May 22, 2016
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Today is “Trinity Sunday,”
as set forth in the Revised Common Lectionary
and the Orthodox Liturgical Calendar.
It is a truly rare day on the Liturgical Calendar,
in that it celebrates a doctrine,
as opposed to just about every other liturgical day,
with the exception of All Saint’s Day,
which celebrates Biblical occurrences.
You won’t find
the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible
in its whole form,
although the Revised Common Lectionary
has attempted to cram as much of the Trinity as possible
into our scripture lessons for today.
Scholars and church leaders,
apostles and bishops,
down through the ages have pieced together
partial Biblical truths
to compose a completed mosaic,
which we have come to know as the Trinity.
In short, the doctrine of the Trinity states
that Christians believe that
“God reveals himself in three persons:
God the Father,
God the Son (Jesus)
and God the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost),
but these three persons are one and indivisible.”
(Dictionary of Christian Lore and Legend, by JCJ Metford, 1983.)
A little bit of history …
It took about 300 years after the
death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus
for the concept of God in three persons
to come into a unified, coherent form.
The early century church was deeply concerned
with a belief in the imminent return of Jesus
and the consummation of God’s kingdom.
They were waiting, and waiting,
all the while,
enduring great persecution
at the hands of the Roman Empire.
Imminent Parousia was a more important kettle of fish
Than a refined doctrine of the Trinity.
When Constantine Christianized the empire
in or around 322 AD,
the Church could breath and think freely for the first time.
Church leaders were free to gather,
Indeed, encouraged to gather,
discuss and debate
the essential articles of faith
that are central to the life of every Christian today.
The Councils of Nicaea in 325 AD
and Constantinople in 381 AD
enshrined the doctrine in the Nicene and Athanasian creeds.
The English translation of the Nicene Creed
can be found on page 880 in your hymnals
(Zion: which we will recite at my conclusion).
700 years later,
at about 1,000 AD,
the Eastern Church split from us in the Roman Catholic Church,
primarily over the understanding
of the doctrine of the Trinity.
The Eastern Orthodox tradition
believed the Holy Spirit comes from the Father.
Our Western tradition maintains the belief
that the Holy Spirit comes from both the Father and the Son.
The difference was one verb in the document.
Silly, isn’t it?
that such an enormous split could take place over one little word, filioque, as opposed to, filius.
Roman churches in England, especially,
devoted themselves to the “Holy and Undivided Trinity.”
Cults developed during the time of the Norman conquests.
Societies sprang up,
Starting in 1198 AD,
calling themselves “Trinitarians”
for the purpose of rescuing and ransoming captives in Moslem hands.
We know these efforts, seven in all, as the Crusades.
Instead of the love and grace of God being associated with the term,
Trinitarian became associated with the tip of the sword.
It was only in 1334 AD that the feast day
known as Trinity Sunday
was proclaimed by the pope
and established on the calendar
as the Sunday following Pentecost.
My favorite rendition of the Trinity
(Zion: pass around copies of the picture)
is by Albrecht Durer,
a great artist of the Renaissance.
His 1511 AD painting
is an altarpiece for the chapel
at an almshouse
for poor artists in Nuremberg, Germany.
Crucified Jesus is under the cloak
of God the Father,
a king with crown and a long, white beard.
Above Jesus and the Father is the Dove,
signifying the Holy Spirit.
What makes this message today
much more than a history lesson
is our Gospel for this morning from John 16.
Here is substance to the doctrine of the Trinity.
Our Gospel is a small piece of the larger 5-chapter section
describing the narrative and events of the evening
before Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified.
It is known as the Farewell Discourse.
Jesus knows he will be put to death.
His desire is to prepare his disciples for the event.
In our Gospel lesson for today,
Jesus promises his disciples that the Spirit of truth will come.
It will come to guide them to all truth.
The Spirit will declare all things to Christ’s disciples.
It is not too much of a reach
to extend the fact that Jesus was teaching about the Spirit
declaring all things to us here today, too.
A few thoughts.
The word “declare” is used 3 times
in this short 3 verse statement of Jesus.
The Greek root is –angellein,
which means, to declare, preach, proclaim, or announce.
But here, the Greek prefix “an” is used;
much like the way we would use the prefix “re.”
So Jesus is more correctly making the promise
that the Spirit will come and re-declare,
what Jesus has already declared and proclaimed.
Jesus tells his disciples outright
“I still have many things to say to you,
but you cannot bear them now.”
- John 16:12
That is, there are many things they have already heard,
but they just haven’t been able to understand them yet.
It will be the work of the Spirit
to unfold the grand and complete significance of Jesus Christ
to our simple, constricted minds.
(Pulpit Resources, June 6, 2004. William Willimon)
Retired Bishop, William Willimon,
correctly observes that
“the Spirit continues to teach us,
continues to disclose to us the truth of Jesus,
finding just the right time and place for us to receive such teaching.
as all of the Gospels depict it to be,
in which we who follow the Christ,
learn more about Christ as the journey continues.
The truth of Jesus is too large and grand
to be mastered in a moment.
We must be ready for insights that are fresh and new to us,
though as ancient as Creation,
for the work of the Spirit of Truth continues among us.”
(Pulpit Resources, June 6, 2004. William Willimon)
Indeed, this has been
the reality of my experience
on my own personal journey of faith.
The more I’ve learned and explored
about the life and teaching of Jesus,
the more I feel within my heart
the desire to explore further and dig deeper,
into new and yet to be revealed pathways
along my Christian journey.
I have never felt moved to the mainstream,
into the well-worn pathway of most Christian experience.
I have always felt moved to employ my native curiosity,
to search for Christ,
in fresh and unsuspecting settings.
Secondly, Jesus promises his disciples,
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
- John 16:13
Now that the Spirit has come,
Does this mean that
we understand a lot more than the original disciples?
What does this knowledge mean?
We can look back to the experience of the Holy Spirit
In the Early Church
In order to fill out all the truth to which Jesus is speaking.
The Spirit transcends division,
Be it Paul and Barnabas,
Or disagreements over circumcision.
The Spirit brings people to conversion,
Opens jail house doors,
And gives power to endure persecution.
“We boast in our sufferings,” Paul proclaims,
“knowing that suffering produces endurance,
And endurance produces character,
And character produces hope,
And hope does not disappoint us,
Because God’s love has been poured
Into our hearts
Through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
- Romans 5:3-5
The Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts.
With the experience of the past two millennium,
It is possible to confirm the truth to which Jesus was speaking.
The Holy Spirit does bring
love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
- Galatians 5:22-23
This is the fruit of living in the Holy Spirit.
Nine gifts are given to those who are disciples of Christ,
Who live according to his will,
And follow in his ways.
It was love that first motivated God to create all there is.
It was love that led God to repair that which had been broken.
It was God’s love that sent us Jesus.
It was our Lord’s love to die upon the cross
to take away our sins and repair our broken lives.
It is because of God’s love for you and me
And for this gathering, local and universal, that we call Church,
That we have been given the gift of presence,
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit
To guide, direct, and to one day lead us back home to our Creator.
Just as all love is from God,
Be the love of God in the world.