First Sunday after Pentecost - Trinity Sunday
June 11, 2006
The Gospel: John 3:1-16
Sermon: "Trinity Sunday"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."
Trinity Sunday 2006
First Sunday after Pentecost - Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2006
In the church calendar, the first Sunday after Pentecost is called Trinity Sunday. On this day we recognize the existence of God as three persons in one substance. The three persons are God the father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The substance is the essence or nature of God which we understand as love, pure love.
Over the years there have been many ways that priests have tired to convey the doctrine of the Trinity to their congregations. So, I have brought a few of the items used to convey this somewhat confusing concept.
First, I would like to share with you the apple. Now, I have often wondered why someone choose the apple to help clarify the doctrine of the Trinity. After all, in verse and song, an apple was what caught Adam's and Eve's eye in the garden. How could this fruit signify both the forbidden fruit and be used as an example to clarify for people the doctrine of the Trinity? Wouldn't that be just a little confusing to some of us? Anyway, the apple was chosen because of the way it is made. It basically has three parts, the skin, the meat and the core where the seeds are. So, the minister tried .to say the skin is comparable to God the Son, Jesus, because it is what we see. The meat is the Holy Spirit that nourishes and connects the core, the Father, to the skin, the Son. Finally, the core is the central part of the apple, the beginning. The center of our spiritual lives is God the Father from which all life comes. So, you have three parts in one apple. This example is not all bad. There are three different parts that makes sense. The three parts are easily identifiable and have a different function that makes sense. The danger is that the three parts are so separate. The skin is so drastically different in function and so easily separated from the rest of the apple. Also, what do we do with the core when we are done? We throw it away. The apple might be useful to explain the three parts in one concept but it lacks any depth.
Along this same line the next object used to teach about the Trinity was the egg. Again you have the three parts the shell, the egg white and the yolk. Once again there are the three clearly distinguishable parts with different functions. So, like the apple it is a good attempt to describe the three in one aspect because it is three parts in one egg. However, also like the apple it lacks something in its depth of meaning. Both of these examples rely too heavily on the distinctions and not enough on the connectedness of the Trinity.
One final example, which does a little better job of conveying the Trinity is clover. A leaf of clover has three lobes. The lobes are not separate. It would be difficult to decide where one leaf begins and another ends. Yet, it is easy to say there are three lobes. They are also made of one substance. They are all made of the same leaf. No drastic differences between egg white and egg yolk or the peel and the core here. As far as explaining the concept of three in one the leaf of clover does the best job so far.
Even though the cloverleaf is the best example of the three, it can not exemplify or help us comprehend the substance, the love of God. All of these examples can be used, with various affect, to explain the three persons aspect of the Trinitarian concept. They do that well. They really don't offer an understanding of the nature of God. The cloverleaf is the closest with the entire leaf being one leaf full of chlorophyll. We do begin to understand that the nature of God is perfect love. It still does not capture it all.
The Trinity is the concept that God is three persons of the same substance. We understand that substance to be perfect love. Yet, we have trouble understanding that three persons could be of the same substance. When we try to explain it we don't seem to have the words. I believe some of our confusion is that we think of the Trinity as a physical entity. The concept of the Trinity is not to be thought of as a physical being or state of being. The Trinity is a concept developed by us to explain the mystery we understand as God. It helps us in two ways. First of all, it helps us understand the mystery of God a little better. It also is an attempt to help us say something about what God is. It is a concept and not an object.
So, first of all, this concept is used to help us understand the mystery of God. God has revealed God's self to humanity throughout the ages. In the scriptures God is referred to as father the creator. We know God revealed to us as God the Son in Jesus. We know God as Holy Spirit due in part to Jesus' promise of the Spirit that would come to us when he ascended. The concept of the Trinity was to help us wrap our heads around the idea of God as father, Son and Holy Spirit. In these three ways God has been revealed by God to humanity. Frederick Beuchner has an interesting way of describing this first part. He says and I quote, "Father, Son and Holy Spirit mean that the mystery beyond us, the mystery among us, and the mystery within us are all the same mystery. Thus the Trinity is a way of saying something about us and the way we experience God."
Moses met God in a burning bush. Moses met the mystery beyond us. It wasn't with a hug but with demands of obedience. If we had received those demands we would have said the same thing Moses did at first, "I can't". Without the power of the God beyond us we couldn't. The disciples met God in Jesus as he walked among them. He taught. He healed. He ate among them. He prayed among them. He bled. He died. Jesus the Son, is the mystery among us. Even though Jesus was with the disciples, they still didn't understand who he was. They still didn't get the idea that Jesus was going to do more than they could ever imagine. The disciples, and yes, today's disciples too, met the Holy Spirit. The Spirit empowers us to do the work of God in the world. Yet, even now, the mystery within us is something we don't fully understand or comprehend. We don't understand it fully, but we do understand that we have experienced God through the ages in these ways. The Trinity is the concept that helps us get a grasp on the mystery of God as we have experienced God.
Furthermore, the Trinity is the concept that tries to help us understand the nature of God. The nature of God is love. The fallacy we live under is that God needs us to experience love. God already exists in love. In the nature of God love happens. Love happens between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in perfection. Love in the existence of God, in the nature of God, is better thought of as a verb and not as a noun. It is the existence of the Three Persons. It is what they do and who they are. It is perfect love within the three persons.
Some of us may remember Bishop Curry's sermon on his first visit. He made the comment that it was a revelation to him that God didn't have to have him. God was already perfect as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God didn't have to have Michael Curry. God wanted Michael Curry. His colnnlent was not to put himself down. But it relates to what we are discussing here. The nature of God is perfect love. It is from that nature that God created the heavens, the earth, Michael Curry, you and me. We understand that nature of love best in the concept of the Trinity.
If we want to understand the Trinity we have to look at' it as a concept and not an entity In this concept we perceive God as revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons, the mystery beyond us, the mystery among us and the mystery within us. As Buechner says, they are three persons but all the same mystery. And as a concept, the Trinity helps us understand the nature of God with love as a verb and not as a noun. The love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit created the universe and all that was and is and will be. The love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit redeemed humanity, lost by our own free will, through the cross. The love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit sustains us as we follow the mystery that dwells within us. It is this mystery, full of perfect love, which leads us, redeems us, sustains us and guides us. It is this mystery that loves us with perfect love. Amen