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  • Writer's pictureBishop Peter F. Hansen

Father, Son and Spirit

St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church

Bishop Peter F. Hansen

Sermon for Trinity Sunday, June 4, 2023

“And they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”

THIS IS AN ODE to God, the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit—the great and unique Judeo-Christian Triad, a literal family in One Divine Being, the source of all love, and all of love’s children. God is one. God is three. May we speak of that a moment?

Every human society has a god or gods. You can’t find any nation whose people are all atheists and have no memory of any supreme being ever worshipped by their ancestors. The notion of divinity, a power above us, haunts the human race, and always, at those moments when no other answer will suffice, turns our faces upward, beseeching, confessing, cutting deals, making vows, and naming His Name. He might be a monad, the one-person deity of Islam, alone, unequal to any, ineffable, unapproachable: one only. Or the people may worship thousands, even millions of spirits, ascended mysteries, demi-gods and wood nymphs.

The question whether any gods exist cannot be answered by science because science defines itself as the study of nature – matter, energy, space: the creatures of our creator. Science can’t study anything on the other side of eternity. We must use other forensic tools. One tool is that every race of man has its own very ancient school of God.

Not every god is good. Not every god is true. At most, a fully true description of God can be offered only by one of the many contradictory sources. All attempt it, only one can be completely correct, or maybe none. But if one set of descriptions rises above all others, explains them and corrects their mistaken attempts as early studies on what would later be wonderfully described by a true authority, then we’ll listen and take note. The one human person whose life and words and miraculous signs, whose death and Resurrection, and promised return have captivated half the world and taught the other half its morals: this One has the truth. And He tells us He is truth. He is either true, or He is evil. He can’t be evil. He tells us that He is God’s unique Son. That’s true, unless He’s crazy. He has never seemed at all crazy. We must hear Him and learn. If He’s evil, or if He’s crazy, we’ll spot it. We have never done so. He is not evil or crazy. So, He is truth and He is the Son of God.

The Savior Jesus doesn’t come out of nowhere. A legacy of millennia was received and recorded before His appearance, teaching us basic creation accounts, In the Beginning, God. The Spirit flowed out over deep darkness. God’s Word spoke Let there be Light! And from a tiny window in the darkness of the void comes a universe of light. That God they mention is an originator, designer, a first cause of all that is caused, the source Who Himself has no source. He is Father.

The Spirit flowing out is the life giver, the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of truth, refiner, sanctifier and strengthener of our souls, whose presence in us and over us re-enlivens our spirits, making us aware of God’s presence. He is the Holy Spirit.

The Word spoken to the void was Himself a Person, the obedient maker, the expressed love and goodness and wisdom and judgment of the Father’s love and goodness and wisdom and judgment. A perfect reflection of the Father is the Son.

In the first three verses of the Old Testament, we meet the Holy Trinity. But for many books, the distinction between the three is blurred to us, and that is well, because the first thing to know is that God is One. There is only One God, Yahweh, I AM that I AM, and His Trinity would be set forth later, once His people stopped looking for many gods of wind and rain and fields and war. But hundreds of years before Jesus’ arrival, prophets are writing of God with us, a child who is born to a virgin, the Prince of Peace, and of wisdom, the Spirit, who was with the Father at Creation. They got glimpses. We have a whole portrait.

When Jesus ended His earthly mission, He commissioned His Apostles to earn their title as He sent them out to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” On that signature, we can summarize His various teachings on His being the only begotten Son of the Father, and the Father and Son sending us the Comforter, Holy Spirit, who would indwell us and help us remake humanity.

The Three Persons, as the Athanasian Creed clearly teaches, are not three gods, nor are they three Fathers. The Father is not created, but eternally the source of all that is. The Son is co-eternal, has always existed, and is begotten of His Father, coming out from Him as the only true Son. And the Spirit proceeds, our only word to describe the Spirit’s emergence, from the Father and through the Son. The Father originates and authorizes; the Son creates and saves our world; and the Spirit gives life and indwells God’s adopted children.

How do we know this? If Jesus is not crazy or evil, He must thereby be truly Who and What He says. What does He say, then, of God the Trinity? John’s 14th chapter gives so much to us on this:

Jesus said He who has seen Me has seen the Father; Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; he who believes in Me, greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.

I will ask the Father, and He will give you another, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him. If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. The word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. The world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

Jesus is either God the Son, or He is a lunatic or a charlatan. You can’t find another option. So, we must hear Him, or reject Him altogether. He is not a mere teacher of good living. He is nothing of the kind. From Him we have the basic words to describe God’s true three-Person being. He is One. And He is three. Remember the moment at Jesus’ Baptism, as the Son rises from the Jordan waters, and the Father speaks blessings from above the skies, and the Spirit descends on Him like a dove. Three and One. And today is the day of the Trinity.

Only Anglicans bring out this ponderous 5th century Creed regularly, every year, that was originally a hymn of the early Church. From it we learn more than is briefly stated in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds. It’s long, and so we do this once a year, but it is ours. And its truth establishes us spiritually, strengthens us, sustains us.

And together we stand to repeat the fullest expression of how we believe the Trinity and what we mean by Christ’s Incarnation. Let us now declare to our wonderful God, together…

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 entire and inviolate, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. Now 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, another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, and 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 uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one Eternal. As also they are not three uncreateds, nor three incomprehensibles; but one Uncreated, and one Incomprehensible.

In like manner 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 is Lord, and the Holy Ghost is Lord. And yet they are not three lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every person by himself to be God and Lord: So we are forbidden by the Catholic religion to say there are three gods or three lords.

The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is from the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is from the Father and the Son, not 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, there is nothing before or after, nothing greater or less; but the whole three persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity is to be worshipped in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity. He, therefore, that will be saved, must think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and man. He is God of the substance of his Father, begotten before the world; and he is man of the substance of his Mother, born in the world: Perfect God and perfect man; of reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting: Equal to the Father according to his Godhead; and less than the Father according to his manhood. Who, although he be both God and man, yet he is not two, but one Christ: One, not by the conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by the taking of the manhood unto God: One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the reasonable soul and the 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 God, the Father Almighty; whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of 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 and steadfastly, he cannot be saved.

Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. Amen.


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