May 27, 2018 sermon (Trinity Sunday)
John 3:1-17/ Isaiah 6:1-8/ Romans 8:12-17
God Who Lives in Community
Since I have taught little children in my former life, I have a mentality of asking myself, how I can help someone understand a certain concept. One week, while preparing for a Bible story, I asked Daniel, “Does Aiden know what death is?” I wasn’t sure if preschool children understand death and dying. This struggle is more prominent in teaching children at church than at school. I think school curriculum is designed to be appropriate for the children’s different developmental stages, but at church, the Bible stories are the same. Yes, some Bibles stories are not appropriate for children, so we might leave them out altogether; but how do we, for example, explain the concept of Trinity; God in three persons? I explain to children that their moms and dads play different roles in different places and with different people but are the same people. One person can be a mom, wife, friend, engineer, and employee. But it’s not only with children; for example, when I was in Kenya, I had to use different anecdotes in my sermons because maybe my other ones are not culturally relatable to the Kenyan Christians.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity was not formalized until the fourth century. It means, this belief has not directly come from the teachings of Jesus or the time of the first disciples. Rather, it came out as a result of early Christians struggling to understand and explain their experience with God. Jesus frequently proclaimed that he was in the Father and the Father was in him. Then he promised that God would send the “Advocate” or Holy Spirit to the disciples after he leaves them. How we get to the conclusion that God comes to us in three persons goes like this. First, the beginning of John’s gospel claims that Jesus was with God from the beginning and that he is divine; thus, Jesus is same as God, only in a human form. This is how we understand Jesus as God’s incarnate. Second, Jesus, who is God in a human form, since he was in a human body, couldn’t stay with his disciples forever; after his human body leaves the mortal world and the disciples, the Spirit of God came to keep them company and provide companionship and guidance. Therefore, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was born to help us to know and live with God better. God our almighty creator is invisible, inaudible, and intangible; therefore, God had to come down to us in a human form. But then because he was in a human form, he couldn’t stay with us forever; therefore, God sent us the Holy Spirit to live with us forever. That’s the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
We know God through the life and teachings of Jesus, and then through the Holy Spirit who lives with us always and guides us in living by the will of God. The Holy Spirit is Emmanuel (which means “God with us”). The focus of the Holy Trinity is that God’s Spirit is always with us. God lives among us through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gave birth to the Christian Church. Last Sunday, we heard the story of how the first disciples received the Holy Spirit like fire on Pentecost. Thus, Pentecostal Christians experience the Holy Spirit like fire; they might speak in tongues or meet God in a fiery manner, such as through loud and enthusiastic prayers. But the Holy Spirit also comes to us like sweet and refreshing rain after a long period of drought or a warm-but-not-hot gentle dove. Our Methodist father John Wesley’s conversion experience was not fiery like on Pentecost but warm; to describe his conversion experience, he said, “I felt my heart strangely warmed”, making this the most famous Wesley quote and the source of endless Methodist jokes.
Through the teachings of Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit working through Christians, God calls us to live in the Spirit and by the values of God’s reign. Listen to the story of a Pharisee named Nicodemus. As a Pharisee, he was privileged in more than one way; he had the privilege of knowledge because he was a Pharisee, scholar of the Jewish Law. He was also a member of the Jewish supreme court called the Sanhedrin, he had wealth and political power too. No wonder he came to see Jesus at night. What would people think if they find out that an important religious and political leader went to seek the wisdom of a poor and uneducated man? As a Jewish scholar, he knew the Law/ the commandments of God inside and out. What was lacking in him, what he was thirsting after when he came to Jesus, he found from Jesus. In the gospel story we read today, Nicodemus learns from Jesus that the Spirit of God gives life eternal. He must be born again in the Spirit. His spirit was parched from his over-exposure to the dry academic studies of the religious law, being a scholar. But then Jesus offered him a way to eternal life through water and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sometimes comes to us like water; like sweet rain on a parched land. Our parched spirits are also blessed with the sweet rain of the Holy Spirit.
That was the story of Nicodemus; Paul goes on and explains to the Roman Christians that through the Holy Spirit, we became God’s children and heirs. According to the Roman adoption practice, when a child is adopted by another father, he or she completely loses connection with the previous father and becomes completely attached (legally) to the adoptive father. In Rome, being adopted is a serious business. The adoptive children have the same legal rights as the biological children. With the adoption analogy to the Roman Christians, what Paul is trying to teach about the Holy Spirit and being God’s children and heirs is that by the Holy Spirit, we cut ties with our previous life ruled by the laws of the world and become completely attached to the laws of our new adoptive parent; God and God’s kingdom. And as he mentions at the end of today’s Romans text, if we are joint-heirs of God’s glory with Jesus, we share his suffering too. That’s what families do, don’t they? They share glory as well as burdens and pain.
We are called to receive the Holy Spirit and become a part of God’s community. As Isaiah felt inadequate when he was called but God cleansed his lips and prepared him as a prophet and messenger of God, when God calls us, we can be sure that God will prepare us and send us help through the Holy Spirit. Invitation to God’s kingdom, or reign, is a divine call. It is the Holy Spirit that makes it happen. It’s the Holy Spirit that lives with us daily and intimately. Holy Spirit is the form of God that lives with us in our community of disciples. So this day and this week, and every day of our lives, let us listen to the Spirit’s divine call to live as God’s children and heirs, knowing that the Spirit is also our comforter and helper. Every day of our lives let us live and walk with the Spirit God, who will guide us to live by the teachings of our Redeemer God, Jesus, who is the incarnate of the Creator God.
Rev. Sunny Kim