Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 – Before the oceans and mountains were born, Wisdom was set in place.
Psalm 8 – When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
Romans 5:1-5 – Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
John 16:12-15 – When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth… He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine.
Down here in Texas, the Trinitarian hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” is still a favorite.
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, the only day of the church year devoted to a doctrine. Following Trinity Sunday, the next six Sundays the second lesson is from Galatians. Having previously focused on Galatians (2012), I will be working other lessons. Links to posts on the Galatians texts by Don Carlson and me can be found below. Paul’s statements about freedom in Galatians 5 fall conveniently on the Sunday before July 4, Independence Day.
May 29, 2016, P2C, Galatians 1:1-12
June 5, 2016, P3C, Galatians 1:11-24
June 12, 2016, P4C, Galatians 2:15-21 (June 16 is also Father’s Day)
June 19, 2016, P5C, Galatians 3:23-29 (June 19 is Juneteenth)
June 26, 2016, P6C, Galatians 5:1, 13-25 (July 4 is Independence Day)
July 3, 2016, P7C, Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16 (July 4 is Independence Day)
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
En consecuencia, ya que hemos sido justificados mediante la fe, tenemos paz con Dios por medio de nuestro Señor Jesucristo. También por medio de él, y mediante la fe, tenemos acceso a esta gracia en la cual nos mantenemos firmes. Así que nos regocijamos en la esperanza de alcanzar la gloria de Dios. Y no sólo en esto, sino también en nuestros sufrimientos, porque sabemos que el sufrimiento produce perseverancia; la perseverancia, entereza de carácter; la entereza de carácter, esperanza. Y esta esperanza no nos defrauda, porque Dios ha derramado su amor en nuestro corazón por el Espíritu Santo que nos ha dado.
It is not difficult to see why the framers of the lectionary chose this passage for Trinity Sunday. While the word “Trinity” is never mentioned in the Bible, it is implicitly there and became the way the church understood divinity, as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Paul’s theology here in Romans, and in other places, seems clear enough. We have peace with God because Jesus Christ has given us access to faith. So we boast in this hope, and also in suffering (which, seen in the cross also becomes our lot), that leads to hope because the Holy Spirit has poured God’s love in our hearts.
There may be no mention of the Trinity in the Bible per se, but the theology of it is everywhere. Once Christians began to contemplate the God who creates, redeems, and makes us holy, one God in three persons, they began to notice it in other places. They wondered about the three divine messengers Abraham encountered at the Oaks of Mamre. The personification of Holy Wisdom in the Scriptures came to be understood as the Holy Spirit. The Trinity was not a new idea; it had been there all along, like the Theory of Relativity. They noticed that you have God, Word, and Spirit in the first Genesis creation account. Jesus became identified with the Word in John’s gospel.
Understanding Jesus as the Word, took on significant importance as the Word, the Divine Logos, had special significance in Greco-Roman culture. Heraclitus had used it as a philosophical term to describe knowledge and the order of the universe 500 years before Christ. The Stoic philosophers identified the Word/Logos as the divine animating principle pervading the universe. In Roman theology, the Logos was the first emanation of the Pleroma (the fullness of all divine powers). For Greek Christians, identifying Jesus with the Divine Logos mean something in pagan society. It communicated, and that communication had cosmic implications. For Jewish Christians, identifying Jesus with the Word of God spoken at creation, the creative force of the universe, also had cosmic implications. Even the Jewish philosopher Philo (20-50 A.D.) had incorporated the concept of the Logos into his philosophy.
Romans 5 is not a treatise on the Trinity. Paul is not really talking about the doctrine of the Trinity. It appears to emerge unconsciously as he is talking about the implications of justification. Paul has spent the first chapters of Romans talking about the human condition. He paints a picture of a humanity that is trapped in the power of sin. Paul condemns paganism. Humans worship creation rather than creator. Paul condemns temple prostitution. He points out that our rejection of God leads to wickedness and ultimately suffering. No one is righteous. All are guilty. Therefore, you have no high moral ground from which to judge others (Romans 2:1, Matthew 7:1). No one can judge. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Furthermore, I would contend that Paul is addressing primarily Jewish Christians in Romans 2-4. In chapters 5-8, he addresses Gentile Christians. This is a very conscious structure in his letter, based on his thesis/propositio/theme verse, if you will:
Therefore, I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation of everyone who believes, the Jew first and also the Greek. For the righteousness of God has been revealed from faith to faith, just it is written, “The righteous by faith shall live. (1:15-16)
So, Paul, true to form, deals with the Jew first and then the Greek. The Law cannot save, he warns Jewish Christians. This is a critical point, since Pharisees are making significant ground in the Christian community, to Paul’s disappointment.
In chapter 5, our text for today, Paul has moved to the Gentile Christians. Paul begins this section with the word, “Therefore.” In the Bible, whenever you see the word “therefore,” you need to ask what it’s there for. Paul has expanded on his chapter 1 thesis in chapter 3. We are justified by faith, therefore, this has significant implications. New Testament professor turned parish pastor Mary Hinkle Shore says Romans 1-4 is “What?” In Romans 5, Paul turns to “Now What?” If we are justified by faith, and if the Law cannot make us righteous (3:20-28), then salvation must be available to all, apart from the Law.
Even we, who are still caught in the web of sin, are now at peace with God, simply by faith. This is Paul’s E=mc 2. It is the calculus of faith. We have a shortcut to God that simply involved trusting (and I would argue Paul means also following) Christ. Paul talks about being “in Christ,” (6:3, 8:1, 16:7) in Romans and other letters. Being “in Christ,” we participate in his suffering and death. If we die with him, we will also rise with him. Salvation is not about purity, being good enough or keeping the law. It’s about faith. Trust. Relationship.
So how do you preach all this? I don’t know; it depends on your community. How immersed are they biblically? Theologically? What’s going on in your community right now? What do they need to hear? Where do they need to be on the continuum of challenge and comfort?
Preaching the doctrine of the Trinity can be pretty dry. Preaching about a spiritually life-giving relationship with God can be riveting. What does it mean to put our faith in God, through Christ and allow the Spirit to pour love into our hearts? And for the younger folks who are struggling with older patriarchal ideas about God, can we invite them to see God as creator, as revealed in Christ and as ever-present, blowing through their lives with the wind of the Spirit? Can we invite them to move past concepts of God rooted in archaic cosmologies and encounter the living God in this postmodern context?
Perhaps one message of Trinity Sunday is that God is multifaceted – bigger than you thought. Deeper, wider, higher, and lower. Invite them to encounter the God revealed in creation of the incomprehensible cosmos. Introduce them to the God that Jesus invites us to discover divinity in the eyes of the hungry, wandering, sick, and imprisoned. Invite them to see the God who speaks to us in prayer, dreams, and visions? Through the Spirit. No, this is not modalism. This is good news: proclaiming the three persons of the Trinity as a diverse, multifaceted God, who lives in community and calls us to do the same.
What’s in your heart?
One last thought, with another possible angle. Paul talks about the Holy Spirit pouring the love of God into our hearts.
To commit something to memory is to learn it “by heart.” To lose heart is to lose hope. When we say we want to “get to the heart of the matter,” it means we want to get to the very core. To know someone’s heart is to know their intentions. What’s in your heart?
In the Bible, your heart is the very core of your being. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to “love the Lord with all your heart…” (Luke 10:27) To be “heartless” is to lack compassion. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)
In the prophets God promised to give the people a new heart. (Isaiah 44:22) Jeremiah prophesied, “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
At Pentecost that promise was fulfilled with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Because of what Christ has done, the apostle Paul says in Romans 5, God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The promise made in Jeremiah is fulfilled. God in Christ gives us a new heart of love through the Holy Spirit.
We are ministers of new covenant Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3, a covenant of the Spirit, not of the letter. In former days the law was written on stone tablets. The new covenant, the law of love, is written on our hearts.
Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you…” (John 16:12) The Triune God in Christ still speaks to our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
As you worship today in Word and Sacrament, can you close your eyes and visualize Christ pouring God’s love into your heart through the Holy Spirit?