Mark 1:9-11 THE TRINITY

A sermon with the congregation of St. James, Kingston, Ontario, June 19, 1983

by Robert Brow (

Let me begin by reading two key texts relating to the Trinity. At his baptism Jesus "saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:10-11). And our own baptism was based on another Trinitarian text: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: (Matthew 28:19).

You were all baptized in the name of the Trinity. But what does it mean? How can three be one? Let's begin by getting it clear that this is not a question about mathematics. A trick answer is to admit that 1 + 1 + 1 = 3, but with God you don't add, you multiply, and 1 x 1 x 1 is still one. But that does not help in answering the real question. What we need to ask is about the oneness of God and the love of God.

There are some ways in which you can love alone. A professor spends all day in a library, and we say "He is lover of old books." A girl could be very unloving and say "I love ice cream." A rapist says "I love to humiliate a woman." There was an advertisement in the paper LION FOR SALE - LOVES CHILDREN.

But if we talk about the love of God, we are talking about love for us as individuals. It is the kind of love that occurs between persons. In that sense it is impossible for a solitary God to love. And since God was love long before our world was made, we picture the Trinity as three eternal Persons in the oneness of love. What the Bible reveals to us is that the three Persons love us in different ways. We can illustrate that by looking at three of Jesus' parables.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is about Fatherhood. God the Father loves to have his children around the family table. But when a boy wants to leave and make his own way in life, he lets him go with his share of the family inheritance. God the Father gives us the freedom to choose what we want to do, and allows us to experience the consequences. When the boy is away in the far country, behaving abominably, the Father longingly awaits his return, watches for him to appear down the road. And he runs to welcome him, gives him new clothes, and throws a big party.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is about exercising grace. Grace is costly love. It means helping others at one's own cost. It is also the grace of forgiveness instead of holding on to our own rights. Paul writes about "forbearing one another, and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you" (Colossians 3:13). When we say "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," we remember that the one who forgives us is the eternal Son of God who is also the King of kings reigning among the nations.

So we have the caring love of the Father and the costly love of the Son of God. The Parable of the Vine is about the Holy Spirit being like the sap that comes into every branch to create the bunches of grapes. His love is the creative inspiration that we experience when we ask for wisdom, or love for enemies, or joy when things are tough, peace in the midst of confusion, the power to serve in difficult situations.

It is good to distinguish these three ways in which we experience God as three Persons. But they are not divided or in opposition to one another. They are totally one in their love for one another, and they cooperate perfectly to include us in their love. That means the Trinity is not a mathematical problem or a theory that we struggle to understand. It is the love that comes flooding in as soon as we open our hearts to receive it.

You may not get the names right. If you talk to the Father, or the Son, or the Spirit, they won't say "sorry you have got the wrong number." They don't put you "on hold" till you give up trying. They love you, and will immediately begin working together to meet your need.

Some of you feel unloved, unwelcome in this world. You feel scared like an orphaned child.. You have made a mess of your life, and are eating the husks that the pigs won't eat in the far country. The good news is that God the Father is there waiting to welcome you home with a party. That is symbolized for us in the bread and wine of our communion service.

Others of you are wounded by those who have robbed you. You feel riddled with guilt, friendless, merely existing with no hope or point to your life. Jesus the Son is ready to come to your side, pour in wine and oil, and take you to the inn to be healed. That is also symbolized in our communion service invitation.

And all of you badly need the wisdom and inspiration that only the Holy Spirit can give you. You can continue as a boring, dried up, joyless branch on the tree of life. Or you can open yourself to the sap that waits to come in. The communion wine is the very lifeblood of the Vine. As you drink from the cup, say "Holy Spirit I need you to come in and give me life."

Prayer In a moment of silent prayer I will leave you to prepare for communion by pouring out your heart to the three Persons who are the one very loving God. And when you do that you will be ready to make your way home to the family table. You will open your hand for the bread of life. And with joy you will take the wine of salvation.

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