5/22/2016 sermon: “No heresies, please”

Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Church of the Resurrection
Text: John 16:12-15
Day: Trinity Sunday Year C

“No heresies, please”

TrinityAltarI slipped up this year because somehow I’m preaching on Trinity Sunday. This is the Sunday that the preacher is supposed to explain the Trinity to you, explain how there could be one God and only one God, yet how God could be three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t MIND preaching on Trinity Sunday, if it weren’t for the heresy involved. It is sooooo easy to slip into heresy when explaining the Trinity. I won’t distract you by elaborating on all the possible heresies that people have invented while thinking about the Trinity. Instead, I’ll just say that teaching doctrine of the Trinity is fraught with danger.

You’ll notice, by the way, that Rev. Randi is not here today. Another congregation, a church searching for a priest, invited her to preach there today. They were very clever! So here WE are.

Well, I went to the seminary library, that fabulous resource a scant 1.77 miles from here. The seminary library has a lot of books about the Trinity: 120 linear feet of books on the Trinity. I sampled A FEW, then found two that especially caught my attention:

  • The Trinity: How Not to be a Heretic, a 2015 work by Stephen Bullivant. He’s a British Roman Catholic theologian. I checked his book out for its great title.
  • The other book I got because it’s small and easy to read: The Trinity Primer by Neil Ormerod, another British Roman Catholic theologian. HIS book is in three parts (naturally): the scriptural basis for the Trinity, what we say in the creeds that we believe about the Trinity, and how to understand what the church teaches about the Trinity.

And after skimming these books I know a lot more about the theory. For example, Bullivant’s book taught me that I should just assert these three things and then sit down:

  • There is only one God.
  • The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is each God.
  • The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not the same.

Of course, there is a logical disconnect between these three statements. We have no good way of explaining how all three could be true at the same time. Yet they are:

  • There is only one God.
  • The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is each God.
  • The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not the same.

Thanks to Ormerod’s book I could outline for you all the places in scripture where:

  • God refers to himself in the plural
  • God’s breath or wisdom or spirit acts to bring a new reality into being
  • Or Jesus shows us his close relationship with Abba, God the Father
  • Or the Holy Spirit operated to cause Jesus to do something (like go up a mountain to pray or into the dessert to be tempted)

My favorite example is Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism, when the heavens opened and God the Father spoke in praise of Jesus, who he named the Son, and the Holy Spirit descended “like a dove.” The point is that here is an instance when Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all acted at the same time, in different ways, illustrating that they are not one.

What these two books convinced me of, though, is that “head-knowledge” of the Trinity is not nearly enough to persuade anyone that:

  • There is only one God.
  • The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is each God.
  • The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not the same.

What is needed is an EXPERIENCE of the Trinity, experience of God at work in our lives. Only through relationship with God can we know that God actually is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Is it mere coincidence that the Father seems to be the provider? I thank God the Father for my existence, for my very being. I thank God the Father for sustaining me, much as Christ Jesus thanked God the Father when he prayed the prayer we call The Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven… Give us this day our daily bread…”

I thank God, as Christ Jesus did, for the Father God being an operative force in my life. At the same time, God the Son, who we know at Christ Jesus, shows me how to think and live, how to do God’s work in this world and how to be in relationship with the Father: thankfully, no matter what life brings. God the Son consoles me, mainly because Jesus the Christ has lived as one of us. This relationship with the Son is very different than my relationship with God the Father, yet both are God.

Both God the Father and God the Son are also one, yet different, from God the Holy Spirit. In my experience, the Holy Spirit gives insight into God, allowing us to see and know and be in relationship with God. The Spirit of God allows us to see and experience God at work in and through each other. The Holy Spirit allows us access to God even though the Son is no longer physically with us.

These are three ways of experiencing God. Yet Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not just aspects of the one God, they are distinctly different (yet one). Does your head hurt yet?

The scientist in me is screaming and my logic brain demands an explanation. I don’t have a rational explanation, though; no one does. I can say, though, that the Trinity is a necessity in our physical universe, the very universe that God created and sustains. Without the Trinity, how could God simultaneously be beyond the time and space he created, and yet have come to be one with us in OUR time and space, and how else could God continue to be an operative force the created world? I believe that the very physics that God created to structure and sustain our existence demands a Triune God. (Maybe I need to write a book about this.)

At this point most people reach for an analogy or an example. And this is where much heresy occurs. There is NO way to explain or describe God perfectly. Our human brains can only grasp the reality of God to the extent of the revelation that we are given by God. We human beings can only experience God to the extent we are open to the presence of God at work in our lives, at work in the world around us. We human beings can only get beyond the illogic of the Trinity to the extent we are willing to suspend the need for a rational explanation and rely on God alone to lead us into the truth of God.

Some people and some congregations seem to specialize in one reality of God: Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. Yet we need to be in relationship with all three, because to know one is to know the others.

I speak in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, inviting this one God, yet three, to lead us into right relationship with God and one another. Amen.

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