Here is the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC for Trinity Sunday, 10 June 2001. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Proverbs 8: 1 – 4, 22 – 31; Romans 5: 1 – 5; and John 16: 12 – 15.
One of the more fascinating tidbits of information that I have picked up in my life is that the motto of the Central Intelligence Agency is John 8: 32, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8: 32)
In picking this statement as its motto, the CIA said that we need to know as much information about other governments and what their intentions are so that we can take the proper counter-measures and remain free. It is very much like Thomas Jefferson’s statement "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." (Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Col. Charles Yancey, January 6, 1816)
Our whole life is about finding truth in the things around us. From early on, we are constantly asking questions which speak to our desire to know things about our world and our lives, "Why is the grass green? Why is the sky blue?" As we get older, we seek the answers to deeper questions, "Why am I here? What meaning is there to my life? How can there be a God if there is so much hatred and injustice in this world?"
It is against that backdrop of seeking knowledge and truth that the writer of Proverbs reminds us about our own human nature. Proverbs is about the frailty of the human character. A quick scan of this book gives us a convincing array of descriptions of human nature and behavior: foolishness, wickedness, adulterous behavior, evildoers, stupidity, those that scoff at others, crooked and other illegal actions, and laziness. Don’t look for praise of the human species in Proverbs.
The wisdom in Proverbs comes from the fact that the writer understood that there is delicately intertwined labyrinth of good and ill within the human soul. In the selection for today, Wisdom assumes human ignorance but then proceeds to show us that the human heart, mind and soul are capable of great and delightful things.
Wisdom has it right: Human behavior as a race is potentially delightful, creative, compassionate, humble, pure, good-humored, just, honorable, and good. But such things are not given, not an automatic profile of humanness but rather something that must be learned, heard, studied, heeded, practiced, and lived.
This plays out well when we think about our own lives. Our own desire to seek a better live, to find the good in all around us, to understand the world in which we live is what drives our desire to seek an inner peace in our lives. According to Jack Miles, the author of God: The Biography, American culture has always encouraged tolerance and experimentalism.
Like explorers standing at the mouth of some vast, complex unknown river yearning to find its source, or astronomers searching the heavens for clues to invisible transmissions, we cannot help but be aware that the world around us is still mysterious, complex, and unfathomable. And if the world in which we live is mysterious, how much more can God be?
The doctrine of the Trinity can itself be seen as the product of a restless theological mind. How can there be one God with three different revelations? Like mathematicians seeking to solve Fermat’s Last Theorem (the one where he wrote in the margin of a book that he had found an elegant solution to a simple algebraic expression but then never wrote down the solution), church thinkers have struggled and wrestled with this concept for over four hundred years.
It is a difficult concept for us to understand because there has been on other way to express what God means to us than by saying, "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." And if you thought that the controversies between members of the church were new, you need only to go back to the days of the early church, to 451 when the Nicene Creed was first written. This creed was the result of the controversy and established the Orthodox Christian affirmation of a triune God, God in three persons, or three manifestations, three expressions: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Even before that time, Paul was trying to explain the mystery of the Trinity. He attempted to do that in the selection from Romans that we read today. In 2 Corinthians 13: 14, Paul expressed it as "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you." (2 Corinthians 13: 14)
Our own personal experience with God can be adequately stated only in this Trinitarian terminology. We can’t explain the Trinity, but we can affirm, with Christians across the ages, that God is our Father in heaven; our Savior, the Son of God who died for our sins; and our Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the living Lord who dwells within us and interacts with our own spirits.
There is God beyond us, God transcendent, God whose name was regarded as so sacred by the ancient Hebrews that they would not speak it and substituted an Aramaic word whenever they encountered the sacred name in the Scriptures. This God beyond us we refer to as Father, Creator of heaven and earth.
Until we know God as Father, we experience a deep sense of restlessness in our lives. The uneasiness is there because we have alienated ourselves from the One who created us in his image to have fellowship with Him. Just as rebellious sons and daughters destroy their relationships with their parents, so also do we break our relationship with God through sin. We have no peace until we know God as Father again. The word "peace" is derived from a verb that means to bind together again that which has been separated.
There is God among us, the Word became flesh, the very revelation of God in human form, Jesus Christ the Son, who redeemed us from sin. It is through our Lord Jesus Christ that we have peace with God, because it is by him that we gain access to, as Paul wrote in Romans, "the grace in which we stand." (Romans 5: 2) It is our experience with God as the Savior-Son that is the beginning point in our knowledge of the Trinity.
When Paul gave his Trinitarian benediction (2 Corinthians 13: 14), he began with "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ." This was because of his own personal experience. He did not personally know the God he thought he was serving as Saul the Pharisee until the day on the road to Damascus. But when he met Jesus and trusted Him as his Savior, he found peace with Father-God.
And finally, there is God within us as individual Christians and within the community that is the church: God the Holy Spirit, who sustains us personally and corporately. None of us have seen the risen Christ, but we have experienced the presence of God within us and within the church.
The immediate presence of God in our lives is through the Holy Spirit. In actuality, the Spirit is the main player in the whole matter of our personal experience of and with God. It is the Spirit that teaches us, illumines our minds, and authenticates to us the reality of God as Savior and as Father.
It is the Spirit that delivers to our lives the salvation experience from beginning to end. He enacts the new birth; he gives us assurance that we are God’s children and works through our tribulations to teach us patience, and through our patience to transform our character, and through the experience of proven character to enhance our hope in the glory of God. Meanwhile, it is through the Spirit that our lives are infused with God’s love.
Proverbs reminds us that there is a certain folly to life when we seek to find the answers to our questions outside God. It is only by coming to God that the peace we seek in our lives is accomplished. And it is only through Jesus Christ that we can come to God. And our lives come to a full circle when we allow the Holy Spirit to be a part of our lives, empowering us to experience the presence of God within us and within the church.