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Friday, May 29, 2015

Trinity 1+1+1=1


There are three magnificent readings set for this Sunday and a glorious Psalm to set the tone for worship:

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is majestic.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
    Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord strikes
    with flashes of lightning.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
    the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord twists the oaks
    and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace.

In a polytheistic world, this temple song proclaimed that YHWH rules over all other gods in the heavens and on earth.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

The temple furnishings come suddenly alive for Isaiah as he experiences the realities behind the symbols, living cherubim ascribing triple holiness to "Lord God of Hosts." In that encounter, he hears himself claimed and called by the Holy, Holy, Holy One. In the action of the paired wings of the seraphim we see an image of Trinity. One pair covers the face (Father), another the feet (Son), and with the third they fly (Holy Spirit).

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

The Trinitarian nature of our salvation. God the Father loved us and sent the Son. We are drawn to and believe into the Son. We are born anew of and by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 8:12-17
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

As children of God, we are led by the Spirit of God, calling out to the Father, and being made joint-heirs with Christ the Son.

Our God is One, and the One God is Trinity, three in one, one in three.
In God's maths, 1+1+1=1
This is mystery and it really is best to approach God as mystery, rather than as someone or something that we can in our human arrogance pin down and fully understand. So, if you are already confused ... good, you're in the company of saints.
If by chance as you sit here you believe you know all about God ... repent.

There are so many pictures and images that are used to try and "explain" Trinity, each ultimately helpful, but always incomplete.

What I want to focus on today is the unity of the Trinity ...  
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one

While God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are 3 distinctive entities, they are One ... a unity of differents. And I want to suggest that that same unity (a unity of differents) is meant to be manifested in the church, which is people who are created and constantly re-created in the image of our God who is One in three and three in One.
The church is meant to be a unity of differents where, according to the Scriptures:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:28

So, here is another image, which may or may not work.
Think of a salad: what are the primary ingredients of a salad (I'm aware there might be some disagreement on this, but bear with me). I am indebted to Scot McKnight's A Fellowship of Differents for this illustration, which he uses in a different context
Can I suggest: Lettuce, tomato , onion
As a picture of Trinity: Lettuce+tomato+onion = Salad or 1+1+1=1
Three distinct entities ... but One

Now, church is meant to be the same, except there are a lot more ingredients:
Young, old, rich, poor, black, white, English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sotho, French etc, etc, etc.

Back to our salad:
People like to add spring onions, shard, nuts, croutons ... 

Back to our verse:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

People often say that Paul's mission was primarily to convert Gentiles to Christianity ... but actually, his mission was to get saved Gentiles and saved Jews to sit at the same table ... and LIKE IT. He was desperate for the unity that exists in the Trinity to exist in the church.

There are 3 ways to eat a salad: Some people put all the items in separate bowls and eat them separately
There's a second group of people who put all the items in the salad bowl together and mix them up, and then put so much salad dressing on that you can't taste anything, you just taste the salad dressing, it's all one taste.
Then there's the right way to eat a salad, and that is you take all the ingredients and you mix them up and you take just a little bit of olive oil to enhance the taste of each.

Now, this is a parable of the church:
The South African church is like the first salad ... everything in separate bowls; we have English churches, Sotho churches, a Korean church down the road, "traditional" churches, charismatic churches, even in the same church there is traditional, charismatic, there is a young bowl, an older bowl, etc etc, etc. So we have denominational bowls and ethnic bowls and age bowls.

And we have completely forgotten that this is not the picture of the New Testament church. Paul's biggest struggle in the church was to get Jewish Christians (who would have remained kosher till the day they died) to sit at the same table as uncircumcised Gentiles who might be eating ham sandwiches ...  AND TO LIKE IT. Unity, where the stronger makes way for the weaker, and don't insist on others becoming like us.

The second type of salad was how the early Jewish Christians tried to solve this problem and how many try to solve this problem today: We want everybody in our church, but we want them to all taste like us ... one taste ... so, you're welcome, as long as you believe what we believe, read the same Bible translation in English as we read, sing the same songs as we sing, and sing them the way we sing them etc.

Now the third is the New Testament vision of the church: A salad bowl community, in which each ingredient is enhanced by the Holy Spirit of oil, the salad is enhanced by adding just the right amount of olive oil, so that when you bite down into it, you taste the lettuce, the nuts, the carrot, all enhanced by the little bit of olive oil.

That's the picture of the church and the Christian life, learning to live together in a community of differents, all together in a fellowship. When we don't have that, we don't have the New Testament church, we have something else, probably something closer to what we think the church should look like ... and let's not be too proud to repent of that. 

God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are different, but One. Now I'm just going to point very randomly and say that you and you and you are different; and now pointing to our Teen church I'll say the same, pointing at some of you and some of them; and now I'm going to point at some of you and at some of those who will sit in your seats a little later today; and to all of you I say: You are different and that is fine; but you are not one (and as I've said that, you have remembered who it is you are not one with) and I have to say: That is not fine.

Some of us are not one with people sitting in this same sanctuary right now. Some of us are not one with people who will sit in this sanctuary later/earlier. Some of us are not one with people who used to sit here but don't anymore.

Let's begin in our own fellowship and invite the Lord to send us out as people created and being recreated in His image, people who find ways, even today, to live the unity of the Trinity in the disunity of our sinful lives.

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