The Holy Trinity
Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
I’ve come to accept over the years that I simply will never understand the doctrine of the Trinity. Three persons in one God. God-triune. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All different, yet all God. Not three gods, but one God, just in three expressions.
Don’t get me wrong, I can explain it. I’ve done it several times in sermons. I do it every year in Confirmation classes. I give those middle schoolers an excellent theological explanation of this basic Christian doctrine—a belief that separates Christianity from any other religion, philosophy, or ideology in history. I make the explanation simple yet profound. Humorous yet deep. Theologically accurate yet understandable. And every year I get the same blank stares, the same “I thought Jesus was the Son of God, not God. How can God be both Father and Son to himself?” Which are very good questions.
One of the coolest things about teaching Confirmation is that the second you start blowing smoke, middle school kids smell it. So I end up having to admit to them that I don’t get it either. Don’t understand it, I tell them, just know it, because there will be a test on this.
That’s simply not good enough. And yet, how can you explain that which cannot be explained? How can you understand that which cannot be understood? You can’t.
Which kind of leaves a big hole in worship today, as this is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. If it can’t be explained or understood, what do we do today? Instead of explaining God, maybe our time would be better spent attempting to experience God.
You may have noticed we’ve done a few things differently today. A little more formal, a little more dressed up. Our worship space doesn’t necessary lend itself to formality all that well, but there’s a reason for attempting it today. What we’re trying to do is add a sense of importance, even majesty to our worship. We are encountering God together, and nothing can be more important than that. We’re trying to convey a sense of God’s immensity, grandeur, and splendor this morning. Perhaps something like what the prophet Isaiah experienced.
Consider this: the prophet is in the temple, in the presence of God. He experiences a vision of the Almighty—angels, a high throne, the foundations of the temple shaking, smoke. The entire temple is filled up, not with the presence of God, but with just the hem of his robe. That’s how much larger than life the Lord is.
And Isaiah knows at that moment that he cannot survive this encounter. Not that he’ll be struck dead by an angry God, but that simply being in God’s presence will overwhelm him. The presence of God exposes just how puny and unworthy he really is. He knows that he will be swept away in the power and the holiness of this Lord of hosts. He is helpless in God’s presence. He can do nothing but stand there in awe, knowing that he is not worthy of anything but woe from this One whose hem fills the temple. Isaiah has seen the King, the Lord of hosts, and he knows he brings nothing to the table, nothing to this encounter.
That’s the sense of awe I hope you begin to experience today. We are in the presence of a God whose hem fills this whole building. All the creatures of heaven attend to the Lord who has called us here. The earth is full of God’s glory; it shakes the very foundations of this place. To be in the presence of the Almighty is to realize how unworthy, how weak, how sinful, how limited we truly are. There is nothing about us that can have any value to this awesome God. There is no way to be worthy in God’s presence. We are, at our core, insignificant.
Even though Isaiah knows he is inconsequential in the presence of God, note what happens.
One of the angels, a seraph, takes a live coal from the altar and touches the prophet’s mouth with it. On behalf of God, the angel declares that now that this live coal from God’s altar has touched his lips, he is forgiven, he is holy, he is worthwhile. He has been called by God. And when God asks who shall be sent, Isaiah is able to respond, “Here am I; send me!” He has been made righteous by the God who is infinitely more righteous than he is, and now he can be sent in God’s name. Not because he’s good or believes or holds scripture high enough or gives enough money away, but because God touched him and made him righteous.
That’s the point Paul in making in the Romans text. God adopts us, God makes us heirs, God does it all—not because we’ve good enough, but in spite of that fact that we aren’t!
This mighty, holy, awe-inspiring God claims us out of love for us. That’s what gospel-writer John is trying to get across in the Nicodemus story. God doesn’t ask our opinion, doesn’t consider whether in our puny self-assessment we think accepting Jesus is a good idea or not. God acts, God moves, God loves, and God gives new birth—new life.
And now we are called. God gathers us here, comes to us in his Word, touches us with his presence in bread and wine from God’s altar. And whether we understand it or not, God is the One who makes us worthy, righteous, and holy.
If we worship well, we are aware each week of how puny and insignificant we are on our own. Yet in worship this unexplainable God meets us in love, touches us, and declares our forgiveness. Though we are nothing, the God of all creation loves us and makes us worthwhile. Not because we deserve it, but because God simply defies explanation.
We can pretend to understand the doctrine of the Trinity. But in reality, that doctrine, like God, is beyond our comprehension. And the Triune God, for some incomprehensible reason, has declared our guilt departed and our sin blotted out. Who will go reveal that to the world? Here we are; send us!