Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
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.
Experience teaches us that for a team to perform well all the members on that team need to be “on the same page,” as we like to say. Whether in sports or business or government or not-for-profit, human endeavours are thought to be achieving their best when everyone is “rowing in the same direction.” Discord leads to loss of productivity and missed objectives. We experience this principle in other areas of life—our marriage relationships, for example, are helped when both spouses are committed to the larger good of the marriage instead of being focussed on what is in it for them personally. Do you ever wonder why? Where does the notion of the importance of this kind of “togetherness” come from?
1. In the church calendar today is Trinity Sunday when we remind ourselves as Christians that God has made God’s self known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christian faith is rooted in the oneness of being of Jesus Christ and God the Father and the Holy Spirit. When we confess our faith with Apostles’ Creed we say, “I believe in God, the Father, “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son,” and “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” In obedience to our Lord’s teaching (Matthew 28: 19) we baptize (as we will today) in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Admittedly the idea of God as three in one is hard to think about because God is unique in God’s own being. We note that God’s triune nature is the grammar for how the New Testament speaks about God. In John’s gospel he tells us up front that Jesus is God come in the flesh—and the Word was God. Thus in the conversation John records of Jesus with Nicodemus Jesus, the Son of God, teaches Nicodemus of the nature of entering the Kingdom God and the being born of the Spirit. This is an instance of what I mean when I say that the triune God is the grammar for speaking of God in the New Testament. In the text we read from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans he speaks of the Spirit who bears witness in the believer and in same sentence of being heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. Again this threefold grammar for God. What is made explicit in the New Testament is foreseen in the older testament as in Isaiah’s vision of God, for example, where seraphs sing a triune “holy, holy, holy” and God asks, “who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:3, 8)
Some feel that the doctrine of the trinity is excess baggage for us modern Christians to carry around. We can’t explain it among ourselves so how would you ever describe such a God to your neighbour. The trinity doesn’t fit all that neatly into a tag line and even Twitters’ forty characters are too constricting. Who is going to pay attention? Allow me to probe these concerns with you a little. According to the gospel Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all on the same page together; they are on the same page with respect to their redeeming humanity; on the same page with respect to a love that will go to any length to rescues us humans from our wayward plunge into destruction.
Is it not a pleasure to deal with a company where your experience makes evident they are all on the same page with respect to dealing with you; when you call no matter who speak with you get the same answer? Nobody likes obfuscation. We noted at the beginning of this sermon that human endeavour thrives when all engaged are pulling in the same direction and I asked you why; what is the source or ground for such experience? The gospels assert that the human is the one creature that God fashioned in God’s own image. I invite you consider that our human experience of the good that arises from united team play is because the one who fashioned us is a team player. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit know a thing or two about team play and no matter which person you call you get that same answer—we love you.
Jesus said that it was from within, from the human heart that evil intentions arise and then among the evil intentions he named avarice (in it for the money), deceit (in it for the moment), and pride (in it for yourself). Let me ask you, do those intentions build or destroy good team play? It seems to me that Jesus knows a thing or two on how to be on the same page with others.
Let me offer you a more theologically accurate way of speaking of this idea of Father, Son and Holy Spirit being on the same page. In God’s self-unveiling as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God has done so in such a way that what God is in himself, God is toward us, and what God is toward us God is in himself, throughout His saving acts in history. What God is in His activity toward us through the Son and in the Spirit is in perfect alignment with the love of the Father for us. All are on the same page with respect to love for us.
2. Now as fulfilling and energizing as it is to be on the same page will any page do? Think about how easily racism emerges—whole groups of people could be “on the same page” with respect to disdain for a certain ethnic group but that is not a good page to be on. In other words, being on the same page isn’t an end in itself. The page you are on make a great deal of difference.
In John’s gospel he gives us this wonderful summary sentence that describes profoundly and succinctly the page Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are on; “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.” In the gospels we learn that God is not his creation; therefore knowledge of God is the work of God himself. No human can begin from their contingent being as a creature and infer the eternal being of God. Such knowledge comes from God as God makes himself known to us.
John’s gospel relates our Lord’s saying that the Spirit (the Father would give) will glorify me. (John 16:14) The scripture’s depiction of the Spirit is as being sent from the Father in the name of the Son, never in the Spirit’s own name; the Spirit speaks only of the Father and of the Son, never of himself. Put simply, the Spirit is like floodlighting. Floodlights are positioned in such a way that one does not see the floodlight itself, only that which it lights up and to which therefore it directs attention. The reason we come to believe “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” is the work of the Spirit in our lives. The world is shot through and through with spirit—here is how you know the Spirit that is Holy, said Jesus, “he will glorify me.” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are on the same page with respect to our salvation.
3. God is also on the same page with respect to God’s love for us. I have probed with you this idea of the energy and productivity we humans experience by being on the same page. I asked you to consider whence such an experience arises and have pointed to the heart of God who discloses God’s self as Father, Son and Holy Spirit by being on the same page with regard to the rescue of us humans from our sin. In a sense this question I have been probing is the derivative of another question—why do we humans experience love?
Again I point you to the gospel disclosure of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We know that love requires an object. Love exists between people. Yes, you can love yourself but would you know this to be love if you were the only creature in existence. The scripture teaches us that creation itself sprang from the overflow of God’s love. The love of the Father for Son and the Spirit, and the love of the Son for the Father and the Spirit, and love of the Spirit for the Son and the Father was so strong that the effervescence of that love issues in creation. Creation is that overflow of love. God wanted to share the life and the love he already had so exquisitely among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three persons of God are so invested in one another, so self-giving for one another, so caring of one another that although three persons they form just one God. They’ve been serving each other from all eternity and finding holy joy in that loving co-service.
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. When we 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 gospels assert that love arises from the heart of God; love that is completely for the other finds it source in the love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for one another.
We read today Psalm 29 that extols the power of God. God’s voice “is powerful; it “breaks the cedars of Lebanon;” it “shakes the wilderness.” I note that the Psalmist speaks of this in the most glowing of terms calling on this mighty God to “bless his people with peace.” He speaks so warmly of God. He is convinced that God’s desire is to be for his people. He knows what other Psalms make clear—the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His encounter with God teaches him so. For the Psalmist the event of God’s incursion into life that towers above others, disclosing God’s love, is the rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt. The event the towers over all of God’s incursions assuring us that the God who snaps trees with his voice loves us, is the self-giving of Father, Son, and Spirit at the cross and the raising of the Son to 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.
4. I have been probing with you the wonder of God’s self-disclosure in God’s incursion in Jesus Christ who obedience to the one he called the Father was complete and who promised to give the Holy Spirit. We have been thinking a little of what this incursion shows us about who God is in himself and draw lines to our experience as humans created in God’s image. I have underlined that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are on the same page with respect to God’s desire to rescue us from sin and God’s unending love for us.
I think a question for us is this, “am I on the same page with God.” This is what it means to believe in him. Have I acknowledged my sin and wayward resistance to God and taken him as my own. Have I received his offer of amnesty? Faith is a relationship with God. It begins with a yes. However weakly or tentatively we are able to assert our “yes” to Jesus such “yes” is to begin (or renew) this faith journey. We begin by trusting as much of ourselves as we know of ourselves to as much of God as we know of him. Yes, our faith can waver but our Lord’s grip on us is ever the same. Our journey is lived in the prayer of “I believe. Help thou my unbelief.”
One more refection on this triune God. There is a tendency among Christians toward Unitarianism. To speak of God as higher power or some such idea so as not to be offensive to other religions and their ideas of God. In the process God becomes distant—above watching over us for a distance perch. God is spoken of like we speak of a prime minister. We don’t have a personal relationship with the person who holds the office of prime minister—ours is a relationship of citizenship; the office holder is Canada’s Prime Minister. So she or he are distant to us. This is what happens to God in Unitarian thought.
But in the Son, Jesus Christ, God has come among us. Each of us can know God personally by faith. He is great enough to encompass the universe but close enough to enter our hearts. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.