Thursday, May 26, 2016

Trinity - God's Fullness for Us, in Us, and through Us

Preached on Trinity Sunday, May 22, 2016

Scripture readings: Deuteronomy 6:4-5; 2 Corinthians 13:11-14

You’ve heard The Old Irish Blessing: “May the road rise to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.”
Walking in the White Bluffs Area on the Columbia River
Southeast of Desert Aire/Mattawa WA: May 2016
Some of my ancestors left Ireland around 1850 because life there was hard, and it was only getting harder. The British rule of Ireland was brutal and cruel, and there was no freedom. The rains did fall soft on the fields, but the crop was potatoes. There was a terrible blight that destroyed the potato harvests for years and created what was called The Great Famine; The Great Hunger.
The purpose of The Old Irish Blessing was the hope that life would not be so hard. It had a very different purpose from Paul’s blessing. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
The purpose of Paul’s blessing was not the hope that life would not be so hard. The purpose was a reminder of the gift that he and his friends shared. It was a gift that made life possible when life was harder than words could say.
Paul’s blessing was not about circumstances. The blessing was about relationships. Most of all, the blessing was about one great relationship; or was it about three great relationships? The relationship was with the Lord Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit.
Altogether, this blessing was Paul’s experience with God, in all of God’s fullness. This experience turned into what we call, in theological language, “the doctrine of the Trinity”: that God is one God in three persons. I believe that doctrine with all my heart.
I also believe that the doctrine of the trinity is not enough. The doctrine is an explanation, and that is not enough. I believe that what we need is not an explanation, but an experience. The Bible describes the experience of God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit without fully explaining it.
The Apostle John described Jesus as being “the Word” of God. John remembered Jesus telling him and his friends. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) Taken plainly this means that the Son and the Father share a common identity and a common nature.
At the start of his gospel, John said this about the Word that became known to us as Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
What John told us is not merely what he and his friends believed about Jesus and God. It was what they experienced about Jesus and God. John described this experience, but his description is not an explanation.
The doctrine (or the teaching) of God as Trinity came out of this experience, as Christians sought to understand this experience. In trying to understand and explain their experience, they sometimes bitterly disagreed with each other. These disagreements injured the unity of Christians. These disagreements divided Christians, and some of these divisions have never been healed.
Remember that Paul’s blessing involves the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. This fellowship with the Spirit of God is an experience that all Christians are supposed to share and have in common. We are partners of the same partner. In the words of the blessing, it should, “be with you all”. It should be a fellowship shared with the Spirit and shared with all Christians in fellowship together, but it isn’t shared.
It goes unappreciated. We don’t see the Spirit in each other. Especially we don’t see the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in those Christians who disagree with us. We separate and go our own ways. We say that it’s good to separate.
I love to understand things, and I really love to explain things. Ask my sisters. I had an aunt who called me a junior technical slob because I insisted, as a child, on explaining things.
In spite of being all that, deep down, I try to understand one important point: that, when it comes to the Lord Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit, I need love the experience better than I love my explanations, and that I am required to love the fellowship of the Holy Spirit as something shared with others.
Humans are tempted to worship themselves. Worshiping our explanations of God is a clever trick to put ourselves in the place of God. It’s very exciting, and dangerous, and damaging.
If God is our creator, if God created time and space, so that he is beyond time and space, then it would be wrong for us to think that we can fully explain him. We can experience him, and describe our experience. We can experience God as we find him truly presented to us in the Bible, and we can describe our Biblical experience. But God is beyond our complete understanding, and God is beyond our power to fully explain.
We can try to use the Bible to do our explaining for us. The problem comes when we connect and pile so many verses on top of each other that it becomes a thing that the Bible really doesn’t say at all.
We often end up using the Bible to say things about God, and about the way God works, and about how God wants us to do things that aren’t really there in the Bible at all. Such explanations might not be bad things; but they are only “our” things, and not God’s things.
The real blessing is about our relationship with God. Yet it’s not quite right to call this our relationship with God. It seems to be a big part of our relationship with God to mess things up. The real blessing is about God’s relationship with us. The real blessing is how we experience what God gives us and what God makes possible. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit being with us all,” are how God comes to us, reveals himself to us, changes us, and works in us, and through us.
The Word of God is God speaking himself and revealing himself. God came in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ was God speaking himself. John says this, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth….” (John 1:14) “No one has ever seen God; the only Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” (John 1:18)
Paul says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) Jesus gave us his grace, his gift of unconditional acceptance (something that creates thanks and well-being). And he gave us this grace, not only by leaving the richness of heaven for earth. He even left the richness of our life in flesh and blood to be judged, and condemned, and whipped, and killed by being nailed to a cross. There’s poverty for you!
Paul had another way of describing this grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God. “For our sake he (God) made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Christ became like us, on the cross, so that we could become like him, as more than conquerors through the one who loves us. (Romans 8:37)
And Paul describes that grace another way. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)
That is a mouthful.
Grace is a gift. The gift was God coming, in Christ, to earth, to become one of us, and to die for our sins, and to give us a new life, and to make us new creations, and also to make us messengers.
The sacrificial gift of God, through Jesus, is the experience that enables us to enter into the love of God, and live in that love. The experience of this grace-gift and the experience of this love-gift lead to the experience of another gift.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God enable us to experience the fellowship, or the partnership, of the Holy Spirit. Through the fellowship or partnership of the Holy Spirit, all Christians receive the power, in common together, to speak and work for God together.
The fellowship is fellowship all the way through. It could never be simply the fellowship of the Holy Spirit with you, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit with me. It really must be the fellowship of the Holy Spirit with us all, and more. We are all partners of the same partner. The fellowship of the Holy Spirit doesn’t only include all of us in this room. The fellowship of the Holy Spirit goes on, and on, and on. It makes a partnership that goes around the whole world. It’s one team around the world doing the work of the Holy Spirit together. There is no other team.
Grace breaks through the barriers of our human sins, and rebellion, and blindness. Love rules, and changes, and motivates our hearts. Fellowship-partnership is God and us being on the same team, making the same plays for the same goals. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.
The point of this blessing is not to make a hard life easier. The point is a new life altogether. That new life might be very hard, as far as we can see. But the new life is a relationship that is based on God, and in God, and given to us as we share our life in him.
The relationship isn’t just for us. The relationship is for everyone you know and for everyone you meet. The relationship is for the whole world that has gone so far wrong.
God wants a new world, and God gives us the grace, the love, and the fellowship to pursue it. It’s a big picture. It comes from a big God who is much bigger than we can ever explain. The blessing is for a big hope that will come true, in God’s time, because it comes from God and God carries it, and us, with him.

This is what we’re here for. This is what we go out from here for. This is what we take with us: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit with us all.


  1. I just heard a sermon on the radio today. The preacher said that there are things that he couldn't explain but that we as Christians don't live by explanations but by promises, the promise we have from God. And I thought to myself, that is true but we also must have a relationship with God...and then, tonight I read your sermon!

    1. I think that the promises we live by come from those whom we truly know.