All Consuming Presence

John 3:1-17

On the Church calendar, today is set aside to commemorate the Holy Trinity. This uniquely Christian doctrine defines the relationship between God, the creator, Jesus, the redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, the sustainer. There is one argument that states belief in the Trinity is what makes one a Christian.

I agree with this but add that it is not what we believe that makes us something but whether we live by the words we believe. One can believe all the right things and say all the right words, but one’s actions will deny everything one says and believes. So, being a Christian requires more than just the correct belief.

There is no direct biblical evidence for the belief in the Trinity, but there are shadows of the Trinity in all parts of Scripture. Written into the creation story is the image of the Trinity, “let us make them in our image.” During the creation event, the Spirit hovers over the water and controls the chaos that can be found there.

Later in Scripture is the story of three guests who come to visit Abraham. This story is known as the “Hospitality of Abraham,” and the three guests represent the three persons of the Trinity. There is another meaning to this story: we are to treat all guests as special, as we never know if we are hosting angels.

Then we turn to John’s Gospel and the most poignant example of Trinitarian theology. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the written text, the Word is capitalized to indicate a proper name. The Word of God is not Scripture; the Word of God is Jesus. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Jesus speaks of the relationship of the three Divine Persons but in a veiled way. The study of theology would have been much simpler if Jesus just said what he meant, but that is not the case. Jesus speaks of this relationship between himself and God and, towards the end of his ministry on earth, mentions that the “advocate” will soon come to be with them. He mentions the Holy Spirit as the Advocate, which we celebrated last week at Pentecost.

As with all doctrines, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity took years to define, redefine, and refine. I will also add that this is one of the most incomprehensible doctrines of the Church. However, it is still an important doctrine, for we learn a bit about human relationships by understanding the relationship between the three persons.

So, what is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity? Sit back, relax, close your eyes, and prepare to be dazzled by my theological brilliance.

“The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is the central doctrine concerning the nature of God, which defines one God existing in three coequal, coeternal, consubstantial divine persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit, three distinct persons (hypostases) sharing one essence/substance/nature (homoousion). As the Fourth Lateran Council declared, it is the Father who begets, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.”

Did you get that?

I won’t spend much time trying to unpack all that since I do not truly understand it. It is also an attempt to explain the unexplainable. I am not sure we are supposed to understand God, and trying to put human emotions and words on God only limits a limitless being.

Like most things theological, we come to this definition in reverse. The question began if Jesus was divine, and therefore God, how could God be killed on the Cross? So, theologians got together and backed into this definition. The critical thing to remember is that there are not three gods, only one. Think of it in the same way marriage changes a couple. Joined together, they are one, but they do not cease to be separate people.

Let me emphasize something I said earlier: it is not belief in doctrine that makes us Christian. How we live and what we are taught makes us a Christian. I believe that doctrine is vital as it gives us a basis for our beliefs. The creeds and other statements have been hammered out over time and are the basic beliefs, not the totality. Do you have to understand it all? No. Do you have to believe it all? No.

I am more of a Red Letter Christian than a doctrinal Christian. If you recall older versions of Scripture, the words of Jesus were printed in Red. Red Letter Christians focus more on what Jesus actually said rather than what others say he says. Go right to the source rather than secondary writings.

With all of that said, let’s look at John’s Gospel, which we heard this morning.

Nicodemus comes to see Jesus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a leader of the people who must be very careful in coming to see Jesus. At this point, Jesus is starting to get the leaders’ attention. This meeting takes place just after Jesus flipped the tables in the Temple, an event designed to get the attention of the authorities.

Nicodemus comes at night. He is lurking in the shadows so as not to be seen by anyone. He acknowledges that Jesus is what he says he is: God’s son. This could not have been easy for him. Nicodemus wants to learn more and understand what Jesus is all about. But he is confused by what Jesus is telling or attempting to tell him. He ends up leaving more confused than when he arrived. He must have had some understanding or at least enough that piqued his curiosity. We see Nicodemus again after Jesus’ crucifixion. Nicodemus brings the spices that are necessary for the burial rite to take place. Not only is this a significant expense for him, but he is also doing it very publicly, which shows that he believes that Jesus is what he says he is.

But the end of this passage is the most important to grasp.

We hear the famous line, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” As important as I believe this verse to be, it is the next one that sets the pace.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Let’s sit with this for a moment. God did not send Jesus to condemn. Out of love, God sent Jesus not to condemn Creation but to point the way towards salvation. God could have destroyed all of Creation but chose a different path, the path of love. If Jesus did not come to condemn the world, why do we humans feel it is our Job?

I will also point out that the 3:16 line says, “But may have eternal life.” Some translations say, “Shall have eternal life.” I point this out to show that Jesus did not come to force anyone to do anything but instead pointed the way and left the rest to us. The choice is ours.

Earlier, I mentioned that Trinity is an example of how we relate to one another. The Trinity is an excellent example of what Methodists call contextualism, the idea that we are connected.

Although each of the three persons is separate, they share the same essence and mission, if you will. What joins them together and what keeps them together is love. Augustine developed this idea of the Trinity as love in the 5th century, and it is the backbone of the idea that we are to relate to one another through love.

God loved Creation so much that Jesus came, through love, to show us a different way. Because God did not want to abandon Creation after Jesus’ ascension, God sent the Spirit, who continues the work of Jesus, helps point the way, and gives us the strength to live in love as Jesus taught.

The Trinity is not about hypostasis, homousion, or all the significant theological terms. The Trinity is about love, relationships, mission, and how we are all connected to each other and all of Creation. Salvation is not an individual act, but rather, it is a corporate act. Salvation does not end when we “give our life to Christ, “find Jesus,” or “get washed in the blood,” whatever any of that means. Salvation begins and ends with how we treat and relate to one another. We are to love one another. And care for each other and Creation. The Trinity exists to show us this way, this way of relationship. God needed the other for Creation to happen. Jesus needed the others to complete his mission. The Holy Spirit continues to need the energy of others to walk with us and guide us as we live and love others.

The verse says, “God loved the world.” It does not say, “God loved individuals,” it does not even say God loved humanity, and it certainly does not say that God loved the United States of America. The verse says God loves the world, all of it.

Our “salvation,” whatever that means, is directly tied to the salvation of others because it is dependent upon how we treat the other. Believe in the doctrine of the Trinity or don’t believe in the doctrine of the Trinity; that’s not important. Living out the relational aspect of the Trinity is what’s important.

Jesus said, “love God love neighbor. On these two hang all the law and the prophets.” This was not a suggestion; it was a command.

So, go forth and love. Love God. Love all of humanity. And love all of Creation.


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