July 5, 2014
June 15, 2014 Text: Matthew 28:16-20 Now What Do We Do? May you have grace, mercy, and peace in the name of our Triune God, Amen. You may have heard the story about a little girl in Sunday school drawing with all her crayons. Her teacher asked her what she was drawing. “I’m drawing […]
June 15, 2014
Text: Matthew 28:16-20
Now What Do We Do?
May you have grace, mercy, and peace in the name of our Triune God, Amen. You may have heard the story about a little girl in Sunday school drawing with all her crayons. Her teacher asked her what she was drawing. “I’m drawing a picture of God,” the little girl responded. “But nobody knows what God looks like,” her teacher said. To which the little girl replied, “They will when I’m finished.”
There is some sense in what that little girl was doing. To draw a picture of God, to know what God looks like, to know what God is all about is what one hopes and expects is behind this place we call church. And it is what one of our most confusing doctrines is all about—the doctrine of the Trinity.
This is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost, a day the Christian Church historically has celebrated one of its central beliefs— the idea of a triune God, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” as the hymn we sang earlier puts it. The Bible teaches us that God lives in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each person is equal is stature to the other. As the Second Helvetic Confession of 1561 states. We must not confuse the Father with the Son or the Son with the Spirit. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Spirit. Many seasoned preachers don’t like to preach on the Trinity because it can be daunting to try to explain these unbelievable concepts. Surely no vicar in her or his right mind would attempt to preach on such a topic that could easily be avoided. Well as I said before, I am not your ordinary vicar and probably not in my right mind so here goes.
How is God three and one at the same time? And who do we pray to? Can we pray to Jesus, as well as the Father? Is Jesus less than the Father in terms of his status? If not, why did Jesus say that the Father was greater than I am? God is one and God is three. God is here and God is everywhere. God is spirit and God took on flesh.
Saying that there are three persons in the Godhead leads some people to think that there are three gods who work in partnership. This is called Tri-theism (three gods) or Polytheism (many gods as – opposed to monotheism, one god). The doctrine of the Trinity is like a riddle to some people.
A man collapsed suddenly on a busy city sidewalk, the victim of a heart attack. A priest happened to be nearby and rushed over, and asked, “Are you baptized?” There was the faintest nod of the man’s head . “But are you baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?” The man opened one eye and said, “Here I am, dying, and you’re asking me riddles?” The problem with the doctrine of the Trinity is that there is no one place to look for it in the bible. The Trinity is not an explicit teaching of the Bible. In fact the words Trinity or Triunity are not even used in the Bible. But the idea of the Trinity is implicit throughout scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
Genesis 1:26, “Let us make humankind in OUR image.”
The 3 persons in the Trinity do different things. GOD WORKS FOR US. JESUS CHRIST WORKS IN US. THE HOLY SPIRIT WORKS THROUGH US. The standard formula goes in this order: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s how it’s always said. But how it works is just the opposite. First, we are grabbed by the Holy Spirit who leads us to Jesus, and then Jesus restores us to God the Father. We can’t worship the Father and ignore the Son. We can’t worship Jesus and forget the Spirit. And we can’t worship the Holy Spirit and overlook the Father. All three are essential to the Godhead.
All of this confusion sometime can lead to errors. One is the Holy Spirit Error. Several faith traditions emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit, to the exclusion of the other two. These movements focus on the filling of the Holy Spirit. But too much or exclusive emphasis on the Holy Spirit is dangerous and creates a lopsided form of Christianity. The Holy Spirit is the quiet member of the Trinity. By this, I mean that the Spirit diverts attention from itself to Jesus.
Another problem is when the focus is on Jesus only with God the Father and the Holy Spirit basically ignored. It’s a “Me and Jesus” thing. But, believe it or not, Christianity is not just about Jesus. It’s not just about a personal savior. When people came to Jesus he pointed them away from himself to the Father, just as the Spirit points away from itself to the Son. In John 12:49, we read that Jesus says, “For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” What we need to do is when we look at Jesus, we need to look at the big picture to see Jesus in relationship with the Father and in his relationship with the Holy Spirit.
I’ve talked about the errors of Spirit-Only and Jesus-Only Christianity. Of course on Trinity Sunday there has to be a third error. It is a problem found often in some churches: a faith focused only on God, or more exactly, God as Father. In this situation or way of thinking faith becomes obsessively male. Those churches and denominations who refuse to ordain women or don’t allow women to hold offices of leadership in the church, do so from this vantage point. God is Father (read – male) so it follows that all Christian leaders should be male. And my wife should obey me because I am the Father in the home. Really? We are going to discount all the possibilities that God has created for both women and men? Who gave us fathers? Who gave us mothers? God did! We mear finite humans are going to tell God what God can and cannot be and who God can and cannot call into ministry? Really?
Another issue in this way of thinking is that God becomes impersonal and removed from us. God becomes more like the God of the O.T. A vengeful God you had to shield your eyes from. Without including Jesus and the Holy Spirit our faith becomes like the old church that is dying off with only 12 members and not one of them under 70. There is no vibrancy. It is old and fearful. So while we may not understand the doctrine, the way we think about the Trinity, our picture of God, determines the kind of Christianity that we have. Without the Trinity, we end up worshipping a one-dimensional God, an idol, not the triune God that has been revealed to us.
One little boy came home from Vacation Bible School and told his mom that the vicar had said that God was everywhere. “That’s true,” his mother said. “Is he in the oven when it’s hot?” “Yes,” replied the mother. “How about in the cupboard?” “Yes,” said the mother. “How about in the fridge when the door is closed and the light is off?” “yes,” said the mother. “How about in the sugar bowl,” asked the boy, as he took the lid off the bowl. “Well, I suppose he is,” answered the mother. The boy slammed the bowl shut and announced triumphantly: “Got him!” Of course, the mother had a lot more explaining to do.
As humorous as this story may be, there is some truth in it as to how we view God. Too often, people view God just like this little boy. They think that God can be put into a neat little package that they can understand and that they control. That’s not how it works. We don’t understand God completely, and never will, and we sure don’t control God. God is infinite, we on the other hand, are finite. So how one + one + one = one is still pretty much a mystery. The Triune God will never be understood through doctrines. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit will best be known through a life of service and worship.
Jesus must have thought the Trinity was important as well because the last words he spoke to his disciples before he ascended into heaven were about the Trinity. You have to imagine that these disciples were bewildered to say the least. They had just recently seen their Lord beaten, crucified on a cross, and placed into a grave because he was dead. Now where are they? They are on the top of the mountain Jesus told them to go to meet him. Matthew tells us that some doubted. What? They are his disciples, how could some doubt? They didn’t know this was Jesus? For folks that may be thinking thoughts like this let me ask you a question. What would you be thinking if you saw me laying in a casket, lowered into the grave, and a few days later were with me on the top of Polish Mountain in Western Maryland. Now I am talking with you sharing stories of the latest Orioles win over those, you guessed it, dreaded Yankees. Wouldn’t some of you doubt, your senses, whether you were dreaming, having a nightmare? So you can understand then why some of the disciples doubted. They probably were wondering what was going to happen next to them and Jesus.
Jesus then gives the disciples the great commission, as these words are now known, his last words to his disciples before he leaves them physically forever. Think these words are important? Think Jesus wants to be direct in telling his disciples what he wants them to do when he leaves. I can tell you, I am already thinking of which words I am going to say to you in two weeks when I leave so I can imagine that Jesus wanted to be very specific in the word choices he was going to make as he prepared his exit. Some other folks must have thought these were important words as well or why else would they be displayed all over the sanctuary here at Perry Hall Presbyterian. A great big thank you goes out to Edward Heimiller who has made these words easier to read now that they are filled in with gold leaf paint and he didn’t even know that I was going to preach on this sermon text when he recently painted these. Being a “good Presbyterian” I am going with it must have been predestined as the Providence of God.
What Jesus specifically tells the disciples to do, under authority of God, was to make disciples, or bring other folks that don’t know about God into the community. They are to baptize them into the covenant relationship with God, teaching these new folks everything that Jesus had taught the disciples. Two things stick out here. The way they are to baptize and the whereabouts of Jesus’ location in the future. Jesus is specific in that he instructs the disciples to baptize everyone in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Yep, the truinue God! There you go! Maybe the word triune is not found in the Bible but the concept is and it is stated by Jesus right before he goes up into heaven. However, he says one last thing before he vanishes into thin air. He tells the disciples that I am with you always, always, always.
So, the next time someone asks you to explain the Trinity to them, remember the following story, as related by Desmond Tutu, in his book, Hope and Suffering. “Anthony Bloom, the Orthodox master of the spiritual life told the story of a simple Russian country priest who was confronted by an eminent scientist. This chap trotted out apparently devastating arguments against the existence of God and declared, “I don’t believe in God.” The unlettered priest retorted quickly, “Oh, it doesn’t matter–God believes in you.”
And that’s what it all boils down to: God believes in us. Whether we understand the Trinity or not, because God believes in us, we are able to worship and serve God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This is one vicar who is not afraid to preach on the concept of a Triune God, because I know this God loves me and loves you with a love that is so vast I can’t explain that adequately either. You see, God doesn’t mind that I can’t, God just loves, unconditionally. Amen.