A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Holy Trinity – June 6, 2004
Text: John 16:12-15
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Did you know, as you were brushing your teeth, and tying your shoes, and all those other things you did to prepare for church this morning, that today you’d be celebrating one of the most important festivals of the year? That’s right – look around you. The whites are out, the banners we use only on only the most special days of the church year. Easter is long since past, and Christmas is half a year away, but now, at the beginning of summer, the church puts on her finest whites and celebrates. It’s Holy Trinity Sunday, the great forgotten festival.
My hunch is that we forget about Trinity Sunday because we don’t really spend much time thinking about the Doctrine of the Trinity in the first place. It’s hard to understand, this idea of a God who is three persons but still just one God. We don’t get it, but we know that it’s at the heart of our faith, and so the natural thing to do is to try and think about it as little as possible. Despite their great mystery, Christmas and Easter have their roots in common, everyday things – birth, death, and our hope for something beyond the grave – but Trinity Sunday seems lost in a fog of mystery that we can’t see through. It’s hard to celebrate a teaching that leaves your head spinning!
As I prepared for my sermon this week, I found I was getting nowhere. I decided to close my eyes and let my mind wander a bit – an exercise that often helps me find that little burst of creative direction that can get the whole thing moving. So I settled into a comfy spot, breathed out a big sigh, and drifted.
In my minds eye, I soon found myself in a great, lit-up midway. I suppose now that there were vendors all around, on both sides of the place, but I don’t remember any of them – just one. One that caught my attention. I walked closer.
At his booth there was a great machine, nine or ten feet tall, with a bronze crank on the side, and massive gears within. At the bottom of the machine was a small, bowl-shaped opening for whatever that thing produced to appear at the end of the process. It reminded me of a gumball dispenser, to be perfectly honest, or – even better – one of those carnival vending machines that flattens your penny into an etched oval souvenir of your vacation.
I was curious, and I asked the carny behind the counter what he was peddling. “Gods!” he said. “All shapes, all sizes, all colors – you can get ’em right here. You just tell me what you want your god to be like, and this baby will crank him (or her) out for ya, right before yer eyes. Five dollahs apiece, kid. No other deal like it in the world, kid! So, what’ll it be?”
“Well,” I said, “Let me think for a minute. I guess if I were to build the God of my dreams, he’d have to be outside me. Way outside me, you know? Big and wonderful enough to be the maker of everything I see. In fact, big and wonderful enough to be the maker of things I don’t even know about. I need a God who is worthy of my worship – one who is so obviously the Lord of heaven and earth that it makes your knees tremble and buckle, so that everyone will bow down before him in prayer. Can you make me a God like that?”
The carny laughed. “’Course, kid. One omnipotent deity, coming right…”
“Wait!” I said, just as the carny was about to turn that massive bronze crank. He shot me an impatient look and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, kid? You want a hot dog to go with yer order, or what?”
“No, no…that’s not it at all. But I need to think about this some more. I mean, a big and wonderful God is great and all, don’t get me wrong. But a God like that is pretty scary when it comes right down to it. Any God who would be worth worship like that would have to be so far beyond me that I’d worry he might not even notice me! And if he did notice me…maybe…maybe it would be better for me if he hadn’t noticed me.” I gulped, as the carny swatted at the mosquito that had just settled onto his machine. “Yeah, so?” he grumbled?
“So I think that my God would need to be one who was right there beside me. He’d need to be someone on my own scale, someone who knew and loved all the little things of the world. Someone who could love me. Yeah. A God who comes into my world. A God like that wouldn’t just wind us up like a clock and let us go – he’d look after us and make sure we’re doing alright. If I had a God who was beside me, I’d know that I had a friend I could count on, too. He’d help me through the rough times and party with me when we were on a roll together. He’d listen to me.” I said, noticing the glazed look in the carny’s eyes. “HE’D LISTEN TO ME!” I said again, slamming my hand onto the counter, causing the carny to jump.
“Yeah, yeah, kid…I hear ya. Yer looking for a Number 5. I’ll just whip one right up fer ya, if you’ll give me the green…”
“Well…no, I don’t think I’m ready to order yet,” I said, as the carny slumped on top of the counter and glared at me over the top of his sunglasses. “The more I think about it, the more I realize – I actually want a God who’s inside of me. I don’t mean that I want to be God…”
“Good, ’cause yer not cut out for it,” the carny sniped.
“…I don’t want to be God,” I continued, “but I think that he needs to be even closer than right beside me. How could he really understand me unless he could look into my very heart? And when I needed help to do the right thing, or forgiveness for doing the wrong thing, or when I needed strength or encouragement or patience, or any of those other things, what better way to get them than to have God right there inside of me? He’d hear my prayers, even when I didn’t know the words to speak them out loud, because he’d know me inside out. Yes, it’s true…I need a God who will be inside me, living in my own heart.”
“Alright, kid, I see what yer doin’,” the carny grumbled. Yer lookin’ for a deal. You’ve wasted ten minutes of my time telling me about these three Gods you want, and all you’ve got is just that one $5 bill. Alright, if it’ll get you outta my booth, I’ll make ’em all fer ya. All three. Just gimme the money, and I’ll make those Gods you were askin’ for.”
“No!” I said. “You’re misunderstanding me. Why on earth would anybody want more than one God? All those different gods, they’d fight with each other. They’d compete. How would I know who to pray to? Do you have any idea how bad it would be to get caught up in divine politics? No, that’s not for me at all. I don’t want three Gods. I just want one God. One God, just like I told you. He needs to be beyond me, beside me and within me. Here,” I concluded, handing over my cash.
“Are you outta yer mind?” the carny bellowed. “Who ever heard of such a thing? How d’ya expect me to make a God like that? Are ya nuts? That kinda thing just doesn’t even make any sense. Let me tell ya, I’ve got the most advanced equipment in the world right here, and it just ain’t possible, OK? Why don’t I just change your cash for some pennies that you can toss in the wishing well over there, instead, ’cause that’s the only way you’ll ever get a three-in-one God like yer talkin’!”
A three-in-one God. Triune. A Trinity. A God who is beyond us, beside us, and within us all at the same time. That’s the kind of God we need. And there’s some truth to the carny’s words to me – that kinda thing really doesn’t make much sense. I can’t wrap my head around it, and yet I know that a God like that is the only kind of God who can be my God. I suspect that you know that, too, when you look in your heart. Whether it makes sense or not, the only God for us is a God who is three and one at the same time.
Friends, that is precisely what – or, rather, WHO – our God is. Scripture reveals to us a God who is Father, above and beyond time, the maker of everything we can see and everything we can’t. And it also shows us a God who is Son, coming into our world in the most intimate way possible, living among us and loving us as a friend, and dying like us so that we might rise like him. And Scripture also teaches us about God who is Spirit, living in our hearts, praying with and for us every moment of every day, teaching and guiding us in the ways of truth and goodness.
And most of all, Scripture shows us that this one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – loves us with all his might. We couldn’t hope to buy a God like this…we could barely even dream him up. And yet, just the God we need is just the God we have. He’s beyond, beside and within each of us, and so we celebrate today: “God in three persons – blessed Trinity!” Amen.