Today is Trinity Sunday. It is unique in our worship as a church because it is one of the few feasts that are celebrated because of a doctrine instead of an event. We are celebrating the unique three-in-oneness of our God. Father-Son-Holy Spirit. There are several, sort of visuals to help kids, and frankly us adults too, come to a bit of an understanding of what this means: So we can talk about an egg: with the three distinct parts: shell, whites, and yolk; or an apple: skin, fruit, and core… and all of these sort of us help us understand that each part is egg or apple, but it is in the unity that we have wholeness or completeness. But these examples fail to get at the dynamic interactions of the three in one God. A blog I read described it this way:
“When we speak of the Trinity we mean: that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stated differently, God is one in essence and three in person. These definitions express three crucial truths:
- The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons
- Each Person is fully God
- There is only one God.”
In our Scripture readings today we see that Three in One God at work. In the reading from Isaiah, God is seen as the Almighty King who calls Isaiah, and Isaiah, overwhelmed by God’s holiness, despairs until he is cleansed “your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
When or where do you get a sense of this powerful God at work? The beach is the place where I most often get a sense of the incredible power and glory of God. As the waves come crashing in I am reminded of the glory of the One who made the oceans. And as the tides come in and go out, I am reminded of the faithfulness of my Creator God. He is Someone I can always depend on.
So take one minute and tell someone close to you, where or what reminds you most of God’s power or glory?
God is also someone who approaches humans, redeems and restores them, and allows them to engage in his mission to redeem and restore all of creation.
Although this Isaiah passage focuses primarily on a view of the Sovereign God at work, we also gets hints there is more! This is a description of Almighty God, who all creation worships as a holy God, is also someone who approaches humans, redeems and restores them, and allows them to engage in his mission to redeem and restore all of creation. We know, because of the rest of the Bible, that the redeeming and restoring work of God was done through Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and bestowal of his Spirit on his followers.
In the reading from Romans, the work of the Spirit is highlighted: we are reminded that it is the Spirit at work in us who makes us children of God. The Spirit at work in us reminds us that we are God’s children, not slaves. It is as God’s children we are invited to call the Holy, Almighty King of Isaiah or the God of the ocean—Daddy. But the Spirit also reminds us that part of our redemption involves suffering even as our brother Jesus suffered to bring God the Father’s redemption and renewal to this world.
What helps you best listen to the Spirit at work in you? When do you best hear the Spirit reminding you: you are the child of God? How does the Spirit challenge you to take up God’s world in the world around you? How do you make room for the Spirit to speak to you? I’m not going to ask you to share that with someone… but think for a moment, when is it quiet enough in your life for you to hear the Spirit’s voice?
We also get a deeper understanding in this passage of how all Three in One persons of the Trinity are at work for our reconciliation with God. There’s a hint of a dance, a choreography of work the Three in One is about in our world. Father, Son, Holy Spirit all working together to unite us as God’s children in relationship with Him. All working not only for our redemption, but also for our inclusion in the salvation God is at work doing in our world. We must join in the suffering of Christ if we are to share in Christ’s glory.
Finally, in the Gospel reading, Jesus again talks about the Spirit, Father, and Son at work to bring new life, eternal life to the world. He talks about how the Spirit needs to be at work in us to bring us this new life; Jesus tells Nicodemus this new life is possible because the Father loves the world so much he sent Jesus to save the world.
In Jesus, we can no longer pretend that God is a far off God. Powerful, but removed from us. We can no longer ignore the voice of the Spirit with us, whispering the truth of who we actually are meant to be and of how we are to live. In Jesus, God came close. He became one of us. In Jesus, we see how God acts in our world—what His priorities are, who He loves.
A lectionary commentator said:
“We discovered, in Jesus Christ, that God is love, but not simply love as an inclination or disposition. An often-repeated criticism of Jesus was that he “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus constantly intruded where he was not invited, sometimes where he was not wanted. The thing that got Jesus’ critics was not that Jesus loved people, but that Jesus received, ate with, and thereby loved the wrong people. Thus, Jesus showed us not only that God is love, but also that God’s love was considerably more interesting, active, expansive, and determined than most of what passes for either God or love around here.” “Let us be reminded, by the work of… (Jesus and the Holy Spirit), that divine sovereignty is not only in God’s creation of the world but also in God’s continuing, constant redemption of all people and all things to God.”
So through our Scripture readings this morning, we have seen evidence of a God who is mysteriously One God, yet who has three distinct ways of working in us and among us. What kind of word best describes this God? John, Jesus disciple said: God is love. Listen carefully to that: he does not say here: God loves. He says: God is love. That somehow the essence of God is love. And you cannot love by yourself… you have to love someone. (That sounds like a song…) To say God is love suggests a relationship within the Godhead.
Tim Keller describes it this way in his book Reason for God:
“The life of the Trinity is characterized not by self-centeredness but by mutually self-giving love. When we delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we center on the interests and desires of the other. That creates a dance, particularly if there are three persons, each of whom moves around the other two. So it is, the Bible tells us. Each of the divine persons centers upon the others. None demands that the others revolve around him. Each voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight, and adoration into them. Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others. That creates a dynamic pulsating dance of joy and love. The early leaders of the Greek church had a word for this—perichoresis. Notice the root of our word ‘choreography’ is within it. It means literally to "dance or flow around.”
This is one of the early church’s way of artistically depicting the dance of love the Trinity enjoys: one distinct person flowing into and out from the other. A perfect unity of love. The persons of the Trinity are in this constant relationship of love and grace and joy and that love, grace, and joy overflows in the creation of this world and of humanity. It is out of the fullness of their relationship with one another they call to us to join them in this beautiful dance of unity.
So what does all this talk about the Trinity have to do with us? Is it simply a theological exercise that nerds like me like to think about, but that has no real implications for the way we live our lives? I don’t believe that’s true. In fact, I believe that until we understand truly who our God is we will have a warped understanding of who we are, and what our part of redemption looks like.
I believe we cannot be fully human unless we are in relationship with others, because for us to truly be image bearers of the God who created us to be, we must be in unity with one another to reflect the unity of our Triune God.
Let me try to say that a different way: We will always be reflecting a distorted picture of who God is to those around us if we only see Him as a distant, all powerful God. By embracing the truth of God as Triune, a relationship of love, it helps us understand that we ourselves were created to be in relationship with others. And as we are in those relationships, we become more truly who God intended us to be when he made us.
In another place in his book, Keller says:
“As God is in perpetual relationship so we are intrinsically relational. The Christian gospel is not so much individuals becoming right with God as it is establishment of God’s community. We work for justice, we live for service, we honor the dignity of our fellow human beings created in the image of God, we strengthen our human communities, we become stewards of the material world, and we create through science and gardening and art.”
This belief that we need to be in relationship with others is reflected in the Core Affirmations of Arbor House. (These are on the blue sheets we handed out today.)
In our Core Affirmations, we begin each set of affirmations with the statement: We are a community of believers. We believe we participate in God’s work in this world best as we are in community with others. We believe that our life together at Arbor House is essentially understood as a community of people who are seeking together to follow Jesus, to listen to the Holy Spirit, and to participate with God in his on-going work in this world. I would encourage you to read these affirmations regularly, to help us stay true to who we say we want to be… we need all of your voices, all of your gifts, all of your perspectives in order to be fully the church God is calling us to be. We are going to be using these Core Affirmations soon to help us discover our mission: how does God want us as his community of people shaped by these affirmations live for him today and into the future?
Two weeks ago, I experienced again the power of God as it is released when we gather as community. I met with a group of Northgate’s women leaders, and as we worshiped together, listened to God’s Word together, and the Spirit of God worked among us bringing freedom into people’s lives for issues they had been struggling with for years. As we live authentically together as God’s people, God works in amazing ways. I want that for us here at Arbor House too.
As we live authentically together as God’s people, God works in amazing ways.
As we gather together, what we believe about who God is matters greatly. I am going to read a long quote from a blog by Jurgen Schulz. It gets at the heart of what I have been trying to say this morning:
“If our concept of God is that of a Solitary Divine Dictator, it follows that we will be suspicious, critical, harsh, cold and condemning. Strong on “truth” and short on love. Joyless members of the righteous remnant. We unconsciously reflect the character of the Divine Being we believe in. Not exactly inviting when your God is like Caesar.
If, on the other hand, we have been caught up in the self-giving love of the Triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; if we have tasted and seen the unspeakable goodness and grace of the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, how can we not be humble, grateful, and generous? We will reflect the overflowing kindness and magnanimity of our God. Forgiven people forgive; welcomed people welcome others; the recipients of grace bestow grace. Their failures have been overwhelmed by mercy—and they can now act accordingly. Those who have been drawn into the abounding life of the Triune God find themselves spreading kindness and goodness and joy. They have been blessed and can afford to bless others—even the ones who are not very agreeable, or doctrinally correct. They don’t need to zero in on other’s errors, because their heavenly Father doesn’t. They can be generous with words, attitudes and resources, because they have come to know a God of unstoppable goodness. They can value relationships, because that is what the Three-in-One God is all about. They can love the lost in all their lostness, because that’s the kind of love heaven lavishes on sinners.
People become like their God. And if that is the case, you will want to make sure you’ve got the right God—the Triune God who lives in the Eternal Dance of glory, goodness and grace. The God of Calvary love. The God Christ came to reveal. There is one way of knowing what He is really like—look at Jesus. Look at the cross. Only the Son knows the Father, and those to whom the Son makes Him known. He is a God who lays down his life for others. That is what actually goes on inside the Trinity! Self-sacrificing love. One author described Him as a Supreme Being of “fathomless unselfishness.” The cross was not an accident. It is what this Triune Community is all about. It is what the Bible means when it says, “God is love.” What an amazing Deity He turns out to be! And to believe in Him is to become like Him. A belief in the Divine Dictator tends to produce mean-spirited people. And there’s no reason to become a part of that crowd—because that god doesn’t exist. Moreover, it is highly desirable to pattern one’s life after the true God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He looks exactly like Jesus—and we have never ever seen anyone as wonderful as Him! ”
Life in relationship with a Triune God is a life of community marked by love, generosity, kindness, joy—let us seek to live more and more as his people in a world that desperately needs to be welcomed into his dance of love.
Listen to this sermon: