Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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John 14:8-17, 25-26

Matthew 28:16-20

2 Corinthians 13:11-14

      This morning, we observe on our liturgical calendar what is called “Trinity Sunday.”  As church

folk, we often hear and sometimes use that word trinity, and consider it one of the foundational

and essential doctrines of our Christian faith.  But what does it mean?  Semantically, the word is

a contraction of the prefix tri, referring to three, and the word unity which means togetherness.

Hence, triunity or trinity, suggesting a togetherness of three.

      In our worship life, we regularly use the Trinitarian Formula.  For example, during baptism, we

receive the newly baptized into the faith community “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy

Spirit.”  In our pastoral prayer, we acknowledge the power of God the Father.  We give thanks for

the love, grace and mercy of God the Son.  We invoke the comfort, strength, and guidance of God

the Holy Spirit.  One of our most beloved hymns, which we sang a few weeks ago, ends with an

affirmation of that Trinitarian Formula:  “God in three persons, blessed trinity.”  At several points in

the liturgy of Christian marriage, we hearken to the triunity of God.  For example, as the couple is

exchanging rings, they declare:  “This ring I give you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and

of the Holy Spirit.”  And at the end of each service, we conclude our benediction with the sign of the

cross, and the words: “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” 

      Trinity, then, is the term we use to describe God as Father, and as Son, and as Holy Spirit.  A

more recent application of the Trinitarian Formula describes the attributes of the trinity.  Not in

place of, but as subsidiary to, we may describe God as “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.”  The Father

we acknowledge as the Creative Force who calls all things into existence.  The Son we know as

God’s human manifestation who redeems us, or in a manner of speaking buys us back from sin

and death.  The Holy Spirit we receive as God’s omnipresent energy which sustains all life, both

physical and spiritual. 

      So we employ the Trinitarian Formula, first stated by Paul in the passage __________ read for

us a little earlier; first coined as a doctrine or teaching of the church by a chap named Tertullian

near the end of the 2nd century, and reaffirmed throughout the historical-confessional documents

of the church.  In our most recently-written confession which carries the title “A Brief Statement of

Faith,” it is declared: “….we trust in one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship

and serve.” 

      But for as often and as much as we reaffirm the trinity as a foundational doctrine of our Chris-

tian faith, it’s a concept we can’t really wrap our minds around.  How do we reconcile one God in

three persons, yet still maintain that there is only one God?  How do we defend ourselves against

those outside orthodox Christianity who would accuse us of practicing polytheism, or worship of

more than one God?  Did you know that one of radically monotheistic Islam’s sharpest criticisms of

Christianity is that we are guilty of worshiping multiple gods. Muslims consider Christians idol wor-

shippers. Yes, there are legitimate questions raised by the inquiring mind: How can God the Father

in heaven, invisible and eternal, at the same time be Jesus the Son, who walked on earth as fully hu-

man as you and me?  Was it God the Father who died on the cross at Calvary?  How can Jesus – who

now supposedly sits at the right hand of God the Father, essentially at the right hand of Himself – at

the same time be fully present with us in the person of the Holy Spirit?  These are intriguing and  

mind-boggling questions.  Yet even with all the theological thought, and discourse, and libraries of

learned works devoted over the centuries to this fundamental doctrine of Christianity, no one to my

knowledge has unraveled the mystery of it.  And as with so many things in God’s awesome, divine

and largely mysterious nature, I suspect it’s a mystery we’re not meant to fully unravel.

      But there is a way we can bring what little we understand of this divine mystery into sharper fo-

cus.  Instead of trying to comprehend God’s nature in terms of God’s tri-unity, let’s look at it from

a standpoint of tri-unity as God’s method of self-revelation.  In other words, God in God’s infinite

and eternal character makes God’s self known to us in three and, I would suggest, progressive or

unfolding ways.

      In Old Testament times, as humans were struggling with their innate sense that there was a

higher power or powers somewhere out there, God made God’s self known through his mighty acts,

mostly in the realm of nature.  Genesis seeks to help us recognize God as the creative power of the

universe which brought forth, and continues to bring forth, all life – every ocean; every field; every

mountain; every planet and star; every flower and every critter.  Throughout the record of the Old

Testament, God chose to reveal God’s self in the natural order, because that was most within the

human capacity to grasp.  So we find stories of pillars of fire, burning bushes, parting seas, floods

and quakes, mighty winds and gentle breezes.  Also in the Old Testament, God frequently made

God’s will know to people through angels, or divine messengers, who could somehow make contact

at a human level.  And God revealed His will through visions and dreams. 

      So God’s first self-revelation to humankind was as the all-powerful entity, interpreted by leaders

of Israel as a patriarchal or father figure, enthroned up or out there somewhere; available to human

beings, but only in a limited and peripheral way.  The problem encountered by those seeking God

throughout Old Testament history was trying to comprehend an infinite and eternal God using a

finite and mortal mind.  God was just too big to take in.  So I believe the Old Testament records as

much misunderstanding as not.  God was perceived from a limited point of view to be angry; a lover

of war; jealous; vindictive and vengeful, often cold and uncaring; indeed, a projection of the people5

who sought God. 

      God evidently knew that all this misunderstanding was doing more harm than good.  So at the

time God saw fit within the span of human history, He made Himself known through the human life

of one Jesus of Nazareth.  In the life of Jesus, the very mind and spirit of God were, to a much

greater degree, made understandable.  Happily, we found in this God-man Jesus that the essence of

God was not distant; not angry; not vengeful; not cold or uncaring.  On the contrary, God revealed

God’s self through this Son as compassionate and caring; forgiving and merciful; self-sacrificing and

readily available.  God was not longer up or out there somewhere.  In a sense, God climbed into our

skin and walked this gnarly road of life with us.  John puts it this way in the prologue of His gospel:

“And the word [i.e. God in action] became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory,

the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”  So the second person of the trinity is

still the one same God, making Herself more knowable and understandable by our finite and

limited minds.  God became human so we could understand who God really is.

      The third and most often misunderstood person of the trinity we’ve come to call “Holy Spirit.”

While God makes God’s self known through the fully human life of the Son, humankind has its limi-

tations.  So too did Jesus.  As a real, living, breathing human being, Jesus’ earthly life was finite, like

ours.  Yet what He brought of God’s self-revelation would continue even after his earthly body was

gone.  It could be said that His Spirit would live on forever.

      At the last supper with His disciples, after speaking at length about the oneness of Himself and

God the Father, Jesus went on to say: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you.  But

the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything,

and remind you of all that I have said to you.”  So you see, God made and makes Himself known

through the Spirit embodied by Jesus of Nazareth; the very life energy and essence of Jesus Himself;

a force which  would remain ever-present and active in the world; and most importantly, in the

spiritual lives of men and women.

      It would be fair to say that the Holy Spirit continues the ongoing disclosure of God’s self; illumi-

nating and bringing to life the words of the Bible, making the Bible far more than just another

inspirational book; giving and sustaining life generation after generation; eon after eon; leading us

forward in proclamation and service; moving our hearts to the mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and

kindness which are the essential characteristics of Jesus Himself.  In fact, the only reason any of us

are here [whether we realize it or not] is by the nudging and prompting of the Holy Spirit.

      One God, three persons.  Actually, one God, three modes of self-revelation; three ways of seeing

and understanding the one same Divine of the universe who creates, who redeems, who sustains.

Now we need a closing illustration to bring us back to earth.  Take a glass of water.  Then take some

ice cubes.  Then take a tea kettle spouting steam.  Are you observing three different chemical com-

pounds in glass, tray and kettle?  Of course not.  When water is cooled to 32 degrees F, or heated to

212 degrees F, it changes its form.  It casts a different appearance.  It is revealed in a different way.

Yet it remains essentially the identical compound:  two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen; the most

Important organic compound to creating and sustaining life.  So it is with God.  When we experience

Jesus Christ, and when we experience Holy Spirit, we are experiencing the very essence of our one

God – God of all life -- showing us a perfect togetherness of three.

Almighty God, in Your mystery, reveal Yourself to us -- though the magnificence of Your creation;

through the benevolence of Your grace; through the abiding presence of Your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102