Trinity Sunday sermon

June 19, 2011 at 2:57 pm Leave a comment

As we have just heard and read,
the Athanasian Creed is an abstract, complex, paradoxical document
which seems to insist that we believe seemingly unbelievable things
for no particular good reason.
I like it.
I like it because the Christian creeds are not ending points for discussion,
but starting points.
I like it because the Christian creeds are not written to suppress our understanding,
but to lead us into understanding.
I like it because this very abstract creed
proclaims very specific things about God,
things that have very much to say about our concrete life of faith.
The Creeds are designed to answer this very basic question,
“Who is Jesus Christ?”

That was the question that occupied the Church
in the years, decades, and centuries that followed the resurrection and ascension.
It is the question that still occupies the Church today.
The question about Jesus Christ is not an abstract question;
it impinges upon our very concrete lives of faith.
It is not a question that is ancillary,
it is at the center of our belief.

For if we believe that he was not God,
simply a man of unusual insight and moral greatness,
whose teachings we must strive to follow in order to gain heaven,
we run the risk of despairing when we fall short of his ideal life.
His noble death might save himself, but not us.
If it is to perfectly imitate the life of Jesus which earns us a heavenly reward,
than heaven is a very empty place.

And yet if we believe that he was God, and not truly human,
that he somehow was ‘other’ than us,
that he didn’t have to live by his faith as we did,
did God really defeat the power of death for us?
And do we need to consider how we can live like him?
Or can we simply live our own lives,
ignoring his Word as something too hard,
meant for god-like people and not ordinary human beings like us.

If these questions make your head hurt, good.
One of my proudest moments as a pastor
is when one of the youth group said to me,
“Pastor, I hate it when you make me think!”
Christianity is not all thinking,
but it demands our best thought and our striving to understand.
These things matter because the ancient rule applies here lex orandi, lex credendi –
The law of prayer is the law of faith.
How we pray is how we believe.

To pray in faith to the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
implies a belief in a God who created the good world in love.
The Triune God can and does love us because the relationship
between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is love.
One wonders how a god who was alone before the creation,
would have ever been able to love,
for you cannot love unless you have someone to love.
One wonders how a god who was alone before the creation
would have ever been able to create,
for how would delight in the ‘other’ have suggested himself to such a god?
The three divine persons of Trinity, united in love for one another,
delighted in sharing that love with the good creation,
creating us ‘other’ for relationship.

To pray in faith to the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
implies that we believe, as the beloved hymn confesses,
that Jesus Christ is both Son of God and Son of Man;
that he reveals to us both God’s true nature and humanity’s true destiny.
He is God-for-us,
and he is human-for-us,
in that in him God himself takes on our human life
so that his life might become ours,
in that in him God himself takes on our human death
so that his death might become ours,
in that in him God himself is raised from the dead
so that his everlasting life might become ours:
that we might share God’s life in earth and heaven.
There are too many people out there who think that a tyrannical Father
visited the punishment for humanity on an innocent Son,
a convoluted version of divine child abuse.
That misunderstanding vanishes when we pray to a God
who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
for the Son gives himself willingly in love for us,
not at the dictatorial command of the Father,
but with the love and grace of the Father.
As the Athanasian Creed says,
“The Son is equal to the Father in divinity,
subordinate to the Father in humanity.”

To pray in faith to the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
implies that we believe that the spiritual life
is always related to Jesus Christ who reveals the Father.
There are lots of people out there who delight in a vague ‘spirituality’
which embraces a broad variety of feelings, impulses, and identities.
But the Holy Spirit in our lives is the Spirit of the Son and the Father,
and always leads us to worship the Son and the Father,
and cannot be separated from the Son and the Father.
If we say we are ‘spiritual’ people,
but do not identify whose spirit we embrace or follow,
we’re leaving an awful lot to chance and circumstance.
But if it is the Holy Spirit we pray to,
who we believe is made present to us,
who is inseparable from the Son and the Father,
then Christ and the Father are present to us wherever we go.
and the Spirit we embrace is theirs.

The creeds do not answer every question.
What was God doing before he created the universe?
Well, that’s the wrong question, because time itself is part of God’s creation,
but perhaps it’s more fun to answer with St. Augustine,
“He was preparing hell for those who ask impertinent questions.”
And we can be very uncomfortable with the condemnations
of those who do not accept the Creeds,
perhaps because of those we know of other faith or no faith,
and perhaps because we ourselves do not understand the Trinity fully.
Who can? We are called to believe until one day we shall see.
Frank Senn is a deeply learned Lutheran pastor,
the Senior of the Society of the Holy Trinity,
and he says this:
“It is not necessarily ignorance of the doctrine of the Trinity that merits condemnation,
but conscious rejection of it.”

But let us be left with this thought:
the Creeds are not meant to quench the good news,
but to safeguard the good news.
The good news that our children learn from our knees,
that God created them and created them good in his image,
to live a life of love and service
as God’s life is a life of love and service.
Good news!
The good news that our children learned this week:
In Jesus Christ, God rescues us from our enemies: sin, death, and the devil.
Good news!
The good news that our children sang this week:
A journey with Jesus, God never leaves us, he’s always around!
Though the Father and the Son are hidden from us,
the Spirit is around us, within us, and among us,
so that there is nowhere we can be parted from the Father and the Son.
Good news!
The word orthodox can mean both to teach rightly and to praise rightly.
To be orthodox is not to be a stuffy person,
concerned with quenching every bit of joy,
to be orthodox is a joy,
because when we understand God rightly as Trinity,
and Jesus Christ as true God and true man,
we rejoice ever more deeply
in the mystery of the love of this God for us.

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

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