The ‘Church Year Calendar’ is an amazing blessing to the congregation and church body that is diligent in following it. In the midst of a viral pandemic, and economic calamity, and racial riots and demonstrations, and deep concerns and worries about the future, and politics, politics, politics – the Church Year Calendar says, ‘today we are going to talk about the one, true God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’
If we will allow the Church Year Calendar to have our undivided attention today, our attention will be focused, not on the non-stop news that we watch until we’re blinded by it, or on the political commentary that we permit to be poured into our ears until we go deaf, but on the One who Created the world, who sustains the world, and who directs the entire course of history all the way to the last second when He makes all thing new again.
On Trinity Sunday, we are directed to confess the Christian faith according to the Athanasian Creed and say strange things like, 'the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God, in three persons and three persons in one God, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.'
Rather than trying to ‘simply things’ and say them with familiar language, today we speak deep and profound words and may not fully understand what we are actually saying. “The Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is all one; the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.'
If you prefer swimming in shallow water where you can always find the bottom with your feet while keeping your head above water, today we are definitely in over our head. 'The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten; the Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created but begotten, the Holy Spirit is of the Father and the Son, neither made nor created nor begotten but proceeding.”
Today, we declare and confess with all boldness and confidence that, “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. And yet there are not three incomprehensibles, but one incomprehensible.”
Welcome to Trinity Sunday, a day carved out of the Church’s calendar to celebrate the MYSTERY of the DIVINE TRINITY. Three divine persons in One divine being. God is Three in One and One in Three. He is a singular plurality and plural singularity. It’s enough to make your head spin, your head hurt and leave you wanting to sing, “Jesus Love Me, This I Know.”
When Nicodemus came to Jesus at night to engage the Rabbi in a little ‘God-talk,’ he quickly realized he was in over his head. “How can these things be?” TO WHICH WE SAY, ‘AMEN.’
When the prophet Isaiah found himself standing before the ‘thrice holy God,’ he was ‘lost.’ He came ‘undone,’ and all he could do was to pronounce the divine curse upon himself – “woe is me.” TO WHICH WE ALSO SAY, ‘AMEN.’
The temptation that the preacher faces on Trinity Sunday is to try to EXPLAIN the Trinity, as though he had discovered the secret formula for making ‘comprehensible’ what the church for over 1,500 years has said was ‘incomprehensible.’ But rather than trying to solve the ‘mystery,’ the best thing to do is to LEAVE THE ‘MYSTERY’ A ‘MYSTERY’ and simply jump in and drown in it.
Because really, that’s exactly what you have already done in your baptism. We were not baptized into the ‘God,’ but into the ‘Triune God.’ “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Whether you were sprinkled or dunked, you’ll never enter into deeper waters than the waters of your baptism where you were swallowed up into THE MYSTERY OF THE TRINITY.
And so even though it really is good for us to want to explore the depths and the heights and the width of this mystery that we have been swallowed up into – we do so knowing that we’re always going to end up on our knees “in fear and trembling,” confessing that the one, true God is so much bigger than we are.
And we’d be just fine saying ‘amen’ to this sermon right now, if God were just fine with being known only as ‘TOO MYSTERIOUS TO KNOW.’ But the truth is, God wants us know Him – not simply as ‘INCOMPREHENSIBLE MYSTERY’ to be feared, but as the God who ‘BECAME LIKE US’ so that we might know Him ‘personally,’ as a ‘friend knows a friend,’ as child knows his father, as a wife knows her husband, as lost and condemned sinner knows her Savior.
If nothing else then, on Trinity Sunday we are deeply humbled to be reminded of just how far this one, true God has ‘humbled Himself’ to REVEAL HIMSELF to us so that we might KNOW HIM.
Within the Trinity, in which “the whole three persons are coeternal together and coequal,” it is through the 2nd Person, the Person of the Son, that the Triune God reveals Himself to us – that we might know Him who is love.
Luther is so helpful here because he refuses to get all caught up in all the philosophical speculations about WHO GOD IS. He wants no part of what he calls, “THE HIDDEN GOD” who is ‘KNOWN’ only in the circumstances of my life and these ‘times,’ in which it is impossible to be sure if God is for me or against me.
Luther insists that the “REVEALED GOD” is born of the virgin Mary, crucified on the cross, resurrected on the 3rd day – and only in Him do we know for sure that GOD IS FOR US.
This is the one, true God who takes on our flesh and bones and humanity SO THAT we might know Him.
• The Son of God speaks to us in HUMAN LANGUAGE SO THAT we may ‘hear’ Him, and in hearing HIM, know that we are hearing God Himself speak to us.
• The Son of God “humbles himself” and “becomes like us” so that in seeing Him suffer and die on the cross, we might know God Himself has suffered and died FOR US and IN OUR PLACE.
• The Son of God comes to us, not with philosophical principles or symbolic illustrations – but in the profound simplicity of bread and wine, SO THAT as we do the very human and ordinary thing of eating and drinking, we may know that He is bodily present with us – forgiving our sins and strengthening our faith, assuring us that He is FOR US.
So, we take this doctrine of the Trinity seriously only because we take Jesus Christ seriously.
Only in knowing Jesus Christ do we know anything about the Father who sent His only Son into this world. It is only in fixing your eyes on Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen from the dead that we know something of the depth of the Father’s love for the whole world and His longing that ALL WOULD believe and be saved and that NONE WOULD perish.
Which is to say that you’ll never get the Trinity right unless you get the Son right. And you’ll never get the Son right unless you get the Trinity right. And once again, we’re all caught in the mystery. And there’s no better place to be caught.
Riddles and equations are meant to be solved. And once you solve them, you’ve mastered them. Surprises are meant to be discovered. And once you do, they no longer surprise. But mysteries are not like that. The more you comprehend the ‘mystery of the Trinity’ the more you realize how little you comprehend.
Throughout the history of human race, men and women, in their striving to be “LIKE GOD” have struggled to be content with ‘living in the mystery.’ They want to ‘solve’ it and in ‘solving it,’ prove to themselves that man is not as ‘small’ as were told we are, and God is not so big that we can’t ‘master’ Him and be like God.
So, the Athanasian Creed, just like the Apostles and the Nicene Creeds, are not interested in solving the mystery of God. The purpose is to mark the boundary lines as clearly as possible so that we remain in the mystery – so that we keep the false gods and the false preachers out. St. Augustine said it pretty well when he wrote, “If you cannot discover who God is, then at least be careful to understand who He is not.”
Three Boundary Lines / Tests
There are three boundary lines in particular that Athanasian Creed wants to mark as clearly as possible SO THAT we STAY WITHIN the mystery where we're safe; so that we may DEFEND the one true faith against all the false gods we have created; and so that we properly BEAR WITNESS to the One, True God, apart from whom, no one is saved.
A. 1st boundary:
The first boundary line is this: however we talk about God, we are not to talk about God as if there were three Gods. Any talk of God as more than One crosses the boundary and should set off alarms.
So, when you hear talk about the forces of good and evil, the 'ying and yang' that hold the world together, let the alarms sound. When you hear talk about lots of gods, you've got yours, I've got mine and they’re all the same… run away and lock the doors.
“We cannot by the catholic faith say that there are three gods or three lords.”
B. 2nd Boundary
The second boundary line is this, however we talk about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we are not to talk as though there were only ONE PERSON who appears in three different ways – sometimes as 'almighty Father,' sometimes 'incarnate Son,' and sometimes as the 'force be with you.'
And in the same breath, neither can we divide the persons of the Trinity so that they neatly add up to ONE. The Father is not 1/3 God, the Son 1/3 God, the Spirit 1/3 God. Each person is fully God, and the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Spirit and the Spirit is not the Father. And there is only One God.
'The catholic faith is this, there is one person of the father, another of the son, and another of the holy spirit.'
C. 3rd Boundary
The third boundary that dare not be crossed has to do with the way that we talk about the 2nd person of the Trinity in particular. However we talk about the 2nd Person, we are not to talk as though He were God OR man. He is fully God AND fully man.
“For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.”
Here's where we get to the cross and resurrection, which all true 'God-talk' always has to get to. The question is, who was crucified and died on the cross? Who was buried in a tomb and raised from the dead and ascended into heaven? Was it man? Or was it God? And the answer is BOTH.
When Jesus died on the cross, God died for you because the Son is fully God. It wasn’t just His humanity that died – “for although he is God and man, yet he is not two but one Christ.” What God has joined together in Jesus, He does not rend asunder – not by the cross, not by the resurrection, and most especially not by His ascension into heaven.
But the Son is not the Father, nor the Holy Spirit. And therefore neither the Father nor the Spirit died when the Son died. So which is it? Was there a time when God was dead or has there never been a time when God was dead? And the answer is ‘yes.’
IT'S A MYSTERY. DON'T TRY TO SOLVE IT. And don’t worry that it’s over your head and ‘incomprehensible.’ The Creed doesn’t tell us that we must ‘COMPREHEND’ and ‘UNDERSTAND’ the mystery of the Trinity in order to be saved.
It only tells us to ‘WORSHIP and BELIEVE’ the One, True God. “The Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in unity is to be WORSHIPPED.’ “For this is the catholic faith, which except a man BELIEVE faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.”
And so our hope and our future is all bound up – not in vaccines or economic stimulus packages or elections – but in the Triune God. He is in control of all things and is working all things for the good of those who love Him according to His purpose.
At times, it’s a REAL MYSTERY how He is doing that. But we don’t need to solve the mystery to find our peace and security. We simply live in the mystery – worshipping and believing – patiently awaiting the day when