Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
Is there something wrong with the title of this “Edit-O-Earl”? It may seem awkward to say it that way, but that is the sequence of how we all got to know God. Martin Luther wrote in his Large Catechism, “We could never come to recognize the Father’s favor and grace were it not for the Lord Jesus Christ, who is a mirror of the Father’s heart…but neither could we know anything of Christ, had it not been revealed by the Holy Spirit.”
A British pastor, named Colin Morris, once said that any preacher with good sense will call in sick on Trinity Sunday. Brother Morris was likely referring to the fact that the doctrine of the Trinity is incomprehensible, if not boring, so why should we have to preach on a Sunday that is dedicated to it. A really good answer to that question might turn into a really good Trinity Sunday sermon! One of the best illustrations of the meaning of the teaching that I have ever seen was offered by Frederick Buechner in Listening to Your Life:
“The much-maligned doctrine of the Trinity is an assertion that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, there is only one God.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit mean that the mystery beyond us, the mystery among us and the mystery within us are all the same mystery. Thus the Trinity is a way of saying something about us and the way we experience God.
The Trinity is also a way of saying something about God and the way He is within Himself, i.e., God does not need the Creation in order to have something to love because within Himself love happens. In other words, the love of God is love not as a noun but as a verb. This verb is reflexive as well as transitive.
If the idea of God as both Three and One seems far-fetched and obfuscating, look in the mirror someday.
There is (a) the interior life known only to yourself and those to whom you choose to communicate it (the Father). There is (b) the visible face that in some measure reflects that interior life (the Son). There is (c) the invisible power that you have in order to communicate that interior life in such a way that others do not merely know about it, but know it in the sense of its becoming part of who they are (the Holy Spirit). Yet what you are looking at in the mirror is clearly and indivisibly the one and only you.”
I have long maintained that the doctrine or teaching of the Trinity is best described as God’s chosen way of revealing Himself to us. To say that it is somehow the totality of God–everything there is to know about Him in some perfect form–is to assume that the finite can comprehend the Infinite and I
am not willing to make that assumption. I don’t presume to second-guess God. I just think we ought to be asking: “What does the doctrine of the Trinity most clearly reveal to us about God?”
First of all, I will admit that just asking the question reveals a host of presuppositions on my part. These include: 1. The notion or idea of the Trinity exists somewhere (it’s in the Bible). 2. God wants us to know something about Himself. This is important because, unless you agree that the Bible is God’s Word in human words, then the whole question is moot. Similarly, if your god is an aloof, standoffish, exalted and self-sufficient deity, with no need and no desire to communicate anything about itself to anyone or anything else, then the question becomes absurd!
You see, many human beings suffer from what has been called “Rhett Butler Syndrome”–no matter what it is–frankly (Miss Scarlet), they don’t give an expletive deleted! And they create their god in their own image!
Fortunately, as William Willimon once wrote, “God’s greatest ‘godness’ is that God is so little like our idea of who God ought to be.” The very existence of a notion or idea of God as Triune, found unmistakably in His Word to us, suggests that God wants us to know something about Himself. More significant even than that, He wants us to know Him! Willimon added that, “As believers we can be glad that our God is, among all gods, distinguished for His loquaciousness. Israel’s God loves to talk, likes nothing better than, in word and deed, to communicate, commune, speak and thus make community. As Paul says, ‘Faith comes from hearing.’ So does the church. If God had not been talkative, we wouldn’t be here. We, the church, are the creation of Divine communication.”
Now, for the most fascinating lesson from the doctrine of the Trinity, I can turn you once again to the previous quote from Frederick Buechner. He said, “God does not need the Creation in order to have something to love because within Himself love happens.” The very words “Father” and “Son” are descriptive of relationship and caring to say nothing of love itself.
When the teaching suggests that the Son became a human being, we are confronted with the absurdity–had it been suggested by anyone other than God Himself–that God would lower Himself to dirty His hands in human flesh and walk the streets of a city from which one of His best friends could not imagine anything good coming. But the Son went further than that. He went all the way to the cross…for His friends…for us. In His own words, no one has greater love than that.
Then there is the notion of the Holy Spirit being willing to take up residence inside normal, sinful, human beings. The God who is the Holy Trinity is dynamic, relational, self-giving, self-disclosing and self-communicating. Willimon said, “Here is a God who is always willing to stoop.”
The Hebrew word for grace implies bending or stooping, a posture consistent with bestowing unmerited kindness or undeserved favor. In Romans, Paul says that we gain access to God’s grace through Jesus and all “because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” The image of the Father stooping to pour out the Holy Spirit into us, giving us faith in Jesus and, thereby, access to His grace completes the picture of the singular activity of One God, who is revealed as three distinct Persons.
In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus promises His disciples that the Spirit of Truth will guide them into all truth. Have you ever heard of a half-truth? I have an example of one from the comedy routines of Burns and Allen. I don’t remember if I heard the routine or read something about it. I have heard that memory is the second thing to go…or was it the first? I forget now. Anyway, this is the story.
Gracie complained to George that her new clock didn’t work right. He pointed out to her that it wasn’t plugged in. She replied, “I know that! I didn’t want to waste electricity, so I only plug it in when I want to know what time it is!”
That’s the way a lot of people treat the Holy Spirit–the Power Source of the Christian faith. They complain that their faith doesn’t work for them, but the only time they “plug in” is when they want something.
An article in The Clergy Journal said this: “God the Father has invited us to a grand party (otherwise known as heaven). The price of admission has been paid for us by Jesus, the Son, in His death. And the Holy Spirit is constantly at work to continue to call us into a community that lets others know that the party is being thrown for them as well. See you there.” It is a wonderful look at the mission: letting others know that the party is being thrown for them as well.