1 John 5:1-8
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
6This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
At the beginning of the new year we found ourselves discussing the different members of the Trinity and their role in the creation of the world in an unintentional sermon series. Now, as we finish the first month of 2015, I just want to ask one simple question to make sure that everyone is listening. It is pop quiz time. Which member of the Trinity created the world as we know it? Was it the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit? Of course, this is one of my trick questions and the answer is “yes.” All you have to do to see this is read a few verses into Genesis chapter one and you find the Spirit of God hovering over the water and God the Father speaking creation into existence. And when God speaks creation into existence, God is using words. And in the Gospel of John we find that the “Word” that God speaks is Jesus. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
A part of my brain wants to figure this all out. I like things to be neat and clean and fit nicely into their own container. I want to know who made the world, the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. But you can’t separate the three members of the Trinity that easily and assign roles to each. Some have tried to do just that, and they like to refer to the members of the Trinity based on their roles and responsibilities. Perhaps you have heard people refer to the members of the Trinity as the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer. If that is helpful to you, I don’t mean to discourage you from using those terms. But as we have seen, all the members of the Trinity participated in the creation. And we could say the same thing about redemption and sustaining us.
In reality, it should not surprise us that the members of the Trinity are not so easily broken down and divided into various roles because while we understand that each member has someone differing responsibilities, we also believe that they are a part of one and the same God. And therein lies the problem. Is God three or is God one?
I read one commentary where the author said something like, “The Bible tells us that the Father is God, that Jesus is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God. That same Bible also tells us that there is only one God. Deal with it.”
I believe that there is no way to talk about the Trinity that does not fall into some form of heresy. The early church leaders really wanted to find a way to discuss how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit relate to one another, but as is often the case, they did a lot better job of defining what they don’t believe about this relationship than what they do believe. And in doing this, they effectively made every statement that you can say about the Trinity a heresy. (Warning: oversimplification coming)
You think the Trinity is three different manifestations of the same divine being? That’s called Modalism. You think that the Trinity is three different, separate but equal divine beings? That’s called Tri-theism. And if the three members of the Trinity aren’t manifestations of the same divine being and they also are not separate beings, what is left?
I’ve heard some very interesting metaphors used to describe the relationship found within the Trinity. One of my favorites is that the Trinity is like water, good old H2O. H2O can exist in three different forms. At room temperature, it is a liquid. If you drop the temperature down below 32 degrees, it becomes ice, which is a solid. If you heat it up above 212 degrees, it becomes steam, which is a gas. Water can be a liquid, solid, or gas. Which one is H2O? All of them!
This is helpful for to wrap my scientific brain around the concept of the Trinity. There’s just one problem. That’s Modalism and is considered a heresy.
Another story that I like also helps explain the tradition of dyeing Easter Eggs. The story says that there once was a king who was seeking the counsel of the wisest theologians in the land to explain the Trinity to him. One after another failed, leaving the king more and more confused. Finally, a farmer came in holding simple chicken egg. The farmer held up the egg and said, “The
Trinity is like this egg. The Spirit is the shell, the Father is the yolk, and the Son is the white. But together they are the egg.” When the farmer finished his explanation, the king understood and the egg began to glow bright red. And to this day, we dye eggs at Easter time.
That’s a cool story, but there are several issues here. One: there are about infinity different stories on the origin of the tradition of dyeing Easter Eggs. Who knows which is correct? Second: That’s Tri-Theism. There are three separate entities that together are called “god,” yet they can exist independently of one another. I’ve had an egg-white omelet or two in my day. Not only did it not include yolks, it didn’t include any shell. But if you asked, I would say I was eating eggs.
I give you those two different approaches to understanding the Trinity simply to come back to the point that no matter what you say about the Trinity, someone somewhere is going to call it heretical. And I believe that is a problem. It has the same feel to as a child that brings their artwork to their parents to show them what they have created, but the parents keep pointing out that they are not staying within the lines. Eventually the child loses interest and either stops showing their artwork to their parents or stops coloring all together. And I would say that for many churches today, we have been told that we have been coloring outside the lines for so long that we just stop talking about the Trinity all together. Nobody wants to be told that they are wrong, and we sure don’t like to be called a heretic.
Let’s just agree this much, we will never be able to fully understand the Trinity this side of heaven. But, I think we can understand the Trinity better and in doing so, we will understand our role here on earth better as well.
I like to think of the Trinity from a communal, relational perspective as something that is often called the “Social Trinity.” The three persons of the Trinity relate to one another in equal unity among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we think of the positive characteristics of human relationships, we can assume that these characteristics exist among the members of the Trinity. Love, empathy, grace, sacrifice, self-emptying care for one another. Take the healthiest family that you have ever known and make it even better. That’s how I like to understand the Trinity. This seems consistent with the Father/Son language that the Bible uses. So we can think of the family living, working, loving, eating together. And together, they are the Jones family or the Smith family. They are one. And yes, I know that this would fit nicely into a description of a Trinitarian heresy, but to quote the commentator that I noted earlier, “Deal with it.”
One of the reasons that the idea of a Social Trinity is so appealing is that it also provides an idea for why God created human beings and gave us the gift of free will. Because we have a God who is by his very nature relational, we can start to assume things like God created human beings out of a desire to relate to others. God needed to create human beings and to create us in God’s own image and likeness because God desired to relate to something. God needed to love something other than God’s self.
God also gave us free will when God created us. God did this because we all know that love must be freely chosen or else it is not love. I may say things like, “I love my new DVD player,” or “I love my new iPad.” But we don’t expect that any inanimate object is going to love us back. God could have created us and made us love him, but that wouldn’t be love.
Let’s take this one step further. We believe in a relational God who created us out of a need for community and gave us the free will to either participate in that community or not. But, and this is a big but, because we were created in the image and likeness of a God who is by his very nature relational and communal, we too seek and need community. Even if you know nothing of God, you still seek and need community.
I am growing more and more introverted in my old age. I’m the one who is happy to spend most nights home with a book or watching Netflix. Social interactions can be a bit draining on me, and I will often avoid them if I can. It isn’t that I don’t like people. I love people. I just don’t always feel as if I need to meet more people. I tend to be the most comfortable with a small group of intimate friends who know each other well.
Compare that to my mother or my mother-in-law. These women have never met a stranger. My mom is often confused by introverted people. She will say things to me like, “Why wouldn’t you chat with the checkout person at the grocery store.” My mother-in-law will tell me all about the other parents at Paxton’s preschool who I’ve never spoken to, even though I see them twice a day, four days a week and she maybe sees them once or twice a week. She will start a story by saying, “Did you know that Janette’s mom is in the hospital?” And I’ll say, “Who is Janette?” She will then say, “She’s Randy’s mom.” And I’ll reply, “Who is Randy?”
So it would be very easy for me to claim that some people are social and relational, that some people need community and some people are lone wolves who don’t need anyone. But that would be a lie. We were created in the image and likeness of a relational God and we are relational beings.
One of the things that I soon learned while on my sabbatical last fall was just how much I needed community. I remember when I started seminary in 2005 just how much the school attempted to foster a sense of community. We were going to be studying together, learning together, writing and researching papers and presentations together. Sure, for a lot of the work we did, we did it independently. But we also knew that the person studying at the desk right next to us was going through the same thing. And we knew that the older students had survived what we were experiencing and so had our professors. We worshipped together in chapel and met together for meals and hikes when we were not studying. We needed community. We needed each other.
Union Presbyterian attempted to provide that community as well. But because I was only on campus one day a week, I never really entered into that community. And usually that would be okay because I would have my church community to go to for support. But I didn’t have that, either. I worshipped in 10 different churches in 13 weeks. I was surrounded by strangers at the precise time when I needed community the most.
We are relational beings created in the image and likeness of a relational God.
This week I actually saw some pretty interesting research on the power of community and the problems that arise when we miss out on community. The article made the bold claim that the cause of many of our addictions is a lack of community.
We have traditionally assumed that we get addicted to things because they have some sort of a chemical hook that holds on to us. Our brains and bodies get hooked on something in the drugs or alcohol and we feel as if we need them. Perhaps you are familiar with the experiment done years ago with rats where cocaine was put into the water bottles and the rats soon became addicted. Some became so addicted that they continued to go back for the cocaine water until the killed themselves by overdosing. There’s that chemical hook.
But the article mentioned several other cases where things seemed different. One case involved what is perhaps the most addictive substance known to man: nicotine. We know that nicotine is the drug found in tobacco that so many people can’t overcome. And this article mentioned the excitement that much of the health-conscious world felt in the early 1990’s when nicotine patches were developed. The sciences still seems reasonable. If nicotine is really what the people need, then they will be able to get it from a safer source, from the patch, and be able to quit smoking all together. But only 17.7 percent of people who try to quit smoking by using the patch are able to actually quit. There must be something else to it.
So they went back to those rats that were offered cocaine in their water bottles. Of those rats that killed themselves by overdosing on the cocaine water, all were living in isolation with no other rats around them. When cocaine water and regular water were offered to rats living in community, those rats would often make the healthier choice. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html
We are relational beings created in the image and likeness of a relational God. And when that relationship is not there, we seek to fill the void with something else.
This idea of a Social Trinity is not new; it has been around for centuries, almost as long as Christianity has been around. There is one more aspect of this relational God that we serve that I want to introduce to you this morning. It is called “perichoresis.” Peri is a prefix that means “around.” We see it in words like perimeter, which is the outside of a shape. Choresis means “to give way.” It is the root of the word “choreography;” a sequence of moves, like in a dance. As early as the late 4th century, Gregory of Nazianzus was describing the Trinity by using the word “perichoresis;” it is the dance of God.
There is action and reaction, movement and countermovement. But always, the Trinity moves together, as a unit, so as to avoid stepping on each other’s toes. I picture my family, holding hands, singing “Ring Around the Rosy” as we turn in a circle. Together, we all fall down, and get back up. We dance together, because we are relational beings.
Even when we feel like we would rather go read a book or watch a movie alone, we still seek human connection. We are relational beings made in the image and likeness of a relational God. Deal with it.