Sermon for Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2017
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
WHEN YOU HEAR of two plane crashes, or two celebrities dying within a couple of days, do you wait in expectation for a third calamity? In your personal life, are you aware of grouping significant events or people or activities or besetting sins or favorite things together in threes? Two seems an unstable number, while four looks like an accident. But three seems that a rule has been satisfied. Three keeps yet another tragedy from coming along.
Why is this? Nobody really knows how we get a three mindset. There are cultures that are given to dualities, pairs of things, yin and yang, light and dark, male and female, young and old. Good and evil are pitted together in classic religions, but it would be false to say that we set Satan against God as His celestial opposite. He isn’t in the same league. And by the way, a league is three miles long.
But if we are describing God, we look for symbols that denote very stable structures. Opposites do not exist in an all holy God. He is all one. Think in geometric shapes. Let’s make them out of rigid popsicle sticks and gummy bears. The gummy bears hold the sticks together at the corners. The first figure you can make that way is a triangle, right? Three sides, three corners. If the gummy bears stay connected, you can’t bend or flatten that figure at all: it’s stable, its three sides all remaining in place with their angles constant. A triangle is the most stable geometric shape, unless you have one stick and no gummy bears, and the stick runs in a complete circle. A circle is a perfect shape, and also can’t be flattened out or come apart, once made. But a square made out of sticks can be flattened, its corners only being gummy bears after all. A pentagon or hexagon is no better: they can squash. So, the only stable figures are a circle, one side, or a triangle, three sides. God is three and God is one. Somehow, we are satisfied at that.
Now, no one came up with this triune God theory before it was revealed to us by Jesus Christ. He came to set the record straight. God is one and God is three Persons. Both stable ideas, and both true. It’s hard to imagine, but then He is not made of sticks and gummy bears either. It may be a difficult concept for us to grasp, but if we look for similar threes grouped in real life, we might not feel God is so strange after all.
All the colors that we see come from three primary colors. In pigment, it’s yellow, red and blue. In light, it’s red, green and blue. These all mix to make every other color. All pigment colors together make black. All colors of light brought together make white light.
Height, length and breadth are independent dimensions, but together create any single solid object or define any point in space.
The natural world, and the game of twenty questions, exist in the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms.
There are in atomic structure three different types of particles: protons, neutrons and electrons. Together in various numbers they make single atoms.
In music, a chord is created when three notes are played: 1st, 3rd and 5th.
We ask of a witness to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Our nation is created of the people, by the people and for the people.
God grants us inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Morning, noon and night, we celebrate the threes of our lives, and God’s triune nature is reflected in threes that unify.
Reba McEntire says that to succeed in life you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.
In our lives we pass through childhood, adulthood and elderhood.
A mother and father bring forth a child.
We live in the present, gather wisdom from the past, and plan for our future.
We are comprised of bodies, minds and spirits.
Three gifts are given to all, those of faith, hope and love.
We confess sins, or seek godly virtues in the realms of our thoughts, our words and our deeds.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Mat 28:18-20 Go, baptize, and teach: three objectives. Three Persons to name us under. We have a Trinity to worship, Three Persons in One God. It’s still a wonder, and hard to grasp, but it fits.
The highest of angels never cease crying “Holy, holy, holy” – three holies. Four angels, 24 elders, seven lamps: there are other numbers that mean other things in heaven, as our reading today portrays. But God the Father on the Throne, the Lamb who opens the seals, and the Spirit who gives life and light—our God is wildly mysterious and is absolutely three in Persons.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus to learn more of God, and immediately Jesus takes him into graduate theology class. “Be born again. Come into the knowledge that God is the Father, that you need His Spirit, and that He sent His Son. How many is that? You’ve been teaching Israel and you’ve never heard of these things? You’re confused. All right: the Spirit is like the wind that blows. You feel it, but you can’t tell it’s coming or where it goes. You were born of a woman, now be born of the Spirit in the water of Baptism. You want to know heavenly things, but you need to ask the only one on earth who has been to heaven: the one who goes up to heaven again. If you believe in Him, you will never die. Are you following me, Nicodemus?”
As good Anglicans, we will stand in just a minute to offer together the Athanasian Creed, the 3rd creed of Christendom, which is too long and heavy for constant use, but is a wonderful and instructive tool for us in understanding better the Trinity and the Incarnation of Christ. It will speak to the issue of God’s unity and God’s Trinity; the Persons distinctly three, their unity complete. All divine attributes belong equally to each divine Person. Yet, they hold these attributes without confusing their individual roles, such as authority. The Persons are different Persons and express themselves quite uniquely. The Father is Himself, the Son is begotten of the Father, the Spirit proceeds from the other two. All are eternal, without beginning and never ending.
And Jesus Christ is both God and man. In His divinity, He is of the same substantial character as the Father, and is eternally God. In His manhood, He is born of Mary, a creature. He is perfect and complete in both natures. As God He is equal to the Father, in His manhood, He is as subject to God as any human. And yet He is one Christ, who died for our sins, and rose again to ascend and be seated on the right hand of His Father.
So let us stand now and declare these truths, knowing that good things come in threes, and that a circle and a triangle may help us see the nature of our God.
The Athanasian Creed.
WHOSOEVER WILL BE SAVED,
before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.
Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled,
without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
And the Catholic Faith is this:
That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity,
neither confounding the Persons,
nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father,
another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the
Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible,
and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated,
but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty,
and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three
Almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God,
and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord,
and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge
every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,
So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion to say,
There be three Gods, or three Lords.
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 Ghost is of the Father and of the Son,
neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons;
one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other;
none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three Persons
are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid,
the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
He therefore that will be saved is must think thus of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also
believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess,
that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds;
and Man of the substance of his Mother, born in the world;
Perfect God and perfect Man,
of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the
Father, as touching his manhood; Who, although he be God and Man,
yet he is not two, but one Christ;
One, not by conversion of the Godhead
into flesh but by taking of the Manhood into God;
One altogether; not by confusion of Substance,
but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul
and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ;
Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell,
rose again the third day from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, he sitteth at the right hand of the Father,
God Almighty, from whence he will come
to judge the quick and the dead.
At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies
and shall give account for their own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life
everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.
This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully,
he cannot be saved.