Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The Trinity


I don’t often read things for the sermon but I want to start of today reading this quote from CS Lewis. For those of you who may not be familiar with CS Lewis, Lewis was a confirmed atheist when he taught at Oxford in the mid 1900s. He became close friends with JR Tolkien - the writer of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy who was an avid believer in Christ. It was through conversations with Tolkien that Lewis became to believe, although CS Lewis wrote he came to Christianity “kicking and screaming and looking for a way to escape” but Lewis became a well respected theologian and writer about Christ. Most people are familiar with Lewis who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia series which is an analogy of Christianity. . Anyway in talking about the trinity, CS Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity:

"What I mean is this." he writes, "An ordinary simple Christian
kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with
God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him
to pray is also God: God so to speak, inside him. But he also knows
that all real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was
God - that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray,
praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to
which he is praying - the goal he is trying to reach. God is also
the thing inside him which is pushing him on - the motive power.
God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to
that goal. The whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is
actually going on in that ordinary act of prayer.”

So we can get a picture of just how confusing a concept is our belief in the Trinity - in a Trinitarian God - a God who is one, yet a God who is three. It just doesn’t make sense - yet an essential part of what we believe.

Today is a Sunday called Trinity Sunday. Last week we talked about celebrating special days in the church. And we mentioned the 4 most important days which were: Christmas, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. Each of these days, calls us to remember an event - something that happened. Trinity Sunday is one of the few Sundays that wants us to stop and think about a doctrine of the church - a specific belief that we have about God. It is strategically placed after the others because in a way Trinity Sunday sort of sums up what has happened on the other days - At Christmas we have the coming of God to earth in human form, on Easter and Ascension we celebrate the rising of Jesus and on Pentecost is the coming of the Holy Spirit. So in those other days, we recognize the elements of the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So now that we have heard about all three parts of the Trinity, we celebrate their special day - or more clearly, we struggle to figure out this special nature of God.

The trinity is that belief that God is one - “The Lord Your God is One God” - yet God is three - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is one and God is three. How can that be??
So people have tried various different ways to try and explain it:
Here we have the shamrock (image on screen) because this was the stumbling block St Patrick was having with the Irish in bringing them to faith - they couldn’t deal with the concept of Trinity. So he used the Shamrock - one Shamrock - yet three lobes - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The very early church fathers in the third Century tried the idea of masks (use three masks) - that God put on different masks at different times as he acted out the different roles.
The butterfly analogy has been used (show slide). The caterpillar, the chrysalis and the butterfly - three forms of the same insect.
We have tried names to explain the Trinity - (slides of creator, redeemer, sustainer) - these are the three ways we understand God working - God the creator, God the redeemer and God the sustainer.
In the Presbyterian Church our symbol (show Presbyterian symbol) was designed to represent Trinity - the three that makes up the cross.
During the middle ages when all the great and beautiful cathedrals in Europe were built, they used stained glass windows to try and explain Trinity - (Show some of those) And then artists tried to depict the trinity (show slide)
All these explanations are really inadequate to get to the real essence of what Trinity is. Martin Luther came up with this drawing: (show Luthers diagram) which is suppose to help but I think just muddies it up and leaves us with more questions. But it does define Trinity in the way we are to understand. Jesus is not the Father nor the Spirit, the Father is not Jesus nor the Spirit, the Spirit is neither Jesus nor the Father, but they are all God.
Understand? I like this cartoon - and we would probably agree! (show cartoon)
It is not a natural thing to be able to simply understand this Trinity; it is not natural to understand how one thing can be three and none of those comparisons, caterpillar, or egg, or shamrocks or diagrams can really make it make sense.
But Jesus, as he talks to Nicodemus helps us to understand that being a follower of Christ is not a natural thing…. In the gospel reading this morning we have the Pharisee Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the dark of night because Nicodemus is afraid what will happen if the other members of the Sanhedrin - this is the group that will later condemn Jesus to be crucified - find out that Nicodemus is meeting with Jesus. Nicodemus is trying to figure out what Jesus is teaching - what message Jesus is trying to get across to the people. Here we hear Jesus say, “You can’t be a follower of Christ unless you are born again.” Now, a quick reference to that phrase ‘born again’….. The actual Greek says “born from above” meaning - you can’t be a follower of Christ unless you are brought to Christ by the Father and then filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus that becoming a follower of Christ is an act of Trinity - The Father, the Son and the Holy spirit are all active in your being here; in your being a follower of Christ; you are all ‘born from above’ because of the work of the Trinity - all parts of God active in you and assuring you of All of God working to make you His!
What makes this even harder, is that the term ‘trinity’ is never found in the Bible. So if it isn’t talked about in the Bible, how is it that it is such an important part of our faith? There is no statement anywhere that describes Trinity - but there is overwhelming evidence of its existence. For example, every time God speaks and refers to himself it is in the plural. If you remember the story of the Tower of Babel we read last week, did you catch God saying, “Let ‘us’ go down and see this city.” Every time regardless of where God speaks - he uses the term ‘us’ - ‘us’ of course meaning, more than one.
Even God’s most common name in the Old Testament, Elohim, is a plural term.
There are instances where we see all three members at the same time - at Jesus baptism - we see Jesus, we hear the voice of the Father and we see the Spirit in the form of a dove descend on Jesus.
So the trinitarian concept is something that is just assumed throughout the accounts of the Bible.
Which still doesn’t help us understand this concept of Trinity - Do you know the definition of faith?
- succumbing to a concept for which there is no proof. And that is what we have to do. Trinity is one of those essential concepts in our understanding of God that is just totally beyond our understanding - we just simply have to have faith in a God who is so huge and so great and so omniscient that the only way he can present himself to us is by showing himself to us as a loving father, an obedient son who died for our redemption and a spirit who sustains our life.

The Ascension

The Ascension

Let us say together the Apostle’s Creed (recite the creed). The creed was written in order to give people a concise understanding of the faith - short enough that people could memorize it but comprehensive enough that everything that essentially we need to know and believe to follow God is included. There were no Bibles available for people to look at so they needed a way to get the facts about the faith. Originally it was a baptismal creed - those adults being baptized would learn it in question and answer form and then recited it at their baptism.
So let’s think about this creed and what the early church fathers felt was import an for us to know…..
First that God created heaven and earth - short and sweet and essential for us to believe. The last paragraph gives us some one sentence essentials - The Holy Spirit, that regardless of tradition, or denomination, we are all one church in Jesus Christ, that we are all part of the communion of believers - living or dead, that our sins are forgiven, that we will be bodily resurrected and will live forever. The middle paragraph, the longest one, tells us what we need to know about Jesus - the basics. That Jesus was the son of God, that his birth was a miracle, that he was crucified and died, that he rose from the dead and that he ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of the God the father almighty.
And that last little section is what we need to talk about today - he ascended into heaven….. This is Ascension Sunday - the day set aside to recognize that essential section of the Apostle’s Creed - that Jesus ascended into heaven. A little over 40 days ago, we recognized the death of Jesus and his resurrection. Jesus remained on earth for 40 days after the resurrection, spending time with the disciples - teaching them and encouraging them in the role they were going to have to fulfill as the Apostles of Jesus. We had our Christ Candle burning in the sanctuary to remind us of the special presence of Jesus during these 40 days. During these 40 days Jesus was also trying to prepare the disciples for the fact that he was going away - for good this time.
On the 40th day after the resurrection, this coming Thursday, Jesus gathered the disciples on a mountaintop, and told them that this was it. That this was the moment he was leaving - he told them not to worry. He was going to heaven, but he was going to send his spirit back and this spirit would live in them and give them the power they needed to do the job God had assigned them. Their job was to go out into the world and teach everyone what he had taught them. The disciples were to take everything that Jesus had taught them and now teach it to the rest of ‘the world’. Go back to Jerusalem, and wait. When the time is right my spirit will come to you. Which by the way we will celebrate next Sunday as we remember the event known as Pentecost.
So as the disciples are standing there, they watch as Jesus literally, physically, ascends through the clouds and on to heaven. They just stood there mesmerized. Can you imagine? They stood there long enough staring up in the sky that an angel came and said, “Don’t just stand there looking up into heaven!” Go! Do what Jesus said! Go back to Jerusalem and wait for the spirit Jesus will send you. Off they went, singing and praising God and they did what Jesus told them - they went back to the upper room and waited expectantly for whatever this spirit might be!
So the disciples are in the upper room waiting for whatever this ‘spirit’ is that Jesus has promised them. And thinking about that sight witnessing Jesus’ ascent into heaven. Which makes us start to think about heaven…. Other than knowing that God the Father and Jesus are there, what do we know about heaven? We talk about it a lot - we all want to end up there. We all probably have our own vision of what heaven is like. But what does the Bible actually teach us about heaven?
We know that God created it. We read that passage from Genesis to begin the service - in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Heaven was something new that God created at the same time he created the earth. There is no real description of what ‘heaven’ is but we know that

it is where God lives with his angels. The word ‘heaven’ is used as a term of where God is - even thought we know that we are taught that God is everywhere.
What God and the writers of the Bible know is that we as humans need concrete images to help us understand concepts. We need a visual picture to help us figure all this out. So the writers portray God as a king like, or father like, being sitting on a throne where he looks out over the earth - his kingdom. Not that this is necessarily what it is really like. This is simply an image that the people who lived during the time of the bible would have been able to relate to. To understand God - think of him as a great king sitting on a throne in a great throne room. This visual image would portray for these people complete control and complete power. They lived under earthly kings who had complete control over their lives and total power. This is not what it is really like, but a good way for you to think about God and heaven. That image doesn’t work so well for us and I’m not even sure there is an image that would work since we have never lived under that kind of total power and total control over our lives. But that is what that image of God is suppose to portray - that concept of God overseeing us and in control.
Often we hear in Bible stories that ‘the heavens open up and we see the glory of God” - the visual would be looking up in the sky and seeing God sitting on his throne. The idea is to reassure us that God is there and that God is at work and God is in charge. That comfort of knowing that God is watching and knows what is going on in our lives.
The other definition of what we know about heaven is that it is the place where God’s servants go when their work is done in this life. We read many times that someone’s work was done and they were ‘lifted into heaven’.
When we are ‘lifted into heaven’ what is it going to be like? We don’t have a clue. There is no definitive description of what heaven is actually like. We have the description of God’s throne room with angels flying around him and worshipping him. We know that Jesus sits in his throne on the right side of God. We have Jesus telling us that he has prepared a room/mansion for us. The Apostle John was lifted up by God and given a ‘vision of heaven’. Then John says - there are no words to describe it. I don’t have the proper vocabulary to convey to you what it is like. But here is my best shot - and he describes streets of gold and buildings of jewels and that there is no light source other than the glowing, glory of God.
Heaven is something that can’t be described - but it will be good. Even better than the physical description, there is the description of what we will be like in heaven. We do not turn into angels who sit on clouds strumming harps of gold…… but the prevailing description of heaven is a time when we will be at peace - there will be no pain and no tears and no hardship. And we will have the ability to not only see God but to worship him as he truly desires to be worshipped.
Sounds like somewhere we would like to be, so how do we get there? First, and most important, you cannot earn your way to heaven. Heaven is not the goal of living a life for Christ. We are saved by grace. Heaven is the ‘reward’ not the ‘goal’ of living as God’s people. You go to heaven by acknowledging your salvation in Jesus Christ and then living as Christ calls us to. We are taught not to live with heaven in mind, but to just know that we can be confident heaven is the final destination.
How do we get there? And here is the importance of the Ascension of Jesus. Jesus died - so will we. Jesus was resurrected - so are we. Jesus ascended into heaven - so will we.
The importance of celebrating the ascension is that we are celebrating Jesus’ ascension but we are also celebrating
our ascension. Because Jesus rose to this mysterious place we call heaven, so will we. That is the good news of this day!
The ascension, according to the Gospels and our early church Fathers, is a very significant event - it rates right up there with Christmas and Easter and Pentecost as important days for us to recognize in the church. Ascension is actually the completion of what Jesus was to do when he came to earth. We celebrate his birth at Christmas so that he could be one of us, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday we remember his death for our forgiveness, Easter we acknowledge Jesus rising from the dead so that we will rise from the dead as well. And then, when this time is completed, as Jesus ascends into heaven to be with God the Father to live with God forever - assuring us that we too will live forever in heaven with God. Amen!