Above, Beside, Within

We’re going to be in Romans 5 today.

Today is Trinity Sunday in the church calendar.

As a reminder:
the Church has its own way of telling time.

We tell time around Jesus.

[slide #1]
We began back in November in Advent
where we were watching and longing and looking for God.

And then Advent was followed by Christmas
by the celebration that God is not distant or detached or disinterested in this world.

And then “the Great Ah Moment” of the season of Epiphany.

Light bulb.
Ah ah!

God is like Jesus.

If you want to know what God is like,
read the gospels.

People mean a lot of things
when they use the word “God.”

What Christians mean by “God” is Jesus.

And we followed God himself—Jesus—
into wilderness, suffering, and death in Lent,

And we’ve most recently been celebrating
and life indestructible
in the season of Easter.

That led us to Pentecost.

To God pouring out his very own life—his Spirit—
into human community—into human beings.

And that leads us into a season called Ordinary Time—
sometimes called “Kingdom Time” or “KingdomTide.”

The extraordinary revelation of God,
the extraordinary coming of God as a human being,,
the extraordinary suffering and death and resurrection of God for us,
the extraordinary flooding of God’s Spirit into the world—
all of this extraordinary leads to a new ordinary.

There’s an entire season of the Church calendar—
a long season of the Church calendar—
that recognizes that much of life is quite ordinary.

It’s Vacuuming Time.
It’s Pay-the-bills Time.
It’s Share-a-good-meal Time.

Ordinary Time.
Kingdom Time.

Most-of-our-lives Time.

Time where it doesn’t seem like God is doing much,
but—in reality—the kingdom is spreading like yeast through dough.

The reign of God is growing
like a seed under the soil.

The Church calendar helps us remember
helps us lean into, helps us live into
the world as it really is.

We tell time around Jesus.

This first Sunday of Ordinary Time is called Trinity Sunday—
a Sunday built into the year where we celebrate
God revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It’s like the grand story of Jesus all leads to this.

Romans 5 is where we will be today:

(Rom 5.1-5) Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

The lectionary—the scheduled Scripture readings for the Church calendar—
has us jumping in mid-letter right here.

This is just a quick snapshot
about a third of the way into the masterpiece
that we call the letter to the Romans.

But there are a couple of things that we can see
even in this quick snapshot.

First, the heart of the Christian message is about Jesus
and the new reality—the new world
we discover in Jesus.

In Jesus, we discover we have peace with God (v1).

That’s central to our identity as Christians.

Christians are the people who trust
that God has come among us in Jesus
and God himself has established peace.

The only thing we ever do
is trust that this is true.

We are justified (v1)—
we are “made right”
by God himself.

[slide #2]
There’s nothing we can ever do
to make ourselves right with God.

All we can ever do
is trust that Jesus
already has.

Jesus has already done it—
has already established peace.

For everyone. Everywhere. For all time.

Christians are simply the people who are learning to believe it.

We’re the community of people in the world
who are learning to trust that this is true.

Jesus opens our eyes to a new reality—
to a new world.

Because of Jesus we stand in a new place (v2).

The place called grace.
The place called peace.

A world where love reigns supreme.

But notice what what Paul describes.

A lot times we think of the Trinity
as a bit of mysterious bit of theological trivia.

But in all actuality, the Trinity
is the utterly essential and uniquely Christian
way of approaching God.

The Trinity is how you approach God
if you take Jesus seriously.

Follow the logic of what Paul is saying here:

He says that we
we have peace with God
because of Jesus.

We have peace with God above us
because of God has become one of us.

Because of Immanuel.
Because God has come beside us.

But God above us
and God beside us
isn’t enough.

God invades us too.

Pauls says that God pours his love into us (v5)
by somehow pouring himself into us.

[slide #3]
And so the picture we get looks like:
God above us. God beside us. God within us.

The word “Trinity” never shows up in the Bible.

There’s no verse that says:
“Thou shalt believe in the Trinity.”|

But if you take Jesus seriously,
you wind up here.

If you confess Jesus as Lord,
you wind up with something like the Trinity.

Jesus himself is praying to Someone above us
someone he calls “Father.”

And Jesus promises to send Someone into our midst—
into the deepest parts of us.

God above us,
God beside us,
God within us.

It’s not that there’s a Bible verse that uses the word Trinity.

Trinity is just what we call the pattern
that shows up again and again and again
in the biblical witness.

Above, beside, within.
Above, beside, within.
Father, Son, Spirit.

If you start taking Jesus seriously,
you’re eventually start seeing the pattern.

There’s been a lot of ink spilled about the Trinity
over the last two thousand years.

God is one essence and three persons.
That is, one ousia and three hypostases.

And none of these persons—
none of these hypostases—
are part of God.

The Son isn’t one-third of God.
The Spirit isn’t one-third of God.

No, the Son is all God.

The Spirit is all God.

But remember the Spirit isn’t the Son.
And the Son isn’t the Father.

Sure sure,
there’s a divine perichoresis happening between them
but they’re not all the same.

You see, the logical mode of generation is what matters:
the Son is eternally begotten and the Spirit eternally proceeds.

And remember, there’s a big difference between the immanent Trinity
and the economic Trinitarian functions of the Godhead in the role redemptive history.

Why aren’t you all taking notes?

Lots of ink has been spilled over the Trinity.

But sometimes all our spilled ink
can blind us to what the Trinity is about.

And as important as all of the theological precision and logical fine-tuning may be,
it’s very possible to use all the right language about the Trinity
and not really understand the Trinity.

[slide #4]
Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way:

The doctrine of the Trinity is nothing but the feeble praise of human beings of the impetuousness of God’s love, a love in which God glorifies himself, and in which God embraces the whole world; the doctrine is a call to adoration, to reverence, and to a love that submerges itself in God.

The Trinity is just our feeble praise about the impetuousness
the recklessness, the uncontrollableness
of God’s love.

A love that glorifies God—that shows God as good and beautiful
and that embraces the whole world.

And to what does the Trinity call us?


And to to sink into the depths of love.

To submerge ourselves
in this God who is living love itself.

That’s the only way to approach the Trinity.

[slide #5]
We don’t dissect the Trinity.

If you think about it,
anything worthy of the name “God”
would be beyond our ability to dissect.

We can’t dissect God.

We can’t cut open the Trinity
and figure out how it works.

We can dissect things around us and kinda figure out how they work.

Frogs and ferrets and butterflies
and even stem cells and quantum particles.

We can dissect these things—
we can break these things down
because they’re part of the universe.

But we can’t dissect
the source of the universe.

That would be like us trying to stare straight at the sun with binoculars.

Let’s see how this sun thing works… ARGH!!

The sun is the thing
that lets us see
everything else.

Of course
it’s blinding.

We can’t dissect it.

We can’t codify it and label it
and put it up on chalkboard.

That’s not the way it works.

The Trinity is like
the sun of all reality.

The Father, Son, and Spirit
can’t be dissected
or stared at directly.

The Trinity lets us see
everything else
in universe.

Of course
Father, Son, and Spirit
are mysterious.

We’re not supposed to dissect the Trinity.

[slide #6]
We invited to dance with the Trinity.

At the heart of things,
that’s what we believe God is.

An eternal dance of love and delight.

God himself is living love.

Bonhoeffer is right.

The Trinity is about adoration and reverence.

The heart of the Christian understanding of God
is something we can’t dissect or dominate or decipher.

The only thing we can do
is become a child again.

We can be filled with wonder and delight
at what a mysterious and beautiful and enchanted world
we live in.

And behind it all—at the heart of it all—
we have a God who is always choosing
to move towards us.

Not merely a God above us—
beyond us.

People have always believed that.

We have a God who chooses
to forever become one of us.

And we have a God who can’t get close enough.

A God who will invade us—
who fill us with himself—
if we’ll let him.

Above us, sure.

But also beside us.
Also within us.

What does it look like to dance with the Trinity?

In a word,
it looks like love.

[slide #7]
Trusting love
and joining love
in the world.

That’s what Paul is talking about
at the end of verse 2 through verse 4.

We’re invited to trust love.

That’s how Paul can talk about boasting
about celebrating—in the midst of our sufferings.

That doesn’t mean saying
that depression is a good thing.

It doesn’t mean trying to convince yourself
that the hardship—that the struggle, that the suffering—
is a good thing in itself.

What it does mean is learning to recognize
that we’re part of a bigger story.

In the midst of hardship and struggle and suffering,
we can keep going, we can stay the course, we can persevere.

We can let suffering lead to perseverance
and let perseverance shape our character
shape us into better people.


Because we’re just optimistic that things will work out?

Because we’ve been dealt lemons
and we might as well make lemonade?

Because that’s the best thing you can do this life?


Because of the Trinity.

We can find reason to celebrate in this life—
even when things are impossibly hard—
because we believe in the Trinity.

Because God is always moving toward us.

Because we have peace with God above us.
Because God has come beside us and knows what it’s like.

Because God come within us and is closer than we can imagine.

[slide #8]
The heart of the gospel is that
God has made our life his own.

In the words of one writer, God himself is

“born into poverty and scandal,
raised as a pauper, lives a life of homelessness,
and dies in humility after being beaten, stripped naked, and nailed to a cross.

And the whole time he endlessly loved.

He was “devoting his life to the healing and liberation
of the sick and the dying, the marginalized and the oppressed.”

God knows what it’s like.

God has made our life—
even the darkest, hardest suffering—
as his very own.

God is beside us.

He has made our life his own.

[slide #9]
And because of that, we’re invited to trust that
God is pouring his life into our lives.

God pours out his Spirit into us.

God within us.

And God has shown us that there is no catastrophe
there is no crucifixion—that he cannot transform.

And he’s pouring out
that kind of life
into us.

We’re invited to trust that.

To trust the love of God
us and beside us and within us.

To trust
that there is a dance of love
at the heart of universe.

To trust the Trinity is taking us
somewhere good and beautiful

And then we’re invited to join that dance.

To join the dance of love.

We don’t stare at the sun—
we live in the light of the sun.

That’s what all of our lives are meant to be.

[slide #10]

We are invited to ask:

How can I participate in the dance of love?

Father, Son, and Spirit—
he’s already including you in the dance.

Already dancing,
and wooing you to join.

The question is,
how can we join in?

The dance is what drives the Christian.

Christians are the people
who want to join the dance
with every moment of our lives.

With every fiber of our being.
With our work week.
With our downtime.

In our relationships.
In our struggles.

What are the areas,
who are the people,
where are the places,
that need love?

How can I learn to seek the good of others?

Even when it costs me something—
I want to join the dance.

Especially when it costs me something—
especially in the places
where I’m going to have change,
where it’s uncomfortable,
where I’m going to be vulnerable with people—

I want to join the dance.

May we trust that we have peace with God above us,

may we be captured by crucified and resurrected God beside us,
and may our lives be animated by the love of God within us.