“Holy, holy, holy, Merciful and Mighty, God in three persons blessed Trinity…….”
What comes to mind when you think about God? There was a time when people in North America took for granted what we thought about God. It was assumed when you said the word “God” that everyone was talking about the same thing. But now “God” is one of the most contested ideas we have. Political parties are divided over the concept of God and the worldview that God – or lack of God – defines. Churches split based on what is meant when they say “God.” We shape the habits and rituals of our lives around our concept of “God.”
Is God this big parent in the sky? Or some judgmental being who wants us to walk around in fear and guilt? Is God a distant watchmaker who set the world in motion and is letting it tick away on its own? What comes to mind when you think about God?
A.W. Tozer in a small book entitled The Knowledge of the Holy wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Our religious traditions are shaped in large part based on how we have come to define God. Religion is no greater than its idea of God.
If you were to ask most church-going people about their vision of God, they would paint for you this vision of God as an isolated ruling monarch who sits up in the heavens. He/she might be a benevolent grandparent or judgmental tyrant based on how your particular religious community has spoken about God. But most of us have this vision of God that is static.
Unless you read the novel The Shack or watched the movie. The character in The Shack encounters God as Trinity. In the next few minutes we will discover how the teaching of the Trinity helps us understand how God is in relationship with us and how we are to be in relationship with one another. We will be challenged to live out our Trinitarian faith through community shaping love.
The language around our faith and our beliefs about God come through our experience with God. Our encounter with God shapes our beliefs about God. This is why the Christian faith is an experiential faith.
Like the Jewish people, Christians believe that God is one. The confession of faith in the Old Testament is “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4). Without abandoning this tradition, the early church attempted to make sense of their encounter with Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit as an experience with the same God. They engaged with God in particular ways throughout their shared experience.
The biblical writers of the first century didn’t have a Trinity doctrine but what they did have was a way of writing and speaking about God that was Trinitarian in experience. It took the church 300 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus to formulate a doctrine around the concept of the Trinity.
In 325 AD Emperor Constantine convened a council in the city of Nicaea, located in what is now northwest Turkey. It is there that the church formulated a historic statement of belief that has become known as the Nicene Creed. The creed set forth the key affirmations about the Christian belief on God and served as a guide in combating false teaching. It is the second oldest creed of the church.
Why is it important that we understand the Trinity? How do we understand the Trinity? The Trinity teaches us that God is a relational being. God is a community of persons – Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. If God is relational in God-self, then it demonstrates how God has chosen to deal with us – through relationship.
This is what Paul is telling us in Romans 8: 14 – 17.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:14-17 NRSV
The God of infinite time and space is eternally personal. Through the Spirit of God, we are invited to call the God of the galaxies “Daddy.” Jesus came to change our minds about God. Through his life, death, and resurrection we discover a God who will go to whatever length – even death on a cross – to show us that He longs for relationship. And when we didn’t have the faith to believe, God gave God’s Spirit to us. God’s love sees us as no different as Jesus. We are co-heirs with Jesus in God’s family.
The Trinity seen through Romans 8 and the rest of the New Testament, reveal to us a God who is passionately determined to be present with the world. Seeing God as Trinity is a reminder that God’s disposition toward the world is love. John 3:16 tells us “For God so loved the world…..” and in case we don’t get what he means by love, John 3:17 says, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Relationships are not built on condemnation.
Love implies relationship. A relationship is love in action. To say that God is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer is to affirm that God creates something; God redeems something; God sustains something. The something is us. We are the object of God’s love. The goal of that love is relationships.
If we are made in the image of God, then we also find our identity in relationship. We are social creatures. Scientist and mystics alike are discovering that the energy of the universe is not found in the material of the universe but in the relationship between all things. The foundational reality is relational. Everything is in relationship with everything else. This makes sense when we understand that our Creator is a relational being.
This also means that sin is best viewed in terms of broken relationships. Relationships between God and humanity, us and others, and us and creation have been damaged through sin. Salvation is restored relationship.
To confess that God exists in relationship is to acknowledge that God’s desire for humanity is restored relationships. This is the purpose of the church. The church exist as the restored goal of God’s design. The Trinity means that the church is fundamentally about relationship. The church is not a building. It is a way of being in the world.
Reverend John Buchanan, retired Presbyterian pastor, recounted one Sunday service in which he was baptizing a little boy. After the child had been baptized with water, Pastor Buchanan, following the liturgy of the church, put his hand on the little boy’s head and addressed him, “You are a child of God, sealed by the Spirit in your baptism, and you belong to Jesus Christ forever.” Unexpectedly, the little boy looked up and responded, “Uh-oh.”
The “uh-oh” was a recognition that everything had changed. He no longer belonged to just his biological family, he now belonged to the family of God. He was now being called to live out his life reflecting the self-giving love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I hope this message has been an “uh-oh” reminder that being made in the image of a relational God means we are to be intentional in our relationships.
My challenge for you this Summer is to focus on your relationships. Like our Trinitarian faith, there are three relationships we need to be purposeful with: our relationship with God, our relationship with others, and our relationship with ourselves. Make corporate worship a priority, pick a section of scripture and read through it, go on prayer walks. Be engaged with one another. Be in the moment. Step away from social media and focus on who is in front of you. Take care of yourself. Create space for silence and self-reflection.
Follow the example of the Trinity and live your life through self-giving love. Amen.
Sermon preached on Sunday, May 27, 20118 @ Gainesville First United Methodist Church, Gainesville GA