The sermon resources include:
2. Theme title
3. Introduction to the Readings
4. Encountering the Text
5. Proclaiming the Text
6. Relating the Text
About the Author
Will Willimon has published many books, including his preaching subscription service on MinistryMatters.com, Pulpit Resource, and Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love, both published by Abingdon Press.
Read an Excerpt
Trinity Sunday First Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 6:1-8 Psalm 29 Romans 8:12-17 John 3:1-17
God in Three Ways
The Trinity is a name for the multifaceted and dynamic God who is with us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our God is a present, revealing God, but God is also incomprehensibly, uncontainably complex. God is resourceful, persistent, and richly loving. A Christian is someone who tries, with God's help, to do that which is very difficult — that is, to be faithful in our thinking and in our living to the triune God who has been so faithful to us.
Introduction to the readings
The young man Isaiah is called to be a prophet.
Paul contrasts life in the flesh with life in the Spirit.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night and is told he must be born of the Spirit. Jesus also tells Nicodemus that God's Son comes into the world as a gift of love.
Almighty God, you come to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, having given us the gift of your presence in our lives and hearts. Now give us the grace to love you with our minds as fully as we ought. Cast aside in us our puny, inadequate, and too simplistic views of your majesty and power. Stir up in us a fresh awareness of the richness of your being, the worldwide diversity of your work, and the wide wonder of your love, that we might more perfectly love you in order to more faithfully serve you all our days. Amen.
Encountering the text
All of this Sunday's texts are testimonies to the nature of God. Note that we will again this Sunday, as every Sunday, read three texts from three very different times and places and from three very different parts of the Bible.
Why don't we just settle in and read from only one text? Why confuse people and run the risk of distraction by reading from three texts?
Blame it on the nature of God. Christians are those who have encountered (or should we say, those who have been encountered by) the triune God — God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this Sunday is when we make a "raid upon the articulate" (as T. S. Eliot said of his poetry) and attempt to bring to speech a complex, multifaceted God.
I suggest that we not focus on any one of today's lessons but rather that we focus upon all of them together as a collective, as three foci testimonials from the one Holy Bible, to the joyful complexity of the one God who is with us in three ways.
Proclaiming the text
Today is Trinity Sunday. Why on earth did we come up with a so complex and difficult-to-talk-about doctrine of God as the Trinity? Well, note that it's not enough for us to read one lesson from scripture; we read one from the Old Testament, one from one of Paul's epistles, and one from the New Testament. Today we read of God opening the heavens and coming to and calling young Isaiah in the temple. Then Paul speaks about the ever-present power of the Holy Spirit and the new life it brings. Then Jesus pays a visit to Nicodemus, engaging him in a mysterious conversation about Spirit and birth. Why can't matters between us and God be simpler?
Because in Jesus Christ we have found that God's rich, relentless love for us is not simple.
Christians believe that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have seen as much of God as we ever hope to see. As 1 John says, "No one has ever seen God" (1 John 4:12). God is unfathomable, beyond reach of our thinking and perceiving.
Christians admit that it may be of the nature of God to be beyond human visibility or comprehension. Until Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the full, perfect, sufficient revelation of who God is and what God does. Everything we believe about God flows from what we've seen of God in Jesus Christ.
In his first advent among us, Jesus as "God's Son," the Messiah (that is, "anointed one of God"), challenged how people thought about God. Lots of people looked at Jesus, listened to his teaching, witnessed his work, saw his death, and said, "That's not God. God is powerful, distant, high, and lifted up. God is _____." (Fill in the blank with whatever high and noble attribute God simply must have if God is to be worthy of your worship.) Jesus failed to measure up to their preconceptions of who God ought to be and how God is to act if God is really God.
Especially today, to stand and affirm with the Apostles Creed, "I believe in God the Father Almighty ... and in Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son ... [and] I believe in the Holy Spirit," is to assert a considerably more complex and challenging view of God than that which prevails among most Americans.
Most people in our society appear to want God to be generic, abstract, vague, distant, and arcane. "God? Oh, can't say anything too definite about God. God is large, indistinct, vague." God for many of us is this big, blurry concept that we can make to mean about anything we like, something "spiritual," someone (if we have any distinct notions about God) whom we can make over so that God looks strikingly like us.
In Jesus of Nazareth, God got physical, explicit, and peculiar, and he came close — too close for comfort for many. Jesus Christ is God in action, is God refusing to remain a general idea or a high-sounding principle. Jesus Christ is God in motion toward us, is God refusing to stay enclosed in God's own divinity. Many people think of God as a vaguely benevolent being who never actually gets around to doing anything.
It is as if we are threatened by the possibility that God might truly be an active, intervening God who shows up where we live. We've designed this modern world, controlled by us, functioning rather nicely on its own, thank you, with everything clicking along in accord with natural laws, served on command by technological wonders of our creation. So who needs a God who relishes actually showing up and doing something? We modern people are loath to conceive of a God who is beyond our control or a world other than the one that is here solely for our personal benefit.
This is the deistic God of the philosophers, a minimalist, inactive, unobtrusive, noninvasive, detached God who is just about as much of a God as we moderns can take. There's a reason why many thoughtful modern people seem so determined to sever Jesus from the Trinity, to render Jesus into a wonderful moral teacher who was a really nice person who enjoyed lilies and was kind to children and to people with disabilities. To point to a peripatetic Jew from Nazareth who wouldn't stay confined within our boundaries for God and say, "Jesus is not only a human being but also God," well, it's just too unnerving for us enlightened, modern people to handle. Note how frequently many people refer to God and how seldom they refer to Christ and you will know why the statement "God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ" (2 Cor 5:19) is a threatening disruption to many people's idea of a God who stays put.
With all orthodox Christians at all times and places, we have maintained that God is one; but not simply one, not merely one. We baptize in the name of the Trinity, signifying that baptism relates us to the fullness of God. We are monotheists (belief in one God) but not mere monotheists. We believe that the God who is present to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct yet unified and interactive, relational, and loving ways in which God is one. The Trinity is God in three ways being the same God.
If all this talk of three-in-one seems a bit overwhelming to you, you are not alone. Unitarianism is always a bit easier on the brain than trinitarianism. Still, there is no way for us to do justice to the God whom we have met in Jesus Christ without believing three ways in one God.
To say with the Hebrew scriptures, "Israel, listen! Our God is the LORD! Only the LORD!" (Deut 6:4), is to say not simply that there is just one God but also that the God of Israel is singular, the one and only God, the true God, whereas lots of our idolatrous god-substitutes are not.
Here again, in my experience, the Wesleyan view of God challenges many modern folk. In order to keep God distant, vague, and irrelevant, many people want to keep God simple, uncomplicated, and abstract. These are the dear folk who say, "Well, I'm not sure that I'm very religious, but I do believe in God; and, after all, isn't that what it's all about?" The problem is that once we discovered that "God was in Christ," things got complicated, not because the church wanted to make the simple faith of Jesus complex and confusing, but rather because we discovered in Jesus that God was at once much more demanding and much more interesting than we had first thought. In Christ, God was reiterated in ways that meant that we were forced to expand our notions of God. We could have gotten along quite nicely without the Trinity had John the Baptist not intruded into our settled arrangements with God by shouting, "Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Once Jesus showed up — the one "conceived by the Holy Spirit," born of a poor peasant woman in Judea, who is God in the flesh, teaching, working wonders among us in the "power of the Spirit," suffering and dying at our hands, rising after three days, returning to the very people who crucified him, breathing his Holy Spirit upon us — well, we had to talk about God in a way that only complex, dynamic trinitarian theology could do justice. After being met by Jesus, we could never again think of God in the simple, uncomplicated way as we had before.
1. God is the creative, caring Father, but not simply at the beginning of creation. And God is not only the maker of the world but also the sustainer of the world. The same darkness-to-light, nothing-into-something of Genesis 1 continues every day of our lives. God keeps creating, bringing something out of nothing, making a way when there was thought to be no way. God keeps caring, keeps reaching out to us in active love, constantly watching over us in vigorous providential care.
2. God is the redeeming, loving, seeking Son. He ventures forth like some prodigal son (Luke 15) to search out and to save lost humanity in the "far country" where we live. When God decisively, revealingly came to us, God came to us as one of us. God got incarnate as a Jew from Nazareth who was born in a most embarrassing way to a young peasant woman, grew up to be a man about whom we know next to nothing save his three years as a young adult in ministry, and was tortured to death by the government. That one is God among us.
The name Jesus (or Joshua) means "God saves," and the Gospels depict Jesus as God's answer to what's wrong between us and God, God saving the world: "God so loved the world ..." (John 3:16).
It is one thing to have a belief in God; it is quite another thing to have a personal experience of the living, seeking God. It is one thing to believe that God is there; it is quite another matter to believe that God is there for you. It's fine to believe that God in Christ reconciles the world to himself; it's quite another thing to believe that God has stepped in and actually reconciled you.
Our story with God begins, in the Bible, with two new human beings, fresh, vulnerable, at home, and at peace in a lush garden. In just a couple of chapters things quickly go bad as humanity rebels against God's good intentions for us and disobeys God's minimal demands ("don't eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil" [Gen 2:17]), and the first child becomes the first murderer, bashing in the head of his own brother (Gen 4:1-12). Alienation from God is the result of our lust to be gods unto ourselves. Listen to the news on any given day and you will hear what fresh outrage we have perpetrated, the latest proof that we have a serious neighbor problem and an even more serious God problem. What righteous, holy God would have anything to do with humanity — the embarrassingly inept supposed summit of God's creation and the defaced image of God?
Our sin and rebellion make all the more remarkable that the Bible says God refused to give up on us. God kept returning to us, in constant loving guidance, in the words of the law, the testimony of the prophets, the apocalyptic visions of a better future, finally coming to us as God's own Son. Because we couldn't come to God, because we demonstrated time and again that we were powerless to do something about our God problem, God came to us and solved our God gap as only God could.
The same Father who created the world, the God who kept returning to Israel in mercy and graciousness, is one with the Son who came to us, sought us, and died for us.
3. God is the present, dynamic Holy Spirit who is God near to us. It is God empowering us to do those things that we could never do on our own, God constantly revealing God to us, and God talking to us about God. There are things that God wants us to know, things that we cannot know except as revelation — that is, as gift of God working through the Holy Spirit. And there are things that God wants us to do that we cannot do except through the empowerment of God's Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is not an exotic third kind of God or some strange phenomenon that is somewhat similar to God. The Holy Spirit is more than some impersonal force, psychic energy, or indistinct power. The Holy Spirit has a personality because it is the spirit of the Father and of the Son; it is God in action, the God who not only loves, not only redeems, but also now, presently, all the time, convinces the world of sin, leads us into the church, then comforts, sustains, and empowers us all along the way of discipleship. In other words, the Holy Spirit is God in action, God revealed, God present.
We believe in the Trinity because we have been encountered by the Trinity, transformed by a power greater than ourselves, loved by a love greater than our love, embraced by a God who is so large, so rich, so close to us that we could have never thought this God up by ourselves.
Relating the text
You will note that all three scripture lessons today — the call of young Isaiah, Paul's testimony to the power of life in the Holy Spirit, and Jesus's nocturnal visit to Nicodemus — demonstrate a God who intrudes, who calls, who acts, who reaches and empowers.
When the far-off one who has been brought near is you, when the wall that has been kicked down is the wall that you built in a vain attempt to keep God out of your life and off your back, then you are believing in the Trinity.
Much of the theology that I hear in our church (and, alas, much that I preach!) tends to stress the first person of the Trinity — God the creative, ordering, providential Father — rather than God the actively redeeming Son or God the relentlessly reaching Holy Spirit. The more chaotic and confusing our world becomes, it seems the more we need to stress God the creator, the God who "has a plan for your life"!
I wonder if we are due for a revitalized stress upon Christology. Jesus, second person of the Trinity, is our experience of the active, reaching, seeking, redeeming Son. God in Jesus Christ is not only love embodied but also the active savior of the world. Today, when many speak of the "sovereignty of God," they seem usually to speak of God the creator of the world. But let us be reminded, by the work of the second and third persons of the Trinity, that divine sovereignty is not only in God's creation of the world but also in God's continuing, constant redemption of all people and all things to God.
We discovered, in Jesus Christ, that God is love, but not simply love as an inclination or disposition. An often-repeated criticism of Jesus was that he "welcomes sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2). Jesus constantly intruded where he was not invited, sometimes where he was not wanted. The thing that got Jesus's critics (at least those in Luke 15) was not that Jesus loved people but that Jesus received, ate with, and thereby loved the wrong people. Thus, Jesus showed us not only that God is love but also that God's love was considerably more interesting, active, expansive, and determined than most of what passes for either "God" or for "love" around here.
Sunday between May 29 and June 4 inclusive
(if after Trinity Sunday) [Proper 4, Ordinary/Lectionary 9]
1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20) Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 Mark 2:23–3:6
1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
Sometimes God bypasses the religious professionals, the tenured experts, the wise and experienced leaders, and goes directly to younger, ordinary people, calling them into God's service. The church must be supple and open to God's ways, surprised and delighted when God moves outside our expectations and conventions and speaks and calls, surprising people to speak God's word and do God's work in the world.
Introduction to the readings
1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
The boy Samuel is called by God to be a prophet, to speak God's truth to Israel, even though that truth may be troubling for God's people to hear.
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, speaks of the gospel as "treasure in clay pots." Christ has chosen thoroughly human agents (us) and a thoroughly human institution (the church) to bear his great treasure into the world.
Jesus heals on the Sabbath, and immediately a bitter controversy breaks out. As a result, Jesus's critics begin to conspire to destroy him.
Excerpted from "Will Willimon's Lectionary Sermon Resource: Year B Part 2"
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Table of Contents
Season after Pentecost,
Trinity Sunday — God in Three Ways,
May 29 to June 4 — Troubled Sleep,
June 5 to June 11 — Out of His Mind,
June 12 to June 18 — The Mystery of God's Growth,
June 19 to June 25 — Salvation, Now!,
June 26 to July 2 — The Spirit of Generosity,
July 3 to July 9 — Power in Weakness,
July 10 to July 16 — The Perils of Power,
July 17 to July 23 — The New Household,
July 24 to July 30 — What Are You Looking For?,
July 31 to August 6 — Making Sense of Jesus,
August 7 to August 13 — Bread of Life,
August 14 to August 20 — Projection,
August 21 to August 27 — The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness in Christ,
August 28 to September 3 — Work Righteousness,
September 4 to September 10 — Expect a Miracle,
September 11 to September 17 — The Journey,
September 18 to September 24 — Does God Have a Plan for Your Life?,
September 25 to October 1 — Don't Go to Hell,
October 2 to October 8 — The Power of Positive Thinking,
October 9 to October 15 — The Good Teacher,
October 16 to October 22 — Christianity: Following Jesus,
October 23 to October 29 — On the Way,
October 30 to November 5 — Ordinary People,
All Saints Day — Talking to the Dead,
November 6 to November 12 — Money and How to Manage It,
November 13 to November 19 — Our Future with God,
November 20 to November 26 — Overwhelmed,
On ITL[Not]ITL Reaching Our Culture through Our Preaching,
Postmodern Preaching: Peculiar Truth,
Taking the Truth,
The Biblical Word,
The Theological Significance of Preaching,
The Wonderful Thickness of the Text!,