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The music this week is from the Music Group. The Communications Team, the AV Team, the Music Group and Piggery Brae have all contributed greatly to the production of these videos. We hope you enjoy. Auto-generated Closed Captions are available.
Today is Trinity Sunday (which is the first Sunday after Pentecost). Today we celebrate the doctrine of the Trinity: the three persons of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We touched upon this in my last reflection in May. Today we ask, “Who is God?”
In the Old Testament we learn of the God of all Creation who is also the God of Israel. The people of Israel were God’s chosen people. Our New Testament focus is on the life and teaching of Jesus who is Son of God. This is the Messiah whom the prophets spoke of in the Old Testament. And then we have the Holy Spirit whom Jesus said to his disciples would be with them always. As I asked last month, is the Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit one in the same?
Both our readings this morning clearly mention the Holy Trinity.
If we look at Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, we read in Mark 1: 10-11:
As soon as Jesus came out of the water, he saw heaven opening and the Spirit coming down like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”Mark 1: 10-11
What is the significance of these two verses? In the act of Jesus’ baptism, who is present? We have Jesus, we have God the Father speaking from heaven, and we have the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove. All three of the Holy Trinity are present. And the significance of Jesus’ identity is immense. He is no ordinary guy. We talk of Christology – who Jesus was and is. He is a historical character – he was born in Bethlehem, he lived in Galilee and he died on a Roman cross near Jerusalem. But he is far more. He is of the same essence as God and the Holy Spirit. He is God on earth, and, as the risen Christ, He ascended into Heaven and His Holy Spirit lives within us, beside us and among us. Our faith helps us makes sense of this divine Holy Trinity. Remembering the words of St Thomas Aquinas:
To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary.Attributed to St Thomas Aquinas
John Calvin, the greater Protestant reformer, defined faith as a firm and sure knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us. For both these men, faith goes far beyond our understanding.
Calvin believed in the free grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are led to trust in God, call on God for everything we lack, thank God for everything we have received, and obey God from the inmost affection of the heart, in order to be drawn to and united with God in eternal life. For Calvin, faith was more of the heart than of the mind. Believers are persuaded of what they do not grasp because the Spirit has changed their hearts.
Returning to our question: Who is God? In the First Letter of John Chapter 4 verse 8 we read “God is love”. This is the shortest, most intense description of the divine identity of God we can offer. Love.
Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians which we heard read:
“live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a brotherly kiss.”Corinthians
Maybe that’s something we all long for after this period of social distancing? Maybe also the recent events in America and the unlawful death of George Floyd makes us realise how broken our world is. How much the world screams out for tolerance, acceptance, kindness and love right now. Even in this 21st century we have a pandemic of racism.
The entire Christian Bible – that great story we hear every Sunday – is the filling out of that one little word: Love. Richard Bauckham, the New Testament scholar writes:
“The Bible tells us what sort of love God is, by telling the story of God’s love for us. It tells how God created the world out of love, and the story of how God continued to love the world he had created and got involved with it in his love for us. It tells how even when we rejected God’s love and spoiled God’s world with evil, still God went on loving us and did all he could to rescue us from evil and to win our love for him. That’s the Old Testament story of God’s involvement with the people of Israel. It’s the story that comes to a climax with Jesus, when God in his love for us sent his Son to be actually one of us, to live a human life with us and to die for us. It’s the story that continues with God’s loving presence in the Holy Spirit, in the church, in our lives. The story of God’s love for the world goes on: we’re part of it.
The story tells us who God is because we see what kind of love God is. God is self-giving love. He doesn’t just sit up in heaven and wish us well. He gets involved with us in his love for us. He gives himself for us in costly self-sacrifice in Jesus’ suffering and death for us. He gives himself to us when he gives us his Holy Spirit as the gift of himself present with us in our lives. ‘God is love’ means that God gives himself – for us and to us. That is God’s nature.”Richard Bauckham
And that is the doctrine of the Trinity. In telling the biblical story of God’s acts, we are told the truth about God’s nature. God’s identity. God’s love. He is the God who gives himself for us and to us. He is the Father who sends the Son and breathes the Holy Spirit.
Richard Bauckham again writes
“the doctrine of the Trinity is what we must believe if we really grasp that amazing truth of the Gospel: that God himself in his love has really come into our world as Jesus Christ and that God himself in his love has really come into our own experience as the Holy Spirit.”Richard Bauckham
The doctrine of the Trinity isn’t a mere mental formula that brings God within the grasp of our minds. Not at all. The doctrine of the Trinity takes us into the mystery of who God is, but it does not explain or dispel the mystery. Remembering the words of St Thomas Aquinas: To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. When we know God as Trinity we truly know God, but we by no means understand God.
God the Trinity is the love we find in Jesus Christ and experience in the Holy Spirit. Amen.