivolous about the Spirit. There’s nothing in here about litmus tests or prescribed demonstrations of one’s Spirit-given power.

Jesus talks to his friends about the Holy Spirit, not in a way that demands strict codes of behavior but in a way that comforts and encourages. The Holy Spirit, he says, will come to you in order that you may know that you are not alone, to remind you that I will be with you forever. I am sending an advocate, a partner, a friend. I am sending someone that you can count on when all else fails. The Holy Spirit is the living, everyday connection between you and me, and as long as you are engaged in the work of the Kingdom of God, you will be given what you need to carry that work out.

Again, this understanding the Trinity is not something that we have to believe in order to be saved. Rather, this understanding of the Trinity is one that calls us to action. It’s one that reaffirms our connection to God, rather than one that creates division and schism. If we see the Holy Spirit as the force that binds us to God, that wind that gently guides us to better choices, that voice of comfort and reassurance, then maybe we Presbyterians can find a way to talk about the Holy Spirit without feeling a little bit strange inside.

And I think that we need this knowledge of God. Especially on those cold, wet rainy days of our lives that we all have from time to time, I think we need this reminder that God is still with us, that Jesus has not left us, that we are not alone.

In this meal that we are about to celebrate, we see the whole person and work of God. We see the life of Jesus Christ, given to us. We see the promise of God’s salvation given to us. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are brought into the presence of God the Father, and God the Son, if only for a moment, to feast at the table of the saints, forever, and ever.

The Trinity doesn’t have to be a hard or weird thing. It doesn’t have to be an academic exercise. The Trinity is a gift. The gift of knowing who God is, and what God wants from us, in a real, and life giving way. In the Trinity we discover a God who gives himself to us, and calls us to give ourselves to him, and to each other, and who then gives us the tools to do so.

It’s that simple. And yet it is so very difficult. Because let’s face it, if it were easy, everybody would be doing it.

Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might be to our God
forever and ever. Amen.