St. Paul’s Episcopal – Bookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5.1-5; John 16.12-15
Last Sunday was the celebrated of Pentecost – the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon God’s people – the birth of the early Church. People were dramatically changed and empowered through the Holy Spirit.
Today is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. The Trinity is a puzzle which theologians and the ordinary persons have long sought to understand, if not explain. Given our highly rational minds, this is only to be expected. Yet some things may be best experienced as opposed to being understood.
I do not profess to understand the Trinity, but I can attest to having experienced God in trinitarian form. So it is with many things in life. For example, I do not understand water, but I have experienced it. I do not know, nor can I explain, how two odorless, silent, invisible gasses (oxygen and hydrogen) combine to form a clear liquid which we experience on so many levels –bathing, boiling, bursting, calming, cresting, coursing, draining, dribbling, dripping, ebbing, eddying, evaporating, falling, flowing, meandering, misting, raining, roiling, rolling, slaking, sloshing, sluicing, spattering, splashing, spouting, streaming, subsiding, washing, welling, etc. We pretend to understand water (two molecules of hydrogen combining with one molecule of oxygen), but really, how does that happen? The mystery remains.
As faithful Christians, how do we experience the Trinity? With a bit of thought, could we generate a similar list of present participles which correspond to our experience of the Trinity?
In Jesus’ farewell discourse which we have encountered in our study of John, Jesus repeatedly refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit and to our experience of this manifestation of the Trinity. In John 14.16-17 we read: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (NRSV). (giving, abiding)
In John 14.26, we read: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (NRSV). (teaching, reminding)
In John 15.26, we find: When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf” (NRSV). (testifying)
Immediately preceding today’s reading, we find: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned” (John 16.7-11; NRSV). (sending, proving)
And in today’s reading, we find an emphasis on guiding, speaking, glorifying, taking, and declaring: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16.12-15; NRSV).
Writing post-Pentecost, during the time of the early church, Paul, in the book or Romans, provides us with a description of the Trinity which stems from his own experience. Paul emphasizes that having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Our peace with God comes through our faith in the atoning work of Christ’s death and resurrection. Through Christ, “we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5.2; NRSV). Access to this grace is not something which we have earned, or can earn, of our own merit. In this case, “obtained access” also conveys the sense of “secured an introduction.” As Chris Haslam point out, “We have been introduced into the sphere of divine favour through Christ. He has, as it were, led Christians into the royal audience chamber and into the divine presence” (http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/ctrinl.shtml). We have been admitted into the presence of the glory of God.
Because of this grace, Paul says, “we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Romans 5.2; NRSV). Personally, I do not like the use of “boast” for it conveys more of a sense of glorying in one’s own abilities and accomplishments. Other translations include “we revel,” “we rejoice,” “we glory,” “we triumph,” and “we delight.” Indeed, there is cause for rejoicing in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
But as Paul says, we are not only to rejoice in our hope, but also in our suffering which yields endurance, which yields character, which again produces hope, and our hope does not disappoint us for “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5.3-5; NRSV).
Loving the other is not always easy. Sometimes it seems as though certain people have been placed before us for the purpose of reminding us of suffering love. Perhaps this is why we have come to equate love with the soft, warm, fuzzy feelings we have for another. Let’s face it – we only have such feelings for a few select people. Is this what Jesus had in mind when he commanded us to love our neighbor as we love our self? In explaining this commandment, Jesus gave us the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I doubt the good Samaritan had soft, warm, fuzzy feelings for the man who had been beaten and robbed, yet he showed compassion. How is it that Jesus expects us to show such compassion?
I think Paul gives us the answer to that – “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5.5; NRSV). We cannot fully love others of our own accord, but this may be realized through the grace of God and God’s love which is poured into and upon us by the Holy Spirit.
How do we experience the Trinity? We experience the love of God in creation and in God’s sending Jesus Christ to live and dwell among us. We experience Christ’s love in that Christ emptied himself and became as one of us that we might come to realize the life God intends for us. And we experience the presence of the Holy Spirit as we are filled by the grace and the love of God. The Trinity is often compared to a divine dance – the mutual giving and indwelling which takes place among God, Christ, and the Holy spirit – the three yet one. It remains a mystery – yet we are invited to live within this mystery and to experience the fullness which comes from doing so.
In closing, I share a quotation from Paul Nuechterlein:
All our relationships go sour, especially since they end in death. That is why the Christian faith came to see the necessity of the doctrines of both original sin and the Trinity. Original sin describes the mess we are in, hopeless for us to get out of on our own. The Trinity describes the shape of God’s salvation: the only hope for us was for the Father to send the Son in order to establish a love triangle within human history that doesn’t go bad. The Son comes to do nothing but the Father’s desire, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to, in faith, choose the Son as our model for desiring. The uniqueness of the Christian faith lies in the necessity of the incarnation. It took God’s love incarnate as a human being to establish this divine love triangle in history; and it takes the Spirit to gather us up into it. http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-c/trinityc/ .