(Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17)
Twenty years ago, my parents had their 50th Wedding Anniversary. My siblings and I decided to celebrate with a big party. We discovered – while we were imagining, planning, and preparing for the party – that we each had unique talents to contribute to the process. These talents meant that we each played a specific and integral role in creating and having the party. My sister, Lisa, the oldest, came up with the idea and laid out the basics plan. She got the ball rolling and kept it rolling. She was the general. My brother, Bill, and his wife, Alicia, love food and are excellent chefs, so they were the culinary specialists. I am creative and artistic, so I was responsible for designing and sending the invitation and decorating the space. I was the USO representative. My sister, Polly, is like the Energizer bunny: She has lots of energy and focus, so she came in right before the party to make sure everything was in order and to get those things done that hadn’t been done yet. She was the special forces representative. The party was a great success. After it was over, we all recognized our specific and integral roles. We were both grateful that we had each other to work with and amused with the titles we gave our roles.
From my perspective as a Christian, my siblings and I worked together in a way similar to the persons of the Trinity. We are four children of one family: We are persons in our own right, but we are inextricably bound to each other by being the children of Bill and Carol Freeman. We are never not ourselves, nor are we never not children of Bill and Carol Freeman. We are four in one; unity in diversity.
The same is true of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the three persons of the one God: They are persons in their own right, but they are inextricably bound together as one God. They are never not themselves, nor are they never not persons of the one God. They are three in one; unity in diversity.
We can understand the Trinity in this way today, but in the first days, years, decades, and centuries of Christianity, Christians struggled to understand how the three persons of the Trinity were related to one another and what that meant about God. Were there actually three Gods? That couldn’t be, because the Old Testament states that there is only one God. What if God the Father is the most important God, and the Son and the Holy Spirit are lesser gods? No, there’s only one God. Well, what if the one God takes on different personalities at different times, kind of like someone with multiple personalities: the same God, but in different roles? But that would mean that while Jesus, God the Son, was on earth, God the Father wasn’t in heaven because he had morphed into God the Son and was on earth! That wouldn’t work! Jesus prayed to the Father while he was on earth, and the Spirit came to Jesus while he was on earth, so, clearly, they all exist at the same time.
Every way that early Christians tried to understand the phenomenon of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit violated their belief in the one, true God. The only answer was that the one God consisted of three persons simultaneously. God, the Creator, the one Jesus and we call Father; God the Redeemer, the one the Father calls Son and we call Jesus; and God the Sanctifier, the one Jesus called the Spirit of Truth and we call the Holy Spirit. Each is uniquely himself, but each is also inextricably bound to the others. They are unity in diversity.
Finally, in the Fourth Century, at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, a definitive understanding of the Trinity was written into the Nicene Creed. The creed was later revised at the First Council of Constantinople in 381. This is the Nicene Creed as it was revised in 381:
"We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic [universal] and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come." Amen.
Did you notice how carefully the relationship between the persons of the Trinity is described? Jesus is the “only Son of God,” “eternally begotten . . . not made, of one Being with the Father.” “By the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate . . . and was made man.” The Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son” and with them “he is worshiped and glorified.” God is separate from creation and is not dependent on creation, so all three persons of the Trinity cannot be created (or made); instead, Jesus was begotten and the Holy Spirit proceeded. We can see why it took four centuries to define Christians’ experience and understanding of the Trinity!
Now, let’s look at the specific and integral role of each person of the Trinity. God, the Father and Creator is the maker of heaven and earth and of all that is seen and unseen. Jesus Christ, Son and Redeemer, is the Word through whom all things were made. In order to save us, he became incarnate and made human; he was crucified, he died, and was buried; he rose again and ascended into heaven, where he is seated at the right hand of the Father. The Holy Spirit is the giver of life who inspires, guides, and sustains us.
We see the specific and integral role of each person of the Trinity at work in the story of Nicodemus. The Father/Creator is seen in the existence of creation and its creatures. Nicodemus exists because the Father created humans. However, Nicodemus was born into a fallen world and is thus separated from the Father. He must encounter Jesus/the Son/the Redeemer in order to understand that he is separated from the Father. Jesus is the Son who was born into the world in order to save the world. He is the bridge between fallen creation and its Creator. Having encountered Jesus, Nicodemus struggles to understand his current fallen condition and the antidote to it: He must be “born from above” (Jn 3:3). Nicodemus displays his fleshly (that is sinful) nature by misunderstanding Jesus and thinking he must reenter his mother’s womb and be born, literally, again. Jesus explains that what is born of “flesh is flesh” and what is born of “Spirit is spirit” (Jn 3:6). Nicodemus will remain merely flesh until he receives the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will rebirth Nicodemus: Nicodemus will be born, again, from above.
The passage ends with the famous passage: “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. 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” (Jn 3:16-17). God the Father and Creator sent God the Son and Redeemer so that God the Spirit and Sanctifier could birth from above all who accepted the redemption Jesus offered.
The story of Nicodemus illustrates how the persons of the Trinity work together to create, redeem, and sanctify the world. Each person has his own specific and integral role to play, but they are bound together as the one God. Since God is love, the thing that binds them is love.
The relationship of the three persons of the Trinity is the model for humans’ relationships with each other. We live and move and have our being in God (Acts 17:38), so we live and move and have our being in love. Once we understand that we are separated from God and are, thus, living fleshly existences, we can repent, turn back to God, receive redemption and sanctification and live into the image of God in which humans were, originally, created. We can honor our connectedness in God and thus honor each other by relating to one another in love. Each of us has specific and integral talents that define the role we will play in our relationships and communities, and each is to be honored for his or her uniqueness. In this way, we live as God intends us to live: unique siblings bound together by love in God’s one human family.
What my siblings and I discovered as we imagined, planned, and prepared the party for my parents is the way we were all created to live. We are all invited to God’s party here on earth. We can honor each one’s contribution as we work together with each other and God to celebrate life on earth, or we can dishonor each one’s contribution as we fight our way through life on earth. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide, inspire, and sustain us as we seek to honor the image of God in which we were made. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, May 27, 2018, Trinity Sunday.
 Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer (1979), The Book of Common Prayer (PDF). New York: Church Publishing Incorporated. 2007. pp. 326–327. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
Image attribution: [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons