God in God in Us
It must have been a challenging task to come up with the readings for Trinity Sunday. Because the Trinity is not in the Bible.
God the Father or Creator, God the Son or Word and God the Holy Spirit – they are all there – but there’s precious little information about how they are distinct from each other. In the early years of the Christian church some people thought that there were multiple gods, and it became very important to define God and establish exactly how God could be three in one. And how three God persons relate to one another.
We tend to think that there was one original Christian truth which then got distorted by heretics. History suggests it was the other way round – there were lots of different ways of thinking about Jesus and about his Father, and it was only over time that some ideas were accepted and others dropped.
So this morning let’s investigate this particular set of readings for what they tell us about God, with as open a mind as we can muster.
We usually hear the first reading, Isaiah’s vision, as a story about how God calls and sends us, but let’s see what it says about Godself.
“I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him.”
This is a beautiful mystical image which we can’t really translate into our everyday language. But we can get the sense of an astonishing presence, so great that just the hem of his garment filled the temple. Seraphs, or angels, were ministering to the Presence and singing the hymn which we sing in the Eucharist: Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." This same image of God occurs and is expanded in the book of Revelation where we read that the one who sat upon the throne “had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.” And the seraphim cried, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev.4:3,8)
To describe this God we really have to use words that we rarely use; majesty, glory, awe, wonder. It’s not our normal vocabulary. This is an other worldly vision which leaves mere mortals like Isaiah and you and I, stuttering and speechless. This is a God who is the lord of hosts - lord of the armies of Israel, but also of the hosts of heaven – whose glory fills and can be seen in the whole earth. Who was and is and is to come – who is eternal. So this is a God who is glorious and above everything and is intimately connected to Creation. Everything that is glorious and awe-inspiring is a reflection of this God.
The canticle we sang was a hymn of praise to this God,
Glory to you in the splendor of your temple; *
on the throne of your majesty, glory to you.
Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
Glory to you, beholding the depths; *
in the high vault of heaven, glory to you.
The passage from Romans takes quite a different tack – it feels a bit like a let down after those beautiful, poetic and awe-inspiring images of God.
Paul’s talking about us and our entrapment in the sin matrix. But, he says, we don’t have to stay there. We can be led by the Spirit of God to become the adopted children of God. And here we find a statement of the trifold complexity of God. Paul says
When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
It is the Spirit working in us who enables us to know ourselves as the children of God and relate to that glorious majestic Presence as our Parent, in that intimate relationship that Jesus modeled, calling God “Abba, Father”. And as children we are also the heirs of God, along with Christ.
Sometimes people tell me that they don’t believe in a God who’s out there somewhere, just in a Spirit who is inside us and all around us. In theological terms they are rejecting a transcendent God – one who is independent of, and beyond the created world, and only accepting an immanent God who is within the created order. We don’t have to choose! God is the Creator, who was and is and is to come; God is also the Spirit who works in our hearts and is that quiet gentle voice within. When we say the prayer Jesus taught us and we start, “Our Father” we can only say that with conviction because of the Holy Spirit praying in and through us.
Our language is gendered. We cannot easily call a person both he and she, though it is the lived experience of people who identify as gender queer, that we can live and experience ourselves as both/and/or/neither. In the society in which he lived, the best way Jesus could describe his relationship with God the transcendent was to call God “Father.” Since Jesus is our model for living a full spiritual life, it is appropriate that we too call God the transcendent, “Father.” But for many of us, that word comes with a lot of baggage. So it is also appropriate that we find our own name for the one whose hem fills the temple but who adopts us as his or her children.
Finally we turn to that beloved but perplexing passage from John’s Gospel; Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Just like Paul, he talks about us as the children of God but here we are the children of the Spirit – the twice-born - born of water and Spirit. So which is it – are we the adopted children of the transcendent Creator God or the born-again children of the immanent God?
And the answer of course is, Yes. Both ideas are pictures of our relationship to God because they are attempts to put into human language something which is essentially undesirable. And since the immanent Spirit and the transcendent God are one and the same there is no essential difference.
Talking about the Trinity is a bit like talking about Black Holes. I am told that a black hole is a region of spacetime whose gravitational field is so strong that nothing which enters it, not even light, can escape. But that really means nothing to me. The Trinity is a more complex being than I can easily grasp, just like the complexity of the human body is much greater than the complexity of a single-cell amoeba.
And it’s not just the immanent and transcendent - there’s Jesus too. The Son. Talking about the Son is putting Christ into relationship with the Father. Chicken and egg. You can’t have a Son without a Father, you can’t have a father without a daughter or son. We cannot separate Jesus Christ from either the transcendent or the immanent God. In his earthly ministry he was always, constantly, in relationship with both Father and Spirit.
Jesus is the embodiment of God. God with flesh on. And it is in Jesus that we most clearly see the distinctiveness of the persons of the Trinity, because to the naked eye, Jesus appears to be separate. And on the cross he experienced separation – I’m not saying that he was separated – but that he experienced separation from the Godhead. Just like we experience separation from God, even when we are not at all separate.
In becoming human and then allowing himself to be brutally killed, Jesus broke the hold of the sin matrix and set us free so that we too may be born in the Spirit and become what we were created to be, the brothers and sisters of Jesus.
The Trinity is in constant relationship. You cannot talk about Jesus apart from God or Spirit apart from God or Creator Father apart from Jesus and Spirit. And as the children of Spirit we too are part of that relationship. You cannot talk about us apart from God.
You cannot talk about us apart from God.
That’s your take-home. If you don’t remember anything else I said today, remember – you cannot talk about us, the children of God, apart from God. It’s easy for us to hear the voice coming up from the sin matrix, the voice that has been with us for as long as we remember which tells us that we are separate, that we are bad, that we are sinful. But that’s no longer true! That’s not the voice of the Spirit. Jesus said, "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."
We are called into relationship with God. That is where we become fully ourselves. It is challenging. It is a new birth and births are rarely instantaneous. Being born of the Spirit may take us the rest of our lives but once we are in that process, once we have chosen and asked to become the children of the transcendent God, then the immanent God is in us just like she was in Jesus.
You cannot separate the children of God from God.