Monday, June 4, 2007

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

(A Sermon for Trinity Sunday based on John 16:12-15 and Romans 5:1-5)

In the church we baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We praise God as Holy Trinity: “Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” the Doxology says and “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,” the Gloria Patri says.

We need, though, to focus more on God as Holy Trinity. Why? Because that is how God has revealed himself to us. Granted, the doctrine of the Trinity is presented formally nowhere in the Bible, by which I mean that the Bible nowhere says, “There is one God in three persons and here is how you are supposed to think and talk about that.” The Bible does nonetheless show us that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is how God has revealed himself to be and our task as Christians is to know God as he has revealed himself to be, not as we would like him to be or only as we can imagine him to be. The Trinity is how God has revealed himself to be and we can only believe in God because he has revealed himself and as he has revealed himself [Karl Barth, Credo (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1962), pp. 13-14].

One reality about God to which God’s revelation of himself as Trinity points us is that he is characterized by relationship. The first biblical phrase that most children learn is “God is love.” God is defined by love. Love requires a relationship; one cannot love by oneself. Only God is eternal and if God is love and always has been love then that love must be shared and must always have been shared. As E. Y. Mullins put it early in the last century, “(A)s eternal love God must have an object which is also eternal. His Son and his Spirit are such objects” [E. Y. Mullins, The Christian Religion in Its Doctrinal Expression (Nashville: Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1917), pp. 208-209]. The relationship that exists within God himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit enabled God’s love to operate even before there was a physical creation. Thankfully his love led him to create us in order that we might have fellowship with him, also.

So God is personal. He is defined by the loving relationship that exists within himself as Holy Trinity. One characteristic by which a sound and loving relationship is defined is good communication. Throughout Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples as recorded in the Fourth Gospel he stresses the fact of the communication that goes on between the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and the disciples of Jesus. That’s right—the disciples of Jesus enter into the conversation, too, and that is so very important for the living of our lives. So for example we see the following sayings.

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. (14:10)

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (14:23)

I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 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. (14:25-26)

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (15:15)

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 he 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. (16:12-14)

Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (17:25-26)

The Father communicated his words to Jesus and Jesus shared his Father’s heart with his disciples through his words and works. The words of the Father and the Son are communicated with the Spirit and the Spirit in turn communicates those truths with God’s children, the disciples of Jesus. The same Holy Spirit that God gave to those original disciples he also gives to us who are alive here today. Just as Jesus spoke God’s word to his disciples so does the Holy Spirit speak God’s word to us. And that word is always pointing back to Jesus, teaching us and reminding us of who Jesus revealed God to be and teaching us and reminding us of how God’s love is still operating in our lives.

We Christians are disciples of Christ. Our goal in life is always to be becoming more and more Christ-like in all that we do and in the ways that we approach our lives. How meaningful it is to know, then, that God has given us the Holy Spirit to communicate his truth to us. When the truth is communicated from the Father and the Son to the Spirit and then from the Spirit to us, what is the content of that truth? The general answer is that the Spirit communicates to us whatever is true about Jesus and whatever we need to know for the living of our lives. Surely, though, there is no more important aspect of that truth than the truth of the love of God as it was expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In the cross of Christ we see the truth about the nature of God’s love and the truth about Jesus. Jesus truly and fully showed us who God is when he died on the cross for our sins. And in the event of the cross of Christ God’s love was most fully seen. We also see in the cross that God is a suffering God because of his love. As Jurgen Moltmann has put it,
It is only from the perspective of the trinitarian God that we can claim that ‘God is love,’ because love is never alone. Instead, it brings together those who are separate while maintaining their distinctive characters. From the perspective of the triune God, one can say, along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘only a suffering God can help.’ The God who is with us and for us in his suffering love can understand us and redeem us [Jurgen Moltmann, “The Triune God: Rich in Relationships,”, p. 1].

The cross shows us the suffering love of God. The Son suffered as he gave his life for the sins of others, the Father suffered as he had to let his Son die, and no doubt the Spirit expressed that suffering in groans too deep for us to fathom [Moltmann, p. 2]. Such a suffering God also suffers with us in our pain and in our trials. But it is exactly our relationship with the Triune God that gives us what we need to persevere and to maintain hope no matter what is going on in our lives. Just as the suffering of Jesus was fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus, so is our suffering fulfilled in our future resurrection. But our hard times have meaning in the here and now as well. God is with us in all that we go through and God works through all that we experience to form us into truly Christ-like disciples. That’s what the Spirit knows from the Father and the Son and that is what he teaches us as we live our lives.


The Beast said...

Drawing from your point of the eternal love of God in the relationships of the persons of the Trinity, this debunks the notion that God created humankind because of His lonliness.

Some profs at SBTS have been engaged in lively discussions over the issues of subordination between the persons of the Trinity. Cleary, Christ was subdordinate during his earthly ministry, but what about post-ascension? It is a fascinating discussion.

Finally, if you have not read Bruce Ware's "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," I would recommend it for your congregation as an excellent break down of the roles of the Trinity.


Mike Ruffin said...

Thanks, Philip. I will take a look at that book. On this as on all subjects, I need all the help I can get.

I'm not sure that we can defend the idea that God created humanity because he was lonely. Perhaps it was important to God (in God's fullness, of course), that human beings be created so that God could be loved voluntarily. Of course, there are problems with that notion, too. If the
Calvinists are right, is love for God actually freely chosen? Also, would it be possible for one person of the Trinity to choose not to love another person of the Trinity? I mean, I hear folks say all the time that Jesus willingly accepted the cross because he loved and wanted to obey the Father. Could he have said "No"? And would that have been a rejection of the love between the Father and him?

My head spins.