Rev. Dr. Scott Herr
PLEASE READ: Romans 5:1-5 and John 16:12-15
Today is Trinity Sunday in the liturgical calendar. This gives the preacher an opportunity to risk a sermon topic that is for many people at best complicated and confusing, and at worst, obscure and irrelevant... Which is precisely why I want to affirm to you today that the doctrine of one “God in three persons, blessed trinity” as we sang in our opening hymn, is the most important doctrine for the church today and the most unique theological revelation Christians have to offer the world. While we don’t have time to go into all of the biblical, historical and theological developments today, I do have a few points I think are important to remember about the Trinity. These points are instructive as grow in our discipleship and as we pursue our calling to be a missional or externally focused church.
The first thing to remember about the Trinity is that it reveals the mystery of God’s grace. Grace is at the heart of the gospel: God’s unmerited favor toward us; God’s riches at Christ’s expense; that in Jesus Christ God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. The Father sent the Son, and the Son lived and died and rose again. And then as we celebrated last Sunday, the Holy Spirit came upon the first disciples and enlivened them to believe and proclaim this good news of God’s grace. The Spirit brought the church to life. But how does the Trinity reveal the mystery of God’s grace?
The short answer here is that God is self-revealing. You can’t imagine who the true God is. God must reveal himself to you. I think I can safely say that no theologian in their right mind would dream up the doctrine of the Trinity to explain who God is. As poor a math student as I am, even I recognize the perplexing paradox, the incomprehensible incongruence of One God, three persons. It’s not a formula that is logically contrived or concluded through mere intellectual derivation or deduction. And I’m pretty sure that some ancient wise guy in the church didn’t think up this doctrine just to torture poor preachers throughout the millennia! On the contrary: the Trinity is how God has revealed himself to humanity. This self-identification as the Triune God is a gift that we never could have figured out on our own. God has revealed himself to the world as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This self-revelation of God points back to Moses at the burning bush when in answer to Moses question, “who are you?” God responds with the mysterious answer of “YHWH.” As far as we can tell YHWH means, “I AM WHO I AM.” Well, that’s a self-identification that answers the question, but an answer that leaves you with a lot more questions! And so it is with the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity immediately puts us on notice that the God revealed in the Scriptures, the God who Jesus calls Abba and to whom the Holy Spirit has drawn our hearts in worship and praise… is an awesome, mysterious unfathomable God; Holy Other, the God who defies our attempts at oversimplification or rationalization. The Trinity stands against any easy deification of our own idols or ideas. As we confess our faith in the Triune God we are confessing that while God has graciously revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we’re not capable of wrapping our minds completely around the fullness of that reality!
As many of you know, the actual word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. But in our Gospel text Jesus himself expresses the assumption of the Trinity. Jesus says “All that the Father has is mine.” And “The Spirit will glorify me.” This is one of many NT texts where the Trinity is implied.
In the passage from Romans we see Paul’s working out the relationship between God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is THROUGH Jesus that we have access to God’s grace and it is THROUGH the Holy Spirit that we experience God’s love. So, the Trinity is a gift of grace in that God has revealed the mysterious fullness of who he is in a way that we never could have derived or deduced on our own.
Which brings me to the second thing to remember about the Trinity: At the heart of God revealing himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the unique Christian understanding and assertion that “God is love” (I John 4:16). It was Socrates who said: "To do is to be". Jean-Paul Sartre said: "To be is to do". And in the cartoons, they say, “Skubedobedo". Seriously, it was Karl Barth who cautioned against the distinction of the being and the activity of God. God revealed in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit is nothing less than who God is. That means the fullness of the eternal God is revealed in the radical self-giving of Jesus Christ. The Trinity does not allow us to talk about God as removed from the sacrificial love that we believe is revealed most perfectly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the person of the Holy Spirit who confirms in our hearts that this is how we also ought to love one another. If God existed in singular detached self-contained perfection, I’m not sure that God would be capable of love that is meaningful to me or our life together. The Trinity reveals that God’s essential nature is communal and relational. There is a capacity within God’s inner Self to suffer for another, to give of oneself to another.
Two weeks ago we had riots in Paris. As the futbol team Paris Saint-Germaine’s championship celebrations turned violent, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said that Futball is “ill.” And then on Thursday last week we had a disturbing suicide at one of the schools just down on Rue Cler. A man apparently suffering from a terrible divorce went into the school with a sawed off shotgun and took his own life. Mercifully, he didn’t take anyone else’s life with him. This man lived near the school. In other words, he was one of our neighbors. His death was just another sad reminder of how many people are suffering lonely lives of quiet desperation. When I was asked at a recent conference what the church had to offer the French my response was automatic: Joy! The French seem to have lost their joie de vivre. Did you read the recent article in the Financial Times, titled with the question: “What Makes the French So Unhappy?” The paradox of the gospel is that our deepest joy will never come from having the best of everything, but rather in learning to suffer for others, to give of ourselves – even sacrificially – to give life to others. This is the great mystery at the heart of the Trinity. Simone Weil once brilliantly explained that all of creation was an act of love on God’s part: God withheld himself – pulled back of himself in order to allow other life to exist…
Which brings me to the final point to remember about the Trinity. Community is the overflow of love. God wanted to share the life and the love he already had so exquisitely among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Greek theologians of the Trinity liked to talk about what they termed "perichoresis." This word describes the interpenetrating dance of love shared by the three persons in the Godhead. Whereas in the Western tradition of the church we have tended to depict the Trinity as a triangle, the Eastern church has always preferred circles. The Trinity is like an ever-moving circle of dance in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is constantly and forever moving in and through one another in perfect bliss, harmony, and self-forgetful joy. The three persons of God are so invested in one another, so interested in one another, so caring of one another that although three persons they form one God.
OK, I couldn’t help but share this, but could it be that God’s inner-relationship is like a team sport? I was just over to Oxford as the proud father of our son who rowed in the Summer Eights! That’s the big eight-man rowing teams competition that takes place every May. Danny got on New College’s First Boat, and they did very well in their competitions. But what struck me was the amazing timing and precision synchronicity of rowing… It’s not about being the strongest guy on campus necessarily, but the captain chooses the men and women who works best together as a team. I couldn’t help but think about God as a finely coordinated and mutually supporting, focused clearly on the goal of loving the world!
So it is no surprise that at some point those three persons decided that so great was this love, so focused was this love on the other, that they wanted an entire universe of others with whom to further share the love. God was under no compulsion to create anything. Yet it is just so like God to want to create, to want to share the love. It’s similar to what motivates us to invite as many friends as we can to the wedding of one of our children or to an anniversary celebration: we want to widen the circle of our own love and joy; we want to share the grand event with those who are close to us. Something very like that was what brought about creation in the first place: the love of God within the Trinity bubbled over in a desire to spread the joy around. "Let us create some more creatures so that we can then invite them to our holy party!"
God, in the fullness of Trinitarian fellowship, invites us to join in that divine community. This is what we celebrate at the table today, that no matter how guilty or ashamed we may be, God welcomes us, God makes a place for us at this table and invites us to receive communion. The wonderful thing to remember about the community of the Trinity is that everyone is welcome to join in this fellowship!
Friends, this is perhaps the final importance of the doctrine of the Trinity. The triune nature of God’s being defines who we are and what our mission is in the world. We are a loving community sent to love the world. We’re not called to go and love people because they’ll become Christians and part of our church. We’re called to go and love people because we are Christians and because we are the church. We’re a new kind of community because we share in the love of the Trinity!
So, these points to remember about the Trinity are deeply practical for us as we prepare to meet and elect new leadership for the coming year as a church, and as we seek to live into our council’s current mission statement, to bless the city. I would invite you to remember that our faith is as much about doing as being. Consider the ways in which you may share the grace of God in this coming week. Consider the people around you who may be suffering who need to experience from you God’s self-giving love. Consider where are we sent as the body of Christ? Are there places in Paris that you would avoid, but where we are called to go and give witness to the kingdom of God?
And as we pursue the Spirit’s leading, may we remember that this strange and mysterious teaching of the Trinity is a gift of grace, revealing God’s heart of love, a love that gives so that others might live. And finally, the Trinity reveals that we are called to be a loving fellowship, a community which goes out to others, without exception.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Calvin Plantinga, from the on-line article, “Reflection on the Trinity.” Center for Excellence in Preaching, posted 09/19/2005. Refer to: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/viewContent.php?iID=45&sID=1.