Sermon: Trinity Sunday, St Aidan’s, 22nd May 2016

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 22nd May 2016

Rev. Paul Weaver

“APPRECIATING THE TRINITY”

(Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15)

When I first looked at the Gospel reading for today, from John 16, I thought that they had got it wrong. This was surely a reading for Pentecost: it’s all about the Holy Spirit! Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit who guides us into all truth, the Spirit who explains things to come, the Spirit who glorifies Jesus and teaches the message of Jesus

However, I then looked a bit more closely and realized that in this passage there is not only a focus on the Holy Spirit: there is also focus on Jesus and on God the Father. So it is a passage for Trinity Sunday.

Similarly I looked at our reading from Romans 5. It speaks of how through faith in Jesus we have peace with God. It spoke of our hope in Jesus Christ, but also the positive attitude we can take even when things are tough, because God is at work, bringing good out of suffering.

And once again I saw that the passage speaks of God the Father, of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit given to us, through whom we open up to the wonderful love of God.

But do these passages explain the Trinity to us: the teaching that there is one God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Do these passages seek to make clear the doctrine of the Trinity? And the answer is “Not really!” In fact there is no passage in scripture which really seeks to expound the doctrine of the Trinity!

You won’t actually find the word “Trinity” in the scriptures. The term was not used until late in the second century. Trinity: tri-unity, three who are one. The term brings together the idea that not only is there one God who is the Father: there is Jesus who is God the Son, and there is the Holy Spirit who is God.

There is only one God, but he has made himself known to us in three ways: as God the Father, the Creator of everything; as God the Son, Jesus, who is God coming amongst us, living a truly human life, experiencing what it is to be human, living and dying and rising again for us; and there is God the Holy Spirit, God within us, God amongst us, God strengthening and guiding and equipping us as we seek to live our lives as followers of Jesus.

We are familiar with this idea that there are three persons in one God. That is the meaning of the Trinity. But, familiar though it is, we have to say that it is very hard to understand! Of course, if we could actually understand everything about God, he would hardly be God!

And even now, there is a significant difference between the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic and Protestant Churches in the way we speak about the Trinity. When we say the Creed, we say that the Holy Sprit proceeds from the Father and the Son, but the Orthodox version of the Creed says more simply that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. It seems a very technical point of doctrine, but it expresses what was a major issue in the early centuries of the church: an issue linked with major divisions in the church.

Now we need doctrine. We need to be able to put together the teaching of the scriptures in an organized and logical way. And the doctrine of the Trinity seeks to do that. It picks up different aspects of the teaching of the scriptures about God – about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – puts them together, and helps us to see the way they relate to one another. And we would miss out on something crucial if the teachers of earlier eras had not done that for us. We would be terribly confused if Christian teachers had not made clear the truth that Jesus was not only a man: he was truly God. And we would miss out on something vital if we did not understand that the Holy Spirit is actually God himself, at work in us!

And we would be very mixed up indeed if we took those truths about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit to mean that there are in fact three Gods. That is actually what Mohammed accused Christians of believing: he thought that Christians believed in three Gods, although he seems to have thought that those three Gods were the Father, Jesus and Mary!

His insistence on the unity of God was in contrast to his misunderstanding of Christian teaching. Christians in fact agree on his insistence that God is one: but the unity of God to which we hold is a deeper kind of unity. The Trinity really sums up the teaching of the Scripture that there is only one true God, but that he has made himself known to us in three ways: as Father, as Son and as the Holy Spirit.

As I said, we can’t turn to a specific book or chapter of the Bible and say: that’s it! There’s the explanation of the Trinity! For the Bible is not a doctrinal encyclopedia. It’s not a Dictionary of Theology. You can go to a Christian Bookshop and buy a Dictionary of Theology, but it won’t be a Bible. The Bible is a collection of books of many different styles: law and history and poetry and parables and wise sayings and prophecy and letters and – yes – doctrine! It has a message with many different sides, and brings us its message from many different angles. It certainly presents us with doctrinal material, but it is not fundamentally a book of doctrine.

The purpose of the Bible is not so much to teach the doctrine of God – or of Jesus or the Holy Spirit – but to introduce us to God! Its real aim is not that we know about God so much as that we know God.

Someone may find out my age and what I look like and something about my character and my history, my interests or my work: they may know lots about me – but that is not the same as knowing me! They may not even have met me. Learning about me may well deepen a person’s knowledge of me, but it is not the same as knowing me.

Learning about God – and understanding more of the doctrine of the Trinity – is very helpful, but God wants us to know him. He is the God who is our Creator: we owe our very being to him, and we have him to thank for the wonder and beauty and the usefulness of the world. And he is the God who humbled himself to enter his creation and to become one of us, the God who in Jesus shared our humanity with its suffering and death, who in Jesus bridged the gap between our sinful lives and his holiness and sinlessness. And he is God the Holy Spirit who enters our very being, and lives within us, enabling us to live as Jesus’ followers, sharing personally in our lives day by day.

But to me, the most wonderful thing about the teaching of God as Trinity is that it tells us that relationship is at the very heart of God. And therefore when John in his first letter tells us that God is love, he is not just giving a beautiful description of God: he is expressing something that is fundamental to the very reality of God.

God is love. When we think of God the Creator, we see the wonder of creation, and above all his love in actually creating human beings in his image: people who are able to know of him, and actually to enter relationship with him. We think not only of the eternal Father of Jesus, but of the almighty one who wants us to know him as our heavenly Father.

When we think of God the eternal Son, we are reminded of the depth of the love of God, reaching out and entering our human existence in the person of Jesus and rescuing us from the destructiveness of sin.

When we think of God the Holy Spirit, we are reminded that God is always with us, in good times and tough times, when we get it right and when we get it wrong. We learn that we can always look to him for help and guidance and strength as we seek to follow Christ: for he is never far from us.

If the God who is love reaches out to us in his love, how are we to respond?

We accept his love as we trust in Jesus Christ, God the Son who is our Saviour. We return his love by seeking to live as people who love God, who want to honour him and serve him in our daily lives. And we share his love, showing his love to the people we meet, and reaching out in practical love to those whom we can graciously help.

The God who is Trinity is the God who is Love. May we accept his love. May we humbly serve and love him. And may we show his love in our lives, loving our neighbour as God has loved us. Amen.

Paul Weaver