As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Understanding and the Trinity, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Trinity Sunday 22 May, 2016. The Reading was John 16:12-15.
Today in the life of the Church is what is called, Trinity Sunday. It’s a day where we celebrate one of the great mysteries of the Church. One of the great Theological conundrums. That we worship one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our Third doctrine says that “We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, undivided in essence and co-equal in power and glory.” So we believe that our one God is three persons, but they can’t be divided. It’s something that can be a bit hard to understand.
So we make up some metaphors. I’m sure you have probably heard the Trinity is like Water – in that it is one molecule, which can be found in three different states – Gas, Liquid, and Solid – in Steam, Water, and Ice. But the difficulty with this is that the one molecule can’t exist in the three states at one time – they have to be divided.
Similarly, I sometimes use an example of my name. In that to the Government, I am Benjamin William Clapton. To my Friends, I’m Ben. And when I was playing video games, I would be called by my handle, MadViolinist. I was the same person, but it would be weird for my gaming friends to call me the same name that the Government calls me, or for the Government to refer to me by my gaming handle. But again, this compartmentalises things – while I am the same person, I am rarely talking to the government at the same time as playing a game.
Perhaps the one that I like the most is the Mars Bar metaphor. I don’t know whether you’ve heard this before, but it’s one my dad uses a lot. The Trinity is like a Mars Bar. Without the Nougat, it’s just a Caramello. Without the Caramel, it’s just a Milky Way. And Without the chocolate, it’s a great big mess. Take any one part of the Trinity away from the Godhead, and it’s no longer the God head. We can’t divide them, without changing its very nature.
We lack understanding
And the Trinity is just one thing that we can have trouble understanding about our faith. The reality is that we are reading texts that were spoken to and applicable to people who were living in an Occupied Middle Eastern territory nearly 2000 years ago. Our lives have moved on. Society has developed in ways that are unthinkable and unfathomable to the people who were living back then. And in trying to be true to our faith, we try to hold fast to what we know – what Jesus has said.
But there are many things in our society today that Jesus didn’t exactly say anything about. You know, the internet is a wonderful thing, but sometimes it really can get things wrong. I searched up “What does the bible say about Graffiti” and I got a list of 30 bible verses that purportedly have to do with Graffiti. And I went through these 30 verses, and could not see a single one that directly spoke about graffiti. Even indirectly, some of the associations were a stretch. Such as John 3:16. We all know that one: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Not really sure what that has to do with Graffiti, but ok. See the thing is, there is nothing in the Bible that directly addresses Graffiti. So how are we to respond faithfully about it?
Or what about video games? I love playing video games, but the reality is that most video games these days involve you killing someone. But is killing a digital creation breaking the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”? There is nothing that directly addresses video games in the bible. It’s a concept so foreign that were I to try to explain it to Peter, he would think I was speaking in tongues, and would need someone to interpret for him.
Or even something a bit more topical. Negative Gearing. Not going to find those two words together in the bible. Sure, you might be able to pull some verses to talk about the concepts involved, , but it’s not exactly something that the disciples were overly worried about in their own lifetime.
But there were still things that Jesus knew that even his disciples wouldn’t be able to understand in their own lifetime. In our reading today, Jesus said “I still have many things to say to you, but you can’t bear them now.” It’s like me saying to you that I’ve got all these things that I need to say to you, that are of vital importance to your understanding of our faith, but you won’t understand them, so I’m going to not tell you. Bit harsh.
God left his Holy Spirit to give us understanding as we are able to bear it
But the good thing is that Jesus realised that. So he told his disciples that the “Spirit of Truth” – that is, the Holy Spirit – “will guide you into all the truth”. Jesus is saying to his disciples that when the Holy Spirit was to come, that it would be through that – through the Holy Spirit – that they would be guided into knowledge of the truth, as they were able to understand it. So, of course, the disciples weren’t going to come into an understanding of the nature of video games or negative gearing, but their understanding of the nature of faith, of justification, or grace, they came to after Jesus had left. This understanding came to them through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So while our scriptures may not speak to every issue facing us today, we can certainly find understanding through the word given to us through the Holy Spirit.
Of course, this is a process. We won’t be given the full truth in one big hit – God knows that could overwhelm us. But, as Jesus said, we can come to a full understanding as we are able to bear it. As we need the understanding, the Holy Spirit gives it to us.
Through our discernment, our listening, our watching for and trusting God, God will continue to be revealed through the Holy Spirit
However, in order to receive that understanding, we need to do something. We can’t just stand there and say “Ok Spirit, hit me with some of that knowledge you got stored up there.” That’s not quite how it works. To gain this understanding, it requires our discernment, our listening, watching for and trusting that God will continue to reveal Godself through the spirit of Truth. We need to be praying, whilst reading the scriptures. We need to be reading the scriptures, while praying. And we need to be listening to the guidance of the holy spirit as we do that.
And when we do receive guidance, talk to someone about it. They may well have been thinking about the same thing. They may be able to add some more insight. They might be able to clarify something for you. You might be able to clarify something for them. Together, you can discern what God’s will in that moment, in that understanding, might be.
This can be a great time to start practicing this, as we hear more and more from politicians. The Salvation Army is non-party political, and I will never tell you who to vote for, but I will encourage you to think faithfully about your vote. To take the issues that matter to you, to take them to the Trinity – to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit – and seek out discernment. In doing so at this time, you can start practicing hearing the Holy Spirit in these matters, so that you can be sure of what the spirit of truth is saying in other matters in your life.
Seek out the Holy Spirit’s guidance of God’s will for your life in Christ Jesus
So I encourage you to seek out the Spirit’s guidance today. As you seek out the Spirit, left by Christ Jesus, who is one with God the Father, we come to an understanding of God’s will for our lives. As we seek out God’s will, we can be confident in heading out and talking to others, in bringing others to Jesus, because we know that the Spirit will not be taken away from us, even in times when we are the least able to trust, understand, or persevere. For the Father, Son and Spirit of Truth witness to one truth, all of which we cannot see, but all of which we dare to trust is God at work for us, revealing righteousness here and preparing a place suitable for each and all of us in the fullness of God’s reign.
We’re going to have some time for you to seek out that guidance. If you’re seeking some guidance over an issue, you’re invited to come forward and spend some time in prayer. Or maybe there’s some part of our faith that you’ve struggled with and need some help coming to an understanding with God. Feel free to come forward and pray. Or if you’re just in need of some prayer for yourself, for whatever reason, please – come forward and someone will pray with you. As we spend some time in reflection, you’re welcome to join in singing this lovely song we heard last week, Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God.