St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for Trinity Sunday
June 16, 2019
“Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
CHRISTIANITY IS NOT a better idea among some pretty good ones. Our faith is not a philosophy of wise living practices. It isn’t just an improvement on older Judaism. And it’s not just a club that offers membership, and with your membership you get your e-ticket to eternity. Christianity, properly understood, is the third and final phase of the human race coming into our intended development, a people of God that shares with God the dominion of new worlds. It’s almost a science fiction quality story that joins mere homo sapiens with alien life that is so superior to our own that we become new creatures in this union. It’s a closer encounter of the third kind, the third and final phase of picking us up out of our disaster.
Nobody was ever a mere caveman. Some of our ancestors certainly lived in caves—good shelter, if you could find it. Primitive man was not stupid. There were no knuckle dragging Cro-Magnon types. If the Bible story is true, the first man and first woman were perfect, innocent and inexperienced, for sure, but quite beautiful and well fitted to a perfect creation. It didn’t last.
Their early life was spent in a garden world, where food grew on trees and was at all times abundant. All life was at peace and for that brief century, a very close relationship with God meant these people heard from Him and did as He asked. It was like growing up in a very good family. The young child doesn’t think that a disobedient act is possible, and therefore can’t think of disobeying. Our race, made of two people, was simple in mind and morals. It might have lasted forever. But we broke the peace.
From that day, it’s been a long road from there into a new and better way of being. I can’t say if God’s intention was always to have us fall, seeking the knowledge of good and evil, and then to choose Him again as adults, as independent persons with the knowledge of what else there is. This may have all been an urban renewal plan #2. But there are no “what ifs” in the Kingdom of Heaven. Once we’re on this conveyor belt, that’s all there is.
St. Paul describes what I might term Phase One as a world where man’s knowledge of God was from nature. “From the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly observed in what he made.” Rom 1:20 That kind of knowledge is still available. One summer night in the Sierras is all it takes for me to know God exists and that He is a darned good creator. That sky blazing with stars in a black dome over granite towers, amid rushing streams of snowmelt, in meadows of the tiniest wildflowers, a gentle Eden. It may be, for you, the sea coast, its waves endlessly crashing. For a scientist, the discovery of intricacy in cellular life, or the vastness of deep space, order and pattern and purpose discovered where chaos was expected. “As a result, people have no excuse,” says Paul. “They knew God but did not praise and thank him for being God. Instead, their thoughts were pointless, and their misguided minds were plunged into darkness. While claiming to be wise, they became fools.” Ibid
So, a natural relationship with God, Phase One, did not produce perfect people. The hippies were wrong. We don’t go back to the garden by simply taking off our clothes and eating an organic vegan diet. In our fallen state, we mistake the creation for the creator, because we want to be in charge, and we create gods out of people, animals, and demons.
Phase Two began in a relationship with one man who heard God’s voice and listened. He believed the most outlandish things in what God told him, and he moved his family twice, out of Chaldea, then south from Syria to Canaan. The conversations continued, and he was promised children, though he and his wife were old and barren. It started a people who listened to, then wrestled with God. In the end, they were given rules for living and a code of conduct toward each other and toward God that was the crown of revealed religions on earth. The Hebrews were given more. In time, they were shown that this worship and its promises would be superseded by a better way and that heaven was to come. As with Phase One, the Phase Two people failed to reach God this way and continually failed even to keep the practice up. They got bored and went off with foreign gods, again.
Phase One: God is above creation and sets order. Phase Two: God speaks and wants obedience from people. Phase Three…
You would have to think that Phase Three would surprise people. And they were looking in the wrong direction, expecting a ruler with an army, or a genie out of a lamp, or a talking cloud, or fire in a bush. Instead, a baby is born in poverty, lives in obscurity, learns Judaism from parents and rabbis, and works in wood until He’s 30. Now the family knows more, about angel appearances, a miraculous conception, magi from the East, words spoken by old prophets in the Temple. They await His hour.
Jesus’ life is known to us. We have just walked it through, from Advent to Ascensiontide. Good. What did you learn? Phase Three began as on last Sunday with the arrival of the Holy Spirit inside, not simply around, holy people. An internal relationship, almost like incarnation, changing us from inside out. We now have all the information we need. The whole of scripture. The example and teaching of Christ. A living faith in the Son of God, and of His Father and the Spirit, the Holy Trinity: a unique mystery in all of revealed religions, a God who is both three and one. But more. Much more.
We are like seeds. We have been germinated with the indwelling of God’s eternal Spirit, His life-giver, the Spirit of wisdom, purity and power. In this life, we seek a transformation, renewing our minds to believe His word, and walk in the light that we’ve been given. New life begins now. But we are still seeds. St. Paul says that death is like that seed being sown in the ground. That burial is with hope, a knowledge of a future unseen event, the great Resurrection, where our old physical nature rises up in transformation, our new bodies like, but not identical to, our old nature, no longer like the seeds, but a flower, a tree, a garden in its beauty, human yet more. There is a terrestrial body and there is a celestial body. Christ’s body walked through walls and transported from place to place in seconds. And He wasn’t a ghost. There is much to wait and hope for. We are today merely seeds.
But as seeds, the potential in us is awesome. We have the Holy Spirit and His infinite powers resident in us, to do His bidding through willing hearts, hands and honest efforts. Phase Three brings our prayers within the compass of the entire Trinity. Our proper prayers begin with the Father’s will, in turn expressed through the Spirit to our spirits, united in our hearts to His, and told back to Him in prayer, through the Mediator, Christ Jesus, to the Father who knows His prayer, and sees His Son in us. And He says Yes.
What are you praying for? Do you have hope? Is your prayer sourced in Him, or in yourself? What do you suppose God’s highest will is for your life? Is there any other question more important? What’s He up to? Where is His Hand moving near where you are? How can you join Him? What can His little seed do? You may say, “Not much.” And you would be wrong.
As in Phases One and Two, people fail from #3. The failures come from thinking this is only a philosophy, like the Dao or Buddhism, or it’s a religious practice, like Judaism. It’s so much more. It’s new life. It’s knowing God and being new creatures. The Trinity is one feature. The doctrines of Trinity and Incarnation are wonderfully expressed in the Athanasian Creed we will speak out together in a moment. The combined powers of truth and love set up a forcefield in Christianity in which we are healed of our worldly foolishness and given strength to resist falling to the world’s junk food. We eat the Body and Blood of Christ. We feed on heavenly food. We are seeds waiting for the planting, and rising to eternal life. This new life was what God made the universe for. We are His Phase Three.
With the Apostle John, we will be presented before His Throne. God will appear beautiful, as a gemstone. A rainbow around Him, with thrones set semi-circle, holy people seated, their crowns thrown before the Father. The Spirit, like fire in the lamps around us, and a Lamb standing, the evidence of His slaying upon Him, yet regal and very much alive. A crystal sea under these thrones shows the creation beneath, while seraphim sing forever Holy, Holy, Holy. Phase Three will have brought its fruits to the One who planted these seeds here. And He will search our lives for the proof of our faith and love in His Son.
Let’s give evidence today, as every year on Trinity Sunday, that we do hold the universal faith in union with all the Church everywhere and of all time:
The Athanasian Creed
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; Which faith except every one 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 Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit 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 are we 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 of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit 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 Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think 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 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 is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that 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 sits on the right hand of the Father, God, Almighty; From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies; and shall give 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 he cannot be saved.