The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 16, 2019 – Trinity Sunday
When people give up on a life of self-reliance and give themselves over to God, they become so different that they come to also belong to another world beyond this one. Yet, it is into this present, ordinary world that the followers of Jesus are sent on a mission of service.
I don’t have what it takes to fulfill the mission on which He sends me. I need more help in carrying it out than my best efforts of self-help can supply!
Christians are like deep sea divers. Divers belong to an above-water world, but they enter a below-water world in which they will soon drown unless they have some help from the above-water world. Thus, they plunge into the sea only if some help from the other world accompanies them: namely, the oxygen tank strapped to their backs. Divers are able to survive under water and do what they entered that world to do by virtue of their breathing in life-giving air from the above-water world.
In the same way, Christians are able to serve this world only by filling their spiritual lungs with the air of another world, by inhaling the life-giving oxygen of heaven – that is, the breath of God, the Holy Spirit. Without Him, they cannot do what they are sent to do; with Him they can do good things they otherwise could not.
Today’s scripture is a part of a longer teaching Jesus gave, as His last word, the night before He was killed. That night He spoke of a special Someone He would send who, after Jesus’ return to heaven, would blow the life of heaven into the spiritual lungs of His followers. That special Someone is a Person who is distinct from Jesus but who is as one with Him as He is one with God the Father.
While the Bible never uses the term “Trinity” and never spells out the idea, it is hard not to see it in many biblical passages, including today’s.
It is in fact impossible to make sense of the whole biblical witness about God without resorting to the doctrine of the Trinity, though the doctrine is itself ultimately beyond our grasp. We believe something we cannot fully understand because the doctrine of the Trinity – the doctrine that God, while being just one God, is also three Persons – is the only way to do justice to everything God makes known about Himself in scripture. All non-Trinitarian theologies end up doing violence to something God reveals about Himself in the Bible and in Christian experience.
In today’s scripture, we read how Jesus told Thomas that to see Him the Son is to see God the Father, and to hear from Him the Son is to hear from God the Father. For, Jesus says, He is in the Father, and the Father is in Him. After all, the two of them are, while distinct Persons, a single God.
In teaching His disciples about who God is, Jesus also taught them about what God does. The Lord gives His faithful ones new power in action – enabling them to do the works Jesus did – and new confidence in prayer – encouraging them to ask for “anything…in His name”. But, best of all, the Lord gives them “another Advocate” who will be ”with” them and “in” them forever. The original Greek word there, Paraclēte, translated in the pew Bible as “Advocate”, comes from a Greek verb that literally means “come alongside of”. Thus, while it can mean Someone who in a court comes alongside of a person to plead their case, its most basic sense is “Helper”. A Paraclēte is a loving and supportive Helper who comes alongside a person to give them help, whether it be in the form of wise counsel, illuminating imparting of knowledge, strengthening encouragement or consoling comfort.
The fundamental meaning here is that Jesus, in sending His people out into the world to serve others, does not throw them back on their own devices, but provides them a supernatural Helper. Jesus sends His followers the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to come alongside of them and give them more help than all the self-help in the world ever could. The Spirit inhabits, illumines and empowers any who are willing and receptive to living under the Spirit’s governance.
The issue for us then is whether we are willing and receptive. Even if we have all of the Spirit, the question remains: Does the Spirit have all of us?
The Spirit has all of us when we do two things: 1) Repent of the sin that inhibits the flow of the Spirit’s life into us; and 2) Put ourselves in a position to receive all the light and life Spirit is longing to put into us.
First, we must repent of sin. Just as corrosion on a battery terminal inhibits the flow of the battery’s energy into the car’s engine, so our encrusting our hearts over with bitterness, dishonesty, selfishness and the like inhibits the flow of the Spirit’s life into our souls. To fully receive the Spirit requires repenting of what resists and repels the Spirit.
Second, we must put ourselves in a position where we are able to avail of the help the Spirit offers. We must place ourselves in a right relationship to Him – that is, under His Lordship and with a commitment to carry out the mission for which He energizes and empowers people.
Some of us today got to church by car. The car has power to transport us regardless of whether we make use of it. But its power to benefit us only does us some good if we place ourselves in a right relationship to it – if we get out of bed and step into the car. We have to put ourselves out some for a car to carry us somewhere.
In the same way, we have to put ourselves out some to put ourselves in a right relationship to the Spirit and thereby be in a position to have Him carry us somewhere. We have to devote a few minutes each day to giving God our undivided attention that we might know our marching orders for the day; we have to regularly get ourselves to worship and fellowship events that we might absorb God’s enlivening love; we have to serve others when called upon that we might experience the pleasure of enjoying a collaborative partnership with God in the purposes of justice and compassion.
In all this, we don’t have to do anything impressive. If we just suit up and show up faithfully before God, if we just turn ourselves around and face Him with open hearts, submitted wills and a little expectation, the Spirit will take things from there – and take us where self-help never could. The Spirit will give us the inner strength we need to manage our tongue and to discipline our time; the inner light we need to see the truth and to discern God’s will; the inner peace we need to remain calm and confident even in the midst of chaos and setbacks.
The Spirit is the Helper more helpful than a world of self-help. He alone can enable us to be all we are meant to be and to do all we are sent to do. Let us then repent, reorient and rely on the One who comes alongside of us in this world and breathes into us the life of another!