After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. (Rev. iv. 1)
Today is Trinity Sunday. So, following the traditional Western lectionary, we enter the season not of Pentecost but of Trinity Tide, not disrespecting the Holy Ghost or the importance of Pentecost, but acknowledging that our life in God’s Spirit must come from the Father and the Son. Trinity means three, and Trinity Tide is an invitation into the threefold life of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Should we make the mistake that many do in abandoning the Trinity for some ungrounded season of the Spirit, we might find ourselves moved far more by our own spirits and fanciful feelings rather than by the Holy Spirit’s mission to establish Jesus Christ in us, as the express image of the Father’s Person. (Hebrews i. 3)
Christianity is a religion founded on the facts of Divine Revelation. Its God is a God who wishes to be known. (The Christian Year, p. 142) Christians believe that God the Father created all things through His Word or Son by the efficacy of the Holy Spirit they exchange. Christians believe that the Father has never ceased to illuminate His people through His Word by the strength of the Spirit they share. In His Incarnation, Christ Himself reveals the same Trinity when He obeys the Father through the Spirit, even unto death upon the Cross. (Phil. ii. 8) And following His Ascension, Christ invites all men into new life which He has won for them, promising to send…the Holy Ghost (St. John xvi. 26) whom the Father will send in [His] name that they may persevere in their journey to the Kingdom. So, God the Holy Trinity reveals Himself to His people, a door is opened, and man learns the way that leads him higher and higher.
A door is opened in this morning’s appointed Psalm.
It is the Lord that ruleth the sea; the voice of the Lord is mighty in operation: the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice…. The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness…the voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to bring forth young…in His temple doth every man speak of His honor…the Lord remaineth a King forever. (Psalm xxix. 4,7,8,9)
David the Psalmist is overwhelmed by the Father’s Word, who rules, creates, moves, informs, and rules the whole of creation through the Holy Spirit’s Ghostly Strength. Isaiah the Prophet is likewise undone as a door is opened to his soul also.
He saw the Lord upon the throne, high and lifted up, [whose] train filled the temple…that above it stood the seraphims…. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. (Is. vi. 1-3)
The Thrice-Holy Trinity humbles the prophet with awe and wonder. Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. (Ibid.5) The Father sends one of the seraphim to purify the prophet’s tongue of all evil, that the Spirit might inspire him to articulate God’s Word and Wisdom to his fellow men. And in this morning’s Epistle we learn that the same door in opened in Heaven to the Apostle and Evangelist, St. John, who is called to come up higher.
Of course, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is difficult to understand. St. Augustine of Hippo, that great 4th century North-African Doctor of the Church, finds an image of it in the human soul:
The human soul is – it exists; the human soul knows –it understands; and the human soul wills – it loves. So also God is, He knows, and He wills. God is pure being -He exists always; God is pure knowing – He begets His Word or His Son eternally; and God is pure loving –His will and love proceed as Spirit always. God is one substance who expresses His spiritual life through three Persons. (De Trinitate. Aug., Dr. Robert Crouse summary)
Man is one substance who exists, thinks, and wills. Man is alive, he thinks and speaks, and he wills and loves. God is one as well. The Father exists eternally. He speaks His Word and expresses His Thought eternally in His Son. He wills through His Spirit of Love and the Son returns the compliment through the same Spirit.
But God is more than just Himself. He creates and makes through His Word by the Spirit of Love that they share. God intends to be known and loved. He persists in His intention even after Man’s Fall. He sends His Son in the flesh to repair, redeem and return Man to Himself. This morning’s Gospel illustrates the Way nicely. For here we read that a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, named Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. (St. John iii. 1) Matthew Henry tells us that
coming to Jesus by night is an act of prudence and discretion. For we should all come to be with Christ ‘when the busy world is hushed’ that we might then better learn from Him. Coming to Him by night shows [also] a greater zeal for truth since we are willing to forsake the evening’s pleasures for the sake of the truth. (Comm: John iii)
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us coming to Jesus at night symbolizes also that honest state of obscurity and ignorance that seeks to find God once again. (TA: Comm. John iii.) In the night, Nicodemus approaches Jesus in the calm of night, with zeal seeking to know. Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. (St. John iii. 2) Nicodemus knows that Jesus’ teaching is divinely inspired. He asserts boldly that God is with Him because of the miracles Jesus performed. Moved by Christ’s wisdom and goodness, Nicodemus is nevertheless blind to the meaning and nature of Christ’s Person. Jesus says: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. (St. John iii. 3) He means that the mysteries of eternal salvation can be seen only through the cleansing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit, (Tit. iii. 5) in the righteousness of faith. (TA, Idem) Nicodemus is confused: How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb? (Ibid, 4) Nicodemus knows that he exists, knows, and wills but cannot fathom how he can be born again.
Jesus helps Nicodemus to understand. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.(St. John iii. 5-7) If fallen man does not come to know that he needs rebirth through water and the Spirit, he cannot be saved. The washing of the body with water is an external and visible sign of how the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father to cleanse man of sin by the Wisdom of the Son. Man is born of the flesh, and so neither his body nor soul can save him. Jesus says, Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (St. John iii. 8) Jesus says that the wind comes and goes, and we can never master its mysterious movements. We inhale and exhale and never think about where our breath came from and wither it goes. Jesus says, If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? (St. John iii. 12) Nicodemus is a religious ruler in Israel who should remember that the Father’s Word gives life and meaning to all creation through the undetectable breath of His loving Spirit. Nicodemus, if you do not humbly believe and remember that the invisible Spirit gives you life and meaning, how will you see the Wisdom that will birth you again inwardly and spiritually through my Death and Resurrection for a better heavenly future with my Father?
We speak of what we know, and bear witness of what we have seen. (Ibid, 11) The Word of God made flesh, the Son, reveals what He knows from the Father through the Spirit. Nicodemus does not yet know that no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man, which is in heaven. (Ibid, 13) Man has fallen from God; he cannot know or will the good that reconciles him with God. The Son of Man came down from Heaven in the likeness of fallen flesh to redeem it with the Spirit’s Love on the Cross. That which is born of flesh is flesh; that which is born of Spirit is Spirit. (Ibid, 6) And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Ibid, 13-15) Only if he believes and knows that Christ’s Death alone conquers his sin, can man die to it and be born again through the Spirit, lifted into Resurrection and Ascension for reconciliation with the Father. Behold a door is opened, as God makes all things new.
God the Holy Trinity desires for us to participate in His life that we might reveal it to others. We do not worship a distant and unreachable God. Behold a door is opened. Jesus reveals the Father’s Wisdom by the Holy Spirit as He descends to work His redemption into our souls and bodies. Obeying the Father, in the Love of the Spirit, Christ the Wisdom of God dies for us that we might live. Our Father desires that we should be born again each new day as the Holy Ghost brings the Word of God to life in us. Our One God longs that we should surrender to His Grace, to be as the Father is, to know as the Son knows, and to love as the Spirit loves. And then as born again as sons and daughters of the Father, we shall sing out the Son’s Word of salvation with the Spirit’s Love that makes Heaven and Earth one, through Jesus Christ our Lord –both flesh and Spirit in obedience to the Father, perfectly blended to save you, me, and all others.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: