In the name of the Holy
Trinity: Father, Son (
), and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The words sting, and if
we are honest, when we first hear them, these ancient words set off warning
bells in our minds. They seem too critical, too judgmental, and—in this
age of “anything and everything goes” in our culture—too intolerant.
We would like to find a
way to dismiss them, to by-pass them, and perhaps even to ignore them. How
could it be that what was taught fourteen-to-sixteen hundred years ago could be
relevant to us, a guideline to shape our faith and our churches today,
declaring that only those who hold to a certain complex understanding are
For that is what they
appear to state, that which we—in a few moments—will confess.
desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not
keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.”
Harsh words, that lead
into a creed that is hard to understand until it is taken apart and chewed on,
until we examine it closely, and understand what is written. Some of you have
only heard those words for the first time this morning. Most of the rest of us
only confront and use them one time a year, this week, here on Trinity Sunday,
as we celebrate that God revealed Himself to us as both One, and yet Three. So,
then, how can you confess them? The words beg to be considered, yet our hearts
struggle with the idea that such a complexity could be so critical to our
One pastor and writer
phrased it this way, “The doctrine of
the Trinity … is truth for the heart.” The fact that it
cannot be satisfactorily explained, instead of being a valid criticism against
it, is actually in its favor. Such a truth had to be revealed by God; no human
being could have possibly imagined it.
Grasping our own struggle
gives us some insight into the struggle of the Jews, as they tried to grasp the
claims of the man teaching them in the temple courtyard that He was not just a
mere man, but completely God, too. As we struggle through this apparent
paradox ourselves this morning and every day, may we come to the same realization
as those who wrote this creed. It is the Spirit-led understanding that is
shared with angels and archangels and all the company heaven—all those
who will be gathered in heaven on the day of Christ, to proclaim God’s
holiness, His majesty, His glory. For indeed,
“the catholic faith is this: That we worship One God in Trinity and
Trinity in Unity.”
We struggle with
mysteries and paradoxes, though, because it makes us feel weak, incompetent,
confused. There is part of each of us that absolutely hates when we
don’t know where we are going, or what we are doing. We don’t like
it, when we are not in complete control, when we cannot manipulate our
situation in a way we prefer. Such is the reason we hate doctor’s offices,
and dread the chair at the dentist, and probably why we don’t like being
caught up in the legal system. These situations include conversations that
take place around us in languages that we don’t know, or people making
decisions we feel we have no active part in. We are helpless.
But we have an even
bigger struggle with not being God. So it was with the Jews, who thought they
needed to confront Jesus because His teaching was so challenging to their
worldview. Yet the miracles He had been doing seemed to call for them to make
some kind of judgment about Him.
The challenge is that
they thought they understood God. After all, they studied his word. They had
the temple. They were not Samaritans or Gentiles. They did all the right
things, they sang all the right psalms, they kept all the festivals, and yet,
Jesus will say, “It
is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But
you have not known him.”
In saying this, Jesus
differentiates between casual knowledge and intimate knowledge; between basic
familiarity and a genuine bond. They know of God, and yet they
don’t really know Him. Had they been able to process their knowledge,
they would have seen their worship as vain and empty. They would have realized
that Herod’s majestic temple was being used as a sham. Their actions
there were nothing but a falsehood designed to appease the God that they
claimed to follow.
The God who was standing
right there, in their midst!
And they would try to
kill Him, even as He was showing them His plan of salvation—for them, and
for us. They resisted the idea that He wasn’t a pliable God, a God who
would be bent to their notions and their preferences. Even though the Old
Testament scriptures spoke of Him and His love for them so clearly, they just couldn’t
wrap their minds around the concept of God walking among them.
We haven’t made all
that much progress since then, either.
We still want a god that
is controllable, too—a god that is easily defined. It’s our fallen
human nature to desire a faith that can be reduced to a simple list of “do
and don’t” behaviors. Even then, we want that list in our control,
judged by our reason, our logic.
We want what C.S. Lewis
called a “tame” God. But a tame God isn’t really God, is He?
A tame god would simply be a false god; one created in our image, so that we
can play God. The ultimate example of the sin prohibited in the first
commandment – you shall have no other gods…
How should we define the
Trinity, this God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Is it for us to define a God
who has revealed Himself to be anything but tame, pliable, or controllable? He
is not only complex, but full of paradoxes: From the Trinity to Jesus being
100% God and 100% man, to the mystical union of the Supper. He tells us He
washes us clean of all sin, as we are joined to His death and resurrection. He
proclaims His death for us, as we take and eat His body and drink His blood in,
with, and under the bread and wine, given and shed for our forgiveness.
The thing that the Jewish
people got wrong, that we still struggle with, is that God doesn’t want
just a people that robotically obey every command. He wants a people that are
in a relationship with Him! The creeds don’t demand our intellectual agreement
and assent to some vague or ambiguous propositions about God; they reveal to us
the character of the God who calls us into a relationship with Him. A
relationship earmarked by our trust in Him, sealed with His faithfulness to the
promises given to the Old Testament people like Abraham, and manifested in
Jesus’ suffering and death at the cross.
Here again the definition
of the church catholic… and of its faith.
the catholic faith is this, that we worship One God in Trinity and Trinity in
Worship – that means
there is a relationship there, and that we adore Him. He has revealed His love
towards us; those He has gathered, cleansed, and made His children. The rest
of the Creed just tells us of this incredible God, how magnificent, how
unsearchable, how uncontrollable, how merciful and loving He is.
That is why we keep His
Word; that is why we treasure it. It is not because it tells us that if we
don’t behave we will be zapped. It is because it reveals His attitude
toward us, His infinite and unfathomable love. A love that is so incredible
that we cannot measure it. A love so deep, so wide, so strong that it would
drive Jesus to die within sight of that very temple where He was confronted,
challenged, questioned, despised, and rejected. A love strong enough to compel
Him to die for the very people that tried to stone Him when they could not
control Him. That love is glorious, wonderful, and amazing. It cannot be
fully contemplated or measured.
It can only be basked in,
and rejoiced in, and in the presence of the One who loves us, is to be praised
and worshipped and glorified. Even as Abraham rejoiced when he realized what
God had promised, so long ago.
That love means we will
be welcome in the same place of which Isaiah spoke, the same city of which Ezekiel
prophesied, in the same gathering that John describes in the book of Revelation.
A place beyond our ability to imagine, so incredible is the glory of God. Yet
it will be our home, together with saints from every language, every tribe,
every tongue, every time. We will be welcomed and kept by a God who defies any
description, except that which He Himself has revealed to mankind.
Hear, O people of God: The
Lord your God is One. And yet He is three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
May the peace of God, which
like His Triune nature is beyond all our human comprehension, continue to guard
your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.