In light of where we are and why we’re all here today, I presume that it would be safe for me to expect you to say ‘yes’ if I were to ask you if you believe in God. (If there are any atheists here, I apologize for lumping you in with the rest of us theists.)
For all who said, ‘yes, I believe in God,’ I say, ‘that’s great. But so does the devil. And so do the Muslims, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Unitarians and the Jews. And so do your friends and neighbors and coworkers who are none of the above but who don’t hesitate to jump into religious discussions, because after all, they believe in God.
The Psalmist puts it this ways, “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no god.” (Ps.14:1; 53:1) And no one wants to be a fool.
So, what I really should have asked you this morning is not, ‘do you believe in God,’ but, ‘what God do you believe in?’ And it’s at that point that all of the happy unity that we think we share with all believers quickly becomes an argument about ‘who’s got the REAL god’ and why it really, really matters.
But then again, who’s to say? Maybe it really, really doesn’t matter. Maybe all gods are basically the same, and all religions are basically the same, just different roads that all lead to the same place. Different strokes for different folks, and for the sake of peace and harmony, we should all that agree we believe in god, however you choose to define ‘god,’ and not get carried away with the details.
That of course is a long way from saying what we just said, “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.”
The “catholic faith” is then spelled out, not in GREAT GENERALITIES, but in GREAT DETAIL. “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…” etc. etc. etc.
And then we concluded by saying, “This is the catholic faith which, WHOEVER DOES NOT BELIEVE IT FAITHFULLY AND FIRMLY CANNOT BE SAVED.” (Athanasian Creed).
That word ‘whoever’ is important and it cuts two ways.
The consistent message of the Holy Scriptures, from beginning to end is that God is very INCLUSIVE when it comes to the people whom He wants to give His gifts of forgiveness and life and salvation to. Every age, every nationality, every gender, every stage of physical and mental development. “WHOEVER.”
It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, gay or straight, democrat or republican, conservative, liberal or independent, new englander or mid-westerner or middle-easterner. “Go therefore and make disciples of ALL NATIONS.” “Whoever” means “WHOEVER believes and is baptized shall be saved.”
But the same Holy Scriptures also make it very clear that God is very EXCLUSIVE when it comes to the gods whom we are to worship and put our trust and confidence in.
Moses repeatedly tells Israel, “You shall have no other gods besides me.” “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).
So, the Christian Church has never asked its people to confess, “I believe in God.” James says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). We are only led to confess that we believe in the ONE, TRUE GOD.
We believe and confess that the ONE, TRUE GOD, is Trinitarian and not Unitarian or Binatarian, solely because this is the way the Bible speaks about God. From its ‘grand opening,’ it’s GOD who created the heavens and the earth; and the SPIRIT OF GOD that hovered over the face of the deep; and the WORD OF GOD that spoke everything into existence.
It’s the holy conversation between Father, Son and Holy Spirit who, in perfect agreement says, “Let US make man in our image…” (Gen.1:26) and “Come, let US go down and confuse their language…” (Gen. 11:7)
Not THREE GODS, but ONE GOD in THREE PERSONS.
So when Christians worship, it’s ALWAYS AND ONLY the Triune God whom we worship, THE LITURGY BEING OUR GUIDE.
We begin by ‘INVOKING’ “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
We receive the ‘ABSOLUTION’ TO OUR ‘CONFESSION’ in the ‘name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’
We attach our “glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit” to the end of the Psalms testifying that the Old Testament CONTAINS the New and the New Testament REVEALS the Old, and that it is the one, Triune God speaking and acting in both.
When we pray we come to the Father, ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever.’
The hymns that we sing direct us to the love of God in clear, Trinitarian forms of prayer and praise. And when they end in a Trinitarian verse we come to our feet in reverence for the ‘holy, holy, holy’ name above all names.
And yet for all of the attention given to the ‘TRIUNE NATURE’ of the ‘one, true God,’ throughout the Liturgy, the focus of our attention is on the 2nd person of the Trinity – God the Son. God the Father points His finger at His beloved Son and declares, “listen to Him.” “He is the image of the invisible God…” “The radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…” (Heb. 1:3)
Only in the Son of God, can we see and come to know what God is like and how He thinks and speaks and acts. Only through the Son of God, do we see into the very mind of God and how He desires to deal with His sinful and rebellious people.
With his characteristic bluntness, Luther chastises those who want to know God apart from the Son. He writes, “They want to poke their heads through the heavens and look around up there, but when they find no one there, since God is lying in the crib and nursing at His mother’s breasts, they come crashing down again and break their necks.” (On the Trinity)
Luther goes so far as to say that “to seek God apart from Jesus Christ is to the work of the devil.”
Apart from Jesus Christ, God remains hidden from us and a hidden God is always horrible God to deal with.
The hidden God LEAVES US SEARCHING FOR His will and intentions in hurricanes and earthquakes and floods and disasters and sickness and tragedy and war and pain and suffering and death, where all we can conclude is that HE IS ANGRY AND WRATHFUL AND A PUNISHING GOD WHO HATES US AND IS OUT TO DESTROY US.
The hidden God LEAVES US SEARCHING FOR His will and intention in our conscience that accuses and torments us with guilt, and never shows us where to find real relief OR how to be at peace with ourselves, let alone with our neighbor, let alone with our Creator, let alone with the One who will judge the living and the dead.
The hidden God leaves you guessing as to whether He is for you or against you, because it all depends on the circumstances of the day, and the feelings of the heart, and the weather, which all changes from hour to hour and even minute to minute.
And so we fix our eyes, not on the outward circumstances or current events in the world, nor on our feelings or the feelings that others have about us. We fix our eyes on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is ‘GOD REVEALED.’ He is GOD MADE KNOWN to us through flesh and blood and dwelling among us.
Through the Son of God ALONE, do we come to know the love of God the Father, who “so loves the world that He sent His Son that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life.”
No one can ever imagine let alone discover that “God is love” apart from the love of God in Jesus Christ. But in Jesus, we see the heart of God, bursting with mercy and grace for His people, not because they are so good and loveable, but while we are sinners.
In Jesus Christ, we see THE GOD WHO REPENTS of the judgment that He pronounced on us when He said, “the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” And instead, gives His Son to die in our place and on our behalf so that we would NOT DIE BUT LIVE with Him forever in in His heaven, in His house, at His banquet table.
In Jesus Christ, God gives ALL OF HIMSELF TO US and in Jesus Christ, WE GET ALL OF GOD. St. Paul writes, “All of the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Him” and “the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily in Him.” (Col. 1:19, 2:9) When you get Jesus, you get all of God.
Which means that when we eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord in the Holy Supper, we receive the fullness of the deity in the body and blood of the Son. And the fullness of God dwells in us –
for our forgiveness and not our condemnation,
for our life and not our death,
for our good confession and not our denial,
for our faithfulness to Him who is always faithful to us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen