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Trinity Sunday
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, May 31, 2015

The Trinity of Love

TEXT: John 3:16

Today is Trinity Sunday. So I am going to talk about the Holy Trinity. I hope you will come away with the understanding that the Holy Trinity is of real-world significance. It is not just an obscure or musty doctrine. It is about who God is, and why He does what He does.

A few weeks ago, a church in England invited a nearby Muslim congregation to an “inclusive” prayer service in their sanctuary. The Christian pastor participated in the service. In order not to offend the Muslims, he covered up all the Christian symbols in the church. As he introduced the service, the pastor said, “...let us celebrate our shared traditions by giving thanks to the God that we love, Allah, amen.”

I will not even attempt to address all the ways this was misguided and naive. But on this Trinity Sunday, I do want emphatically to point out that this God we worship, this Father, Son and Holy Spirit whom we love, is not the god the Muslims call “Allah.” This is not just my opinion. Nor is it just conservative Christian theology. You can ask any Muslim, who will tell you that the Christian concept of God being Father, Son and Holy Spirit is repulsive to Islam. They will tell you we Christians worship three gods. And they will tell you as well that Jesus is not God, He is not divine, and He is not God’s Son.

We do agree with the Muslims and the Jews that there is only one God.

•   We embrace the truth set forth in the Hebrew scriptures that says: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

•   We embrace God’s own self-description in Isaiah: “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God...” (Isaiah 45:5)

But God has also revealed to us that He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit—one God in three persons. This is fundamental to who God is. To worship a god that is not Father, Son and Holy Spirit is to worship somebody else.

The expression “Holy Trinity” never appears in the Bible. But in many places God reveals Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The question for the early Christians was, “What do we do with that?” It took them almost 300 years to sort it out. But what they were able to discern from the scripture was that:

•   God is three persons.

•   Each one is fully God.

•   There is one God.

It is a mystery, but a delicious one—one that blesses us with a glimpse into the nature of God.

One of the places we see the Father and the Son together is at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9) Another is at the Baptism of Jesus. And in fact the Baptism of Jesus is one of the places where we see all three persons of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, at the same time. (See, e.g., Luke 3:21-22) And if you will also remember the Great Commission, Jesus sent the disciples out to baptize all nations in the name of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

In this morning’s reading from the Gospel of John, we saw another revelation about God the Father and God the Son. John 3:16 is probably the most quoted verse in the whole Bible:

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The reason this verse is so often quoted is that these words of Jesus capsulize the Gospel in just a few words.

•   God loves us.

•   We need a savior.

•   God sacrificed His Son to save us.

•   We receive that salvation by believing in Him.

•   And the promise for the believer is eternal life, a life of high purpose and everlasting joy in God’s presence.

But let’s focus on the first part of that statement. God “so loved the world.” Love is the essential quality of God. The Bible tells us that God is love. (I John 4:16)

•   Love was the motivation for God’s creation of the world.

•   Love was the motivation for God’s revelation of His word.

•   Love is the reason for God’s patience in not giving up on this world.

•   Love is the motivation for God’s saving work to redeem the world.

Love is who God is.If love is who God is, that helps us understand the Holy Trinity. Love requires a beloved. Love is meaningless without someone to love. And that is what we see in the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From all eternity, God is love. And from all eternity, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have been bound together as one in love. The Word of God opens that up to us in both the Baptism of Jesus and the Transfiguration. In both cases, we see the Father saying, “This is my Son, whom I love.” (See Luke 3:21; Mark 9:7) And another time, Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” (John 15:9)

Because God is love, He created a world upon which He lavishes His love. He created humankind in His own image, so that He could love us, and we could love Him, and love one another. God directed His chosen people, whom He loved, to love Him back:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. [Deuteronomy 6:4-5]

It was a command. And why would God command this? God commands it in order for us to know that this is what we were made for. The Creator is giving us His blueprints. “I made you in my image, and I am love. So if you are going to be what you were made to be, you will love.”

•   That is why Jesus told us that to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind is the greatest commandment .

•   And that is why He said the second great commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

•   And that is why Jesus told us to love one another as He loves us. (John 15:17)

•   And that is why He told us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:44)

All of this comes from the character of God, and from His gracious act of creating us in His image.

We are surrounded by acts of love. I saw a TV show this week about prosthetic limbs for animals. One of the animals featured was a border collie who was born without the bottom half of his hind legs. The family who owned him didn’t have the heart to put him down, so they raised him with love. When he was five months old, a veterinarian had some artificial legs made to attach to his stumps. We saw him walk for the first time. It was amazing. He took to his legs as if they had been there all along. Within minutes, he was running joyfully across the meadow just like any border collie.

In the scheme of things, it seems small to point to a family’s love for its pet as an example of God’s love. But think about it. How different the world would be if there were no God and no love. A dog would be just a piece of animal flesh. Why would you spend money on making his life worthwhile?

If God were not love and had not created us in His image, imagine how cold the world would be.

•   No one would be there for you when you are lonely or depressed or sick.

•   Those people buried by the earthquakes in Nepal would not have had search and rescue teams all the way from Fairfax, Virginia digging them out of the debris.

•   Those prisoners at Buckingham Prison would be left alone without the Good News brought to them by Kairos ministers.

Or turn it around the other way. Because God is love and because He created humankind in His image,

•   we have hospitals,

•   we have universities,

•   we have prayer chains,

•   we have thrift shops that give away clothes when a family gets burned out of their home;

•   we have people who come alongside the mentally ill;

•   we have people who give generously so that the poor may have food and shelter.

Are you thinking that a lot of the good things I have mentioned are not necessarily the acts of Christians who love the Lord? Well, if God is love, and if He created humankind in His image, there will be a residue of that love popping up everywhere in this world. We see atheists doing acts of love, even the ones who claim that the only law of the universe is survival of the fittest. Professor Rodney Brooks of MIT wrote a book called Flesh and Machines. In that book he writes that human beings are nothing more than machines, a “big bag of skin full of biomolecules” interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry. (quoted from Nancy Pearcey, Finding Truth, p. 164 (David Cook, Colorado Springs 2015.)) And yet he admits that his children have his unconditional love. He admits that love doesn’t fit his mechanistic worldview, but he can’t help himself.

So then, why is the world also filled with indifference and hatred and prejudice and violence? Why this incredible contradiction? The answer is simple if you listen to God explain it in His Word. The world has rejected Him, and has gone its own sinful ways. That is why we need a savior, and that is why the Father, in His love, has sent His only Son, whom He loves.

Now those who don’t accept Jesus as Lord constantly object to the exclusive claim of Christianity that Jesus is the only way to salvation. The reason we say that is that Jesus said so. “I am the way, the truth and the life. There is no way to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Even a lot of Christians fudge on those words of Jesus. They don’t have a good answer to those who challenge this as unloving exclusivity. But there is a good answer.

What has gone wrong is that our love relationship with God—our intimacy with God— has been destroyed by sin. Just as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden were close with God but lost that closeness when they ate the forbidden fruit; humanity has lost the closeness with God for which He made us. He still loves us.

•   But our communication with Him has been interrupted.

•   Our ability to understand Him has been impaired.

•   Our willingness to listen to Him has left us.

What kind of a love relationship is that?

Is it repairable? Yes! But only God can repair it. If we could do it, the world would have been fixed a long time ago. That is why God sent His one and only Son. He came to reconcile us to Himself.

A friend of mine had a son whom she had not heard from in over 20 years. For all those years the mother’s heart broke every day, because she loved her son. She missed him. She remembered how close they once were. But he got into drugs and had some scrapes with the law. In his shame, he never came home. He couldn’t face his parents. He was probably afraid that they didn’t want to see him, or that they would judge him and say bad things about him.

So what was a mother to do? One day, she got word as to where he was. In fact, he was just a couple of hundred miles away. She wrote him a letter. But he never responded. He probably never even opened it. After another year or so, she decided to take a radical step. She got in the car and she drove to the town where he lived. And she went up and knocked on his door. And when he came to the door, she said, “I love you, son, and I forgive you for all that you have done. Please come back into the family.”

God had the same heartbreak when we went our own way and turned our back on Him. He waited patiently for us. He wrote us a letter. We call it the Bible. And then, because He loves us so much, He came and knocked on our door. And for all who accept His love, He gives the gift of new life, and restored relationship with Him. And it doesn’t matter who we are. Jesus said, “ that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” How inclusive is that?

Next time someone says Christianity has a narrow vision of salvation, ask them what they mean by salvation. Many people have an image of salvation as a blissful afterlife in which you get everything you want. But think about how that would be if it didn’t include a loving relationship with Jesus. In that kind of heaven, eternity would be a mighty long time. If it were all about you and not about God, getting everything you want would become old pretty fast. And then instead of eternal life, it would become eternal boredom. But for those who believe in Jesus, eternal life is a love relationship that deepens and grows and blossoms forever.

And it doesn’t wait until the other side of the grave. It is there for us now. It begins when we accept God’s love and believe in the Son whom He sent. As God redeems the world, He redeems people one at a time. And He gives them love, joy, peace, purpose and abundant life, even in the midst of a world ravaged by sin.

So why does the Holy Trinity help us understand who God is? Because God is love. Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

© Jeffrey O. Cerar 2015

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