Holy Trinity Sunday 2018 – John 3:1-17
Sermon by Rev Dr Rolf Svanoe
My earliest memories of church are at Trinity Lutheran Church in Madison, Wisconsin. Every Sunday our family would take up a whole pew in the sanctuary, Mom and Dad and six kids. Dad had a big bass voice that you could hear all over the church. He felt it was his job to lead the singing wherever he was. Every Sunday, worship would begin singing that great hymn of faith, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!
Trinity! What is Trinity? It took me years to learn that Trinity was more than the name of the church we attended. I can’t say I’ve ever spent a lot of time thinking about the Trinity over the years. Have you ever had the Jehovah’s Witnesses come knock on your door? They like to argue and point out that the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. They will say things like, “One plus one plus one does not equal one.” That doesn’t bother me, though. Why should I insist that my tiny human brain understand everything there is about God? If we could understand everything about God, then I should think that our God is not big enough. By the way, if you ever hear that one plus one plus one doesn’t equal one, just tell them that one times one times one does equal one. It’s divine math.
While the word Trinity is never mentioned in the Bible, the ideas behind the word certainly are. In 2 Corinthians the Apostle Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (2 Corinthians 13:13) Matthew ends his Gospel with these words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19) Early Christians didn’t have the word Trinity, but they were convinced that there was one God who had created the world, who had come among them in the person of Jesus Christ, and whose Spirit and presence they felt in their daily lives.
It wasn’t until a few hundred years later that the church tried to spell this out in detail in its Creeds. The earliest creed was the Apostle’s Creed. Later the church came up with the Nicene Creed in which the church tried to define more fully what the Trinity is. In the year 325, the Emperor Constantine called church leaders from all over the empire to gather at Nicaea to formalize the church’s teaching about Jesus Christ. Was Jesus divine, of one being with the Father? Or was Jesus divine-like, but separate from God. It all came down to one letter in the Greek alphabet- the letter “i” or as the Greeks say, iota. The phrase “not one iota of difference” comes from this, but in this case one iota made a world of difference. The two words were homoousios or homoiousios. Homoousios means the same substance, and homoiousios means like substance. There was only a single letter different between them- homo, homoi- but there was a huge difference in meaning. Jesus is not just god-like; he is God- of one being with the Father. Jesus is true God and true human. The Spirit also is fully God. And so we have the Trinity.
Over the years Christians have used many images to talk about the Trinity. Water can be experienced in three different forms, yet it’s still water. We see it as a liquid, as a gas when it’s hot, or as a solid when it’s cold. It is still H2O but takes different forms depending on what temperature it is. Another image I like to use is a relational one. Think about all the roles you play. You are sons or daughters, brothers or sisters. Some of you are husbands or wives. Some of you are fathers or mothers. Some of you are grandparents. You are all those things and the role you play is different in different situations. We experience God differently in different situations. Sometimes we experience God as creator, sometimes as a savior, and sometimes as a guide and comforter. You know, you can get a headache just trying to figure out the Trinity. But my guess is that many of you don’t stay up late at night worrying about it.
It reminds me of a story I heard. Little Ole and his friend Sven found a dead dog in the street. They were very sad about the dog and decided they needed to give it a proper burial. So they dug a hole and were just about to put the dog in the ground when Sven said, “Ole, shouldn’t ve say someting, ya know, like dey do at da church for a funeral?” Ole replied, “Ya shure, Sven. Dats a good idea. Vat should ve say?” Sven thought for a minute and said, “In da name of da Fader, and of da Son, and in da hole he goes.”
Just like Sven, the Father and the Son are images we are familiar with. We have a little more difficulty with the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit. The Father Creator is the one who has made all things, given us our bodies and strength, who provides us daily with the things we need for this life. The Son, Jesus, came to show us how to live, to give his life on the cross for our sins. Our broken lives and broken world are in need of a Savior. But the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost is much harder to grasp, yet it is the part of the Trinity we experience daily. The Bible talks of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter who gives us strength in difficult times, as the advocate who prays for us and cheers us on, as the teacher who leads us into all truth. The Spirit fills our lives with gifts and fruit so that we can use life to serve those around us.
We are Trinity people. We truly live each day of our lives in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In our gospel lesson Jesus talked about the need to be born from above, or born of the Spirit. He talked of God the Father loving the world, the cosmos and sending his only Son so that none would perish but all have eternal life- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are Trinity people, baptized with God’s triune name, marked with the cross of Christ on our foreheads.
I invite you to open your hymnals to hymn 412. This is a wonderful new hymn text that tells us that the Trinity is not so much a doctrine to believe, but someone to dance with. Come, Join the Dance of Trinity. The first verse is about God the creator, the second verse about Jesus, and the third about the Spirit. Imagine God as a dance with Father, Son and Spirit, inviting us to join in the dance experiencing their joy and freedom. Imagine yourself in the middle of that circle, filled to overflowing with God’s unconditional love and grace. That’s enough to get your feet moving and your voice shouting God’s praise. So let’s stand and sing this song to an old English Folk song.