This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Trinity Sunday, 6/16/19. The text was John 16:12-15.
This is Holy Trinity Sunday. What comes to mind when you think of the Trinity—questions, confusion, a puzzle, a mystery? It seems to me that just when you think you have a bit of understanding, it all starts to unravel as you think of something else. This is a difficult concept to wrap our minds around. For centuries, the early church struggled with a right and proper interpretation and understanding as they formulated the doctrine of the Trinity.
The more I read, the more I see the wisdom of Dr. Jerry Christianson who taught The Early Church and its Creeds my first year of seminary. He explained the Trinity as a love relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Just as God is all about relationship, so too the Christian life is all about relationship: our relationship with God, our relationship with each other and our relationship with our community.
John’s gospel gives us a portrait of the three persons of the Trinity. Jesus speaks of himself, of the Spirit’s activities and of the Father. This is not some exclusive club or fraternity, but a dynamic love relationship that longs to be shared.
God invites Jesus’ disciples into the dance of Trinity. Jesus’ ascension was not the end of his time with his disciples. That is because of Jesus’ promise of the coming Holy Spirit, who would ensure they were not left alone. The Holy Spirit would be like Jesus to the disciples because of the Spirit’s work and relationship to Jesus and the Father.
What are the benefits the Holy Spirit would bring? Jesus promised that when the Holy Spirit came, he would do three things for the disciples and later for us. The first benefit is that he would guide the disciples into all truth. Earlier, Jesus had told those who believed, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John. 8:31-32). This would ultimately be realized in the ongoing ministry of the Spirit to the disciples after Jesus’ departure.
The second benefit is that the things spoken by the Holy Spirit would not originate with the Spirit. “He will not speak on his own” (v. 13). Jesus is the source, and he continues to speak to his disciples through the Spirit which dwells within them. The Father speaks to Jesus, who speaks to the Spirit, who guides God’s people into all truth. Jesus might as well be saying to the disciples, “It will be just like having me around.”
The third benefit is that the Spirit “will declare…the things that are to come” (v. 13). This doesn’t mean that the disciples would know everything that would happen in the future. The Holy Spirit would proclaim the teachings of Jesus to the disciples in the new and changing circumstances of their lives. In other words, Jesus’ words are not locked in the disciples’ past, restricted to a particular historic time. The promise is that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the community of faith will ensure that all our futures are open to fresh proclamations of Jesus’ word.
What does this all mean for us today? The descriptions of the Holy Spirit for contemporary Christian communities of faith point to ways in which the Spirit enables past, present and future to converge in the life of the church. The Spirit enables the words of Jesus to become fresh in ever-changing circumstances. The Holy Spirit is the guarantee that the words of Jesus will always be available as fresh words for any and all kinds of futures. And so, we are not alone.
I cannot help but think of Bishop John Macholz and his wife, Linda at this time of the passing of their younger child, Barbie. I’m sure this is not the future they envisioned for her as an adult when they dreamed of what she would one day become. I’m also sure that this is not the future Barbie and her husband, Matt envisioned as they dreamed together about their future life. I cannot imagine the pain the entire family is experiencing, especially that of the bishop and Linda, that of parents losing a child. So, we continue to pray for Barbie’s family and friends as they adjust to yet another new normal. May God surround them with his love and care in the coming days. They are not alone.
God gives us all we need to do and live the way God wants us to live. We don’t have to understand all the ins and outs of God or the Trinity or theology in order to partake of God’s wisdom and power. However, we do need to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to face the issues of our time, many of which were unheard of in Jesus’ day. What would Jesus say to us today about gun violence, drug addiction, seemingly endless war, partisan politics, immigration, towns leveled by tornadoes…you name it. Our world seems hopelessly long on woes and woefully short on hope. We need to trust the Spirit to give the believing community, not necessarily the individual, the words Jesus would want us to hear.
The future is open and requires our discernment, our listening, watching for and trusting so that God can continue to reveal Godself through the Spirit of Truth. We can trust that this God Jesus has shown us is still at work for our enlightening and strength to continue on. There may be truths we cannot bear, but in our journey, God accompanies us along the way.
God calls us beloved because of what Christ has done for us. God desires that we be in relationship with God, just as the members of the Trinity are in relationship with each other. It’s like a cosmic dance of inter-relatedness into which God calls us to participate because God loves us so very much.
How shall we respond? Will we keep God at arm’s length or shall we jump into the joy of the dance of the Trinity? If we enter in, will we allow our joy to spill over so that it touches those around us or will we keep it to ourselves?
Let us celebrate this relationship into which God has invited us, which makes us who we are as God’s beloved. May we declare this message of right relationship and love to the entire world. How might our world look different if we were to do that as a congregation, as the ELCA, as all of God’s people throughout the entire world? “And I think to myself, what a wonderful world” (Songwriters: George Weiss / Robert Thiele).
Sarah Heinrich, workingpreacher.org
David Lose, workingpreacher.org
New English Translation, notes
Gail R. O’Day, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX: Luke, John
Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com