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  • Writer's pictureBishop Peter F. Hansen

One and one and one is...

Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Trinity, September 23, 2018

Forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

IN A WORLD of computerization, we are dazzled by the bright pictures, Facebook videos of friends, a word processor that types without paper or ink, corrects spelling errors automatically, electronically mailing our messages without envelopes and calculating any math problem’s solution faster than blinking an eye. But at the center of this wonder is the most basic question and its answer. 1 or Zero? the binomial factor. At its most primitive platform, at the semi-conductor silicone chip processing central core of the most complex supercomputer, there are a zillion little bits that say either yes or no, 1 or nothing. This crude dichotomy of 1 or nothing is the Rosetta stone of all computing.

Humans, down the years, have believed in and worshipped a myriad of deities, spirits, and divine mysteries in the woods and winds and wonders of this earth and the vast dome of the sky. But as many gods as may be named, sung, and sacrificed to with hopes to appease: the question must always come down to one basic question, and its answer.

We were not built for worshipping many gods or even two. Jesus rightly said that you can’t serve two masters. You definitely can’t serve five, or a thousand. As soon as you divide the universe’s functions into many phenomena caused by as many demi-gods, you have only one god: the one who is making such silly assertions. Your god is You. Say whatever you will, the tug of war that is at the base, the core process of every individual since time began is the tension between the only real God and myself. Who’s it going to be? 1 or nothing. God or me?

So the gods of the ancient tribes and lands cannot have been God—not ever. If Babylon had a god, and Assyria a god, and Egypt its dozen gods, and Greece its pantheon of deities, and India its thousands of gods—how many gods does that make? None. A god of only one land, or only one feature of life—fertility, sunshine, war, thunder, ocean tides—these can’t be gods. They claim to rule a piece of existence, but where is the maker of the whole? Where is the creator of these deities? Where is the source of existence itself in whom we live and move and have our being?

Gods of only one nation are no gods at all. Where is the God who makes all these little gods afraid? Look up at the night sky and ask who made all you see there? We shutter at a mere mountain. The mountains shutter at the stars. Stars shutter at galaxies. Where it all ends is where it must begin. 1 or nothing.

We credit ancient father Abraham with faith in only the one true and most high God. He gave this, the God of Abraham, his heart and obedience, and through his faith a new race was born to proclaim Yahweh, the great I AM. But this One and Only God was at the same time also at work showing Himself elsewhere. It’s untrue to think this One True God was only the God of the Jews. That again makes Him finite, tribal, local, and thus not the ultimate God. He disclosed His true being to Zoroaster in Persia, and a similar monotheism was born centuries before Christ, East of Eden. They were Zoroastrian priests, the Magi, who came to witness the child King born in Bethlehem. Melchizadek, priest and king of Salem and neither Jewish nor Zoroastrian, was a friend of Abraham and he served the One True God. Although the natives of the Americas found spirits in many things, they acknowledged one Great Father in the sky, to whom they addressed their highest worship and final hopes. It follows, it only makes sense. There is first God, and then there is all else that is not God. 1 or nothing.

Now in this God, Whom we know best through the teachings and self-revelation of Jesus Christ, there resides a mystery of Three. By ourselves we might never dream this up, not in a lifetime. Father, Son and Spirit is He: and yet still One God. 1 plus 1 plus 1 equals 1. I think it wise of God to reveal this fact only after mankind was ready to see it and hold the mystery of the Trinity, by the evidence of His Son, God incarnate. It’s still 1 or nothing, God and not-god, but within our One God is a multi-dimensional family of Three Persons. Within God is love, obedience, service, life-giving and ultimate existence. That’s possible for God without His having a complex or mental disorder, because our God is three Persons in One Being. The love which is His nature was being given and received before any creature walked upon any universe.

God was never lonely. God could speak and be heard. He didn’t make our world for lack of anyone, but that His love might pour out upon living creatures and that we might respond to His love with love. To be a creature, to be alive, in the image of God, and to know Him as our source and our end, to see in Him all that we need and desire is the right answer to 1 or nothing. It is 1. Love the 1 and have everything—the universe, heaven, all that is good, all that is holy. Lose the 1 and have nothing—oblivion, darkness, emptiness, not even yourself.

God once held a human form in His hand. This form had a head, arms and hands, legs and feet and toes, hair, eyes, skin, internal organs, blood coursing through veins, instincts, digestion, and a marvelous ability to walk on two legs. But it wasn’t human. Not until God breathed His Spirit into this prototype of our race did he become a human soul. In the course of time, this soul would go from intimately knowing the One True God, caring for this precious relationship, following faithfully His directions and empowerments, to a moment when a choice was made otherwise. Again it was: 1 or nothing. The man chose nothing and disobeyed. Lights went out—worse than that. The world shifted. Colors became less vibrant, the trees sighed, animals fled, a young couple looked at each other and at themselves differently and they were horrified. They heard God coming. And they hid.

We’re still hiding. What was lost to them that day is lost to us still. But it is in a process of being regained. With all of our human achievement, all our most ingenious inventions, our bridges and airplanes and space travel and supercomputers; democracy and philosophy and science and mathematics; religions and education and the arts and the economy: what have we managed to do to improve the basic model of a human life? We feel superior to savages, aboriginal humans in a jungle somewhere. But why? We have better toys? Savages may very well be better people. They are in close touch with the earth, hear its rhythms, make use of every element in their sphere, raise children to respect and obey, and protect their clan from evil. And they remember their history. Are we as good as that? With all our technology, we are still hiding. Make a million iPhones and sell them at a profit, and you will still need to answer the basic question: 1 or nothing? Is God your God, or are you?

After 1,500 years of having Abraham’s God, the Jews still asked themselves, “Haven’t we all one Father? Hasn’t one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously with one another By profaning the covenant of the fathers?” Malachi 2:10 Good theology doesn’t answer the question, for it’s a question each person must answer for him or herself. Good theology keeps you from defining God in a mistaken way, and yet you can know all there is to know about God and you still haven’t answered the question. 1 or nothing? You must decide.

St. James wrote, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and they tremble!” James 2:18 Knowledge makes you proud, but where is your heart? You have only one heart and can serve only one master. Is it you, or is it God? James went some length to explain that it is in our works, our behavior, our lives that we demonstrate whether we really believe in Him and really have Him, or are just talking a good game. It isn’t the works that make you His, but they show what you really believe. For what you believe in you feel something for, and what you feel, you eventually act upon.

But we believe our experience. We know what we have seen and heard, enjoyed and suffered. These have shaped our core beliefs and if they don’t include the encounter with God the Son, we don’t really believe in Him as we might, to our souls’ benefit and salvation.

St. Paul wrote that “there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus...” 1 Tim 2:5-6 And so we bear with our fellow creatures, and most especially those who have Him, in love, respect, and patience. And that leads us to a wonderful miracle. Union with others is a mystery and a miracle, because our fallen selves are so selfish, it ought to be impossible. Unity by itself has no meaning, no reason to be unified except to say we’re together. Hurray.

But in Christ, being united with our fellow Christians takes on new meaning and a divine purpose, and fulfills His new commandment, that we love as He loves us. So, St. Paul tells us in this Sunday’s Epistle, that we should “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Eph 4:1-6

It’s hard to see unity when you look out on hundreds of denominations and the many expressions of Christian and semi-Christian and pseudo-Christian and formerly-Christian churches. But the same question from the beginning keeps being asked of each creature and every community. Will it be 1 or nothing?

The shades and nuances and styles and fashions mean very little. God or yourself. Choose today who you will follow.

Then invite Him in. Share Him with your fellows in faith, and bravely declare Him to those outside our church walls. 1 or nothing.

There are not many religions and faiths for there is only one ultimate truth.

There is only One God, and only one question.

And thus in keeping with the math we see within God, that 1 and 1 and 1 is 1, we add each of our redeemed souls to His Body, the Church, and find ourselves part of 1. Add 1 to the 2 billion Christians on earth today, and you don’t have 2 billion and 1. You have 1.

Because of love, because we have only One God, there is 1.

1 or nothing.

Choose the 1. Be one in the One.


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