A sermon with the Anglican Congregation of St. James, Kingston, Ontario, June 14, 1981
by Robert Brow (

Today is Trinity Sunday, and our Gospel reading is from Jesus' words to Nicodemus. I want to focus on one verse to help us think about our relationship to the three Persons of the Trinity. "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit: (John 3:8). What the Rabbi Nicodemus had missed as a great scholar was learning to sail by the wind of God. That is why I have titled this sermon "Trinitarian Sailing."

Just five minutes to the south of us between Kingston and Wolfe Island there is some of the best yacht racing in the world. All this summer you can see sailboats moving effortlessly all over the lake. And for each boat there has to be a skipper who knows how to relate to a trinity of wind, water, and the rocks on the lake. Nicodemus knew a lot about the theory of spiritual sailing, but Jesus said he was like a man sitting in a boat with no experience of letting the wind move him. That suggests three facts about our Christian experience of the Trinity.

a. Experience is more important than explanation. There are many skippers out there on the lake who can sail very well, but they know nothing about theory. They could not explain how the wind changes, or the dynamics of hull pressure against the water, or where all the other boats are likely to be in the next half hour. Similarly you might not be able to explain how God is a Trinity, but you can relate to God as Father, God as Son, and God as Spirit. My wife Mollie drives our car very well, but she could not explain how the carburetor and spark plugs work. Learning the theory is useful, but there is no point in being a theologian like Nicodemus who can explain everything and never learned to sail.

b. Learning is by doing. We have a small Sunflower sailboat at our cottage, and I enjoy teaching our grandchildren to sail. But I never begin with a lecture about theory. The first thing they do is sit in the boat and grab the tiller. Soon they feel the wind moving them, they begin to steer, and they learn to adjust the sail to catch the wind. The younger they are the quicker they learn. It is older people who feel threatened because they are not sure they will do it right. Similarly with the Trinity. You begin talking to the Father, you know Jesus is in the boat with you, and you learn to let the Holy Spirit empower you.

c. The Trinity is an experience of Persons. We thought about sailing as an experience of relating to the wind, water, and rocks on the lake. But for a sailor those are merely impersonal forces. When we experience the Trinity we find the Father is more personal than the most perfect father and mother we could ever imagine. The Son came to live among us so we could watch him and come to know him very personally as healer and friend. The Holy Spirit had been experienced by individual prophets, artists, wise persons, and leaders in the Old Testament. But last Sunday we thought of him beginning to relate to each of us in a community of the Spirit. He is called the Paraklete, one called personally alongside like a lawyer to defend us in court, or like a coach who can help us into excellence as a spiritual athlete.

You may meet someone who tries to insist there is a proper sequence and a proper language for being born again. That may indeed be the way he or she first came to experience the Trinity. But it is not the sequence that counts. We could first come to know Jesus as a loving Person, who forgives us and welcomes us into his family. Many first experience the Trinity when they run to the Father like a little child. Artists might call on the Spirit for inspiration, and then discover that he is God. Others begin by desperately asking for wisdom, or love, or joy, or peace, and they are astonished when their prayer is answered.

Nor should we imagine it is the correct words that count. Loving parents are happy to respond to ga ga, nana, or dada. And the three Persons of the Trinity are never jealous. They don't mind if we address the wrong Person for a particular need. Our prayers will be dealt with in the right way by the Person who lovingly deals with our situation. The three Persons never hang up and say "You've got the wrong number" or put you on hold while you listen to Muzak.

Our baptism was in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And we often end our services with "The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you" (2 Corinthians 10:13). That is not a theory but a very personal experience of a Trinity of grace, love, and communion.

Prayer -  In a moment of silent prayer could we thank Jesus for all the grace he has showered upon us. And we can bask as little children in the love of the Father. We also look to the Holy Spirit to be our advocate, our coach, the giver of all the wisdom and inspiration that we need for our present situation.

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