The Near and Distant God

2019-06-16 – Year C – Trinity Sunday – The Rev. Christopher M. Klukas

Isaiah 6:1-7; Psalm 29; Revelation 4:1-11; John 16:5-15

  • Can you imagine how hard it would be for you to get an appointment to speak with President Trump?
  • During the first year of the civil war, it was very difficult to get a hearing with President Abraham Lincoln.
  • There was a group of 5-6 people from Kentucky who had an issue to present to Mr. Lincoln and had been waiting for a number of days.
  • They were about to give up and were complaining about how difficult it was to see “old Abe.” Tad Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s young son, heard these words and asked if they wanted to see “old Abe” right now.
  • He rushed into his father’s office, not knowing that Abraham had been trying to avoid this appointment, and said “Papa may I introduce some friends to you.” With Mr. Lincoln’s permission, he brought in the gentlemen from Kentucky and introduced them politely.
  • “Mr. Lincoln reached for the boy, took him on his lap, kissed him, and told him it was all right and that he had introduced his friend like a little gentleman as he was.”
  • In addition to being a great Father story for Father’s day, this anecdote also paints a picture of the president as a man who is both distant and at the same time very close.
  • As we think about the Trinity this morning we will contemplate the amazing mystery of this core Christian doctrine and remember how God is both distant and very close.

Trinity

  • The Doctrine of the Trinity describes the nature of God. He is one God in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • In the Trinity, we get a picture of God that is “other” and incomprehensible (beyond human comprehension).
  • Many early Church heresies got in trouble for emphasizing God’s oneness over the individuality of persons, or the individuality of persons over the oneness.
  • Athanasian Creed “…That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance…So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God…But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.” (BCP 2019).

Transcendence

  • Our readings from Isaiah and Revelation both give us transcendent images of the throne room of God. In Isaiah, we see God “high and lifted up.” Angels serve God day and night. The foundations of the thresholds shook at the sound of his voice. The whole house is filled with smoke.
  • Isaiah’s reaction, and rightly so, is one of fear, “Woe is me…” Isaiah 6:5.
  • This is the picture of God we get when we step into an ancient gothic Cathedral or when we stare out at the ocean. We realize that God is big, and we are not.

Intimacy

  • Even in the midst of the strong themes of God’s “otherness” and glory, and transcendence, we also see glimpses of intimacy for both Isaiah and John.
    • Isaiah 6:8 – “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
    • Revelation 4:1 – “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place…”
  • In the Gospel today, we are reminded of the familial language that God uses as he reveals himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
    • John 16:13-15
  • This tension between God’s “closeness” and his “otherness” his transcendence and his immanence, is part of what led to the doctrine of the Trinity in the early Church.
    • “[The Scriptures] point to a pattern of divine activity and presence in and through creation, in which God is both immanent and transcendent. A purely unitarian conception of God proved inadequate to contain this dynamic understanding of God.”
    • Jesus is the person of the Trinity that makes this possible.
      • “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
      • Jesus reconciles us to the Father and then sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within us! How near can you get?
      • And yet, God is still to be feared or respected. He is “not a tame lion” as C. S. Lewis reminds us in the Chronicles of Narnia.
      • Jesus makes the transcendent Godhead knowable.
      • Jesus, the Son, leads us into his Father’s throne room and presents us to him. Through his blood, we are accepted, justified, and adopted.
  • J. I. Packer, Knowing God – “Perhaps you have been acquainted with the Bible and Christian truth for many years, and it has meant little to you; but one day you wake up to the fact that God is actually speaking to you–you!–through the biblical message. As you listen to what God is saying, you find yourself brought very low; for God talks to you about your sin, and guilt, and weakness, and blindness, and folly, and compels you to judge yourself hopeless and helpless, and to cry out for forgiveness. But this is not all. You come to realize as you listen that God is actually opening his heart to you, making friends with you and enlisting you as a colleague–…a covenant partner. It is a staggering thing, but it is true–the relationship in which sinful human beings know God is one in which God, so to speak, takes them onto his staff, to be henceforth his fellow workers (see 1 Cor 3:9) and personal friends.” 
  • If you don’t know God in this way, you absolutely can know him this way!
  • If you do know God, let us praise him together, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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