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Trinity Sunday, Yr B (2012)  
Isaiah 6.1-8: Isaiah’s vision and call
Ps 29 (matches Isaiah’s vision of temple)  
Romans 8.12-17: vv.1-17 can be stretched to be ‘trinitarian’  
John 3.1-17: Jesus and Nicodemus (1566)

Holy God, faithful and unchanging: enlarge our minds with the knowledge of your truth, and draw us more deeply into the mystery of your love, that we may truly worship you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. 

(Rejoice: God loves us, Jesus shows us that love and the Spirit fills us with that love.) 

        
Today is Trinity Sunday when one might be expected to talk about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, three persons and one God, as a great and wonderful mystery.  In fact it was considered such a great and wonderful mystery that the rule of the very un-academic monastic order of the Carthusians forbade the preaching of a sermon on this day so as to avoid heresy. 
         
And there used to be a very wry joke in the Episcopal Church in the US that Trinity Sunday was the perfect day for having the commencement exercises of the Sunday School so that one could avoid having to try to preach on the Trinity. 
         
So how did we, that is, the Christian Church, get to the holy and undivided Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons and one God? 
         
I can think of one passage in the NT that speaks of Father, Son and Spirit.  That is the baptism passage inserted into chapter 28 of Matthew’s Gospel.  The original passage simply said ‘Go make disciples out of all nations, teaching them to hold fast all that I have commanded you’, and then, as I have told you before, someone added in the middle, ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit’.  There is also the familiar passage at the very end of 2 Corinthians: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be always with you’, but 2 Corinthians was put together from several letters or parts of letters by Paul, and this passage is, so to speak, part of the glue that was used to hold the parts together, so, like the baptism command in Matthew, it is later than Paul himself. 
         
However, if you open your Bible and leaf through all the epistles in the New Testament you may notice a strange thing, and that is that with the single exception of 1 Peter all the opening greetings speak of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, but there is never any mention of the Spirit.  It isn’t that the writers have nothing to say about the Spirit of God, but it is the case that God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are front and centre, with the Spirit taking a back seat, so to speak. 
         
 Let me give you a picture to think about.  For sake of argument let’s say you have a room with a nice hardwood floor and you want to varnish the floor.  If you stop to think before you start, you will begin in the furthest corner and carefully work your way back to the door so that you can get out.  But if you blithely enter the room and start immediately, you may end up in that furthest corner with no where to go, and you are stuck with what you have, namely a varnished floor but nowhere to go until it dries.  I believe the doctrine of the Trinity as set forth in what we call the Nicene Creed is the well-intentioned end-product of thoughtful Christians in another age painting all Christians into a corner from which we have yet to escape.  
         
Let’s start with the Biblical witness.  The Jews were strong monotheists: there is only one God.  This is the God that the Jew named Jesus of Nazareth addressed intimately as Abba, Father.  So his disciples, acknowledging him as Lord and Messiah, also address God as Father.  Where does the Spirit come in?  The Hebrew word ruach means ‘wind’ or ‘spirit’.  Why use the word for wind to mean the ‘spirit’ of God?  I believe it is because when those who became the Israelites were still semi-nomads on the trans-Jordanian steppes one of the most powerful and most unpredictable things they experienced were the sudden and mighty wind storms that would blow up unexpectedly.  When one of these blew up the only thing they could do was to hunker down as well as they could until it blew over.  Thus the word ruach was a suitable one to use for the uncontrollable and often quite inscrutable power and presence of God.  So, biblically speaking, the Spirit simply signifies God’s presence, power and activity; it is not a person as such in any sense that we mean by person.           When we come to Jesus being acclaimed as Son of God within the Gospels, notice that although Jesus addresses God as Father, he never says of himself that he is Son of God.  It is said about Jesus by others.   As I have told you before, the very calling of a son in the Hebrew family was to be, in effect, ‘a chip off the old block’, so much so that in semitic usage the phrase ‘a son of’ meant to show forth the character of, so that, e.g., ‘a son of righteousness’ meant a recognizably righteous person.  As I have said before, Israel’s calling as Son of God in the Book of Exodus is to show forth God’s character, and it is this calling that is fulfilled in Jesus as a human being.  What he has shown is that God is love.    
          To put it simply, we can say that the Father is love, the Son shows forth that love, and the Spirit is that love in operation in our lives, sustaining us, guiding us, and empowering us.  Thus, biblically we can readily speak of one God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. 
         
So what happened?  Over the first few centuries the church moved into a very different cultural climate than the one in which it was born.  Now the milieu in which the theologians were thinking was not just in terms of operating and functioning in history, but rather in terms of essential being, what is called ontology.  In effect, the thought world was such that until one knew what something really was one could not be sure what it was good for.  In this thought world in order for Jesus to make God known, Jesus had to be God.  The first person to speak of three persons was a North African lawyer named Tertullian, who was using person simply in the grammatical sense, i.e. first person, ‘I’, second person, ‘you’, and third person, ‘he, she, they or it’, so that one might say that God was the ‘I’, Jesus was the ‘you’ and the Spirit was the ‘it’.  But this grammatical sense was not deemed to be enough. 
         
The crunch came at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, when they hammered out the first two paragraphs of the Nicene Creed, with all the hard work going into the second paragraph, the one about Jesus.  You have all heard of the little Greek letter ‘iota’, as in the phrase ‘not one iota’ meaning ‘nothing at all’.  Well, the argy-bargy was about whether or not to include this letter.  The Greek for essential being was ousia, and the argument was whether Jesus as Son of God was of similar substance to God the Father, which would be homoiousia with the iota or in the same substance as the Father which would be homoousia without the iota.  In the end the iota was left out and now Son of God was clearly taken to mean that Jesus is God and literally came down from heaven.  The creed specifies that he was begotten, not made, and, it speaks of him as ‘the only Son of God’.  While this is a phrase from John’s Gospel, it has been taken out of context.  The whole verse is on the front of today’s pew sheet and in today's gospel.  In John’s Gospel God giving his son corresponds to Abraham giving his son, hence the phrase, ‘the only son’.  But by itself and without this context, ‘the only Son of God’ stands in direct contradiction to our calling as God’s children in the witness of the NT as found in our reading from Romans, the Beatitudes in Matthew, and 1 John for example.  The creed goes on to say that he ‘became man’, so that he is said to have two natures, one divine and one human.  And, as you can imagine, theologians have spilt a lot of ink over this!  You can readily see why Muslims, with the absolute monotheism of Islam, cannot begin to comprehend this. 
         
Incidentally, the third paragraph in the Nicene Creed, which centres on the Holy Spirit, was not added until a century and a quarter later at the Council of Chalcedon held in 451 AD, and the Feast of the Trinity was only started by a French bishop  in the tenth century. 
         
If we believe that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation, then the functional understanding of Jesus and the Spirit that is in that witness should be enough, especially for our day when the concern for essential being is no longer our concern.  I believe that in our day the varnish has finally dried, and we do not need to be boxed into that corner any more. 
         
But let us simply continue to rejoice that God our Father loves us, Jesus as Son of God has shown us that love, and the Holy Spirit continues to guide and empower us in that self-same outward moving love.