THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.
Our Multi-Dimensional God – (Trinity Sunday)
Isaiah 61-8; Romans 8:12-17;John 3:14-18
May 27, 2018
These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
My brother John has a middle name: Charles. But it was not chosen at random or from a book with 100,000 names. When he was born, my Dad and Mom gave him that name after Dad’s cousin Charles Fite… He was a soldier World War 2—landed on Omaha beach in Normandy only to be killed when he stepped on a landmine in Germany. In his memory, they gave my brother his name for a middle name.
So that even today, 73 years since his death… he is not forgotten. At least not his name.
Truth is, I don’t know that much about him. My Dad was close to his cousins in Pittsburgh so I assume they grew up together and played together. I am sure that when his Father, Mother, close and extended family received the news of his death there was crying and mourning of such a deep loss. I would think they were proud.
And it is right on this Memorial day weekend to remember cousin Charles and his sacrifice (and his family’s sacrifice) which reminds me of the others who have given their lives in many wars… far too many wars my Dad the Army Veteran might have said.
But here is the thing. I wish I knew more about Cousin Charles.
Because he was more than someone who was a Lieutenant in the Army. He was a son. He was a brother. A friend. He was a college graduate… Had he lived he would have likely taken up the family dairy business in Pittsburgh.
Like all of us, he was multidimensional…
So it is with God, which leads me to Trinity Sunday.
Why is it we are so confused when we talk about God as the Trinity as 1 God in Three persons… which is a way we talk about the nature of our multi-dimensional God?
Perhaps it is because we try to understand it mathematically. When you hear God in three persons… you begin to do the math and it doesn’t seem to add up: 1 + 1 + 1= 3.
That is a stumbling block to Jews and Muslims and many others in monotheistic religions. But may I point out to you that 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. So I can make the math work it you would like.
But the idea of the Trinity is not about math. It is about relationship… One God in three persons. Our God is multidimensional. It is a way the early Christians tried to say that their experience and understanding of God is multidimensional—or exists in three ways.
And all three ways are needed if we are to get a complete understanding of God and how God works in this world. Just as if I want to know all about Charles Fite… I need to know more about him than as cousin Charlie or Lt. Fite. Trinity Sunday reminds me the same is true for God. To fully know God I need a more complete picture of God.
Sometimes I hear people say that they don’t need to come to worship because they feel close to God at the beach or the mountains or the lake or in the outdoors. I understand. And that is great. I feel close to God there as well.
One of my favorite spots in all the world is a chapel called Pretty Place at the top of a mountain at YMCA Camp Greenville. It is open air chapel with a roof that has the most beautiful mountain vista in the world.
There is a verse of Scripture at the top of a crossbeam from Psalm 121:
“I lift up my eyes unto the hills” …
I’ve spent a lot of time in that chapel when I was at the camp. Sitting… thinking about God the creator… When we’d sing, “For the beauty of the earth… Lord of all to thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise”…. It expressed the experience of the awesomeness of God.
Isaiah had a similar experience in the temple… “Holy, Holy, Holy…”
In my mind he was in a space like a great cathedral where you walk in and immediately you sense you are in the presence of a Holy God.
This also is an experience of (and get ready for the big word of the day) the transcendent God. This is an important experience and understanding of God. “Our God”, as the song says, “is an awesome God!”
When we experience the transcendent God, it is a reminder to me that if you think you have God all figured out, your God is too small. God is greater than we can imagine.
So there you have the experience of God the creator… the holy one… And those are great and important experiences.
But if that is all you know of God, then the Christians who put the doctrine of the trinity together would say it is not wrong, but incomplete. There is more to God than that.
There is also God the redeemer… the son… the word made flesh. God exists fully and completely in Jesus Christ. For God so loved the world that he sent his son… said John. Earlier he said it with a philosophical flare:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and the word Was God… and the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Greek says, “literally pitched a tent”—went camping—among us.
One thing the Creator God will not reveal to you is the personal nature of the God we worship. You can only know so much about God through nature just as you can only know so much about Jody or Sharon by walking around our house. You may learn about us but only so much. In order to really know us, you have to meet us… you have to spend time with us… you have to listen… we have to share with you. You have to watch us. You won’t know us completely unless we reveal ourselves to you in more personal ways.
Christians believe God has done this for us in the person, life and work of Jesus Christ. Our knowledge is simply incomplete without Christ. Christ is the one who makes it very clear that the God we worship is a God of love and forgiveness…. That God is a personal God… not an abstract reality. Not just a “higher power”.
And when you get to know this God in Jesus, you learn how God has great expectations for us… but those expectations are different from what many thought in Jesus time. Jesus reveals God has great expectations that we will love God with heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbors as ourselves. The greatest commandment or expectation. Want to know what the eternal God really wants of us… God wants that! He will show us what that looks like: it looks like a Samaritan being a good neighbor… it looks like a sinner reaching out to God and receiving mercy. It looks like that.
If you want to know what God really cares about… then learn about Jesus. Watch Jesus. Listen to Jesus and you learn that our God is a God who cares about those who hurt, who carry a burden of guilt, a God who seems to have a passion to help sinners get a fresh start in life and who is not a big fan of hypocrisy in religion—especially when it hurts others. We have a name for this dimension of God. God is the redeemer… the savior.
And if that is all you knew about God, that would not be wrong… but it would be incomplete according to the saints of the church who knew God best and thought about God the most. They would want us to know that they have also experienced God powerfully in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
It is their way of saying that God was still working among us and with us even after Jesus returned to heaven. God did not leave us alone to face the challenges we would face in our lives. God is still with us.
Last Sunday, Pentecost, was the day we remembered the Spirit coming into the lives of disciples in powerful ways… to help them face the challenges they faced:
Like what do you do with Gentiles who want to follow Jesus and they have not been circumcised. The Jewish law tradition was clear, circumcision was a requirement to be a part of God’s family… You could not be a part of God’s family without it. And what about eating unclean food — food that is not Kosher if you will. The law was clear. You do not eat unclean food if you want to be a part of God’s family. So, what are you to do with these pagans and outsiders who want to be a part of the church?… they are not circumcised and they eat pork and shrimp!
It created a controversy for that early church. Threatened to divide them.
But the Spirit led them through it. Read the book of Acts and it is the story of the Spirit helping the church through such challenges.
God did not leave them on their own to figure it out. I still believe that to be true.
I still believe God is actually here among us in the Spirit to lead us through our challenges and controversies… and that the Spirit is among us to comfort us, to guide us and to help us.
One of the best ways I’ve heard it put is this: “God did not stop speaking when the book went to press.” The Spirit uses Scripture to speak to us today. Which is why we turn to God in prayer… to listen to the Spirit.
So there you have it: three dimensions or experiences of the one God.
The God who is an awesome God indeed… (Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty) but more than that…. There is God who is a very personal God who has not left us alone in the world but cared so much about what happens to us and cares so much that we not be lost in the world… that God made a personal appearance… (What a Friend We Have in Jesus)and the God who still comes among us in the Spirit… (Spirit of the living God, Fall Afresh on Me)with prayer being the main way we are able to listen for the Spirit.
So there you have it- God as “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”- each person is an important expression of our multidimensional God.
I like the way a beautiful Russian Orthodox icon that comes from the 14th century expressed the multidimensional nature of God. It is on the cover of the bulletin. Take a look.There are three people. They have identical faces but their postures and clothing differ as though we are looking at the same figure shown in three different ways. But it is the way in which the figures relate to one another which is so compelling. The Father looks to the Son gesturing toward this Word made flesh, Christ gazes back at the Father but points to the Spirit, and the Spirit opens up the circle to receive the viewer.
Between the Spirit and the Father in the Trinity icon is an open space at the table in which the viewer is brought into communion with the Godhead. We are being welcomed into this relationship. The Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Spirit and the Spirit welcomes us to the table. It is a beautiful image of how we experience God and how God relates to us.
This triune God is one God who invites us to a deep and mysterious relationship which offers believers a life where we not only know of the majesty of God… but the love of God… and that we are never alone because God is with us even now… through the Spirit.
All the one and same God. God in three persons, blessed trinity! In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.