Tuesday, May 28, 2024



John 3:1-17

Trinity Sunday / Year B

If you recall last week’s sermon you remember I preached about ‘bearable truths’, those things which Jesus wanted his disciples to know but also knew they were not yet ready to hear.  “The Holy Spirit,” he told them, “will lead you into all truth.”  Well, today we get to focus on one of those bearable truths – the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  The word ‘trinity’ is never found in Scripture nor is the concept addressed explicitly in any form.  Still, there are multiple passages in both testaments which refer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  And it took the Church the better part of four centuries and several world-wide councils to produce statements declaring the orthodox faith regarding God’s triune nature.  And most often we came to this position only by rejecting ideas and notions we did not hold to be true – what became known as heresy.

In seminary we spent a lot of time examining the nuances of the Christological councils which developed such statements as the Nicene Creed, the Creed of Chalcedon, and the Creed of Saint Athanasius.  We didn’t just study them, we wrote papers about them and took tests on them in the sure and certain hope one day good people like you would come up to us after church and ask us a pointed question about them (a blessed moment thankfully yet to occur in my ordained life). 

I suppose it is worth noting from today’s gospel reading Nicodemus, a highly regarded teacher in his day, in spite of all of his education, cannot comprehend the basics of what Jesus is saying to him.  Which is to say, the realm of faith is not the private domain of lofty, learned ones.  It belongs to every person who has been born from above, every person in whom God’s Spirit dwells.

This past week I browsed through J.I. Packer’s 1973 classic work, Knowing God, a book I first read back in high school.  In it he argues one of the most important and least celebrated teachings of the church is the doctrine of adoption – the idea that through the Spirit we are adopted into God’s family, made sons and daughters, and become heirs of all the riches God has to share with us.   

In our second lesson we heard these words from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God...  You have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, “Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.

Consider just some of the attributes of God, those which are referred to as incommunicable – meaning we cannot share in them:

§  Omniscience: all wise and all knowing

§  Immutability: unchangeable

§  Omnipotence: all powerful

§  Omnipresence: everywhere

§  Infinite: without beginning or end

§  Self-sufficiency: without needs

Let that soak in for a moment or two.  No wonder Isaiah fell speechless before God, overwhelmed by his own unworthiness in the presence of Divine Majesty.  And yet Paul says you know the Spirit is in you when you cry out to God, “Abba!  Father!”, when you know yourself to be a member of the family. 

When we were not busy studying the Trinity in seminary we watched football.  One of my classmates was a huge fan of the Dallas Cowboys.  One Monday evening he invited me to his home to watch a game with him and his five-year-old son (who was also a fan of Big D).  Johnny Jr. started off the game with high level of energy, but, because the it didn’t begin until 9:00 PM, by halftime he was fading fast.  He did, what for me, was the most remarkable thing.  He crawled up into his father’s lap, snuggled in, and watched the game until he fell asleep, nestled in his father’s arms.  To the best of my memory I don’t recall ever falling asleep on my dad’s lap.  It was for me a revelation about the kind of intimate relationship possible between a father and a child.  It remains for me an image of “Abba! Father!” – the kind of relationship God seeks with each one of us.

Like any parent/child relationship, we hope what is worthy and notable about the elder gets passed on to the younger.  It is the same with God and God’s children.  We are called to mirror to the best of our abilities what are known as God’s communicable attributes – what of God’s nature we can manifest in our life:

§  Wisdom

§  Faithfulness

§  Goodness

§  Justice

§  Mercifulness

§  Graciousness

§  Love

§  Holiness

§  Glory and Beauty

Each of these we have seen lived out in fulness by Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit (what we Episcopalians mean when we vow, “I will, with God’s help”), we too can communicate these qualities in and to the world.