Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The Trinity


I don’t often read things for the sermon but I want to start of today reading this quote from CS Lewis. For those of you who may not be familiar with CS Lewis, Lewis was a confirmed atheist when he taught at Oxford in the mid 1900s. He became close friends with JR Tolkien - the writer of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy who was an avid believer in Christ. It was through conversations with Tolkien that Lewis became to believe, although CS Lewis wrote he came to Christianity “kicking and screaming and looking for a way to escape” but Lewis became a well respected theologian and writer about Christ. Most people are familiar with Lewis who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia series which is an analogy of Christianity. . Anyway in talking about the trinity, CS Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity:

"What I mean is this." he writes, "An ordinary simple Christian
kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with
God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him
to pray is also God: God so to speak, inside him. But he also knows
that all real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was
God - that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray,
praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to
which he is praying - the goal he is trying to reach. God is also
the thing inside him which is pushing him on - the motive power.
God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to
that goal. The whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is
actually going on in that ordinary act of prayer.”

So we can get a picture of just how confusing a concept is our belief in the Trinity - in a Trinitarian God - a God who is one, yet a God who is three. It just doesn’t make sense - yet an essential part of what we believe.

Today is a Sunday called Trinity Sunday. Last week we talked about celebrating special days in the church. And we mentioned the 4 most important days which were: Christmas, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. Each of these days, calls us to remember an event - something that happened. Trinity Sunday is one of the few Sundays that wants us to stop and think about a doctrine of the church - a specific belief that we have about God. It is strategically placed after the others because in a way Trinity Sunday sort of sums up what has happened on the other days - At Christmas we have the coming of God to earth in human form, on Easter and Ascension we celebrate the rising of Jesus and on Pentecost is the coming of the Holy Spirit. So in those other days, we recognize the elements of the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So now that we have heard about all three parts of the Trinity, we celebrate their special day - or more clearly, we struggle to figure out this special nature of God.

The trinity is that belief that God is one - “The Lord Your God is One God” - yet God is three - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is one and God is three. How can that be??
So people have tried various different ways to try and explain it:
Here we have the shamrock (image on screen) because this was the stumbling block St Patrick was having with the Irish in bringing them to faith - they couldn’t deal with the concept of Trinity. So he used the Shamrock - one Shamrock - yet three lobes - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The very early church fathers in the third Century tried the idea of masks (use three masks) - that God put on different masks at different times as he acted out the different roles.
The butterfly analogy has been used (show slide). The caterpillar, the chrysalis and the butterfly - three forms of the same insect.
We have tried names to explain the Trinity - (slides of creator, redeemer, sustainer) - these are the three ways we understand God working - God the creator, God the redeemer and God the sustainer.
In the Presbyterian Church our symbol (show Presbyterian symbol) was designed to represent Trinity - the three that makes up the cross.
During the middle ages when all the great and beautiful cathedrals in Europe were built, they used stained glass windows to try and explain Trinity - (Show some of those) And then artists tried to depict the trinity (show slide)
All these explanations are really inadequate to get to the real essence of what Trinity is. Martin Luther came up with this drawing: (show Luthers diagram) which is suppose to help but I think just muddies it up and leaves us with more questions. But it does define Trinity in the way we are to understand. Jesus is not the Father nor the Spirit, the Father is not Jesus nor the Spirit, the Spirit is neither Jesus nor the Father, but they are all God.
Understand? I like this cartoon - and we would probably agree! (show cartoon)
It is not a natural thing to be able to simply understand this Trinity; it is not natural to understand how one thing can be three and none of those comparisons, caterpillar, or egg, or shamrocks or diagrams can really make it make sense.
But Jesus, as he talks to Nicodemus helps us to understand that being a follower of Christ is not a natural thing…. In the gospel reading this morning we have the Pharisee Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the dark of night because Nicodemus is afraid what will happen if the other members of the Sanhedrin - this is the group that will later condemn Jesus to be crucified - find out that Nicodemus is meeting with Jesus. Nicodemus is trying to figure out what Jesus is teaching - what message Jesus is trying to get across to the people. Here we hear Jesus say, “You can’t be a follower of Christ unless you are born again.” Now, a quick reference to that phrase ‘born again’….. The actual Greek says “born from above” meaning - you can’t be a follower of Christ unless you are brought to Christ by the Father and then filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus that becoming a follower of Christ is an act of Trinity - The Father, the Son and the Holy spirit are all active in your being here; in your being a follower of Christ; you are all ‘born from above’ because of the work of the Trinity - all parts of God active in you and assuring you of All of God working to make you His!
What makes this even harder, is that the term ‘trinity’ is never found in the Bible. So if it isn’t talked about in the Bible, how is it that it is such an important part of our faith? There is no statement anywhere that describes Trinity - but there is overwhelming evidence of its existence. For example, every time God speaks and refers to himself it is in the plural. If you remember the story of the Tower of Babel we read last week, did you catch God saying, “Let ‘us’ go down and see this city.” Every time regardless of where God speaks - he uses the term ‘us’ - ‘us’ of course meaning, more than one.
Even God’s most common name in the Old Testament, Elohim, is a plural term.
There are instances where we see all three members at the same time - at Jesus baptism - we see Jesus, we hear the voice of the Father and we see the Spirit in the form of a dove descend on Jesus.
So the trinitarian concept is something that is just assumed throughout the accounts of the Bible.
Which still doesn’t help us understand this concept of Trinity - Do you know the definition of faith?
- succumbing to a concept for which there is no proof. And that is what we have to do. Trinity is one of those essential concepts in our understanding of God that is just totally beyond our understanding - we just simply have to have faith in a God who is so huge and so great and so omniscient that the only way he can present himself to us is by showing himself to us as a loving father, an obedient son who died for our redemption and a spirit who sustains our life.