Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection Gospel Lesson Year C, Trinity Sunday

John 16:(5-11)12-15

Jesus said, ["Now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, `Where are you going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.] "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

NRSV Copyright Statement
John 16:(5-11)12-15 by John Gibbs, Ph D

As we discussed for Cycle A, Trinity Sunday, there is no full-fledged developed doctrine of the Trinity within Scripture. What we see in biblical literature are, rather, the seeds of the later developed ideas about the interrelations between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Earliest Christians spoke of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on the bases of their experiences of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Reconciler or Sustainer. We may say, then, that biblical thought about God uses an incipient or “practical” Trinitarian language rather than a “systematic” or philosophical/theological language. [See, for example, R. Mehl’s outline of N.T. talk about God in the article “God” within J.-J. von Allmen, A Companion to the Bible (NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 1958), pp. 146-51.]

As a consequence of the incipient nature of biblical references to the “persons” of the Trinity, as they were later denominated, subsequent theological discussions about the Trinity have ranged far and wide, all the way from excluding this doctrine from any central importance in theology (a position difficult to support on biblical grounds) to, on the other hand, making this doctrine the centerpiece of one’s theology. Karl Barth may be foremost among those who have done the latter during the last century. For an excellent short article about his Trinitarian theology, see Cynthia M. Campbell, “Trinity,” within Donald K. McKim (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith (Louisville: WJKP, 1992), pp. 374-77.

The difficulties of the doctrine of the Trinity for laity, not to mention clergy (!), have led some folk to treat it with silence, especially within preaching. Before doing that, however, we might well recall what happened to the adolescent Carl Jung when he was in his father’s communicants’ class, his father being a Protestant pastor. Carl read ahead in their textbook, and awaited eagerly the forthcoming discussion about the Trinity. But when his father led the class to that chapter, his father remarked that the doctrine of the Trinity was very complex, and that he could not make anything of it himself. So he skipped over that chapter. The young Carl claims that his disaffection with the Church began at that moment.

What, then, do we find about the Trinity in the texts for this day?

John 16:(5-11)12-15 is the one text among these four that sows the seeds of Trinitarian theology, for present here are Jesus, the Spirit, and the Father.

Significantly such theology arises under pressure of imminent conflict for the Church (16:1-4), and as part of Jesus’ discourse in the Upper Room (John 14-17) just prior to the crucifixion.

Trinitarian thought begins in real life, not in speculation. The trumpet of doom over Jesus’ earthly life had already sounded: “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.” Now, wrote the author of this Fourth Gospel, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (13:1). With that theme of the end having been announced, the gospel writer looks forward beyond the coming crucifixion to the implications of Jesus’ life/death/resurrection for his followers. He sees a long road ahead. “I still have many things to say to you,” but that must later be done through your Advocate, “the Spirit of truth.” The “truth” is not truth in general, for the Spirit “will take what is mine and declare it to you” (16:14).

Jesus’ work did not end when he departed this world. It continues through the Spirit who lives far beyond the first century CE. The meaning of the gospel, and the possibilities set before the Church, are not limited to first century conditions and circumstances. The Spirit assures that continuity exists within the Church’s life and message, even while many discontinuities develop with first century life.

Ours is a faith within and for history. As such, it is always undergoing changes even as it continuously beholds the holy God who created all that is, even as it steadfastly holds on to the risen Crucified One, and even as it steadily listens for the voice of that Other Spirit who persistently challenges the spirits of our times (Zeitgeisten). The triune God places us within “the beauty of holiness,” speaks to us in “a voice of splendor,” and brings us into Shalom in this world and the next. Trusting in that God, we need no stranglehold on “truth,” no petrified “fundamentum” made with human hands, no ideological rigidity that obstructs the flow of God’s own history through us, over us, and beyond us.

Copyright Statement
NOTE: All readings for this day may be combined into one reflection.
To Reflections on other Readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
New Testament Revelation 4:1-11
Gospel John 16:(5-11)12-15
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John Gibbs, PHD, is a retired theologian, who attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2004. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

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