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John 16:12-15


June 10, 2001

© John M. Connan

Trinity Sunday. The Trinity. One God: Three Persons. Something I've only ever preached about once before. Perhaps like you, it's a doctrine I've accepted without trying to figure out what it means within my own life.

It isn't easy to preach or understand. I can well imagine why Muslims say Christians worship three Gods not one. I can well understand the appeal of the simple Muslim confession of faith: "There is no God but God, and Mahomet is his prophet." Contrast our creeds: the Apostles' Creed ten times as long; the Nicene Creed twenty times as long.

What are we saying about God, about our experience of God, when we say: "We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty... We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God... We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.”

We live in a world of instant communication. Go to any Library and you can tap into the Internet, look at pictures and information from all over the world. Turn on your radio, your television set, and you can hear or see it all happening, wherever news is being made anywhere in the world. The Global Village has become a tired cliché. We're in touch - or we think we are.

When we really examine what's happening, we realise we're far from being in touch. In the midst of a city it can be as lonely as any desert. People surround us. They talk. We talk. But talk is not communication. The modern city with all its noise and activity can be the loneliest place on earth.

Do you remember that song from the sixties "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world"? We all need people. That's the way we're meant to be: it’s built into our genes. We're meant to be people who communicate, who are in touch, who need people. When we lose contact, in solitary confinement - as it were - too long, we're on the way to madness and insanity, no longer fully human.

Life is communication - or it’s mere existence.

Have you ever thought how loquacious our God is? "Israel’s God loves to talk, likes nothing better than, in word and deed, to communicate, commune, speak, and.. make community."[1].   In fact, "if God had not been talking, we wouldn't be here."[2]

That's certainly how the early Christians understood it:

"In the beginning was the one who is called the Word.

The Word was with God and was truly God.

From the very beginning the Word was with God.

And with this Word, God created all things.

Nothing was made without the Word.

Everything that was created received its life from him,

and his life gave light to everyone.

The light keeps shining in the dark,

and darkness has never put it out."[3]

God has always been communicating with his world - through word and deed.

But what about Jesus? How are we to understand him?

In the early centuries of the Church there were vigorous, at time violent, debates about that very question.

In the period leading up to the formulation of the Nicene Creed, there was an argument in full swing between the followers of two church leaders: Athanasius and Arius.

If we had the Nicene Creed in front of us, we'd find phrases such as: "eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.” What those phrases try to make clear beyond any shadow of doubt, is that when we look at Jesus, we re seeing as much of God as we can ever hope to see - in fact, we are seeing God himself. Jesus is God's absolute communication of himself - nothing withheld.

That was Athanasius' point of view. But for Arius, God could only be God, if he was so exalted he could never ever be fully communicated. For Arius and his supporters God is self-contained, has no need of anything or anyone else: he is complete within himself. He couldn't imagine God being directly involved in his creation. It would make God dependent on his creation and his creatures. In fact, if God were Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it would make God dependent, derived, divisible, and deficient.

Arius intended to protect and honour God. God was high above the world, independent of all the worries and concerns of the world.

No, Athanasius asserted, that's not how it is at all. Jesus was dependent on his Father - completely dependent. That’s, in fact, the proof that he is God.

We human beings imagine a mark of our humanity is independence. Teenagers want their independence. Divorcees want their independence. Retirees don't want to be dependent on their children. We fear commitment and having to admit dependence on anyone else. It's dangerous. It's risky. But it is part of our humanity.

Arius thought that, if Jesus was dependent on his Father, he was merely human. Besides, how could the exalted and distant God walk the byways of Palestine and deal with human beings? If absolute distance and independence are not essential marks of divinity, Arius argued, what are?

The clue is found in our reading: "Everything that the Father has is mine."[4]  As we find elsewhere in John's Good News: “The Father loves the Son and has given him everything."[5]

The definitive mark of God? Self-giving love! That's the dependency of Jesus on his Father: total and mutual self-giving. When we look at the Son, we are looking at the Father.

God, for Arius, was apart from our world. God, for Athanasius, was intimately involved in our world. His God was always busily communicating with our world. I'm glad Athanasius won the argument in the end.

The Trinity isn't a mathematical absurdity of 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. The Trinity is about God communicating with and relating to this world with all its absurdities and all its tragedies. Arius would have had us believe God dozes absent-mindedly in some heavenly rocking chair, while the world below goes to hell.

That's not the God we hear about in the stories of Jesus. It's not the God we see in the life and death of Jesus. The God we discover through Jesus is all too extravagantly in our world, giving and giving and giving.

If we had our way, we'd instinctively side with Arius. We want to make God utterly unlike us: almighty, eternal, unchanging, untouched by pain. But the God we discover in Jesus isn't like that. Our God, our triune, Trinitarian God isn't like us at all: he is so close, so self-giving, holding nothing back, offering us everything, communicating himself totally, extravagantly, lovingly. He knows the risks of loving. He knows the pain of loving. He cares.

He knows our world. He knows our pain. He knows us. He cares.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I can say this confidently: He loved you and cared for you from the moment you were conceived. He loves you and cares for you now. He will go on loving you, until the day comes when his love will overarch death and carry you into the very presence of God himself.

I thank God Athanasius triumphed and that message still rings down to us, though sixteen centuries have passed. I worship a Trinitarian God and I’m glad I do. Amen.



[1] William Willimon, Pulpit Resources, Vol. 12, No. 2., April, May, June 1995, p.44.

[2] ibid.

[3] John 1:1-3.

[4] John 16:15.

[5] John 3:35.

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