Three in One

Text: John 16: 15

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Priest-in-Charge

May 22, 2016

“All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I have said that the Holy Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Introduction

Back in the dim shadows of my mind, I remember the name of a TV show from the 1950’s entitled “I live three lives.” It was based on a true story about an American who was a Communist spy during the cold war. At least that was what the Russians thought. In reality he was a double agent for in reality he was spying on the Soviet Union, giving their secrets to the State Department and the CIA. He was also a family man, who went to church every Sunday, worked a regular job as a traveling salesman and whose family had no idea of his other activities.

The whole point of the program was to demonstrate how one man could live out the identities of three different persons. The show got a little complicated at times, but it was based in the reality of how the real double agent was able to live out his life as three separate selves with only a handful of people aware of what he was doing.

A couple of years later in 1957, a book entitled The Three Faces of Eve was published. It documented the life of a young lady who had three separate personalities that seemed to be totally unaware of each other. The book created a great sensation about the Pentecostal circles in which I traveled at the time. There was much speculation that the young lady represented a classic case of demon possession. Very little was known about multiple personality disorder at the time.

Today, of course, we have a much better understanding of Eve’s situation. It is but an extreme form of what is normal in all of us. Let me give you a couple examples from my own experience. Shortly after I was ordained, my bishop called the library at the Methodist Seminary were I was working. The bishop asked my secretary that he would like to speak to Father Faupel. “Father Who?” my astonished secretary asked as she promptly dropped the phone that crashed on her desk. Marty was merely representative of most of my seminary colleagues who could hardly comprehend me in the role of an Anglican priest.

Shortly after Bonnie and I were married, we took her son and daughter-in-law to a day at King’s Island outside Cincinnati. Gradually I began to relax and let my hair down. (I still had hair back then). Soon I felt like a kid again. When I got off the BEAST, the stand-up roller-coaster, Michael turned to his mother and said, “If someone had bet me a thousand dollars that Bill would go on that thing, I would have turned him down.” All of us find ourselves in a variety of situations and roles which call forth different personalities. We move back and forth between them with ease.

I.

Today is Trinity Sunday. All of the illustrations I’ve given are certainly not representations of the Trinity, but rather examples how we deal with a three/one reality within the human personality. It is a helpful way for me to begin to understand the Trinity.

In truth, for two thousand years Christians have tried, with varying degrees of success, to understand the mystery of the Triune God, one in being, three in personhood: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We had seen the Trinity represented in a variety of ways such as a triangle inside of a circle or as the three states of H2O: gas. water and ice. I don’t know about you, but I have not found these explanations to be particularly helpful.

When I was growing up, my parents became part of a Pentecostal tradition that understood the Trinity in terms of modalism. This view taught that the One God revealed himself as Father in the Hebrew Scriptures, as Son in the New Testament, and as Holy Spirit in the Church age. When I went to seminary I discovered the Church Fathers had declared such a view to be heresy back in the fourth century.

In more recent years the triune God has been represented as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Such a view of God is helpful in understanding what God does, but that is just it. This depicts a diversified job description, one God wearing three hats rather than three persons.

All of the models I have just described emphasizes the unity of God. The personhood of God recedes into the background.

II.

When we turn to the Bible, especially our New Testament, however, we find that the opposite is emphasized. There the personhood of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is set forth. Since Easter the Gospel reading each Sunday has been taken from John. In five of the seven weeks, including today’s, the reading his from our Lord’s famous farewell address given to his disciples on the night before he died.

In that discussion, Jesus says a lot about his Father and about the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will live among his disciples when he has ascended to the Father. He closes the conversation with a prayer that his disciples might be one in the same way that he and the father are one.

In that prayer the unity of God is expressed in very much the same way that the Bible says that unity is found in the marriage relationship “and the two shall be one flesh.” In marriage the personhood of each individual is maintained while the unity is found in a common purpose and common life together. The God who is revealed in the Bible is three persons, three personalities, three centers of being; each respecting the other, each working together in unity of purpose toward a common goal.

When we talk about the triune God we are talking about relationships. Relationships that involve love, commitment, pain, and outward extension toward all of creation.

Will any of us ever fully understand the Trinitarian nature of God? Not in this life. One thing we do know, however, the Triune God is the very opposite of the multiple personality. Each person in the Trinity is fully conscious of the other; all work together for the common good; all are extending themselves to others, bringing about redemption not only to human beings but to all creation.

Thanks be to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.