A Sermon for Trinity Sunday, June 15, 2014
For The Epistle, Revelation 4:1-11 – The Gospel, St. John 3:1-15
The Rt. Rev’d Stephen C. Scarlett
I’ve been talking about Christian faith as an experience of God that is explained by doctrine. My point has been that the experience of God comes before the doctrine that explains the experience. Trinity Sunday may be the day on which this emphasis is most needed. We often get trapped trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity—as if our faith hinged on our ability to grasp the fullness of God with our minds. The primary focus of our faith is to know—or experience—God as Trinity. Trinitarian doctrine is merely the church’s explanation of our experience.
B. The experience of the Trinity in the Bible.
1. The experience of Trinity in Creation: The Father creates by his Word through the Spirit.
2. The experience of Trinity in redemption: The Father redeems by his Son through the Spirit. This is called “new creation” because the pattern in the same as “In the beginning.”
3. The experience of Trinity in each of our lives. We know God through Christ in the Spirit. Jesus is revealed to us in the Scriptures; he come to dwell within us and we come to dwell within him through the Spirit. Redemption is re-creation. God’s speaks his word in our lives, breathes his Spirit into our dead and life-less bodies and we become new creatures; we are born again.
C. This experience is highlighted by the Trinity Sunday lessons, which teach that we can only see or experience the revelation of the Father through the Son by means of the Holy Spirit.
1. In the gospel Jesus tells Nicodemus: “Unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom.” He elaborates this point to a mystified Nicodemus by saying, “Except a man is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
2. The epistle lesson illustrates this point. St. John saw a door in heaven and heard a voice that said to him, “Come up here and I will show you things which must be hereafter.” Then John says, “Immediately I was in the Spirit.” That is, John was able to go through the door and enter into heaven only “in the Spirit.” John experienced exactly what Jesus said in the gospel—“Except a man is born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
3. John’s experience is that of the whole church. We also ascend through the Spirit in worship. As we “Lift up [our] hearts” we go through the door into heaven, and we are able to see what John saw. Without the Spirit we cannot see and experience the reality of God’s presence and salvation. This is why it is not a good idea to bring the unconverted and uninitiated into the Eucharist. They will be mystified, like Nicodemus, for unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
4. This point was made by our Morning Prayer lesson last Wednesday from 1 Corinthians 2. St. Paul writes,
No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (vv. 11-12).
D. Conclusion on experience and doctrine
1. The doctrine of the Trinity is this: there is one God who exists from eternity in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We do not believe this merely as an abstract idea. We believe this because it explains our experience of God. We know the one true God because he has revealed himself to us and redeemed us from sin, through the life, death and resurrection of his eternally begotten Son; and he has saved us from sin and raised us up to new life by the gift of his life-giving Spirit.
2. Understanding a doctrine is not the same as knowing God. We can know and experience that which we do not fully comprehend. We can’t fully understand God because God can’t fit into our heads; but we are given the privilege of entering more and more into the reality of God through the life of prayer.
3. This is what makes eternity an exciting prospect. Often the world to come is portrayed as an exercise in sitting on clouds playing harps. That is a caricature. In truth, we believe that the ever expanding universe is a sign of the limitless grandeur and mystery of God. This means that there will be much, much more to discover and explore when we are no longer limited by time and space. For we know God; but God and the love of God surpass our knowledge. We know God now, but there is much more to know of the Father who makes himself known to us through his Son by means of the Spirit.