Feast of The Holy Trinity 2016
This Trinity Sunday, it is a three for one deal.
Christians get an art lesson, a math lesson and a life lesson.
In the Athanasian Creed, as in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creed,
We receive again this divine truth: that God is Three in One.
That He is forever, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And we have all sorts of ways of expressing that.
There’s the Triangle.
Which doesn’t quite work.
Because every side of that Triangle is exactly the same.
So to think that sufficient would be to confuse the persons of the Trinity.
Then there’s those three interlocking rings.
Those look pretty good.
Except they, too, are exactly alike.
So you play it safe, and pray to that little spot in the middle.
Much to the dismay of artists of all stripes, these images, like so many others over the ages,
though edifying and often quite beautiful, can’t fully explain the Trinity to us.
But maybe math could help us out.
Let me first offer a trigger warning to teachers, chemists, and engineers: you know who you are
On Trinity Sunday, we might say that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1
But, there we are again. Like those pesky rings could potentially suggest,
This formula suggests that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are simply parts of God.
That is the heresy so cleverly called “Partialism.”
They thought about it for a while.
Maybe that was simply the wrong formula, though.
How about this: 1 divided by 3 = 1
Except, there we are dividing the substance as the Athanasian Creed severely warns us against.
This is starting to get frustrating.
Yet it is the clear witness of Holy Scripture: that God is and has always been Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And it can be frustrating when you and I, and our confirmands, and recent college graduates cannot fully comprehend that.
Even if you have simply given up trying to solve for X in the Trinitarian formula,
or dropped art class for an elective
The struggle is not over.
One day you may begin to doubt what Jesus has done to you in Baptism.
Maybe it isn’t that. Instead, you might wake up one Sunday morning, come to church, and suddenly think it ridiculous that He would actually give you His own Body and Blood to eat and drink.
Or perhaps one day you’ll read John 20 again and think it rather foolish of Jesus to put something as serious as forgiving and binding sins into the hands of your pastor.
Sadly, it is not likely to be anything profound that brings on doubt.
Much more commonly, it is something as simple as a inane meme that burns down a strawman;
Or an insecure grad student teaching your philosophy 101 course;
Common as they are, those are still things that might happen.
Here’s what will happen.
In your life, if it hasn’t happened yet, you will soon experience a rather particular sort of pain.
It’s a dull pain. It won’t make you shout, but rather purse your lips and reflect on it.
In the space of a moment, you’ll begin doing your own math problems.
If I have 8 friends in this room, and I say what God says, how many friends will I have left over?
Maybe you’ll paint yourself a picture of all those people rolling their eyes and mocking you behind your back.
There are a few ways of dealing with this.
The first thing you can do is ignore it.
Don’t say anything.
Joining your voice to the crowd in agreement is the lazy way of doing this. Silence is almost always considered consent in such situations, and agreeing vocally just makes you look desperate for approval.
Whoever doesn’t know you’re a Christian will consider you very high-minded, discerning, and wise.
And whoever does know you are a Christian, will probably think you’re one of those smarter Christians: You know, the kind of Christian who is indistinguishable from an agnostic therapist.
Dealing with the pain this way will glorify you.
Your second option is to speak the truth.
That’s what happens in our Gospel text for today.
The Jews go to Jesus, and they tell Him that He is a blasphemous liar.
God’s Truth is so offensive to them, that they would rather call Jesus demon-possessed.
All because Jesus’ words don’t match their experience or their expectations.
And so Jesus could simply stop talking. It might even make Him seem wise – these Jews will go home pondering what He meant. After all, if we’re being technical, they asked Him a question. Maybe this is just Jesus’ way of being Socratic, and leading them to find the answer themselves. That’d be so wise.”
That silence would, in a way, glorify Jesus, according to the way the world doles out glory.
“If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing.”
Jesus knows what silence would really mean. And He will not have it. He will not walk a middle road.
“If I were to say that I do not know [the Father] I would be a liar like you, but I do know Him and I keep His Word.”
That’s the other path for you. To deny glory to yourself, and keep God’s Word not just in your heart, but on your lips.
This other way of dealing with it will glorify Jesus…But it will likely make your pain worse.
Because you will lose friends and popularity points.
You will be counted foolish and laughable.
And then you can remember that it happened to Jesus first.
Jesus keeps His Father’s Word, but He doesn’t keep it to Himself.
He speaks a mystery: “Truly, Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM”
Jesus says the He knows the Father. More than that, He shares His Divine Name: YHWH.
He doesn’t ask you to understand it.
But He does ask you to confess it.
Jesus’ words, which I’ll direct at the confirmands today, are for all of us:
“Whoever confesses Me before men, I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”
There are some things that you and I, try as we might, will never be able to prove.
And so from now until Christ’s return, the world will continue to tell us that our math doesn’t add up.
But Trinity Sunday begs us to drop the arithmetic and stop trying to proof people into the Kingdom.
Who is God? What is He like?
Jesus doesn’t draw a diagram, or scribble a formula in the sand.
He endures the mockery of all the world’s armchair theologians
And math majors,
And timid Christians,
What is God like?
A Baby born in filth.
A Man, dangling from a cross.
There is God:
Jesus Christ Crucified for you.
His Blood sacrificially poured out for you.
His Spirit gently guiding you,
His Father, running to embrace you.
A prettier picture will not convey,
A better analogy will not explain,
A stronger formula will not prove,
And a longer creed will not capture
More than what you receive here in this place at font, pulpit, and altar.
Forgiveness, Truth, Life, and Salvation
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.