Sermon Notes for Trinity Sunday John 3:1-16 May 27 2018
by the Rev. Dennis Washburn, Ph.D.
For over a thousand years, western Christians have emphasized the doctrine of the Holy Trinity on the Sunday after Pentecost. This is fitting because the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost completes the steps of revelation of God in Three Persons.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not developed in detail in one place in Scripture, but it is supported by many passages. The Gospel from John 3 is a traditional one for this Sunday, and it deals with the Trinity as our Lord discusses Baptism and the new birth. This goes along with the commission to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 28: 19. The Trinitarian emphasis continued in the Christian Church as Scriptural teachings about God were summarized in baptismal creeds such as the Latin Apostles’ Creed and the Greek creed which developed into the Nicene Creed.
Although a great mystery and although the history of and doctrinal discussions about the Trinity can be complicated, the basic concern of the doctrine is really simple: The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us about God and His love and grace, about His redeeming purposes. So most of us can best appreciate the doctrine of the Trinity by looking at its application to Christian life and devotion. Today, let us briefly consider the Trinity in the context of three familiar areas of Christian experience.
First, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is related to Christian morality. God the Father has created human beings with a basic capacity to learn to distinguish right and wrong. God the Son came into this world and revealed to human beings in the clearest way the divine moral will for our lives. Jesus the Christ has given us both clear teachings and perfect examples to guide us in our moral choices. By His death and resurrection, God the Son, Jesus Christ, has freed us from eternal slavery to sin and death and offered us His grace for new life. And God the Holy Spirit comes to us and brings us the love, the grace and the truth of the Father and of the Son. The Spirit gives us grace, wisdom and guidance in making moral choices. And when we do stumble, the Spirit also helps us repent and seek renewal.
Secondly, we can appreciate the doctrine of the Trinity in the context of Christian prayer. Although Scripture and devotional history contain examples of prayers addressed to all three divine persons, most of our prayers, including the prayer Christ taught us, are addressed directly to God the Father as creator and ruler of the universe. We offer these prayers to the Father through the Son, in Jesus’ name or for Christ’s sake. In other words, we ask God the Son, who has lived as one of us, to pray with us and for us. We dare to approach the Father’s throne of grace because His Son is our Savior, and because the Son still intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father. We offer our prayers by the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit. The divine Spirit at work in our hearts, minds, and souls motivates and inspires us to pray. If we are open to Him, and sometimes even when we are not very open, the Holy Spirit guides our thoughts and words. As St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:26, the Spirit even helps us utter wordless prayers when we are too tired, sick or overwhelmed to know how to pray.
Thirdly, we can relate the doctrine of the Trinity to the Bible. God the Father, creator and ruler of the universe, transcends human understanding, but He has chosen to reveal Himself to His creatures. Although our Creator has provided some hints about Himself in nature and in human consciousness and conscience, the essential points of God’s self-disclosure are in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible points out God’s power expressed in the creation of the universe and of human beings. The Bible points to the rebellion and fall of human beings and of some angels. The Bible also shows the Father’s loving desire and plan to redeem fallen humanity. Although Holy Scripture is the Word of God in written form, in a more basic and essential way, God the Son, Jesus Christ, is the incarnate and eternal Word (John 1). In Genesis 1, it is the Word of God that is the means of creation. Through His living and spoken Word, God called the people of the Old Testament and spoke to and through patriarchs and prophets. In the New Testament, the obvious center of Gospels and Epistles is the living Word, Jesus. In all the messages of the apostles, the spoken and written words are meant to reveal Christ. We are to respect the written letters and words, but our basic faith is Christ the Eternal Word who is the living center of Scripture..
And we can’t consider the Bible without the role of God the Holy Spirit. The moving of God’s Spirit led patriarchs, prophets, wise men, scribes and apostles of Israel and the Church to pass on the oral and written words that contain the divine Word. The Holy Spirit also worked among believers to distinguish the truly sacred writings from other religious documents. And the Spirit has worked over the centuries to preserve and spread the canon of Scripture. The Spirit still works to help us to understand and apply the divine meaning of Scripture to our faith and to our lives.
In summary, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the great mystery which summarizes the teachings of the Christian Faith. This doctrine is rooted in the Bible, and summarized in the ancient creeds. The Trinity has been a topic for theological analysis and doctrinal discussion. Yet, as with other mysteries of Christian faith, the doctrine of the Trinity is asking for something more than merely an intellectual or mental response. This mystery is asking us for the response of living faith. To have a true appreciation of the Trinity, we need to experience it in Christian life and devotion- in contexts such as Christian morality, Christian prayer, and a faithful approach to Holy Scripture.