Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sermon, Trinity Sunday A

The year started with Advent, the preparation of the arrival of Jesus. It continued with the Epiphany, or manifestation, and on through Lent, Holy Week, the Easter season, Jesus' ascension and the reception of the Holy Spirit. And today we celebrate Trinity Sunday. We have moved from anticipating the Messiah's arrival to seeing him ascend to God to receiving the Holy Spirit. And we have moved from seeing Jesus as more than just a man with some good ideas to acknowledging his fully human and fully divine nature, as well as seeing the Holy Spirit as proceeding from God the Father. In short, we have become Trinitarians.

In the cycle of the Church year, that's how we get from there to here. But how did we get from there to here theologically? How did we go from the belief in one, singular God to a Trinitarian belief system; that is, one God with three persons in one substance? The answer, in part, is our own Anglican Trinitarian formula of Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

The first thing you need to know is that the word “Trinity,” or any derivation of it, does not appear anywhere in Scripture. So on one level, those groups who claim that the Trinity is unbiblical are right; however, I would argue that they have a poor understanding of Scripture.

As we read through Scripture, we are able to use our Reason to find examples and evidences for the Trinity. Theophilus of Antioch did this, and in 180 coined the term “Trinity.” After much debate and thinking on the matter, Trinitarian doctrine was eventually codified at Nicea and Constantinople.

So where are these examples and evidences of the Trinity. Let's start with the Gospel of John. In his prologue, he writes, “In the beginning was the Word . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” The Word of God, then, isn't the Bible but is Jesus Christ himself. Later in that same gospel we hear Jesus tell his disciples that he will send the Holy Spirit to them, which we see fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.

It is not only Jesus who says that he will send the Holy Spirit, but it is also John the Baptist. In the synoptic gospels, John tells the crowds that he baptizes with water, but that one is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. So in various places of the New Testament we get intimations that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are related.

Now, if we go back to the Old Testament, we can see where that theology plays into a Trinitarian formula. We can start with the creation story that we heard earlier. In the beginning, God created, and the wind of God (also translated as the Spirit of God) moved over the surface, and then God spoke. God the creator, God the Spirit, God the Word.

Later on in Genesis, at Chapter 18, we hear about Abraham meeting the Lord. “The Lord appeared to Abraham . . . he looked up and saw three men.” Singular Lord, plurality of persons. So in these two passages, at least, we have evidence of a Trinitarian Godhead.

As we move back into the New Testament, all the synoptics record the baptism of Jesus involving him, a dove (representative of the Spirit), and a voice from heaven. And John tells us that he who called John the Baptist to his ministry indicated that the Spirit would rest on Jesus. So all four gospels have a Trinitarian aspect surrounding the baptism of Christ.

And finally, Jesus gives us the great commission, to go out into the world baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is more than going out in the name of the Father, or with the power of the Sprit, or as followers of Jesus. This is a formula instigated by Christ to reflect the Trinitarian aspect of the Godhead.

So there you have it. Through the reading of Scripture, we have used our Reason to develop this central tenet of Christianity which has stood the test of time becoming part of our Tradition. If we call ourselves Christians, we believe that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, the living Word of God, the only begotten Son of God, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son to lead us and empower us in the mission of the Church.

This, by the way, is in contrast with such groups as the LDS and Jehovah's Witnesses whose theology is decidedly non-Christian. The LDS have a theology which states that God was once a man and that man can become either like God or a god, depending on their interpretation. They see the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three non-unified and distinct entities. And with their views on people becoming gods, they are truly polytheistic. They also have that issue whereby church doctrine can be changed by secret revelations to their Prophet and Council of Twelve. In other words, their tradition only lasts as long as the next revelation.

The Jehovah's Witnesses are also non-Christian, since their doctrine states that Jesus was simply fully human, not fully human and fully divine. Their doctrine also states that there was no bodily resurrection, but that his body disintegrated and his spirit was taken up. And, like the LDS, church doctrines can be changed and morphed as leaders see fit.

What all of this means is that there are some theological implications to Christianity that we need to pay attention to. Scripture points us towards a Trinitarian doctrine. Reason allows us to figure that out. Tradition tells us that this has stood the test of time. We can't fully understand the Trinity, and thinking about it can make your head hurt. The Trinitarian Godhead is simply one of the mysteries of faith that we can only ponder.

It's also important to know that just because a church has the words “Jesus Christ” in their title, or claim to follow the teachings of a man sent by God, that doesn't necessarily make them Christian.

In a minute we will recite the Nicene Creed. As we go through that, pay attention to what's being said and how that ancient document reiterates our belief in the Trinity.


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