Pastor Sherry’s message for June 4, 2023
Scriptures: Gen 1:1-31, 2:1-4; Ps 8; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Matt 28:16-20
Today is Trinity Sunday, traditionally the first Sunday after Pentecost. Many people have come up with metaphors to explain the Trinity—one God in three separate persons—but each of these images falls short somehow. Explaining the Trinity proves to be very difficult. Consider this true story from St. Augustine (396 to 430), Bishop of Hippo or present day Algeria. Many experts today still consider him to be one of the premier theologians of the Christian Church. It is said that,
“One day when St. Augustine was at his wits’ end to understand and explain the Trinity, he went out for a walk. He kept turning over in his mind, “One God, but three Persons. Three Persons–not three Gods but one God. What does it mean? How can it be explained? How can my mind take it in?”
“And so he was torturing his mind and beating his brains out, when he saw a little boy on the beach. He approached him to see what he was doing. The child had dug a small hole in the sand. With his hands he was carrying water from the ocean and was dumping it in the little hole. St. Augustine asked, “What are you doing, my child?”
“The child replied, “I want to put all of the water of the ocean into this hole.”
“St. Augustine asked, “But is it possible for all of the water of this great ocean to be contained in this little hole?”
“And then it dawned on Augustine, “If the water of the ocean cannot be contained in this little hole, then how can the Infinite Trinitarian God be contained in your mind?”
(Borrowed from a sermon by Rev. Gordon Curley, dated November 29, 2010, archived on http://www.Sermoncentral.com).
Again, it is very difficult to explain the Trinity using images like a three-leaf clover (one plant, three leaves), an egg (shell, liquid, solid), or water (ice, fluid, steam) because while these speak to the separateness of the three, they do not adequately describe the unity, the relationships among the persons, or their cooperative work together.
John Wesley (1703-1791), the Anglican pastor who founded our Methodist Church, may have come close. He once used the following analogy to explain the doctrine of the Trinity: He said,
“Tell me how it is that in this room there are three candles and one light, and I will explain to you the mode of the triune God.” “Although each of the three persons of the Holy Community has his own distinct identity, all work together harmoniously as one God to accomplish salvation.”
(Borrowed from Pastor Glen Key from his March 2, 2011 sermon; archived on website http://www.sermoncentral.com)
As it turns out, you won’t find the word Trinity in the Bible. People only began to use this term toward the end of the 2nd century. Theophilos, the Bishop of Antioch in 180 AD, used the term Trias to describe our one God in three persons. Later, the theologian Tertullian (155-220AD) who challenged many developing heresies in the early Church, changed the word to Trinitas. The church leaders who met in Nicea in 325 AD, and later in Constantinople in 381, set this reality as doctrine in the Nicene Creed. It’s a way of describing what the Bible tells us about the reality of God—in essence, One God, but formed of 3 distinct persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
But you will find citations of the three persons of the Trinity:
In John 10:30, Jesus says–>I and the Father are One. Later, in an epistle (1 John 5:7), John says For there are three that testify, the Father, the Word [Jesus], and the Spirit, and these three are one.
The Old Testament also mentions or implies the Triune nature of our God:
Job 33:6 refers to the Holy Spirit The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Isaiah 6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? [implying more than one person]. The Hebrews never adopted the custom exhibited by later European monarchs of referring to themselves in the plural. If the Hebrew passage said us, it meant literally more than one.
Isaiah also predicts the 1st Advent of Jesus, within Whom will reside many gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:1-2) A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse [lineage of King David]; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit [Holy Spirit] of the Lord [God the Father] will rest on Him [Jesus]—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
Our Scriptures today all shine further light on the cooperative functions of the members of the Trinity:
A. In our Genesis 1:1-31, 2:1-4 lesson, two members of the Trinity are mentioned: (1) Verse 1 In the beginning God [the Father planned and directed it] created the heavens and the earth.
(2) Verse 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God [Holy Spirit] was hovering over the waters. Hovering here evokes such a lovely image. In the Hebrew it conveys the sense of a mother hen hovering over/covering with her wings her chicks. It’s a protective and a loving action.
(3) Verses 3-26 reveal the orderly mind of God and His attention to detail. The 1st day (v.3), He—John the Gospeler says this He is Jesus, who speaks creation into existence. In John 1:1,3, he tells us In the beginning was the Word [God’s Word made flesh, Jesus, the Logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…Through Him [Jesus] all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. That first day, Jesus spoke light into existence. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world.”
The 2nd day (v.6), He created the sky, separating the waters above (rain, dew) from the waters below (oceans, lakes, rivers, etc.).
The 3rd day (vv.9-11), He separated out dry ground from the waters and made vegetation.
The 4th day (v.14), He formed lights in the sky, the sun, the moon, and the stars. (Notice, light itself was produced before these celestial bodies were placed in the heavens).
The 5th day (vv.20-24), He produced marine life and birds.
On the 6th day (26), He crafted land-dwelling animals and humankind, the pinnacle of His creation. He said Let us [plural, more than one] make man in our image, in our likeness. Adam, Eve, and the animals were to be fruitful and multiply; and Adam was to serve as a steward or overseer of over the rest of creation, as God’s agents.
So, according to the first chapters of Genesis and of John, all three persons of the Trinity were present at creation. God the Father devised the plan; God the Son spoke it into existence; and God the Spirit was both the power source and the breath (The Hebrew word for the Holy Spirit is ruach which means both breath, wind, and spirit).
B. Psalm 8, written by King David, is a hymn of praise to God for creation. It begins and ends with those wonderful words, O LORD, our LORD, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! Then it goes on to celebrate God’s formation of the cosmos, from planets and stars to humans and infants. We could call this a Messianic psalm because it speaks to a time when all persons will revere our Lord. As we know, the names of God and of Jesus are not everywhere honored today; some use them as curse words. But at Jesus’ 2nd Coming, all will know that God is real, that He exists, and that He rules in power and might. They will then either revere Him or be gone.
C. Both 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 and Matthew 28:16-20 are farewell addresses that include references to the Trinity. As Paul says goodbye to the Church in Corinth, he exhorts them to… (v.11) aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, and live in peace.
None of us is perfect, so what he means by this is grow up! In the first chapters of 1 Corinthians, he takes the believers there to task for being infantile in their faith (preferring milk to meat) and acting out of their carnal rather than spiritual nature. So, he is saying, essentially, “Don’t act like entitled children; learn to live a spirit-filled, disciplined life.”
Additionally, he wants them to pay attention to what he has taught them. He encourages them to try to maintain unity in doctrine and beliefs—which we know presently and personally is difficult. And he wants them to live in peace….We can’t create peace—only Jesus can—but we can conduct ourselves in a way that demonstrates we know Jesus can supply us with the peace that passes all understanding. Then he encourages them to greet each other with appropriate affection—no icky or invasive hugs or kisses.
Finally, he blesses them with a benediction that includes each member of the Trinity (v.14) May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God [the Father], and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. What a wonderful sendoff!
Jesus’s parting words in Matthew 28 are strikingly similar. We call His final instructions the Great Commission:
(1) We are to go! Through our neighborhoods, our county, our state, our country, to the entire world.
(2) We are to make disciples for Christ.
(3) We are to teach them about Jesus and that they and we are to be obedient to Him.
(4) And we are to baptize them (v.19) …in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Paul died but Jesus promises us to be present with us (through the Holy Spirit) (v.20)…to the very end of the age.
So what does this mean to us on this Trinity Sunday of 2023?
The story is told of a seminary professor who asked his students to close their eyes and see if they could summon up for themselves an image of God.
“After a few moments he had them open their eyes and, if comfortable, share what they saw. Most of them said the same thing: “An old man with a white beard floating in the clouds, looking down at us.” [The professor] then said, “If what you imagine God to be like is anything other than Jesus, then you have the wrong image of God.” Jesus is beautiful, and so are the Father and the Spirit: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 KJV).”.
(Borrowed from The Magnificent Story by James Bryan Smith, InterVarsity Press, 2018.).
We want to remember that God the Father and the Spirit are spirits. Jesus shows us the loving, grace-filled face of the Father, as well as the powerful, healing and sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The truth is that our God exists in 3 persons—all the same God but taking on three personalities or different expressions—all of which is difficult for our finite minds to take in. I don’t understand gravity. I can’t see it, but I know it is real and I don’t plan to test it by jumping off a tall building. I think, until we reach heaven, we probably have to agree with St. Augustine and take the same stance with the Trinity.
©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams