Isaiah 6:1-8 Canticle 13 Romans 8:12-17 John 3:1-17
An old guy was working out in the gym when he spotted an attractive young woman. He asked a nearby trainer, “What machine should I use to impress that lady over there?” The trainer looked him up and down and said, “I believe I would try the ATM in the lobby.”
What do we believe? Our beliefs are supported by the events in the church year. Trinity Sunday is a time of theological reflection. That’s what the Old Testament reading from Isaiah presents for us. How can we even begin to describe the mysterious dynamic of God’s inner being? How can we make it relevant to our everyday lives? Trinity Sunday invites us to
attend to many facets of God’s nature, but it is probably best to focus on only one of them. Isaiah emphasizes God’s radical holiness.
The New Testament reading for Trinity Sunday mentions the Trinity, and touches on the relationship of Creator, Redeemer and Holy Spirit. The reading gives us one indication of how the Three-in-One work together. Paul reminds the people in Rome and us, that if they are led by the Spirit of God, they are children of God.
In John’s Gospel reading we find the conversation between Nicodemus, a religious leader and teacher of the law and Jesus. In this passage, Jesus continues his teaching and is talking about a new relationship between believer and God. We will be led into the truth. Truth that the Holy Spirit guides us to is the truth about Christ. The spirit also helps us through patient practice to discern right from wrong. The Holy Spirit is to tell us what is to come. The nature of the mission, the opposition they would face and the final outcome of their efforts. But the teaching had to unfold for them. They didn’t fully understand these promises until the Holy Spirit came after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then the Holy Spirit revealed truths to the disciples that they wrote down for others to learn. It is a wonderful thing, that all of us are works in progress.
We preachers sometimes make the confusion worst with our poor examples. Thank goodness, Frederick Buechner suggests a helpful way of thinking about the Holy Trinity. From all eternity, God is God in three persons, just as the creeds affirm. But for our limited human perspective, we experience the Father as God-beyond-us; the Son as God-beside-us; and the Holy Spirit as God-within-us.
Buechner says that the Trinity points toward a balanced and healthy relationship with God. We tend to get into spiritual difficulty when we focus too much on one part of this three-fold relationship and it becomes more prominent than the others. Many people seem to focus on the first person of the Trinity – God-beyond-us. In God the Father, we experience God’s holiness, righteousness, power, majesty and greatness, which encourages our worship. But we also struggle with seeing God as the law giver and judge. So, then we focus on obeying the rules. Rules are good, don’t get me wrong. But fear and angst can hold us back, can scare us away from developing our relationship.
So, we need to know not only God-beyond-us, but also God-beside-us. The good news is that in Jesus Christ, God has drawn near to forgive us and reconcile us to the Father. Jesus offers himself to us as our mediator, intercessor, companion, and friend. Jesus is the bridge of reconciliation from the world to God. But if we focus only on our relationship with Jesus and exclude the others, we may get ourselves into trouble. Many Christians like to talk about a personal relationship with Jesus – as friend, a non-threatening accepting and affirming presence. That’s wonderful, but such a friendship can easily become a cozy, and comfortable relationship that makes no demands on us and doesn’t challenge us in any way to grow or change. It is wonderful to be comforted, but it is necessary for us to continue to grow in our faith.
So, in addition to God-beyond-us and God-beside-us, we also need God-within-us. The Holy Spirit is the divine agent of inner renewal and transformation, working mysteriously within to reform us and transform us into who God has created us to be. But, to focus only on God-within-us, to neglect God-beyond-us and God-beside-us, can be disastrous too. So much of what is considered spirituality today consists exclusively of a quest for “the God-within.” This kind of spirituality assumes that everything we discover about ourselves, including our own dysfunction, comes from God. So, we end up worshiping a God made in our own image, instead of the reverse. Any spirituality focused solely on the experience of God-within-us can become totally self-centered and self-absorbed. This ends up mistaking ourselves for God, and we are back to worshipping idols.
The doctrine of the Trinity helps us avoid these pitfalls. Clearly, we need to be in relationship with God the Father, who created us and holds us accountable for obedience to God’s laws; God the Son, who draws near to call, forgive, reconcile, and befriend us; and God the Holy Spirit, who enters the deepest recesses of our souls to renew, transform, and re-create us from within.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is our roadmap into the fullness of the Christian life. God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. God’s love is not static or self-centered; it reaches out and draws others in. God sets the pattern of true love, the basis for all love relationships – when we love someone, we are willing to give freely to the point of self-sacrifice. Jesus accepted God’s will, and offered us new life. God loves the world; God desires that none perish; God gives the Son that all may live; God acted in Christ not to condemn, but to save. To trust in this is to have life anew, life eternal.
When we share the gospel with others, our love must be like Jesus – willingly giving up our own comfort and security so that others might join us in receiving God’s love. Perhaps today on Trinity Sunday, we should work around the edges of the mystery of God, searching for something closer to an experience, an experience that has opened us up, has given us new hearts, has forgiven us, has given us hope more that it has given us understanding. On this Trinity Sunday, listen to the stirrings of your heart, our earnest human efforts to describe something that cannot ever be described, which is the nature of God. What if we committed to talk more with God and less about God and see what happens in our hearts, in our minds, in our relationships, in our lives? Our lives will be transformed. In the name of the great Triune God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer…Amen.