|This Week's Sermon -
"The Holy Trinity"
| The task of the preacher on Trinity Sunday is not an easy one.
For centuries, Christians have worshipped a triune God, the Three in One
and One in Three. And yet the way some people talk about the Trinity, you
might be forgiven for thinking that it was some sort of mathematical puzzle,
a theologianís rubic cube, especially invented to entertain us.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We worship and adore a triune God, simply because God loved us so much that He gave Himself in Jesus. Any difficulty there may be about the doctrine of the Trinity is not the difficulty of a mathematical puzzle. It is simply the difficulty of comprehending a love that goes so deep. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in the oneness of love beyond all our understanding. And yet that love has reached out and touched us in the coming of Jesus and we have tasted its sweetness through the work of the Holy Spirit.
It is because the Trinity is simply a consequence of the revelation of divine love, that it can be said to be the most distinctive and comprehensive doctrine of the Christian faith. No other religion has anything like this because no other religion knows of love revealed like this. Take away the Trinity and Christianity becomes meaningless; deny it and you instantly lose the keys to the Kingdom. The Trinitarian nature of the God whom we worship is not an optional extra for advanced Christians. Nor is it an intellectual balancing act for the highly skilled, slightly donnish Christian philosopher. Sadly, many Christians and even some clergy would appear to think this way.
On the contrary, the Trinity is the first statement of the nature of the God with whom we have to do. Moreover, there is no better evidence of this than when we come to be baptised. Here at the very dividing line between the Church and the world, both the confessions of faith and the baptismal formula are above all else Trinitarian. The doctrine of the Trinity is nothing less than the ABC of our religion, which stands at the gateway into the Church for all to accept at the point of entry. Having said this, I have genuine sympathy for the Sunday school teachers, who moan about having to explain the Trinity to their children on Trinity Sunday. It is, of course, far easier to talk about the Trinity than to try to explain it: indeed, I defy anyone to explain the inscrutable depths of divine love. Perhaps that is where we go wrong. Perhaps, instead of trying to explain the Trinity, we should concentrate on the work of the Trinity, which both the Old and New Testaments are so full of, if only our eyes are trained to see it. Nevertheless, at the risk of some criticism, I should like to share with you my favourite illustration of the Trinity. It is not an attempt at explanation, but simply an analogy, which may help our understanding.
I want you to imagine a fountain. It can either be an ornamental one, perhaps in the grounds of a great country house; or it can be a utilitarian one, perhaps in an arid field or on a garden lawn. The fountain represents God. I do not think this is fanciful: scripture speaks of God as the fountain of living waters and the fountain of life. Now, you can either stand back at a distance and observe the fountain in its entirety and in so doing you are concentrating your mind on the oneness of the deity. The Jews do this when they recite the precious words "the Shema", "Hear, O, Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord". Or alternatively, you can draw a little closer and fix your eyes on the various parts of the fountain jet as it streams into the air and onto the surrounding ground.
There is, first of all, the fountainhead. This represents the Father, the supreme person in the economy of love. Just as the fountainhead is the source of all the water for the fountain, so the Father is the source of all divine love. Everything proceeds from Him; He is the one who begets love, the bosom of all true affection.
Then there is the jet of water rising powerfully into the air from the fountainhead. To look on this is to look on the Son. He is the only begotten of the Father, and as we gaze on Him, we discover a love so vast and so high that we cannot attain it. That is the jet of water rising far beyond us into the sky: a love that flinched at no suffering, a love that went alone to Calvary, a love that went to such heights and such depths that no man could follow.
Finally, there is the water that falls to the ground, scattering myriads of droplets in its path. To look on this is to look on the Holy Spirit. As the Nicene Creed affirms, He proceeds from the Father and the Son, just as the falling droplets have proceeded from the rising jet and the fountainhead. His work is to shed abroad the love of God in human hearts and that is seen in the dispersal of the fountainís water on the parched ground. So, Jesus said to Peter, "You cannot follow me now" Ė that is the unattainable lofty fountain jet; but He added, "You shall follow me hereafter". He was referring to the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would empower him in his service. This is the effect of the fountainís water in our lives, providing us with refreshment and making us green and fruitful.
So, Thomas Traherne could say, "In all love, the Trinity is clear. Love in the bosom is the parent of love; love in the stream is the effect of love; love seen or dwelling in the object proceedeth from both. Yet are all three one and the selfsame love, though three loves."
Beautiful as this fountain of love is, it is not enough for us simply to gaze at it. The burden of Jesusís ministry was that it should be in each one of us. So in private, He tells the woman of Samaria that the water He can give her will become in her a spring welling up to eternal life. And publicly at the Feast of Tabernacles, He proclaims that if anyone believes in Him, out of his belly will flow rivers of living water.
In the two texts we have read this morning, we see how two men, who once only gazed at this fountain, are transformed so that they actually become the embodiment of the fountain themselves.
Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord sitting upon a throne, surrounded by seraphim exalting the deity in their thrice-holy paean of praise. Even in this Old Testament text, we can observe the Trinity at work. God the Father is represented as high and lofty on the throne; God the Son is seen in the work of redemption through the removal of the prophetís sin by the burning coal; God the Holy Spirit is seen in the immediate response in the prophetís heart Ė "Hear am I, send me!"
And yet Isaiahís initial reaction to this display of heavenly glory was one of horror and dismay. He, a sinner, had actually seen the King of Glory, the Lord of Hosts. The fountain and well of his life had been polluted and stopped up by the filth and mire of his sin. But in coming to God, the fountainhead, he found the disused well of his life was unstopped. All at once, his eyes are opened to see the glory of his Saviour God; his ears opened to hear the wondrous message of salvation; his mouth opened to answer to His call. He became the very embodiment of the vision he had seen: a fountain of life, a well of living water in the holy service of the triune God who called him.
In our Gospel reading, we heard, once again, the matchless story of the secret meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus. He was a religious leader, a man of repute, who was irresistibly drawn to our Saviour. He had obviously seen some of Jesusís miracles, but seeing these was not enough for him. And Jesus, the knower of all hearts, clearly sensed his visitor was searching for more. So He drops his heavenly bombshell Ė Nicodemus must be born again, if he is to enter Godís kingdom of love. He needed to be completely transformed, so that the fountain of living water he saw in Jesus should spring up also in him.
Nicodemus was never the same again, for he left that nighttime encounter a changed man. He came away with a whole new understanding about God and himself. Later, as a member of the Jewish Council, he stands up for Jesus at his trial. He was overruled, but he had dared to speak up for the rabbi, who had captivated his heart. And after the crucifixion, he is found with Joseph of Aramathea begging Pilate for the precious body of his Saviour. He had truly become a fountain of water springing up into eternal life.
So Jesus sums it all up in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful verses in the Bible, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life." The glory of the Trinity is intimately involved in our creation, our redemption and our preservation. God, the Father, so loved the world that He gave Jesus Christ, the Son, to the end that everyone who believes by being born again of the Holy Spirit, should have eternal life. And what is that eternal life? Nothing less than the indwelling of the Trinity in you and me. Wonder of wonders, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit actually take up their abode in us. God the Trinity pleased to dwell in our mortal bodies, so that the surpassing nature of the power may be from God and not from us. In the words of the bridegroom to the bride in the Song of Songs, we actually become a fountain, a well of living water and streams from Lebanon.
I am only too well aware that I have spoken very falteringly about this supreme mystery. I am, however, comforted by the fact that nowhere in scripture do we find a detailed exposition of the doctrine of the Trinity. It is not surprising, therefore, that all who have sought the elusive explanation have found themselves looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. Nevertheless, we can, like Isaiah and Nicodemus have our eyes opened afresh to see the depths of Godís love revealed in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And as we by faith gaze on the Trinity in unity, may the fountain of Godís love flow out of us, until we see the supreme expression of that love face to face in Jesus. For His nameís sake, Amen.