A demon-possessed Samaritan. That’s what the religious types of Jesus’ day thought of Him. A half-breed heretic who had a devil. When you get over the harshness and crudeness of what they were saying, you can kind of begin to see their point. Here was a man who grew up in the frontier town of Nazareth, a no-place town with no roots or history in the north country of Galilee. A place despised by the locals of Judea and Jerusalem who liked to say, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
He was a carpenter, a builder who took over his father’s business and lived quietly and unassuming for thirty years in total obscurity. And then one day He is baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan where something unique and strange happens. A voice from heaven declares, “This is my beloved Son,” and the Holy Spirit, usually invisible, descends like a dove and settles on Him. And our understanding and view of God was never the same again.
He made claims no one in right mind would dare to make, unless it were true. He claimed to be the Christ, the promised Messiah of Israel. He claimed to be the Son of God, not as a favored adopted “son,” but the only-begotten of the Father, the eternal Son through whom all things were made in the beginning. He claimed to have the authority to send the Holy Spirit from the Father to whomever He pleased. He claimed that no one could come to the Father except through Him, that He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He claimed that anyone who keeps His word in trust will never see death, that whoever trusts Him will live even in death. He claimed to have power over death itself, and promised to raise all who trust Him on the Last Day.
He claimed to be God in the flesh. That’s what He meant when He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” That’s the I AM, YHWH, who revealed Himself to Moses in the unconsumed burning bush of Mt. Sinai. The most holy, covenant Name He applies to Himself and claims to be older than Abraham, though only about 30 years old. Little wonder they took up stones to throw at Him!
Would we, I wonder. Oh, we don’t throw stones at religious crazy people any more. We’d be more likely to institutionalize, drug, put away, or simply ignore Him. Think of it. A thirty year old contractor from Bakersfield claims to be the Christ, the eternal Son of God. What would you say to that?
Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity – a day to celebrate, marvel, rejoice in the Mystery of the Triune God – a holy paradox of three Person in one Being. It’s a day that reminds us that the God who reveals Himself to us is not the kind of God we might cook up for ourselves. We’d keep it simple – either one God without the complications of three Persons (as Judaism and Islam and the Unitarians do), or many gods without the essential unity (as Buddhism and Hinduism and all forms of polytheism do). The gods we manufacture in our own heads are not God. They are idols made in our image and likeness, gods that neatly fit our rules of sensibility and reasonability and marketability. Gods who can be tucked into a labeled box and neatly set on a shelf somewhere to be dusted off and used when we need them. But let’s be honest – if we wanted to engineer a religion and convince the world that we have God’s truth, we would not begin with a Deity that needs a non-sensical cooked word like “triune” to describe Him, much less a creed like the Athanasian Creed to confess Him. (Of course, we wouldn’t have a congregation named “Holy Trinity” either. Something warmer and fuzzier like “Promise” or “Peace” or “Joy.” And then the Jehovah’s Witnesses (who deny God’s tri-unity) would stop leaving those anti-trinity tracts on our front door.)
And the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.
You have to love the Athanasian Creed. It leaves no stone unturned, no angle unexamined, no wiggle room for any alternative gods. It takes no prisoners. Written at the close of the 5th century after all the dust of four hundred years of debate had settled, it reflects the settled understanding of who God is – three distinct Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – united together as one divine Being, distinguishable but not divisible. You can tell them apart but you can’t pull them apart and you can’t have them apart.
It all hangs on Jesus. He is the reason we are forced to speak of God in ways that stretch the mind to the snapping point. If the Son of God hadn’t shown His face and taken on our humanity, had He never commanded the apostles to baptize “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” had He never claimed to be I AM in the flesh, we wouldn’t even have anything like the Athanasian Creed much less the Nicene or Apostles’. We would manage just fine with the creed of Deuteronomy, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” But when the man named Jesus claims to be the Son of God and God validates that claim by raising Him from the dead, as Peter preached in our reading from Acts, that throws a monkey wrench in to our unitarian machinery. The Lord is one. Yes. But that one is also three.
Jesus and the Father are not the same – He is the eternal Son sent by the Father in love to save the world. He prays to the Father as a distinct Person and yet says, “I and the Father are one.” He sends the Spirit from the Father and the Father sends the Spirit in His name. All of this comes from Jesus. And it all could be so easily dismissed. He could be brushed off as a demon-possessed Samaritan heretic with a huge ego complex. Except for this one thing: He died and rose bodily from the dead leaving an open, empty tomb and load of eyewitnesses. He predicted His own death and resurrection at least three times before it happened. Anyone who can pull that off needs to heard – His “amen, amen” packs some serious credibility.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – undivided, uncreated, infinite, eternal, almighty – one God, one Lord in three distinct Persons. To have one is to have all. What one does, all do together, each according to His Person.
We speak of God’s works – creation, redemption, sanctification. Don’t make the mistake of dividing the works among the Persons. The works of God are indivisible (Augustine). We sometimes hear people speaking of “Jesus dwelling in my heart, “which is all well and good, but don’t forget the Father and the Holy Spirit. Where one, there the other two, always undivided.
Sometimes we tend to parcel out the works of God among the Persons – the Father creates, the Son redeems, the Spirit sanctifies. Kind of baseball pitcher analogy – the Father is the starting pitcher who gets the game rolling, the Son the middle reliever who clinches the game, and the Holy Spirit the closer who locks up the game with a save. But Scripture won’t let us think that way. The Son was already busy in the beginning when God – Father, Son, and Spirit- made the heavens and the earth.
The book of Proverbs personifies the Son as holy Wisdom, the “craftsman” at the Father’s side, begotten before all things, who as the creative Word together with the Spirit who blew over the waters of creation made all things – sea and land, plants and birds and fish and animals. Man. Each creative day was a delight to the Son. In fact, it was through the Son that God spoke His divine “good” over each day, rejoicing in the whole world, and a grand “very good” on the sixth day, delighting in mankind.
Redemption, the saving of creation from sin and death, is the work of the Triune God. The Father sends the Son in love to become Man, the foremost creature, to be the new Adam and head of creation, and with Him comes the Spirit, descending visibly on Jesus at His baptism to mark Him as the One who has the Spirit without measure. He dismisses the Spirit at His death, the work of redemption being done, and then, risen fromt he dead, breathes out His Spirit, first on the apostles and then on the whole Church.
Sanctification, “holy-making,” the work of our being made holy is the work of the undivided Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Spirit delivers the cross-purchased gifts of our life and salvation from the Son to us by means of the word of Baptism, of the preached Gospel, of the Supper of the Son’s Body and Blood. He calls us to faith, enlightens us with His gifts, makes us holiness in the holiness of Christ, gathers us into the Church, the body of Christ, and brings us under the reign of the Son who brings us to the Father and presents us clothed in His own spotless holiness.
The danger with such a day as this is that it all becomes an abstraction, idle sophistry, empty philosophy, playing with words and images that make no sense. Today needs to be anchored in baptismal water. You were baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You are forgiven in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You worship in the Name. You begin and end each day in the Name. And when you breath you last, you will be buried in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in the joy and hope of the resurrection of the body and eternal life in tri-une communion with God.
The Triune God is not an object to be scientifically dissected or mathematically explained, but worshipped and adored and called upon and trusted and proclaimed in all the world.
The strong Name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three,
Of whom al nature has creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
Salvation is of Christ the Lord!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,