Sermon from June 19, 2011

Paul and the Triune God: We Connect, Relate, Belong

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Normally we only say that at the end of a service, today we say it all the way through.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Do you hear the connection, the relatedness, the belonging in that?

Jane Howard wrote: “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one” ( Quotations. “Jane Howard quotes”. Quotations Online 1 May. 2011. 17 Jun. 2011 <http://einstein/quotes/jane_howard/>.)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Kevin Miller says the best way to describe the Trinity to which the Apostle Paul refers here is as a community of love.  It’s a community of love in which there is no jealousy, no ugly politics, no power plays, only love.  Ever been part of a community or group like that?  A family at its most loving and healthy, a sports team when people stopped worrying about their own egos, a support group where you felt cared for in spite of your brokenness, a music group where you finally got lost in the music.  He says to experience the Trinity is to experience a community of love (from the sermon “Getting to Know Your God” [available on]).  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

The guy who wrote those words, the apostle Paul was quite a guy.  He actually wrote or influenced most of the epistles in the New Testament; he figures prominently in the book of Acts and although he used to like to try to kill Christians, he experienced such grace and love and fellowship that he ended up enduring what he describes earlier in this letter (11:23-28) as “labors, imprisonments, beatings without number, often in danger of death… five times I received 39 lashes, three times beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times shipwrecked, a night and day spent in the deep, on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  Apart form such external things there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches.”  In the midst of such hardships and challenges, however, he is also the person who wrote these unforgettable classics, “for now abide faith hope and love these three, but the greatest of these is love,” and “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but never despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body (4:7-10).  And, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… if God be for us who can be against us… for I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor anything to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8).  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Legend says that when Paul was beheaded for his faith he was so in touch with the triune God that his head bounced three times and fountains miraculously sprang up at each place where it touched the ground.  Now, I’m not so sure about the veracity of that legend because apparently where these three fountains are there were known to be springs in this same location in pre-Christian days.  But you can see the three fountains pictured in the bottom of the stained glass window.  The other thing I am sure of as I read through Paul’s writings is that he was intimately acquainted with this holy community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  He never developed or explained the doctrine of the trinity in the beautiful way that the apostle John did and yet this understanding of God as triune, three persons, one essence courses through his writings and animates especially 2 Corinthians.  Let’s look at this.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  It is a theological reality that we are invited to focus on, that becomes a relational resource that enables us to connect, and relate and belong to God and one another.

1st this is a shared reality: focus on it.  God is 3 persons, 1 essence.  When Alex de Tocqueville came to America from France in the early 1800s he is the one who said America is great because America is good.  One of his observations was though, that while we didn’t have a lot of institutions that we were coerced to be involved in, we Americans had what he called, “self interest, properly understood,” and that motivated people to be involved in all kinds of community groups like churches and voluntary associations for the common good.  It is kind of how the persons of the Trinity relate together.  They don’t have to, they just do because it is good and right.  No jealousy, no ugly politics, no power plays, only the subordination of mutual love.  Three persons, one essence –so when it says the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, it draws our focus to the forgiving unmerited favor Jesus poured out in his cross and resurrection.  All the persons of the Godhead equally posses and operate out of grace, but Jesus especially poignantly manifests this grace in a way that includes us.  When it says the love of God, it draws our focus to the love God the father pours out into the whole redemptive program.  All the persons of the Trinity equally possess and operate out of love, but the Father especially, poignantly manifests this love in a way that includes us.  When it says the fellowship/koinonia/participation of the Spirit it draws our focus to the fellowship the Holy Spirit pours out into our hearts and lives right now.  All the persons of the godhead equally possess and operate out of this koinonia, but the Holy Spirit especially, poignantly manifests this fellowship right now in a way that includes us.

The Trinity, the inner reality of God’s connection, relatedness, belonging, is a shared reality.  It is a shared sense of loving community God shares with us.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Focus on that.

It’s a shared theological reality: focus on it, but as usual there is one other deeper practical thing we see here.  This connection, relatedness and belonging of the Trinity also give us hope in the midst of our normal human messy conflicts: don’t give up.  Churchill said never give up never give up never give up.  It’s as if Paul is saying here you’ve got this triune God in action here, never give up never give up never give up on any relationship.  Paul’s very relationship with the Corinthian community is the perfect example of that.  There was a lot of spiritual closeness there but also a lot of painful separation and mistakes and messiness.  They criticized Paul in ways that hurt him, and he wasn’t perfect.  But instead of just rejecting these folks he worked through it with them in these letters.  Things were still not perfect in their relationship at the end of this letter but he expresses this confidence that they can use the resource of who God is, and how God inner relates within the Trinity – they can always utilize that reality to make their relationships better.  He expresses this confidence in verse 11: “rejoice, put yourselves in order, be encouraged, be like-minded, live in peace.  These are relationship matters, here.  Its hope in the midst of normal, messy, painful conflicted situations: never give up.

What inevitably happens in human relationships, whether here at church or anywhere is this.  People are people who cross boundaries.  Sometimes I don’t meet your expectations, or people don’t meet my expectations and it there is always tension if not downright anger there.  Sometimes people cross boundaries in very hurtful, abusive ways and they have to be restrained and reconciliation is just not possible at the moment.  But there is always help and hope because of who the triune God is.  Focus on that, never give up.  I just heard the other day an all too common and sad story.  A family had to break up because one of the spouses was abusing drugs over the long haul and the other spouse and child had to move away and separate themselves in order to be safe and healthy.  Even in those situations, folks, the Trinity does not cease being the Trinity and the grace of Jesus and the love of God and the comfort and fellowship of the Holy Spirit is still operating.  Never give up.  This particular family the one spouse found the grace to get clean and stay clean and eventually was reunited with his family, but even if he hadn’t the love was still there and operating.  Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.

A young lady named Sue Martinuk and her college roommate described their relationship at one point as “war had broken out.”  They dealt with their anger not by violence but by an icy not communicating with each other.  One night Sue came home and found a note from her roommate: “I wish you Jesus.” She cried; it melted her heart and she wrote a note asking her for forgiveness, placed it on her roommates pillow and went to sleep.  The roommate came home, and shouted from the hallway, I left a note on your desk; your sister called and asked you to send her the music for a song called, “I wish you Jesus.”  Then she found Sue’s note and they both had a good laugh and were reconciled (Saskatoon, Sask. Christian Reader, “Lite Fare.”).

Folks, I know that some of you today are dealing with relationship issues way more complicated and painful than those young ladies were dealing with, but I just want to remind you on this Fathers Day and Trinity Sunday.  The beautiful, healthy loving community, inner relatedness of the triune being of God is a shared reality: focus on that.  It’s also hope in the midst of messy ugly conflict: never give up on that.  There is no messy, ugly, tension or conflict that the grace, love and fellowship of the triune God will not one day overcome.  Sue didn’t give up.  That apostle Paul just never gave up.  People – never, never, never give up – on anyone.   Let us pray:

O Lord thank you for this shared reality upon which we might focus.  Thank you for the hope it brings in the midst of whatever conflict we find ourselves, may we never give up on the loving community you are in our midst.  May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.  Amen.

Rev. David B. Humphrey

Asbury United Methodist Church, Smyrna, Delaware

June 19, 2011

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