Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
“Get a Life!”
January 14, 2007 - Second Sunday after Epiphany
The doctrine of the Trinity is the distinctively Christian doctrine about God. The Christian experience of “three persons in one God” is unique among the religions of the world. No other part of our faith in God does so much to define who we are and the way in which we worship.
Scripture does not anywhere say explicitly that God is a Trinity. But beginning with God’s use of the plural pronoun for Himself in Genesis, the three persons of God are revealed by what the Bible does say. In Matthew 28, Jesus commanded us to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Paul gave us a Trinitarian benediction in II Corinthians 13:14. Scattered throughout the New Testament are passages showing the three persons of God working together for our salvation and showing the unity between them. Our text for today, the baptism of Jesus in Luke 3:21-22 is one of those passages.
Christians state very carefully what the doctrine of the Trinity does not mean. We do not worship three gods. Nor do we worship one god who wears three different personalities like masks. The Athanasian Creed says “we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance.” Our faith is that there are definitely three divine persons and just as definitely that there is only one God. We say, “The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God. But the Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Spirit. And the Spirit is not the Father.” One God in three different, but equal persons.
We are careful not to emphasize one side or the other of this affirmation, either the unity of one God or the difference of the three persons. Too much emphasis on unity leads to Unitarianism and denial of the reality of the three persons. On the other hand, too much emphasis on the diversity of the persons leads to a real danger of polytheism (worship of many gods) and/or an overemphasis on one of the persons.
One wonderful implication of the Trinity is that God was never lonely. Because God is three persons, He did not create us to meet His need for fellowship. Within God Himself there is a perfect friendship and love that has always existed. It is out of that already existing inter-personal love that God freely created human beings and invited us to share that love. We were made for the express purpose of being welcomed into the life of God. That life was from the beginning a shared life involving more than one person.
So the Christian faith is never properly a solitary affair between “my God and me.” The Christian faith, because it is faith in God who is three Persons, involves the believer in a community of other persons, beginning with the Three-in-One and extending, as God extends His own life, to friendship with all others who share that faith.
In 1987, Saturday Night Live broadcast a send-up of a Star Trek convention. William Shatner, Captain Kirk himself, appeared. It begins with a couple fans, one wearing Mr. Spock pointy ears and the other a T-shirt reading, “I Grok Spock.” As they mill around asking each other questions like “What was Khan’s middle name?” and “What was Yeoman Rand’s cabin number?” their hero shows up. Shatner walks on the set and is cheered by adoring fans, a mob of “Trekkies.”
Shatner attempts to answer questions, but they are as inane and trivial as the ones which began the skit. “In episode 25, when you opened the safe, what was the combination?” “How many horses do you have on your farm?”
Finally, Shatner stops and says, “You know, before I answer any more questions there’s something I wanted to say. Having received all your letters over the years, and I’ve spoken to many of you, and some of you have traveled... y’know... hundreds of miles to be here, I’d just like to say... GET A LIFE, will you people? I mean, for crying out loud, it’s just a TV show!”
Already a common phrase in the ’80s, Shatner’s pronouncement “Get a life!” launched into popular culture as a common taunt toward anyone who is focused on trivial and pointless pursuits. We say “Get a Life” to the person who lives just for the next episode of “Lost” or “American Idol,” or someone who spends all his time in front of a computer screen, or someone who collects Spider Man comics. “Get a life!” means, “Grow up, start living, and learn what life is really about!”
As we begin a long study of Christian theology, there are those who might be inclined to say “Get a life!” to us. To many people, even many Christians, theology just does not seem very important. It doesn’t have much to do with real life. The fine points of doctrine appear trivial and far removed from anything that really matters.
In particular, you might be inclined to think that the doctrine we’re concerned with this morning is not all that important. After all, it’s awfully confusing to remember that God is a Trinity, three persons in one God. It’s so much easier and simpler just to pray to “God,” and not try to figure out whether you need to talk to the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit, or just what any of them have to do with you. Or it might be tempting just to focus on one of them. Having a heavenly Father is really comforting to some of us. Knowing that Jesus Christ is like a brother is helpful to others. Or calling God “Spirit” might fit in really well with other people’s talk about “spirituality.” This Trinity business just makes it all so complicated and, it seems, so trivial.
So why not just “get a life” and move on? Drop all the theological double-talk, or triple-talk, if you will, and just worship and pray to God. The details are just going to confuse us and they don’t seem so important anyway. God loves me. God forgives my sins. God will take me to heaven when I die. Isn’t that enough theology for anyone? No, it’s not, not if you really want to have a life, a changed and better life, a life of joy, peace, and hope.
In our text for today, which tells of the baptism of Jesus, we get a rare and wonderful look at the truth that God is Trinity, three persons in one. At the very same time, we receive a visible demonstration of the life we are after, the life of God Himself. There at the Jordan River, in A.D. 27 or so, the Triune God for just a moment became nearly tangible. Verse 22 says, “and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”
We can almost paint the picture, and medieval artists did. The Father speaks from above in shining light from heaven. The Holy Spirit appears midway in the sky, descending as a white dove. Jesus the Son stands beneath after rising from the water. Father speaking, Spirit descending, Son obeying. It’s the Trinity made audible and visible right here in our world.
And all kinds of theology is going on, here in just one short verse. First, this picture of Jesus’ baptism teaches us that God is always three persons in one God. Without this baptism story, without all three persons of the Trinity appearing at once, you might think Father, Son and Holy Spirit are just God’s alter-egos. God just shows up with different identities, like some sort of overdone super-hero.
There’s the guy called Superman, in a red cape and blue tights. Then take off the tights and put on glasses and a business suit, and now he’s Clark Kent. But he’s always the same guy.
Likewise, you could imagine God sort of switching identities. He has three instead of two, but it’s the same deal. God puts on the long white beard and He’s the Father. Then He slips into a human body and hangs on the Cross for awhile and He’s the Son. And when He wants a real break, He turns into pure cosmic force and flits around as the Holy Spirit.
But the reason super heroes get into trouble over their identities is they can’t both show up at the same time. Whenever Spider Man swings onto the scene, Peter Parker goes missing. After awhile, anyone with a brain starts to wonder. But here at the baptism of Jesus, it’s all settled. All three show up at the same time, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s not just one super dude switching costumes. There really are three different persons. God is three, three in one.
So why is that so important? Why does it matter to you and me that we worship a God who is genuinely three different persons? It matters because it means that God has the sort of life you and I are looking for.
The doctrine of the Trinity, and the fact that God can show up at one and the same time as all three Persons of His being, means that forever and ever, from the beginning of time, God has been, is, and will be three persons. God has an extraordinary form of life. Within Him, three persons, three different persons, co-exist and live together in perfect harmony and joy.
If you’re married or if you’ve been married, or dated someone, or had a friend, you know very well that it’s hard enough for just two of us to get along. In the best situations, it can work fairly well. You focus all your personal attention on the other person and she does the same for you, and all is peace and bliss, at least for awhile. But then some little disagreement, some perceived hurt, some actual thoughtlessness crops up and poof, there goes your bliss.
Add a third person to the mix, whether it’s a newborn child, another friend, or in the worst case another romantic interest, and it all gets way too complicated. Two friends pair off against the third. Dad gets jealous of the time baby takes from Mom. And an affair on the side tears a marriage apart. We barely get how to do two in a relationship. Three really messes us up. But God does it, does it forever and ever. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living together, loving each other, perfectly, always.
On Saturday Night Live, when Shatner berated the Trekkies for their silly obsession with his TV show, he said, “You, you must be almost 30… have you ever kissed a girl?” By wrapping their lives around a fantasy those fans missed important things. The most important of all were personal relationships. Instead of sharing life with other people in genuine relationships of love and commitment, they devoted themselves to television characters that didn’t even exist. They weren’t really living.
God as Trinity wants to invite us into real life, a life where people live in love and fellowship with each other, a life of caring and service, a life of good and peaceful relationships. In other words, God the Trinity invites us into His life, the life He’s lived since before the world began, a life where different people discover how to live together in harmony and joy.
Here at Jesus’ baptism is a grand theological diagram of what has been going on in God for eternity. The Son submits Himself to will of the Father. The Father speaks His love and approval for the Son. And the Holy Spirit flows between them as the perfect expression of their love and unity. That’s life. That is the “abundant life” Jesus told us about. That life, His life, is what God wants you and I to have.
Part of the significance of God’s Trinity is that you and I can have His life. One might wonder why not a god who is simply two? Why not just Father and Son living in that perfect harmony? Or maybe better yet, why not male and female parts of God, as in some pagan religions? For our sake, it’s a blessing that it is three rather than two. If God were merely two, there would be no room for us to join in His life.
The fact that there is a third person in God, the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son, as we say in the Nicene Creed, makes it possible for God to reach out and embrace us. Father and Son alone would merely embrace each other, in an eternal love that could get along forever by itself. But in the third person, in the Holy Spirit, God’s being goes out, proceeds, makes room to include others in the range of His love.
Love between two persons simply goes back and forth. Geometrically it’s a line, defined by two points at each end. But add a third equidistant point and geometrically you can define a circle, on which ultimately can lie as many points as you like. Love between three persons has room for addition, for bringing in others, for welcoming new and different persons into that same life.
It’s like a first child being born in a human marriage. Suddenly, that cozy, simple life of two together is broken open and expanded in all sorts of new ways. Having a child throws your home and your marriage open to all sorts of other relationships. There may be brothers or sisters to the first. Then their playmates, their best friends, then boy or girlfriends. And in the long-run maybe a daughter or son-in-law and their families; grandchildren; great grandchildren. Let that little third person into your life and you’ve created a circle which may grow to contain dozens of others.
By being a Trinity, God opens Himself to the possibility of bringing others into His own life, of a great circle of relationships based on His perfect life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s what we see here even in the mere act of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus did not need to be baptized. He had no need for a ritual by which Luke tells us that other people were repenting their sins. But Jesus submitted to baptism, He made what needs to happen in our lives part of His own life. In doing so, the great Trinity of God came down into our lives in order to bring us into their lives.
Our reading this morning from Isaiah shows how strongly the love which flows between Father, Son and Holy Spirit can reach out and include you and me. In Isaiah 43:1 God says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” God has a wonderful life, but as the Trinity, God stretches out His hands and catches up you and me to pull us into that life with Him.
In college I was in the choir. We went on tour for a week or two every year. We traveled from church to church on a bus and stayed in people’s homes. One late evening after a concert in northern California, I met my hosts for the night. They were a young couple with a little baby. We climbed into a battered old station wagon and drove to their home with the baby crying all the way. They lived way out in the country, in a tiny white house with peeling paint. First thing in the door, you could smell a problem. Their dog had left a gift on the living room rug.
It turned out the living room, the kitchen and the bedroom were about all there was to that house. They cleaned up the mess and pulled a lumpy hide-a-bed out of the couch. They left me there to sleep with the odor still hanging in the air. I spent the night feeling sorry for myself and imagining all the nice places the other choir members were staying.
When I woke the next morning, my hosts cheerfully set out a breakfast of cold cereal. It didn’t really help my spirits. But then we sat down around their little kitchen table and the man said it was time to pray and that they always held hands. He grasped my left hand firmly and I reached out gingerly to take hold of a wet little baby hand in my right. Then my host began to pray and thank God for His gifts to his family and to ask a blessing on me for that day. And suddenly a wonderful sense of belonging and rightness came over me.
I left that little house feeling, “This is good. This is what I want. Someday I want a home like that, a life like that. A circle of love that’s still big enough to embrace a stranger and make him feel welcome. That’s a good life.”
God’s life is that kind of life. The doctrine of the Trinity means that from all time, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have reached out and delighted in each other in a circle of love. But praise God that He is three, that His love is not limited or exclusive. Isaiah 43 talks about how His people are precious and loved by Him, how He reaches out to gather them in from the east and the west, and in verses 6 and 7, how He says, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name.” God has a Son and perfect life together with Him. Yet through His Son, the Holy Spirit goes out to us and draws us also in to be God’s children, sons and daughters of the Lord. His circle is big enough.
The circle of the Trinity is big enough for you. God the Father created you. God the Son died on the Cross and rose again to save you. God the Holy Spirit comes to live in you and make you His. God the Three-in-One is more than big enough for you.. and for me… and for anyone who will accept the gift and blessing of the life He offers.
So, like William Shatner, I say to you, “Get a life.” But I say, “Get the best life. Get God’s life.” Get the perfect, eternal life of the Father who loves you, the Son who gave Himself for you, and the Spirit who comforts and helps you. Get that holy, divine life and then live it. Live out the life of the Trinity by reaching out your own hands as God reached out to you. Embrace and welcome those around you into this same great life. The circle is big, really, really big. It’s a wonderful life. Get it. Get it today.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj