(Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29, Romans 8:12-17)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/shF_cKegIOk)
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
If I were to ask you to finish the statement, “two is company but…,” what would you say? That’s right…”three’s a crowd.” What an odd little statement…but oh so true!! How can two people meeting with each other feel so right and natural but when a third person joins them the dynamics seem overwhelming? There’s a degree of closeness shared by two people that seems to get lost when someone else enters the picture. Suddenly one or both people have divided attentions. The two people may want to focus on each other but they’re forced to give their attentions to the third person. The closeness between the two gets diluted and weakened. Perhaps the closeness shared with the third person by one or both of the people becomes more intense. Maybe the closeness is equally shared between all three people but that doesn’t mean it’s the same closeness shared just between the two people. There’s less closeness shared between the two people simply because they have to share parts of themselves with the third person. In short, three people are not as close as two, much the same way as a crowd of people is not close. One extra person can fracture the closeness of a couple as easily as a crowd. Two IS company but three IS a crowd! Or is it?
This week we are celebrating a group of three persons that defies the wisdom of this idiom. We are celebrating the first Sunday after Pentecost, commonly referred to as Trinity Sunday. For the 50 days of Easter we focused our attention on celebrating the Son and the sacrifice he made to redeem us from our sinfulness. Last Sunday we focused on celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit who brings us to faith and eternal life through the Son. We don’t really have a specific day or season to celebrate the Father but we give thanks all year long for His creation. Nowhere in scripture can one find the description of a Triune God. We can read about God the Father or God the Son or God the Spirit but never about God the Triune. Yet this is the state in which God exists—as a three-person Triune entity. Our Apostles’ Creed celebrates our three-person God. Our Nicene Creed celebrates our three-person God. Our Athanasian Creed celebrates our three-person God. All three creeds help define who the three Persons are and the relationship they have with each other. Yet somehow we continue to struggle with understanding who and what the Triune God is. Perhaps, like God, we aren’t meant to understand the Holy Trinity. We try to understand our Triune God through images like water or an egg or an apple but even these don’t fully explain how God can exist in three Persons, “all one with equal glory and majesty coeternal” as the Athanasian Creed professes. Our Triune God is difficult, perhaps impossible, to understand.
Even though Scripture doesn’t specifically use the expression “Triune God,” the concept represented by the word “Trinity” does exist in Scripture as we explored in our Bible study earlier this week. God’s Word clearly defines six key aspects of the Trinity. First and foremost, Scripture tells us that there is one God. There are not multiple gods making up one God. One God! Second, the Trinity consists of three persons. Third, the members of the Trinity are distinguished one from another in various passages. They are not the same persons. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each have distinguishable characteristics. Fourth, each member of the Trinity is God. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Fifth, there is subordination within the Trinity. Scripture shows that the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the Father and the Son while the Son is subordinate to the Father. This is not to say that the Holy Spirit and Son are lesser parts of God than the Father. This only describes their internal relationship. Finally, the individual members of the Trinity have different tasks. The Father does different things than the Son and Holy Spirit. They’ve each got their own responsibilities.
Those six aspects of the Trinity are found in Scripture. But even they can cause confusion. How can subordination and equality co-exist? How can one God exist in three Persons? How can three persons play different roles to create one role of God? How can we worship one God with three persons? Sometimes we praise the Father, sometimes the Son, and sometimes the Spirit…does that mean we’re praising the same God, just different parts of Him? All these questions that arise when we try to understand our Triune God!! We’ve been wrestling with understanding the Triune God since the beginning of the church and we’ll continue wrestling with it.
Look at how our lectionary tries to teach us about the Trinity in our readings assigned for today. In our first reading from Isaiah, we heard Isaiah’s call story in which angels came and prepared him to be sent out as an apostle of the Lord. With the touch of coal, Isaiah’s sin left him and he was able to answer the Lord’s calling. Where is the Triune God in that story? Commentators have noted the three pairs of wings on the angels represent the three persons of the Trinity. The pair that covered the angels’ face represent God the Father, the pair that covered the angels’ feet represent God the Son, and the pair that enabled the angels to fly represent God the Spirit. The angels in the story embody our Triune God.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he concisely defines the key roles of the three persons of our Triune God. The Father is the source of all creation. We are parts of God’s creation, His beloved children. The Spirit enables us to be created and to realize the Father’s glory. The Spirit makes us holy by leading us to the Son through faith. The Son redeems us from our sin and it is through him that we receive the glory of the Father. The Father creates, the Spirit sanctifies, and the Son redeems. Three distinguishable roles of our Triune God.
In John’s passage, we see the different roles carried out. First, we hear Jesus’ teaching on being born again. It is easy to believe that we are the most important creators in this world. In actuality, God is the sole creator in this world. We create because God enable us to create. We wouldn’t create without God’s creation. Jesus’ teaching on being born again illustrates the creativity of God the Father. After all, it was God the Father who sent the Son and in so doing created a new reality for us. Jesus said, 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God created the Son, God gave the Son, to create faith and an entry into eternal life. God created our salvation through the Son. The Spirit gives us the faith we need to believe in the Son and our salvation through him. The Spirit helps is believe in the Son and when we believe we are made holy. We are saved from our sin through faith and belief.
John’s gospel, Paul’s letter, and Isaiah’s call story each help us to better understand our Triune God. More importantly, they teach us that not all groups of three persons are disharmonious as a crowd. Two is a company but not all threes are a crowd. Some threes can actually be quite harmonious. Some threes can work together, each bringing unique qualities to the whole. Some threes can make a better one. Neither of the persons is less than the others and the closeness shared between all three is just as strong if not stronger than the closeness shared by two. The Trinity defies the wisdom of the age-old wisdom that “three’s a crowd.” We might not understand the Trinity but we benefit from it. The Father creates us, the Spirit sanctifies us, and the Son redeems us. Let us rejoice in our Triune God and boldly proclaim that sometimes…good things can come in threes!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.