Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
It’s Trinity Sunday and that means we’re talking about this great mystery that is difficult for us to understand. It is tradition that on Trinity Sunday we read the Athanasian Creed. It seems difficult, but it lays out what the bible says about the Trinity very clearly. The real problem is we are trying to explain God in human language. We really can’t understand what it means that God is one in three, and three in one. It’s a mystery beyond our understanding. That's because God is, in his completeness, beyond our understanding. We only know about God what he has revealed to us in the Scriptures and also by becoming a human being in Jesus Christ. We just don’t have anything we can compare God to. You may have heard of the apple analogy where God is like an apple, core, skin and flesh, the things but one apple. Well, that is helpful but that's not God. He's kind of like an apple, but he isn't exactly like an apple. God isn’t like anything we know. He’s the most unique thing in the whole universe. He’s totally outside of it all, and yet he’s everywhere in it all. How do you explain something like that so that we can understand?
Well, I’ve found, when trying to understand the things of God, it’s best to remember and talk about what we’ve been told already. That’s what it means to confess our faith. To 'same say' back to God what he has told us about himself. One good place to find what God tells us about himself is in the Apostles’ Creed. Turn to page 322 in your hymnal. There you’ll find the Apostle’s creed and Martin Luther’s explanation of each article. This creed (or confession) is an important document for Christians. It’s how we’ve been confessing what we believe about the Trinity for centuries. It gathers together in one place what God tells us about himself in his Word in a form that’s easy to remember and easy to speak. So today, on Trinity Sunday, let’s do just that. It’s a good time to review. Let’s read the first article together.
The First Article - Creation
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
What does this mean?
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
First, we should notice that we confess together, and call God our Father. Father’s day is coming. The Creed reminds us that God is our Father. It’s the first way we have to get a handle on what the Trinity is. We may not understand exactly what it means that God is a Trinity, but we can understand what it means that God is our Father. Just as our earthly fathers are supposed to provide for us, we confess that we believe that our Heavenly Father provides us with everything we need: Body, soul, eyes, ears all my members, reason and senses… etc. clothing shoes, food drink… I really don’t think Luther left anything out. God has provided all these things to us, everything necessary for us to live, and work and play. I think the really important phrase here though is “and still take care of them.” God is not the kind of Father that gives and forgets. He’s the Father that gives and keeps on giving! In fact, God is the kind of Father that never stops giving. He gives everything, and then He gives more. One of my seminary professors said you can’t understand God unless you begin to speak in mathematical impossibility. God is three in one. That’s a mathematical impossibility. God gives us everything, and then He gives us more. Just think, the bed you slept in last night, the food you ate for breakfast, the pew you are sitting in right now, all gifts from a loving Father. He gives you all that and there is still more to give. It’s impossible but that’s what He does. He gives us complete forgiveness through the all that Jesus did. We have full and complete salvation right now, and yet there is more to come as we look forward to the end of time, when God will give us even more. We have the complete forgiveness of sins, and yet God gives us even more through the Word of forgiveness spoken through the lips of your Pastor, and even more when we open our mouths and he puts forgiveness into us through the Body and Blood of Christ. We also confess that He protects us from harm and danger. God does what our earthly fathers are supposed to do and more. It is a picture we can come close to understanding. So maybe this Trinity isn’t completely beyond our understanding after all.
What about the second article? Let’s read it.
The Second Article - Redemption
[I believe] in Jesus Christ, His-only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
What does this mean?
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
This article is at the center of the creed and it’s also the center of our faith. It’s at the center of our faith. It’s about the second person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ. We are Christians. Christian means “Little Christ.” We are believers in Jesus, the Christ, followers of Jesus Christ. Our faith is in the life death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. That’s the big gift given to us from God, the Trinity. And right here in the creed we have the whole story about what He did for us: He was born, lived, suffered, died, raised again to life, ascended into heaven, and coming again. And Luther doesn’t waste any time when he tells us. Thru Jesus Christ, God has redeemed me a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and the power of the devil; Think of John 3:16 the most famous passage in the whole bible and part of what Jesus said to Nicodemus in the Gospel lesson for today. We could all even say it together even if we’ve never memorized a single verse of the bible I’ll be we know this one “for God so loved the world…” This is the heart of everything we confess here in this church.
Notice how it doesn’t talk about what we do, but only about what God gives to us through faith. And because of all that He did He is my Lord. Jesus is born of the Virgin. Jesus redeemed me. Jesus purchased and won me from sin that lives in my heart, death that is my just reward for that sin, and Satan who uses that sin to drive me away from God. And he didn’t do it with gold or silver, as we would try to do it. It wasn’t bribery; the gift that God gives was earned. It was purchased with His holy and precious blood. He let out his blood on the cross where nails pinned him as a payment for your sin. His willingness to die for you and me was the price that He paid. That I may be his own and live under him… The gift that he gives through his life and death is real life: a life or righteousness, innocence and blessedness.
And there’s one more thing to talk about here. It’s the resurrection of Jesus. All of the gifts God gives through Jesus are secured through His resurrection. As the creed says just as he has risen from the dead so these things are also true for us. The resurrection is the proof of Jesus perfect life and death. The resurrection is the promise of God’s gifting us more in the future. Life here can be good with God’s gifts, but if there was nothing after death it would all come to an end. But that’s God’s addition again. He gives all there is to give, all that we need to support this body and life, and then He gives more yet; eternal life, life that goes on and on forever; a perfect life with Him every day. All that He has to give is beyond our thinking. Just as the Trinity is beyond our thinking, just as the forgiveness of sins is beyond our thinking, just as Jesus resurrection as a promise of our resurrection is beyond our thinking, so God’s giving is beyond our thinking.
That’s what the Christian faith is all about. That’s what we confess when we talk about the second person of the Trinity.
But there is still one part left. You see, after all that God has done He still does more!
Let’s look at the third article and read it:
The Third Article - Sanctification
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
What does this mean?
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
Finally, we talk about the Holy Spirit, the third person in God’s Trinity, but we also about more that the Holy Spirit, too. We talk about ourselves. Look at how Luther begins his description talking about whom we are. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; You see, in spite of what many Christians believe (even some Lutherans!) our faith isn’t due to anything we do. It isn’t something that we have to figure out. It’s not something we have to accept by asking Jesus into our hearts. In fact, it has nothing to do with anything we do at all. I cannot by my own reason or strength. Luther says. That just goes against all our American pride. We want to be self sufficient. We don’t want to be dependant on anyone. That’s what makes Christianity so difficult to swallow here in the US these days. It goes against our grain. But God makes it very clear in his word, and Luther simply confesses what God has said. Faith is totally and completely a gift of God, worked out in us completely by the Holy Spirit, through Word and Sacrament. It’s God’s math again. He gives and gives and keeps on giving. We don’t deserve what He gives. We can’t earn what He gives. God is a gracious giver.
Some Christians insist that we must “accept” Jesus or “decide” to follow Him. “He has done his part and we do our part.” But we confess here in Luther’s explanation to this part of the creed that we are totally reliant on God for our salvation. When we say these words of the Creed, when we say these words that echo what Scripture tells us, we confess that we don’t meet God part way… the Holy Spirit gently calls us to faith.
These days, too, many people are focused on the Holy Spirit. They look for churches where they think they can “feel” the Spirit working. It’s a part of that idea that we’ve got to have a part to play… at least we have to feel the Spirit working. But unfortunately what they find may not be the Holy Spirit at all. You see, He’s a background player. He works behind the scenes. Just look at the list of things he does: He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. He keeps the church with Jesus Christ. If a church focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit they are really missing the point. His purpose is to point to Jesus. Often we think of the Spirit in the form of a dove, but I think another picture would be a hand pointing to the cross. When the Spirit is working people are looking at, and thinking about Jesus. Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… That’s a picture of the Spirit working right there. We get the work of the Spirit mixed up when we equate it with feelings. God, The Holy Spirit, works in our hearts through His Word, and Sacraments weather we feel him working our not. God, the Holy Spirit, works through the miracle of Holy Baptism even if we don’t feel clean afterward. The biggest testimony of that is when we bring infants here to the font. They don’t even know what’s happening and often cry with the water. Yet, we believe God, the Holy Spirit, gives them faith just as he promised. God, the Holy Spirit works when we hear His Word preached, when those words tell us of our sin and God’s gracious gift of forgiveness in Jesus, even if we don’t feel moved by the words that are spoken. God, the Holy Spirit, is at work strengthening our faith through the really present Body and Blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, even if we don’t feel any different walking away from the altar than we did when we walked toward it. If our faith was dependant on our feelings, then we’d all be in trouble, because our feelings are so fickle. If our faith was based on feelings we’d never be able to say, this is most certainly true, because the only thing we can know about our feelings is that we can’t depend on them.
So if you can’t depend on your feelings to show you that the Spirit is at work, how do you know he’s at work? We look to what we can know for sure, God’s Word, God’s promises. That’s what the creed is all about confessing God’s promises that are given through His Word. You want to see the Spirit at work? You don’t have to go very far. He is working right now, right here! All you have to do is look and listen, and taste and feel where God promises to be. Right here in God’s word, right here in Holy Communion, right here in Baptism. Anytime your attention is focused on Jesus Christ crucified for your sins, any time find yourself dependant on Jesus alone, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is at work in you. Any time you find God giving it all, and giving some more you can be sure the Holy Spirit is at work, daily and richly supplying…
So that’s the Trinity. Do I understand what it means that God is three-in-one and one-in-three? Not really. If you get it figured out let me know. It’s God’s math. The truth is that it isn’t surprising that we don’t understand it, because we are tying to describe the God who was powerful enough to create this whole universe, that we struggle to understand, and God is bigger than that. It’s OK not to understand the Trinity. What’s important for us to know is just what’s been given for us to know. What’s important is for us to confess what we’ve been given to confess about God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is how God works in our lives. The Father – Creator, preserver, provider, protector; the Son, Jesus – Savior, the Holy Spirit – Faith giver. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.