Sunday, June 6, 2004

The Holy Trinity
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak: and he shall declare unto you the things that are to come.

There was once a young boy who was drawing a picture in class. His teacher came up and asked what he was drawing. “It is a picture of God,” he said. “But no one knows what God looks like,” his teacher answered. “They will when I am done,” said the boy. How do you paint a picture of God, whom you have never seen? In my art class, many of the students are trying to paint pictures of Jesus. At least we know He was human and walked on the earth, yet we have only other artists’ perceptions since there are no pictures or written descriptions of his appearance.

They say a picture paints a thousand words. I remember when I was in school, teachers liked to take this idea and make it a writing project. We would be shown some picture and asked to make a story that might go along with it. This exercise is designed to help children put their thoughts to words, to explain what they see. This is easy for some students; they have a natural gift with words and can write stories that are interesting and lengthy. It is the most difficult task for other students. They know in their minds what they see, but they can not translate it into a sensible story.

This is particularly true when it comes to matters of faith. Most lay people would much rather let the pastor do all the talking when it comes to evangelism and teaching the scriptures. It is not that they do not know about the Bible or about faith. In their hearts, and even in their minds, they know about God and Jesus and the Christian life. The trouble comes when they try to put what they know into words.

This is why so many Christians would rather ignore the idea of doctrine. They think, “I can’t explain it in so many words, so I will just let the theologians take care of that and I will do the grunt work like feeding the hungry and clothing the poor.” This is good and important work to do for the sake of the Kingdom of God, but we should not put aside theology for service – they work together to glorify God.

What is theology? When we talk about theology, we think of guys like Martin Luther, locked in dark rooms with candles that have burned to the holder surrounded by a hundred books as they look deeply into the text to find exactly the right words to explain the doctrine of God. Yet, theology has been referred to as “God-talk,” the voicing of our faith. The world might see God in our actions, but what god do they see? They need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ from our own lips, in our own words. We have to find some way to share what we believe.

How do you describe faith? How do you define hope? What is the peace that Jesus promises? What is the love of God? What happens at baptism or at the communion table? Who is the Father, the Son, the Spirit? How do you explain the Trinity?

This week is Holy Trinity Sunday. It is tempting to voice my own understanding of this doctrine of faith – to use one of the many analogies to explain how God could be three persons in one God. I could mention that H2O can be ice, water or steam, but it is always H2O. We could talk about St. Patrick’s clover leaf. I could mention that I am a mother, daughter and wife. Yet none of these analogies really explain the Trinity.

My own favorite analogy is the ocean. The ocean is deep and unsearchable, but visible and knowable on the surface, and it touches the earth in waves and mist at the coastline. The depths, the surface and the edge of the water are all the ocean and inseparable, but each part is uniquely different from the others. God is deep and unsearchable, He is visible in Jesus Christ and He touches us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Even this analogy is not enough to really understand the trinity. It is a concept that even many Christians choose to reject. They claim it is not biblical since the Bible does not mention the doctrine by name. And yet, the earliest Christians experienced God much differently than the Jews and pagans that came before them. They could see that there was something about the God of Jesus Christ that was deeper, fuller, and more mysterious. It was obvious that there was only one God, and yet they had experienced Him in different persons. There was the God found in the Temple, the Father about which Jesus spoke. There was also Jesus, the Son, who was without doubt God in flesh. Then, at Pentecost, they received the Spirit of God – not the Father, not the Son, but God.

They knew in their hearts and even in their minds that God was a Trinity, but they could not put this belief into words. So they handed the doctrine over to the theologians in the hopes that they would come up with an explanation. They have been trying for two thousand years. For many throughout the millennia it has become an intellectual pursuit on which their entire faith rests. But we can’t wrap our minds around the mysteries of God and understand everything about Him. Unfortunately, this has meant the difference between faith and unbelief for some. Others have rejected trinitarianism and all those who believe in the Trinity as a false teaching created by man because Jesus Himself did not explain it to the disciples.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” Jesus did not teach them everything while He walked on the earth, because some things were just too difficult. They needed the Counselor, the helper, the Spirit of truth that would help them to see and to carry the mysteries of God. In this one passage, we see that all that belongs to the Father belongs also to the Son. These things are revealed by the Spirit that we might see that the Father and the Son and the Spirit are one.

Shortly before His ascension into heaven, Jesus opened the eyes of the disciples to the references to Himself in the scriptures. Then they were given the Holy Spirit who would further instruct and reveal the deep things of God. I wonder if they saw Jesus in the Old Testament lesson from the Proverbs. In this passage we see Wisdom personified and present with God from the beginning, a participant in the creation of the entire world. The Epistle lessons – the letters from Paul, Peter, James and John – often include quotes from the scriptures they knew applying the prophecies and characteristics of God to Jesus. This passage from Proverbs provided a foundation for identifying Jesus as the divine Word incarnate – Wisdom in flesh.

The writer of Hebrews quoted today’s Psalm. “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, And crownest him with glory and honor. Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet.” Though this passage was not specifically a prophecy pointing toward the coming of the Christ, it is applied in the New Testament to Jesus. The writer of Hebrews identifies Jesus as both man and as the One through whom God’s perfect will shall be accomplished. Using the passage, Paul establishes Jesus as the ruler over all.

As we read through the Epistles, we can see that those first disciples – men who had been in the presence of Jesus Christ – wrestled with the deeper things of God. No wonder we can’t find the words to explain what it means to have faith, hope or the love of God. No wonder the Trinity is beyond our understanding. We have to accept these mysteries by faith not reason. The place to start is with the knowledge that God is bigger than our minds and that we can’t intellectualize the mysteries of the Divine. Yet, we can rest in the promise that God has not left us alone – He has given us the Spirit to put a voice to our faith so that others might come to know God.

It is not through reason that we are justified. We aren’t saved by knowing how to define faith or how to explain the doctrines of our faith. We don’t get closer to God by having an intellectual understanding of His character. We are saved by faith, faith that comes to us through Jesus Christ our Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We experience God in different ways. Just as there are places in the ocean that are deeper than we can explore, God the Father is much deeper than we can ever experience in our flesh. The Son is like the surface of the ocean – there we can see and experience the ocean by riding on the waves and even going below the surface to see inside God’s heart. Through Jesus we have access to the deeper things of God. The Spirit is like the edge of the water where God reaches out to touch us through the waves and the mist, sometimes bringing little surprises like seashells. Yet, the ocean is the ocean, just as the Trinitarian God is one God whether we experience Him as the Father, the Son or the Spirit.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul describes what it is like to live in faith through Jesus Christ. It is not necessarily and easy life, but as we stand firm in our faith we can live rejoicing in the peace we have with God and the hope we have for His glory. We can even rejoice in our suffering because we know that God will make it work to His will and purpose for our lives.

This is not something that can be explained in so many words. We can’t intellectualize our life of faith. God has not stopped revealing Himself to the world; the Spirit is still actively teaching and reminding us of all that Jesus said. Jesus knew we could not bear the deeper things of God until we had the strength of the Spirit to help us to hold it in our hearts and minds. Even still, it is impossible for us to completely wrap our minds around the mysteries of God. Some things still must be believed by faith, not mind.

We may never have the words to explain the Trinity or what it means to be a Christian, but we are called to share our faith with the world. It need not be a lengthy dissertation on the meaning of the great doctrines of Christianity. We need only share our experiences of God with others so that He might work in their lives to spark the faith that will save them from sin and death. Theology is not just for those whose job it is to study the deeper things of God, it is for all Christians to put a voice to their relationship with God so that others might see Him and be saved. Thanks be to God.

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