The Trinity

“The Trinity”
A Message on Romans 8:12-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 30, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Romans 8:12-17 (NRSV)

12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

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Last week was Pentecost, where we celebrated the Holy Spirit coming on the disciples.

Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday when we celebrate the triune, three-in-one God.

Now at first the Trinity seems kinda simple: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But there is a lot more to it than that. A whole lot more.

Bible trivia question: Where in the Bible is the Trinity mentioned? Do you know? Well, it’s a trick question. The word “trinity” is never mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. Nope. Not one time.

The closest that I know of is at the end of Matthew’s gospel when Jesus is giving the disciples the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20a

You may be thinking, “Well now hold on a minute! How can we have a “Trinity Sunday” if the word is not in the Bible?” Well, that’s a very good question, and here’s an answer. While the word itself is not in the Bible, the concept of the Trinity certainly is contained in the scriptures.

So, then where did we get the word “Trinity”?

We get the word “Trinity” from a couple of Latin words. The first part of the word comes from the Latin trias, which means (as you probably guessed) “three.” The last part of the word comes from the Latin unitas, which means “unity.” So the word “Trinity” means “three unity” or “three united,” the three persons of God united in one.

Okay, so we have the word, we have the concept, we have the Sunday. Good enough, right?

Well, not really.

Here is the challenge of the Trinity: How can three be one? And why is it important that three be one?

Well it goes back to the 10 Commandments. What is the first commandment? “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:1-3

There it is. One God. To use a big word, God commands his people to be “monotheistic.” We are to have one God, and only one God. Not two, not three, but one. Single. Uno.

Among the world religions, many are polytheistic, meaning they have multiple gods. Take the Greek religion that was present in the known world at the time of Jesus. Remember Greek mythology from your high school days? (Do they teach that anymore?) The Greeks had lots of gods. They had a god for everything: Zeus was the god of lightning and thunder; Poseidon, as we know from the movie “The Little Mermaid,” was the god of the seas and water. Apollo was the God of the sun, and of course, Aphrodite was the goddess of love.

The three major religions of the world, though, share a monotheistic theology. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all belive in one God. One, singular God.

In Christianity, unlike Judaism or Islam, we believe in the Trinity, three persons who are one.

Now the simple thing would be to consider Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three equal but separate Gods. But… that violates Commandment #1, the one about having one God, and only one God.

So the Trinity is three persons in unity as one God. Three in one.

One of the big challenges of the Trinity is explaining it.

There are several attempts to explain the Trinity using analogies. For example, a three-leaf clover. Each person of the Trinity is like a leaf on a three leaf clover, separate but part of a whole. Another example is how a person can be a daughter, a sister, and a mother, and yet be one person. Another common one is how you can have ice, water, and steam, and yet it is the same H2O.

But the trouble with those analogies is that theologically speaking, they are lacking. They don’t convey the entire reality of the Trinity.

When we explore the Trinity in confirmation class I share a resource that I did not discover in seminary or in any of my theology books, but a cartoon video on YouTube. Yep. And it is the best explanation of the challenge in explaining the Trinity in analogies.

The video is a low-budget video produced by a company called “Lutheran Satire” and is called “St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies.” In the video St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is asked to explain the Trinity to Donall and Conall, two Irish peasants.

Now I thought of showing the video this morning, but we stream our services and I’m pretty sure showing the video would violate some copyright thing, so here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to tell you about the video, and then post a link to it on the church’s Facebook page where you can watch it later. (Here is the link to the video: https://youtu.be/KQLfgaUoQCw )

So Donall or Conall (I don’t know who is who) ask Patrick to tell them about this Trinity thing, but “remember that we’re simple people, without your education, and books and learning, but we’re hearing about all of this for the first time. So try to keep it simple, okay, Patrick?”

Patrick then tells them there are three persons of the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, yet there is only one God. They give him a blank stare and say, “Don’t get what you’re saying, Patrick.” Then the other says, “We’re not picking up what you’re laying down, Patrick.” Then the first says, “Could you use an analogy, Patrick?”

Patrick then tells them that the Trinity is like water, where you can find it in three different forms: liquid, ice, and vapor.

Donall (I think) looks at Patrick and says, “That’s modalism, Patrick!… An ancient heresy confessed by teachers such as Noetus and Sabellius that espouses that God is not three distinct persons, but that he merely reveals himself in three different forms. This heresy was clearly condemned in canon one at the first council of Constantinople in 381 AD and those who confess it cannot be considered a part of church catholic.”

Patrick then says the Trinity is like the sun in the sky where you have the star, and the light, and the heat.

The two peasants respond with, “Oh Patrick! Come on, Patrick, that’s Arianism!”

“Arianism”?

“Yes, Arianism, Patrick. A theology which states that Christ and the Holy Spirit are creations of the Father and not one in nature with him, exactly how heat and light are not the star itself but are merely creations of the star.”

A flustered Patrick then starts to use an analogy of a three leaf clover, but is stopped by Donnel who points out that Patrick is about to commit partialism, “… a heresy that asserts that the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit are not distinct persons of the Godhead but are different parts of God, each composing one-third of the divine.”

Patrick tries a couple of more times before finally blurting out real fast, “Fine! The Trinity is a mystery that cannot be comprehended by human reason but is understood only through faith and is best confessed in the words of the Athanasian Creed, which states that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, not confusing the persons or dividing the substance, that we are compelled by the Christian truth to confess that each distinct person is God and Lord, and that the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, co-equal in majesty.”

The two peasants look at Patrick before one of them says, “Then why didn’t you just say that, Patrick?” The other says, “Yeah, quit beating around the bush, Patrick.”

So you see the challenge in coming up with a good explanation of the Trinity? It’s a pretty steep hill to climb.

And while we don’t see the word Trinity in the scriptures, we do find the concept of the Trinity there. Today’s scripture that we read from the 8th chapter of Romans is an example of that. Let’s look at it closer.

Paul is writing this in a letter to the church of believers in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. As such, polytheistic religions were the common spiritual beliefs in the city. And a small but growing group of Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, were trying to figure out how to believe in one God and how to live that faith out amongst all the polytheistic folks living around them.

Paul starts out in the selection we read today by differentiating between the flesh, which is the world, and those who are led by the Spirit, meaning the Holy Spirit. We have to choose one of those. We can’t serve the true God and the world both. It’s an all or nothing proposition, and we have to choose. “…for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Romans 8:13-14

Thus Paul talks about the Holy Spirit, one person of the Trinity, and how by its power we can become “children of God.” We are adopted in the family of God. And because we are adopted into God’s family, and are his children, then we have a special relationship to God in which we can consider him to be our father. God the father, another person of the Trinity.

Paul writes in verst 15 and 16, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” Romans 8:15-16

So we have the Holy Spirit, and we have God. Then Paul brings in the third person of the Trinity: Jesus. “…and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” Romans 8:17

So there we have the three persons of the Trinity, all in one short passage of scripture: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three in one. Now notice that Paul doesn’t use the term “Trinity,” but the concepts of the Trinity are certainly there.

So my challenge to you, on this Trinity Sunday, is to worship the triune God. Remember that we believe in one God expressed in Trinity with three persons, all “equal in glory, co-equal in majesty.”

As Christians we believe in God, the creator of the universe, all powerful, all knowing, and eternal.

We also believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God, the Messiah, who came to earth and lived as a human, but was 100 percent God and 100 percent human; that Jesus was arrested, beaten, and crucified on a cross until he was dead. He was buried in a tomb, but on the third day he rose again, defeating death and, as the perfect sacrifice, removing the sins of those who believe in him.

And at Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, empowering them to do the work that Jesus called them (and calls us) to do. And because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit we are adopted as Children of God and co-heirs with Jesus Christ.

It’s kinda complicated. It’s a Holy Mystery, but it works. Thank God!

In the name of the Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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