Isaiah 6.1-8; Romans 8.12-17; John 3.1-17
+ When all is said and done, at the end of the day, I can say this about myself: I am actually fairly orthodox in most of what I believe. I don’t say that pridefully. I’m not bragging. I’m just saying…
Yes, I know. I’m pretty liberal. At least socially.
But theologically, I’m pretty cut and dry. It would be hard to find a major heresy in most of my thinking.
OK. Yes, I’ll admit I’m somewhat of a universalist. I do believe that, eventually, we will all be together with Christ in heaven. I really do believe that. I do not believe in an eternal hell.
But the rest of it is pretty much straightforward. I believe in the Incarnation of Christ.
I believe Jesus is the Word of God made flesh.
I believe prayer does make a difference in this world.
I believe in the Resurrection.
I believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist.
And let’s not get into my view of Mary and the saints.
But, then, there’s the Trinity.
I’ll make it simple for you. I don’t know what it is for certain. I don’t know how it works. But somehow I know it works. And I think that is where most of us are with the Trinity.
Most of us, let’s face it, don’t give the Trinity a lot of thought. For me, it’s a mystery. Which is not a bad thing. I love the mystery of our faith. And let me tell you, there is nothing more mysterious than the Trinity.
God as Three-in-One—traditionally seen as the Father, or Parent or Creator, the Son or Redeemer and the Spirit or Sanctifier.
I know, I know. It’s difficult to wrap our minds around this concept of God.
The question we regularly get is: how can God be three and yet one? How can we, in all honesty, say that we believe in one God when we worship God as three? Aren’t we simply talking about three gods? (We’re definitely not, by the way—just to be clear about that)
Whole Church councils have debated the issue of the Trinity throughout history. The Church actually has split at times over its interpretation of what exactly this Trinity is. Even as recently as the 1960s, when Episcopal Bishop James Pike denied the Trinity and was brought up on heresy charges, it has been an issue for us as the Church.
We can debate it all we want this morning. We can talk what is orthodox or right-thinking about the Trinity all we want. And I will admit, I probably have been heretical in some of my thinking on this issue.
But, for me, I think it all comes to down to how we experience God in our own personal lives. Now the word I use for this experiential understanding of the Trinity is tri-personal. If we look at our relationship with God in a tri-personal way, maybe—maybe—it sort of, kind of, maybe makes a bit more sense.
One tri-personal God—a God who cannot be limited in any way, but a God who is able to come to us and be revealed to us in a variety of ways. We can go on and on about theology and philosophy and all manner of thoughts about God, but ultimately what matters is how we interact with our God.
How is our relationship with God and with each other deepened and made more real by this one, tri-personal God? How do become closer to God?
This is our primary responsibility: our relationship with God. How can all this talk about God—how can this thinking about God—then deepen our relationship with God?
Our goal is not to understand God: we will never understand God. God is not some Rubik’s Cube or a puzzle that has to be solved.
Our goal is to know God. Our goal is to love God. Our goal is to try to experience God as God wishes to be experienced by us.
Because God does know us. God does love us.
And, more likely than not, we have actually experienced our God in this tri-personal way more than once in our lives.
I personally have experienced God in a variety of ways; certainly I have experiences God in that tri-personal way countless times. I have known God as a loving and caring parent, especially when I think about those times when I have felt marginalized by people or the Church or society or by friends and colleagues. And let me tell you I have definitely been clinging to the parental aspect of God in these last few months since my mother died.
I have also known God as my redeemer—as One who has come to me where I am, as One who knows my suffering because this One also has suffered as well. And this One has promised that I too can be a child of this God who is my—and our—Parent. I have been able to take comfort in the fact that God is not some distant deity who could not comprehend what I have gone through in my life and in this limited, mortal body. God the Redeemer knows what it was to be limited by our bodies. There is something wonderful and holy in that realization.
And I have known the healing and renewal of the Spirit of God of my life. Certainly we, at St. Stephen’s have experienced and continue to experience this Spirit’s presence in the life and renewal we are celebrating in our congregation. We have known in a very real way the healing and renewal of the Spirit of God here among us. And, I don’t need to tell you, it is wonderful.
In our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we get a real and beautiful glimpse of how God seems to work in this kind of tri-personal way. We hear,
“When we cry Abba! Father! It is the very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit…
So, The Spirit helps us to recognize this parental relationship with God. It then goes on,
“…that we are children of God [like Jesus], and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,”
Here is the tri-personal relationship at work. We can also see our place in this relationship. The Spirit helps us to see our place, as fully-accepted, fully-loved children of God, alongside Jesus, reaping the same rewards Jesus himself was able to reap, doing so because of Jesus.
So, in this one fairly short, but truly wonderful scripture, we see it all working together well, like a well-oiled machine. In a sense, we, as children of God and heirs with Christ, are essentially being invited to join in with the work of God. We are essentially being invited to part of this Tri-Personal relationship.
We are being invited to join into the work of the Tri-personal God.
It reminds me of that ikon by Andrei Rubelev that I have put out in the Narthex this morning. We are being invited to join in to the work God is doing. And I think that is why this icon is so important to me.
We are constantly being invited to the table of God. We are called to sit down at that table with this tri-personal God, to join in that circle of love and, as followers of Jesus, to share that love with others, then we are truly celebrating what this Sunday is all about. We are sharing the love and work of our tri-personal God.
We are saying to God, as Isaiah did in today’s reading from the Hebrew scriptures:
“Here I am!”
So, no matter what the theologians argue about, no matter what those supposedly learned teachers proclaim, ultimately, our understanding of God always needs to be based on our own experience to some extent. The mysteries of God do not have to be a frustrating aspect of our church and our faith. Rather they should widen and expand our faith life and our understanding and experience of God and, in turn, of each other.
So, today, as we ponder our tri-personal God—and we should ponder this tri-personal God in our lives—as we consider how God has worked in our lives in a tri-personal way— and who God is in our lives, let us remember how amazing God is in the ways God is revealed to us.
God cannot be limited or quantified or reduced.
God can only be experienced.
God can only be shared with others as we share love with each other. When we do that—when we live out and share our loving God with others—then we are joining with the tri-personal God who is here with us, loving us with a love deeper than any love we have ever known before.