Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and from our Blessed Comforter, the Holy Spirit, on this Trinity Sunday. Amen.
It’s tough to be a Christian. Part of that difficulty is due to characteristics we share with
several other faiths. For one thing, very much like some other faiths, yet very distinct from many others, we don’t have a visible God who is easily identified or experienced. We don’t worship a tangible object like a tree or an idol, or a visible one like the sun or moon. A god you can touch and see would seem to be more present and more accessible for us.
It’s also tough having a faith in which there isn’t anything we can actively do to achieve its ultimate objective: the removal of the guilt of our sins and the reconciliation with the divine that provides us the assurance of eternal life. We can’t earn our deity’s favor through any actions we might perform, even in part.
We can only surrender and acknowledge our inability to do anything worthy of God’s blessings, and accept them in humility—not in pride at having done more than someone else toward piety and salvation.
Christianity is also difficult because it and we are the primary targets of all of Satan’s efforts to destroy faith, and to draw people away from the one, true God. People of other religions, and no religion at all, certainly face temptations to sin. Yet those temptations come from their own sinful nature and the attractions of the world, rather than from the
devil. After all, why would Satan need to pull a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim,
or a Jew away from a god or a faith that cannot save them from eternal damnation?
When you think about all those dangers and difficulties in trying to live a faithful Christian life, what a blessing it is that our Lord has promised that not one whom He has chosen will be snatched out of His omnipotent hand.
We have His assurance that He will keep us safe in the ark of His Church, protected from all threats that would turn us away. Some of the many, many tools our loving God has provided His Church through His holy Word are the creeds, those formal statements of faith that describe God’s being and God’s work. We’re most familiar, of course, with the Nicene and the Apostles’ creeds, since we use them so often in our weekly worship.
But if you look carefully, the scriptures are chock full of creeds. There are dozens if not hundreds of locations where an individual states his or her beliefs about God. Some are simple, and some are more extensive. They may not be as comprehensive as the creeds developed to more fully explain the faith, the ones we recite so often, but they are certainly there.
Look back to Israel’s statement, “The Lord is one.” To Job’s, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” To David’s many statements in the Psalms about the nature and action of God. In our epistle lesson today, Peter delivers a creed of sorts—a powerful statement of belief about who Jesus is, and what Jesus had done. And in our Gospel, doesn’t Jesus Himself give one of the most succinct and powerful creeds about the nature and work of God: “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Today is Trinity Sunday, a day that for some unfortunately creates a great deal of awkwardness, anxiety, and even some resistance to confessing their Christian faith in a creed. Some resist the Athanasian Creed because it’s unfamiliar. Others don’t care for it because it’s somewhat longer than the other common creeds, and at places seems to get a bit repetitive.
I’m sure that some don’t like the Athanasian Creed because it confuses them, with all the talk about the complexities of the Holy Trinity, too. We like to understand things, and frankly, I’ll be the first to admit that while this creed, like the other two ecumenical creeds, makes a valiant stab at it, the Holy Trinity remains an incomprehensible mystery to us.
And finally, there are those among us here who blanch at using the word “catholic” that appears so frequently in the Athanasian Creed. We’re Lutheran Christians, after all, and we darn tootin’ like being Lutherans, not Catholics. Wasn’t that what the Reformation was all about,after all?
The Reformation was first and foremost intended to return the church—the catholic church with a small “c” established by Jesus himself—to the truths which the Apostles’,
Nicene, and Athanasian creeds teach and confess. In fact, if you look in the
Lutheran Confessions, the very first documents incorporated are these creeds.
If you have a hard time with the word “catholic”—if it sticks in your craw as we read the creed today—I want you to try real hard to say it anyway, but in your mind, go ahead and substitute the words: “one, true” each time we come to it. If your brain can make that connection and that leap, then maybe your heart can, too.
ALL: This is the catholic faith: that we worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.
P: For the person of the Father is one, that of the Son another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another,
R: but the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one – equal in glory, coequal in majesty.
P:What the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.
R: The Father is uncreated; the Son is uncreated; the Holy Spirit is uncreated.
P:The Father is unlimited; the Son is unlimited; the Holy Spirit is unlimited.
R: The Father is eternal; the Son is eternal; the Holy Spirit is eternal – and yet there are not three eternal beings but one who is eternal,
P: just as there are not three uncreated or unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited.
R: In the same way, the Father is almighty; the Son is almighty; the Holy Spirit is almighty – and yet there are not three almighty beings but one who is almighty.
P: Thus, the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God – and yet there are not three gods but one God.
R: Thus, the Father is Lord; the Son is Lord; the Holy Spirit is Lord – and yet there are not three lords, but one Lord.
Yes, that pattern does get a little bit repetitive, I’ll admit. But it’s that pattern which drives home the points, too: that these things are crucially important to know and to believe about God, We must hold our faith, to the exclusion of any beliefs which run contrary to it. It’s surprising how many nominal Christians don’t seem to understand that. They think it’s OK to treat the faith and the truths about it which God’s Holy Scriptures reveal to us like some sort of buffet line. They find it perfectly acceptable to chisel off the sharp edges of the Ten Commandments, and dilute the strength of God’s message, until they can define a God they’re comfortable with.
Their God isn’t powerful enough to have created the world in six days. Their God wasn’t angered enough by sin to have flooded the entire world and wiped out the creation that He Himself had made, but for a faithful few. Their God didn’t really open the sea to save His people from their pursuing enemies; they must’ve just found a shallow spot. When you find a little wiggle room on that, it’s easy to set aside other things, too—like what sort of things God calls sin.
But do you know the real danger and the end result of creating your own sort of God like that? It means you put yourself at odds with what God has revealed to us in His Word, and it separates you from the one, true faith which that Word declares—the one, true faith the Church confesses in the creeds. It allows you to reduce God to less that God says He is, and to re-make God in your own image—an inversion of the rightful order of things.
Is that the sort of God you want to create for yourself? Think about it: A God not conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary would carry the same corrupt, sinful nature as you and I, and He would not be a suitable, unblemished sacrifice. If He did not shed His blood for you on the cross, your sins are not atoned for. If He did not die and take your sins with Him to the grave, they still cling to you. And if He
did not return to life as He had prophesied, you have no hope of victory, either.
But the One God we worship in Trinity and Trinity in Unity—uncreated, infinite, eternal, and almighty—has accomplished all that for you. Christ has kept the catholic faith whole and undefiled for you, and has applied His perfect obedience and righteousness to you, so that you will not perish eternally.
ALL: For just as we are compelled by the Christian truth to confess that each distinct person is God and Lord, so we are forbidden by the catholic religion to say there are three gods or three lords.
P:The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten by anyone.
R: The Son is from the Father alone, not made or created but begotten.
P: The Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son, not made or created or begotten but proceeding.
R: Therefore there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.
P: And in this Trinity none is before or after, greater or less than another, but all three persons are in themselves coeternal and coequal,
R: so that in all things the Trinity in unity and the Unity in trinity must be worshipped.
All three of the Christian creeds speak clearly to the belief that our one God exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and has existed in three persons from all eternity. This puts us at odds, of course, with other monotheistic faiths such as Judaism and Islam. There isn’t room in those religions for such notions. To divide God into more than one person degrades His power and sovereignty, we’re told. And for a human being to have a divine nature? Ridiculous! Preposterous! Blasphemous!
What really denies or degrades God’s power and sovereignty, though: Telling God that He can’t exist in the ways He has revealed Himself to be, or accepting it as beyond our limited ability to understand? It seems that any human attempts to paint God into a corner or shove him in a box are far more preposterous and blasphemous than bowing our heads and saying, “As you say, Lord.”
In spite of all attempts to paint it as such, we do not worship the same God as other major religions. Yes, we have some very strong common roots, and we share portions of the Scriptures, even portions copied over under supposed different human authorship. But there can be no avoiding the fact that apart from the belief that the Son and the Holy Spirit are co-equal and co-eternal with the Father, we cannot have the same God.
We speak the creeds because we are compelled by the Christian truth to acknowledge each of the three persons of the Godhead as God and Lord, and the nature and work of each of those persons. Desiring to be saved, we do and must think thus about the Trinity, and confess this both as individual Christians and as Christ’s Church.
ALL: But it is necessary for eternal salvation that one also faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore it is the true faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at once God and a human being.
P: He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages,
R: and a human being, born from the substance of his mother in this age.
P: He is perfect God and a perfect human being, composed of a rational soul and human flesh.
R: He is equal to the Father with respect to his divinity, less than the Father with respect to his humanity.
P: Although he is God and a human being, nevertheless he is not two but one Christ.
R: However, he is one not by the changing of the divinity in the flesh but by the taking up of the humanity in God.
P: Indeed, he is one not by a confusion of substance but by a unity of person.
R: For, as the rational soul and the flesh are one human being, so God and the human being are one Christ.
ALL; He suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose from the dead, ascended into the heavens, is seated at the right hand of the Father, from where he will come to judge the living and the dead. At his coming all human beings will rise with their bodies and will give an account of their own deeds. Those who have done good things will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil things into eternal fire. This is the catholic faith.
If you were paying attention or are familiar with the Athanasian Creed, you probably noticed that the middle section describes the eternal natures and relationships of the three persons of the Trinity, while this latter section goes into great detail about the person and work of Christ. In fact, if you look closely, you can probably detect the echoes of portions of the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds within each of those sections: The begotten-ness of the Son, and the proceeding of the Holy Spirit from Father and
Son, in the middle section.
Now, as we look at the final section of this creed, we see as we do in our other creeds the centrality of Jesus Christ to our faith and our salvation. Note how this final section begins: “It is also necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Not that Jesus was a good and noble human being, chosen and blessed by God and infused by the Holy Spirit.
Not that Jesus was a spirit being or an angel that came to proclaim God’s message and to do miracles. Not that Jesus was a manifestation of God, as the Lord previously appeared visibly to people in the Old Testament. Rather, we confess the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ: the taking on of human flesh by its assumption into the
wholeness of God. A complete unity of the human and the divine, as inseparable
as it is incomprehensible. A God of such love that He chose to be united in
body with humanity, and united in life, in suffering, and in death with humanity.
In love, the only Son was given for you, that you might believe and confess these truths about God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He has done the ultimate good, so that you need not worry that you haven’t done enough to enter into eternal life.
As St. John recorded of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” The good He has done is now yours, through faith in Him.
This is the one, true, catholic faith; believe it faithfully, believe it fully, confess it boldly and confidently, and you will be saved, through Him.
In the name of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
This message by Rev. Fred Neumann is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project You can read more sermons at: stpaulaustin.org