Sunday, June 3, 2012


A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
June 3, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 14: 9-17 

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show us the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

In the last bunch of weeks we have celebrated many special Sundays in the life of the Church. There was the special Sundays of Easter, then Presbyterian Heritage Sunday, then Pentecost last Sunday, and today is the last "special" Sunday for a while. It was funny last Sunday, I think it was Ruth said, "When are we just going to have a regular Sunday?" Well starting next week we have "regular" Sundays, at least on the church calendar all the way through October, but today is Trinity Sunday, where we set aside to look at one of the most puzzling, but important aspects of our Orthodox Christian Faith. The Old Testament passage, just read, I chose because it is one of the Old Testament Passages where you can find all parts of the trinity at work. The Gospel Lesson also includes all three persons of the Trinity, John 14: 9-17:
9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,  to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
So it's Trinity Sunday, it's one of those Sundays that is on the church calendar, and I guess it has been for a long time, probably ever since the Trinity came into the doctrine, but I don't remember it. Sure I remember singing Holy, Holy, Holy every once in a while, but I don't remember ever hearing one single sermon preached on the trinity in my life. How is that possible? Have you? Do you remember one? I wonder why that is because it is one of the big doctrinal strongholds of the orthodox faith. Wars have been fought over it. Heretics excommunicated or worse because of it. The other two branches of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions, Judaism and Islam, are sure that the Christian belief in a Trinitarian God is one major area where Christians have gone astray, but we don't talk about it much. I even had a Jehovah's Witness come to the door this week, luckily we didn't get to the trinity. It seems that it's kinda like Predestination for Presbyterians, it's there but we don't talk about it much, rather we just believe in it. Why do we avoid it? Maybe because it both a very simple concept that a person can swallow easily without thinking too much, but when it is thought about, it can really blow your mind.
Russian Orthodox leader, Anthony Ugolnik writes, "The Trinity is the cross upon which the mind is crucified." I think that statement is very appropriate. It seems like the trinity, is one of those places where when your mind goes towards it, there is risk, but like the cross, on the other side is redemption, so let's walk that lonesome valley together.
Let's start at the source, in 325 at the Council of Nicaea the church father's debated the doctrine of the trinity and gave us the Nicene Creed, which puts some of the first language to the trinity that we have, other than the Bible, which we'll get to in a minute. If you look in the Hymnal you can find it there in the front.

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is,
seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The language from this that we are dealing with when talking of the trinity is One God, One Lord Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit. Lord Jesus Christ, "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father." You can see the language starts to get tricky, and this English translation greatly simplifies it. In the original Greek, you'd get words like Homoousion, (same essence or substance) and hypostasis, (person). Those words may be intimidating to us because they are Greek, and we don't know Greek, but trust me they were difficult for the Greeks to swallow too. They are really academic, strong, specific words, and none of them are found anywhere in the Bible. This was one of the issues they ran into back in Nicaea. Is the trinity Biblical? Or did the council make it up, when they made up words like "Homoousian" and "Hypostasis"?
Both our Bible Readings from this morning point to the three persons of the Trinity. In John 14, we see Jesus speaking candidly about how he and the father are "in each other," and then also we see the Spirit being sent by the Father. In the Genesis passage, we see Elohim, or God the Father, creating, but he speaks things into being, the Word, another name for Jesus, and we also see a "wind from God, sweeping over the waters." Wind, breath, spirit, it is all the same Hebrew word, Ruach. So in the first three verses all three manifestations of the trinity already take their place. Psalm 33, v. 6 also points to the Trinity at Creation: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host." You see it again there, breath, word, Lord. At the end of Matthew's gospel in the "great commissioning," chapter 28, verse 19: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Even at Jesus' own baptism, earlier in Matthew, you have the character Jesus, You have the Voice of the Father, and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove, and it all happens simultaneously.

And there are many more, and what's more, you see it in all four Gospels, you see it in Paul's letters, and you even see it in the Old Testament. That I've always thought was really cool. In seminary we were never allowed to interpret the Old Testament through the eyes of the New Testament, mostly I think because it was too easy to do, and a slippery slope, because if you see it that way, you can never see it in its own context, but in one Theology class, when talking about the Trinity, our Old Testament Bible Professor was the guest lecturer, and showed us how the Trinity is woven throughout the Old Testament, pretty cool if you ask me.
One he didn't tell us, but that I found in my research this week, and that sort of works as a transition is also from Genesis, and is the creation of Humans. Genesis 1:27, God creates humans in his own image, male and female, then commands them to be fruitful and multiply, ie. to have a child. Genesis 2:24 then says, that husband and wife become one flesh.  And so this marriage then is an “image” of God, showing how two persons become one through love, a love so powerful that it creates a third person – a child who is itself for nine months united as one with its mother. It is a pretty amazing picture of Trinitarian God who is love.
But that understanding is purely metaphorical, which is really the only way that we can understand the Trinity. Metaphors help us get closer, but they do not really allow us to get at the fullness of the Trinity. Metaphors always have limits, like that one, where the baby goes from nonexistence to creation, which is a problem for God, who is eternal in all three persons, remember, "coequal, consubstantial, coeternal with the Father." But if we remember that the metaphors are merely symbols and tools for understanding then we can use them to help us get closer to the truth.
There are some classic symbols that have flooded western culture, like the shamrock, used by St. Patrick, according to legend to explain the trinity to the Irish. The French have the fleur de lis, another symbol of the trinity, think New Orleans Saints for a visual.
Here are some metaphors, these are ideas of things that come in threes, but are really related parts of one single idea.
Speaker, word, breath- all a part of the one thing idea that is speaking. They all happen simultaneously, and you can't have speaking without each.
Past, Present, Future - all are present at each moment, and really make up what a moment is, would the spirit then be the present because it is hard to grasp, one minute it's there, then it's past, literally.
An Egg - You can't have an egg, without the three parts, shell, white, and yoke. It's also interesting that an egg is a single cell, if I remember correctly from High School Biology.
Or another one that speaks to the totality of life, all have within us Mind, Body, Soul, or physical, emotional, and intellectual.
Have you ever heard the idea that the trinity can be explained as the three forms of water: Ice, Water, Vapor
Also major music chords, are composed of three different notes, to make one whole harmonic sound.
 Fire, needs Oxygen, Fuel, and Combustion.
There are Three primary colors that make all others.
Then there is the Sun, itself, and that it gives off both light and heat.
So I hope that these metaphors help you get a better understanding of the trinity, but I want to leave you with what I think is the most important. Being an English teacher I've always been a lover of language, and there is something about the number three that I think is natural to human beings because it is found it many different languages, and that is that we tend to list things in threes. Think about it. We do it all the time. You know: plains, trains, and automobiles; glory, laud, and honor; lions, tigers, and bears. . . Just to name three. In Hebrew, sets of three represented completeness, so when in Deuteronomy when it says, love the lord your God with all you Heart, all your Soul, and all Your strength, it means everything. Your absolute entirety. It makes sense. The standard for writing papers at least at the high school level is the famous 5 paragraph essay. This form is based on the concept that three is representative of the whole because in that form you have three main ideas that all support, supposedly completely your main idea or thesis. Again there is something to it.
Ok so what. . . How can you get your mind around the trinity. without it being "crucified on it" as our Russian friend has said? The trinity represents an entire God. The God who is. . . entirely in the past, present, and future. The God who deserves all Glory, Laud, and Honor, The God, who Creates, Redeems, and Sustains. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord our God in three persons, blessed trinity. We celebrate on this Trinity Sunday a complete God, who surpasses all understanding, yet is personal, and relational, and who is love. The special number three is the only way that we could approach completeness in description, with a poetic linguistic trick that we learned from our forbearers in faith, what a beautiful gift of God.
Let us stand and recite the refrain of the Brief Statement of Faith, found on the cards in your pews. It so beautifully describes the one triune God. . .

In life and in death we belong to God.
Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit,
we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel,
whom alone we worship and serve. Amen.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 14:8-17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.