Text: May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. II Corinthians 13:14.
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
May 27, 2018
During the course of my ministry, I have served as a deacon, or an assisting priest on seven occasions. One of the things I came to discover very quickly was that in that capacity there was one Sunday each year I could always count on being assigned to preach. Trinity Sunday! St. Paul’s is the first church where I have been priest in charge which also has a deacon or an assisting priest. But what good does that do me on this day? They have all gone north for the summer.
There are two things that are clear about the Trinity. First, it has something to do with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Second, nothing else is very clear. Actually, there is a third thing that is clear as well. God has a sense of humor. For hundreds of years God tried to get Israel to acknowledge there was only one God. Finally, they did. When that reality finally got through to them, he said: “Guess what? There is only one God, but He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit!”
It is also clear from the New Testament writings that this three/one concept was never problematic for the early Christians. God had revealed Himself to them in this three-fold way and that seemed to be enough for them. But as Christianity became an increasingly gentile faith where the majority of the people worshiped several gods, this became an increasingly serious issue. Theologians turned to Greek philosophy to try to explain it. From their debates a majority view emerged which today we call “orthodoxy” and it is summarized in two creeds. The simplest one we say every Sunday – the Nicene Creed. Does anyone know the name of the other one? It is named after the man who won the debate at the Council of Nicaea. His name was Athanasius. It is much more detailed. It is found on page 864 of the Book of Common Prayer. I want you to follow me as I read a few lines, beginning with line four.
“And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost, But the Godhead of the father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, the Holy Ghost uncreate, the Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Ghost eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. “
How many of you are glad we don’t have to say this creed every Sunday? Personally, I wish the Prayer Book would allow us the option of using the Apostles Creed at the Eucharistic and not just when we say Morning Prayer. You will find it on page 96 of the Book of Common Prayer. Its text is taken straight from Scripture and states what we believe without using Greek philosophical terms that no longer make much sense to us. What bothers me the most is that one of the terms they used in the 4th Century when the creeds were developed has a slightly different meaning today than it did then.
The word I have in mind is the word “person” When we think of a person today, we think of an individual, when we refer to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, it is almost impossible for us not to think of them as three individuals. The word the early church fathers used, however, today would be better translated “persona” Its origin comes from the world of Greek theater where each actor wore a mask. It was not the kind of mask you see at Halloween, but more like the plaster masks you would see at a costume ball in the eighteenth century It had a long wooden handle for the actor to hold up to his face. Through the mask, the persona of the person enacted came through. God revealed Himself to us through three persona’s, as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit.
I find the insights from modern psychology to be helpful. Eric Berne, building on the insights of Sigmund Freud’s, id, ego and superego, refined that concept and said that every grown person has three fundamental personas within them, the child, the parent and the adult. One individual, three personas. It is certainly not a perfect analogy, but it makes the Trinity a little more comprehensible to me.
I want to conclude this sermon by reflecting on what I consider to be the primary characteristic of each of the three personas of God. These three are found in the final first of St. Paul’s second letter to the Church at Corinth. Our New Testament reading will be taken from this letter over the next six weeks. You will have often heard this last verse quoted as a benediction if you have attended many Protestant churches. Paul concludes by saying “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
A, The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul begins with the second person of the Trinity, God the Son. The chief characteristic that Paul identifies for this persona is grace. Those of you who went through catechism in preparation for confirmation will remember that grace means “unmerited favor.” We first encounter God through this persona. We meet Jesus Christ as the One whose gift of himself gives us what we don’t deserve: forgiveness and a life that is not our own. Any attempt on our part to try to earn the right to be restored to fellowship with God is impossible. Any one of us would have a better chance of paying off the national debt single handedly!
Grace embodies the whole work of redemption. God identifying Himself with us in human form, his life of service among us, his suffering and his death all for the purpose of restoring us as God’s sons and daughters.
B, The Love of God
This leads us to the central characteristic of the persona of God the Father, It is love. God is complete in and of Himself. He did not and does not need us. It was out of love that He created the universe. It was out of love that he created us, male and female in His image. It was out of love that He did not leave us to our own devices when humankind rebelled against Him, but through the Incarnation brought grace and redemption to us, restoring us as his children. Grace was the gift that God offered to us. Love was the motivation.
Because of this we know that whatever our personal circumstances may be, there is Someone who fully understands us, who recognizes our difficulties, who knows how much we want to be better than we are, who makes allowances for our weaknesses, and who thinks we matter. At the heart of the universe there is God, who accepts us as we are and does not leave us there but enables us to be all that we can be.
C, The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit
Finally, in the third persona of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit we find the purpose toward which this motivation of love is directed: Fellowship. When we think of fellowship we tend to think of what will happen after this service is over and many of us will gather in Trinity Hall for our pot-luck--as we enjoy the food and talk with one another we are “in fellowship.” That certainly is true and certainly is part of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that we enjoy.
However, the fellowship implied in Paul’s benediction is not just horizontal of people to people, but is first and foremost vertical, the relationship between God and his people. One theologian, Daniel Steele, (Daniel, not Danielle) called the Holy Spirit the Executive persona of God. The Executive is the one who carries out the plan, who gets the work done, who contacts the public. The Holy Spirit communicates the divine to us.
This is why Jesus spoke so frequently in the Gospel of John that the Holy Spirit is our Teacher. The spiritual insight to comes to us, the conviction we feel when we have sinned, when we speak out in difficult situations and feel impowered to do so, we know that the Holy Spirit has been at work within us
I always come to the end of a sermon on the Trinity realizing how inadequate are my words to describe the richness and wonder of the God we serve. I am equally aware that your own experience of God and your knowledge of the Bible lets you know that the reality is far richer and more profound than my human analogies can suggest. How can we as finite beings understand the infinite? So, I conclude by quoting another scripture from our Gospel reading this morning that says it all in a way we all can understand: “For God so love this world that His gave His only Son that whosoever believe in him should not parish but have everlasting life.” Amen