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Inner relationships - Sermon on John 16:12-15

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The Trinity is a doctrine that attempts to define what God is. What matters most however, is what God is to us.  

Please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

May 22, 2016 - Holy Trinity Sunday

"Ascended friend".  Text is from Luke 24:44-53

Click here for sermon audio

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

Father, Son and Spirit.

God in three persons.

The trinity.  

Last Sunday we celebrated an evet in the life of the church, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus Christ. Today we celebrate a doctrine that arises based on our imperfect understanding of who God is, based on the words we from the mouth of Jesus Christ as spoken through his disciples and through the writers of the gospels, handed down to us through the centuries.

And our reading today consists of four very short verses in John which come from the section of the gospel known as the Farewell Discourse, that incredibly rich and lengthy dialogue that took place during the Last Supper in which Jesus explains to his disciples what is about to occur and what shall occur after he is gone. As we know, their lives were not all sunshine and daffodils after Jesus rose, but there is certainly some comfort to be found along the course of this dialogue, found in the gospel of John, also known as the Gospel of Love. 

Jesus is leaving his friends, and the passage begins with a reminder that everything he needs to tell them is not going to be heard by them at that time. That there is a lot that will happen and Jesus will not be physically there to see that it happens. But we know that he has no intention of leaving them alone to face the world without his guidance. The Holy Spirit, who Jesus has earlier called the Paraclete or the Advocate, will be there to fill in the gaps, to lead and guide them in order that they may continue the work that Jesus had begun on earth, the building up of his church and the sharing of the good news. Furthermore, the Spirit does not act on her own, because as Jesus tells us, the things the we learn from the spirit, come directly from Jesus. While there is no clear designation of Trinitarian doctrine found in this passage, we do understand that the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit do not work apart from one another and that the work the Spirit does is filled with truth. 

In declaring the things to come, Jesus tells us that the Spirit is there to give his followers an understanding and interpretation of their experiences that reveals the mysteries that Jesus proclaimed with regard to his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and the events that follow among the community. When things happened to the early church, they would know they were happening because of the Holy Spirit working among them, and they would know that his most critical commandment, that they love one another as Jesus loved them, would see them through the hardships and help them navigate the struggles that would take place. And the love that they have for one another would be, in fact, easy because of the presence of the Holy Spirit among them. 

While early Christian fathers gained an understanding of the Trinity based on this passage, it was not the Gospel writer's intent to declare what God was, but more the role that the Holy Spirit would have in guiding those early followers in how to live out that commandment that they love each other as Jesus has loved them. 

So perhaps it may be better to not go through a long list of writings on the actual nature of the trinity, complete with charts and footnotes on the inter- and intra-relationships among the three persons, and exactly what we mean when we say one God - three persons, which I have usually found to create more questions than answers - even though that might not necessarily be a bad thing. Perhaps we should take a look at what having a God who is one and three and what that means to us, and how we relate to one another. Rather than try to figure out the ineffable mystery of how God works within God's self, we can begin to take a look at how the church solves its own inner workings, and how our relationship with a God who comes to us in different ways informs how we ought to bear out relationships with one another. It's evidently what John's intent was as he composed the Gospel. 

In the context of the church, communities of faith often find ourselves set apart by the world at large, particularly with regard to the values espoused by the world outside. I myself will often find myself shocked by the vitriol of the political conversations that go on outside, how supporters of one of the three remaining candidates will go on to talk about the other two, or even supporters of the other two in ways that I find disturbing. People are so invested in the matter of the future of politics, we are so swept up by who the potential candidates may be that they turn a blind eye to local issues, areas where they are actually able to make a real difference.

And so Christians can feel marginalized because our values and those of the world at large are so at odds with one another, and we even find ourselves at odds with people of other traditions or even with those in our own communities in terms of what it means to be living a faithful life, one that Christ has called us to live. We might not be out to do harm, but when Christians begin to cast bibles at one another, you can be sure someone's going to get hit! 

But even at the end, Jesus reminded his followers that there were things they were not yet ready to receive. That even though we have our theology and our scripture and the foundation of our faith, we do not have all the answers. That the revelation of the good news of Jesus Christ is an ongoing event, one that we keep learning as we go forward. 

And it is one that is meant to be born out in love. While the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke talk about the bifold commandment of loving the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength and soul and loving one's neighbor as one's self, John's gospel is specific: Love one another as Jesus has loved us. Living that spirit-filled life means that any conflict that we have with one another must be borne with love in our hearts, because my sisters and brothers, as more and more people find themselves less and less likely to be people of faith, it becomes even more crucial that we who are followers of a gospel of love act in accordance with that love for one another. 

One Sunday out of every year, we have an opportunity to celebrate not an event or an individual or a season but the unexplainable nature of God: the Holy Trinity, our triune God. Holy Trinity Sunday is a feast day and is the only one of the year that we are focused on a doctrine of the church, and as such, some people are going to be spending time wrapping their heads around or trying to come to some kind of understanding about what it means to have one God that is also three persons. 

But, my sisters and brothers, we don't have to. Because the good news is that understanding what God is telling us and understanding that God's spirit works through us and in us and that she impels us to act out of love and understanding that Christ's promise to us means that we need not fear the ends of our lives but that our lives go on is quite possibly enough. Our faith in the good news of Christ Jesus is good enough, and knowing how God works is not necessary to knowing that God works. 

And we, called to love one another, and demonstrating it in the actions we do for one another, are all the evidence that is needed.


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