Threefold Mysteries
John 3:1-17

June 14 & 15, 2003
Pastor Wesley White
Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church
323 Fifth Avenue, West Bend, WI
262.334.2059 -

You are not part of another part of the church-those that come twice a year, Christmas and Easter. Here it is the week after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and you are here.

I've read about a person who only came to church only once a year and chose to come on Trinity Sunday. Their explanation for such behavior was, "I came to see the preacher get confused trying to explain the unexplainable."

We are going to be wrestling with some of the unexplainable today. When we get done, if you think you understand what it is that I said today, you'll be wrong. We are going beyond what can be put into words and will be trying to put forward an attitude of living not a rule.

We have already this morning used a couple of creeds. About every 50 ­150 year the church has seen fit to change its creed because the church is facing a different reality in the world. If you study the history of creeds you will find that we are always modifying the last creed in order to deal with what is now at issue. It is sort of like the last creed is the way we fought the last war, but the same strategy won't work for the next one.

It is this matter of trying to take experience and put it into words where we run into trouble. We just sang that wonderful little hymn, My God is Real. How do you take something so close to us and put it in words that somebody else can understand in all of its depth and meaning? The more detailed we try to get about that, the harder it is for someone with a different experience and reality to find value there.

Since this is Father's Day I have been thinking about this in terms of my own father who died a couple of years ago. As I remember back, I remember a variety of things about him. I remember that he was gone a lot. He worked and worked hard. We appreciated the resources that brought in but we also missed his presence as a gentle, strong man. I remember the gifts he made for us. In particular I remember a model train layout and a model of County Stadium so I could listen on the radio and follow the Milwaukee Braves around the bases (we only had radio back then) and a doll house headboard for our daughter. I remember he had Alzheimer's at the end of his life so we never sure if we knew that he knew us or not.

How can you talk about your experience of your father that will make sense to somebody else? The same thing is true of our experience of GOD and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the Trinity and the Church. There is finally no way to put it into words that will last forever. There is no articulatable form that we can repeat again and again without it becoming a ritual that loses steam over the years.

I think we are dealing with a living GOD. If we are dealing with a living GOD and Jesus is still alive and a Spirit that moves among us, we can't narrow it down too closely.

We do our best. We put it in phrases for the day, knowing it is just for the day.

So it is we gather here. I do want to share with you very briefly a part of the Anathasian Creed from about 500, a mere 1,500+ years ago. A part of their issue of the day was the Trinity and they wanted to get it just exactly right. I'm glad that we've come past this. Here is about half of what people used to say in church.

"Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.

For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.

The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one Eternal.

As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one Uncreated, and one Incomprehensible.

So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Spirit Almighty. And yet they are not three almighties, but one Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three gods, but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord. And yet not three lords, but one Lord.

For as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge each Person by Himself to be both God and Lord, so we are also forbidden by the catholic religion to say that there are three gods or three lords.

The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.

And in the Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another, but all three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

He therefore that will be saved is must think thus of the Trinity.

Yes, that's about half. They wanted to be very clear about this business of the Trinity as a definition of who we are. But I must admit that I don't find this language compelling in my life today. I can certainly say the words, but it doesn't strike that spark of fire that says, "My God is real!" It's sort of a head trip. It gives me a sense of being able to say something, and perhaps it's very deep, but it is so repetitious and goes around the same barn so many times that I get lost in the middle of it.

How does GOD's reality get talked about amongst us?

I'd like to shift gears for a moment to look at some other trinities we have in our midst.

We have a new banner with the 3 General Rules of the United Methodist Church. These come to us from the very beginning of our movement. We would come together in small groups and wrestle with these three issues.

First, if you are going to be a United Methodist it is important that you Do No Harm. If you open our Hymnal to the Baptismal Service you will find the questions to the parents and sponsors begins, "Will you say 'no' to evil?" You may want to connect God the creator, the one who is I Am with this first rule as the setter of the commandments or limits of behavior, one to another. First, do no harm, remember there are some limits past which you are not to go, a boundary within which we live.

Simply doing no harm makes us pretty much non-persons hiding away in fear that we will do harm and be punished. We turn into simply nice people not doing anybody any harm. Well, that's not enough. Avoiding harm is a wonderful starting spot, but not a good ending spot.

We need to be proactive, so the second part of the rule is, Do Good.

You might want to associate that with Jesus who came to remind us that there are no limits on doing good. We are to do all the good we can to all the people we can all time and in all the places we can for as long as ever we can.

Thirdly, in terms of the Holy Spirit, we are called to Attend to GOD.

Simply doing no harm and doing good does not make us any different any most folks in the community. Even non-believers can do this much. For us it makes a huge difference that individually and together we draw nearer to GOD. When there is an opportunity for communion, we take advantage of it. Whenever there is a baptism, even if it is for some other biological family we attend because they are really part of our faith family. When there is a funeral of one of our members, whether we knew them or not, we come because this is an important way to attend to GOD. We participate in a wide variety of spiritual disciplines of reading the scriptures, helping the poor, paying attention to our prayer life, fasting, evaluating the world around us and putting our lives on the line to help stop any harm that is going on and where we can encourage good happening.

We bring all this together with another trinity we introduced two weeks ago, the United Methodist advertising slogan you see on television, Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.

If you do any one of these it is not sufficient. We need all three together something's not working well. If we only focus on having an open heart it is like sitting around praying, "GOD take care of the hungry" without participating in the Food Pantry or Harvest House we will be asked what good is that.

Out of the issues of Trinities; Father, Son, Holy Spirit; GOD, Jesus, Holy Spirit; I am, I live, I abide; Mother, Child, Holy Spirit; Do no harm, Do good, Attend to GOD; Open hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors-we can begin to weave a working definition of GOD's reality in our life.

We struggle, day-by-day, to put this reality into words and we try to put it into action.

There is not an explanation here for those who came to see the preacher get confused trying to explain the unexplainable. We are dealing with a great mystery that goes beyond our capability to understand it over time, in our own lives, or even in the life of the church.

We wrestle with this issues of theology and creeds and Trinities and Unities. So I say, GOD, have mercy on our souls. Don't let us get hung up with the words. Let us experience your presence. And let us, with your help, live-live to the fullest. Grant us peace and courage and joy. Be with us, guide us, direct us. And you who has created us and redeemed us and sustained us-thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen.