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If I were to ask you this morning if you believe in God, I'm sure that you would all say, 'yes.' If there are any atheists in the congregation this morning, I sincerely apologize for lumping you in with the rest of us theists. For all who said, 'yes, I believe in God,' I say, 'great. So does the devil. So do the Muslims, Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unitarians and the Jews.' All of these would answer my question, 'do you believe in God,' with a hearty 'yes, I believe in God.'
But when you ask the next question, 'who is the God in whom you believe?' the united voice of many quickly becomes a confusion of languages that divides us. The general approach to this theological diversity is to become real bothered and agitated by the divisions that it causes among people. In the choice between social unity and theological truth, we much prefer unity to truth and so we say that all gods are basically the same god who just reveals himself or herself or themselves in various ways. All religions ultimately lead to the same destination, albeit by different paths. Our many different definitions of God are really not different at all.
I recently read an article by a professor of religion at Boston University, Stephen Prothero who pointed out that, as much as things like the economy and politics divide us, we would never begin to say that socialism and capitalism are just different paths that lead to the same end. Doesn't matter which you take. Or that rule by monarchy or democracy are really the same thing. The differences don't really matter. Why do we do this with religion?
The question, 'who is the God in whom you believe' is not simply a question for theologians to occupy themselves with, because after all, what else do theologians do besides try to count the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin?
This is actually very practical question with real life implications. For example, if we are truly interested in living, what we call, 'a godly life,' we'll need to know something about the God whom we are trying to please and how He wants us to live. If we are sincerely interested in moving our community, our nation, towards a more 'godly society,' it makes a real difference how you answer the question, 'who is the God in whom you believe. What kind of society does He desire for people."
Muslims may lead a 'godly life' and strive for a 'godly society,' but they do so according to their understanding of god, and guess what, it's a different life and a different society than Christians strive for. Same can be said for Jews, Mormons, Unitarians, Jehovah's Witnesses and any other religion.
If we Christians feel that it's becoming harder to live a 'godly life' and that our society is becoming more and more 'unChristian,' maybe that's because we've bought into the idea that "doctrine" is bad because it causes divisions and therefore ought to be avoided. Maybe we've been lazy in learning about the God in whom we say we believe, and therefore we aren't so sure ourselves just who God is, and therefore aren't sure what a 'godly life' and 'godly society' are supposed to look like anymore.
This is why the Christian Church has never asked its people to say, "I believe in God (period)." The devil can say yes to that and mean it. James says, "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder!" (James 2:19).
The Church has always asked its people to say, "I believe in God, the Father almighty, in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord, and in the Holy Spirit." On Trinity Sunday, the Christian Church reminds its people that the God whom we say we believe in is the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three divine persons in one divine essence. You can't make something like that up if you tried. That's just what God Himself tells us about Himself in His Word – the Holy Scriptures.
This is a categorically different God than the god whom a Muslim, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Unitarian or Jew would say he / she believes in. They could never say "me too" to the Trinity. And they don't. They have an altogether different understand of who God is because they use a different altogether different word than the Holy Scriptures. And if you think that they are willing to sacrifice doctrine for the sake of unity, you haven't been paying attention.
Now, before I get off this high horse I'm on, I want to be sure that we understand that why we may NOT say that all gods are the same and any god will do as long as you believe. The Bible says, there is only One God. And if you believe that the Bible is God's Word, then you will believe what it says. Your belief about God really does begin with your belief about the Bible. But that's a different sermon.
In the Bible, Moses repeatedly tells Israel, "the LORD is God, there is no other besides Him." (Deut.4:35, 32:39). Speaking for all the prophets, Isaiah writes, "Thus says the Lord, 'I am the first and the last; besides me there is no god.'" (Is. 44:6) St. Paul speaks for the New Testament Church saying, "Although there are many 'so called' gods in heaven or on earth, yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things and for whom we exist, one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom are all things and through whom we exist.'" (1 Cor. 8:6).
This is where our understanding about the God in whom we believe begins. This is the true God, all the others are false gods. So the first but of guidance in living a godly life and a 'godly society' is, "You shall have no other gods besides me."
Granted, the Bible doesn't give us a complete understanding of the One true God. The Bible tells us all that we need to know about God, not all that there is to know. That's the Holy Spirit's disclaimer that neither this sermon nor any other will ever answer all your questions about God. St. Paul says that for now, "we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face." (1 Cor. 13:12) St. John promises us that in heaven, "we will see Him as He is." (1John 3:2).
So for now, our understanding of God is limited. Not because God wants to keep us from knowing Him, but because our sin blinds us to the truth. In our opening hymn, Reginald Heber had us sing, "Holy, holy, holy, though the darkness hide Thee, though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see."
So, when we confess that, 'The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Spirit incomprehensible," we're really confessing our sin. When we confess that the Trinity is something that our brain is too small to fully grasp, we're confessing what our sin has done to our brain. Adam and Eve understood the Trinity perfectly and completely.
Don't get me wrong here or take this too far. This is not permission to remain ignorant and biblically illiterate. We dare not continue in sin that grace may abound. You have been baptized. And in your baptism, "you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:11) And part and parcel of your renewal was your capacity for knowledge and understanding the things and the nature of God.
How much should we know about God is a question we wrestle with. But we cannot say that since we can't know it all we might as well know nothing. I think that St. Augustine was trying to establish a bottom line here when he said, "If you cannot discover what God is, then at least be careful to understand what He is not."
So, when we say that the Trinity is incomprehensible, we're not saying that we cannot know anything about God. We are simply confessing that our knowledge is not as complete as it will be. Which means, that when we confess that the nature of the God in whom we believe is incomprehensible, this is not only a confession of our sin, but it is also a positive confession of the hope and trust that we have that the sin that now clouds our understanding will one day be completely and forever lifted from us so that what "we now know only in part, we will know fully, even as we are fully known."
A big part of the great anticipation of eternal life is that when we are set free from this sinful nature and we sin no more, and we live in a perfect society where there is no sin, we will know God FULLY.
But a full intellectual understanding of the Triune nature of God is not what Paul is wants us to anticipate here. To know God FULLY, is to experience who God is FULLY. When we know God fully, we will also know the love of God and the joy and the peace of God FULLY.
Now we experience these things only in part, minimally, and sporadically. And that too is because of our sin. Then, we will know God's love and joy and peace FULLY. And what that will be like is as incomprehensible to us now, as the Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible and the Holy Spirit, incomprehensible. In the meantime, while we are still on this earth, the partial, sporadic experiences of God's love and joy and peace that we are given, are to be for us as a reminder and a foretaste of the feast that is to come.
Love, joy and peace are all part and parcel of the nature of the God whom we believe in. So, as we strive to live a 'godly life,' and move our community and nation to be a more 'godly society,' these are the things that we have in mind. And we understand these things according to our understanding of the nature of the God in whom we believe.
Other religions may claim to promote love and joy and peace, but only the Christian religion claims that our God IS all of this and the source of all this.
The Word of the Father, speaking by the Holy Spirit says, "as the Father has LOVED me, so have I loved you. Abide in MY LOVE." (John 15:9). "These things I have spoken to you, that MY JOY may be in you, and that your JOY may be full." (John 15:11). "Peace I leave with you; MY PEACE I give to you." (John 14:27)
The Father sent His Son into this world to give us His love, His joy and His peace by the Holy Spirit, so that we may both have these things for ourselves and so that the world would know about the one true God by our exercise of His love, and joy and peace.
Today, through Holy Baptism, the Triune God has given all of Himself with all that He is to Matthew. And He has given you the same in your baptism. You have love of God, the peace of Christ, the joy of the Spirit in you. Let us grow in the knowledge of the same that we may live 'godly lives,' and work for a 'godly society' and lead others to believe in the Triune God.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.