May 27, 2012
Focus Readings: Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17
In the whole of the bible God is revealed as redeemer or saviour. Salvation from slavery, exile, enemies, sin. But there is a contrast In the Old Testament although God is spoken of as merciful and being characterised by steadfast love, essentially the picture of God in the Old Testament is as Law Giver and promise maker. God is One, indivisible, abstract, and unapproachable. There are images of God for instance in Hosea as a loving parent but these are the exception rather than the rule. To see God is to die. For God is so holy & so powerful...
In the New Testament on the other hand God is primarily revealed as relational. God is revealed as Father - the Father of Jesus Christ. God is revealed as Friend, the companion, the one who stands beside us and speaks up for us - The Spirit who prays for us and causes us to cry out to God as a child would cry out to a loving parent. “His Spirit testifies with our Spirit and so we cry out to God Abba Father.” God is revealed as our human brother, the pre-existent only begotten Son who shares his relationship with the Father, with us as a human being.
Today is Trinity Sunday. It would be a mistake to think of the Trinity as an invention of the church in the fourth century. It is true that at the council of Nicea and later at the Council of Constantinople a formal doctrine of the Trinity was worked out but that doctrine should not just be thought of as a purely political outcome imposed by the Emperor, nor should it be thought of as an invention of the councils.
To understand how this idea of God being one but at the same time three arose we need to see that from its Jewish Heritage and the Old Testament the church believed God was One, but in the early church and the New Testament, Jesus and not just the Father is worshipped as God, the Spirit is said to be the Spirit of Jesus and the Spirit of God. All three are also referred to in personal terms.
The Trinity was the church's way of describing what they experienced of God and heard in the teaching of the Jesus and the Apostles. We hear Jesus’ teaching and the Apostles’ teaching today in the pages of the New Testament. A similar picture - an understanding that Jesus was somehow sent from God the Father and is in some sense divine emerges from nearly all of the writings of the early church, even those the early church decided not to include in the Bible.
One way of looking at our faith is to see it as God sharing with us the personal relationships that Jesus, the Father and the Spirit share. We are children of a loving parent, companions with the Spirit and brothers and sisters of Christ. This was the experience of the early church. It’s what we have recorded in the New Testament.
There is no better example of this than one of the most famous passages of the Bible. John 3:1-17... To see the kingdom of God - to have eternal life, Jesus explains to Nic. you must be “born of the Spirit” He goes on to say that anyone who believes in Jesus has Eternal Life, and that Jesus is the one who has come down from Heaven and who will go back up to heaven. It also says that Jesus is God’s only begotten Son... More than that - Jesus is the sign, the proof of God’s love.
To believe in Jesus is to be born of the Spirit. To be born of the Spirit is to believe in Jesus. To know and receive God’s love is to about believing in Jesus the one who came down from heaven and who will return to heaven and that faith, that discovery of God’s Love is described as. Being born again, or being born from above or being born of the Spirit.
What Jesus and John describe in John Chapter three might be a description of an actual event in the life of Jesus and Nicodemus. It might be a reflection on such a meeting, but whatever it is, it is a description of an actual event in the life of millions of Christians down through the two thousand years since Christ. It describes their experience of God. Peter and the disciples following Jesus around Palestine, Paul on the road to Damascus, Lydia and her household by the river, St Augustine in the Thunderstorm, Martin Luther in the tower, John Newton out at sea caught in the storm, John Wesley feeling his heart strangely warmed at Aldersgate. Me, as over a long period of time, in church, at home, in Sunday School and on youth camps, hearing and seeing God’s love witnessed to. And there are I know scores of other stories and experiences in the lives of all of you before me. Stories of exactly the kind of thing that Jesus describes in John 3.
For all these people and in all these stories there is a sense of being born again. A sense that life has begun anew. There is a fresh start. It really does feel as if the wind of the Spirit has blown into their lives. God is revealed to them and experienced by them as a loving and perfect Parent, as the one who Jesus called Father. All of this is somehow tied up with faith in Jesus.
In the movie Amazing Grace, William Wilberforce is asked if he has found God. He replies, “No, God has found me.”! This is the kind of thing which is described in John 3. For Wilberforce this new start to life led him to be a life long campaigner for the abolition of slavery and for free education and numerous other causes. The Spirit had blown into his life, he had been born anew, and a new life began which transformed not just him, but the western world as well.
My story and your stories are I am sure nowhere near as dramatic as those of Wilberforce, or Wesley, or The Woman at the Well, or Peter or Paul, but all the stories of people who have come to faith in Christ through the ages all have this same experience of new birth, of birth from outside, of a fresh start. As I said just a moment ago “It really does feel as if the wind of the Spirit has blown into their lives. God is revealed to them and experienced by them as a loving and perfect Parent, as the one who Jesus called Father. All of this is somehow tied up with faith in Jesus.” Or as Paul puts it in Romans 8 “Romans 8:15-17
15 For the Spirit that God has given you does not make you slaves and cause you to be afraid; instead, the Spirit makes you God’s children, and by the Spirit’s power we cry out to God, “Father! my Father!” 16 God’s Spirit joins himself to our spirits to declare that we are God’s children. 17 Since we are his children, we will possess the blessings he keeps for his people, and we will also possess with Christ what God has kept for him; GNT
It is this close way that the Spirit and Jesus and God whom Jesus called Father are related that causes the Early church to describe God as Trinity. They believed there was only one God, yet the teaching of the Apostles and the New Testament and their own experience of God also revealed God as three distinct identities who related to each other and to believers. It was their way of describing their common experience of God.
So what we celebrate today on Trinity Sunday is not some item of doctrine, or a piece of theological jargon. Instead we celebrate the way God has been revealed to and experienced by Christians throughout the ages. God the Father, a loving parent, loving us and the whole world so much that he sends his Son so that through the Spirit poured out into our lives we might have a new spiritual birth, a fresh life, a new start. A life which praises God for his love, and witnesses that love to others.
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