This is the sermon I gave on Trinity Sunday 2018.
Today is Trinity Sunday. This marks the beginning of the second half of the Christian year when the focus changes over from Christ’s Career to our response to it. It is one of those Sundays which is more difficult for ministers if they use it as the one opportunity in the year to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. Since the doctrine took the early church a mere 400 years to settle on a doctrine which they could agree, I have decided to avoid trying to explain it in twenty minutes. As the year turns over to a focus on our response to Christ’s career, that will be our lens.
Romans 8: 12-17 is actually one of the main passages that was used in the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. While our Isaiah passage today spoke of the transformation of Isaiah from an observer to a prophet who, after he was cleansed of his sin, responded by voluntarily beginning an often dangerous life as God’s prophet; and the story of Nicodemus night-time visit to Christ was used by John to make clear the separation between flesh and spirit; Romans focuses on our transformations through the Spirit to members of God’s family, and from slave to child. (Achtemeier) So let’s begin looking at the transformation available to us. In Romans the writer talks about us being adopted as God’s children, and thus as brothers and sisters of Christ.
Family is the first and most central relationship of our lives. We start with the family into which we are born or adopted and then raised. As children in the family we begin as completely dependent on our parents for everything and move gradually to become independent. This gradual change in the balance of power is a constant push and pull between parents and children. For most of us, we then move out on our own and then create a new family with our own spouses and children.
When we try to explain our closest relationships with friends we often refer to them as being, “as close as family,” or “just like brothers or sisters,” or “our other parents.” That is not what is being spoken about in Romans. We read there that after our transformation from being led by the flesh to being led by the Spirit, we “are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.
How do we respond to that adoption? Take a look back at Psalm 29 to see how God is described.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion[b] like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightning.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord twists the oaks[c]
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord blesses his people with peace.
That definitely describes someone to whom we will run, maybe climb into his lap, and say, “Daddy, daddy!” Well maybe not. Do you remember the first time a former teacher asked you to call them by their first name? It feels so strange to go from saying Mrs. Scott, or Professor Mark, to Cathy and Jamie. If that is difficult to call regular humans by a more familiar name, how much more difficult is it to imagine that it is ok to call God “father”, “dad.” But it is that very privilege which we gain through the Spirit. We aren’t “as close to God as family.” We, “are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ”
Along with the privileges of family come responsibilities. We make commitments to our families, we make sacrifices for our families, we share our resources with our families. As members of God’s family we also have commitments to make and meet. This is our response, the topic of the rest of the Christian year. The rest of verse 17 says, “if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” Like Isaiah, in saying, “‘Here am I; send me!’” would live a life of being both honoured by the people, and running for his life and hiding in a cave to avoid the soldiers of the King; we have to accept the risks associated with being God’s family members.
Paul Achtemeier said, “The transformation wrought by God’s Spirit is such that one becomes a foreigner to the culture to which one once belonged.” This is a tough thing to see for many of us as we were raised in a time when Western society seemed to assume that people were Christian. To be a Christian at this time was to be on the inside, on the side of power. It seems like that was not actually the role intended for Christian life. With the secularization of Western societies, it is much easier to see the risk of being part of this family.
In his notes on Romans 8, Scott Hoezee writes about a story he read in a book by Richard Lischer called The End of Words. which illustrates why it is one of those stories we can never hear too often. It isn’t annoying like The Song That Never Ends.
“When the adopted child repeatedly asks her parents to recount the events surrounding her adoption, the story must remain the same. And woe to the one who introduces omissions or changes in the sacred formula. “And then out of all the babies in the orphanage you chose me, right?” Could parents ever tire of telling that story? Would they ever dare substitute another for it? If telling God’s story strikes us as repetitious, that is because it is. It is repetitious the way the Eucharist is repetitious, the way a favorite melody or gestures of love are repetitious, the way the mercies of God that come unbidden every day are repetitious . . . Such stories do not entertain, they do something far better. They sustain. They do not inform, they form those who share and hear them for a life of faithfulness.”
You know the song They’ll Know We Are Christians? According to this people would know that we are Christians by our love. I do not disagree with this, but as I hear over and over again from atheists and secularists, any good person can show love. So how do we show the difference? We are the ones who call God “Father.”
For some people the word “father” brings on unpleasant memories and connotations. We can choose any form to use. We can call God “Mother,” “Father,” or, as the man in the novel The Shack we can say, “Papa.” The point is that we accept that adoption and live our transformed lives as children of God.