Holy Trinity Sunday, year B, 2015, (preached 5/31/15)
first reading: Isaiah 6:1-8
second reading: Romans 8:12-17
gospel reading: John 3:1-17
It’s pretty rare to get a history lesson in a sermon, but it’s also pretty rare in the Lutheran Church to have a feast day celebrating a DOGMA. In fact, Trinity Sunday is the only feast day we have in the Lutheran Church that celebrates a dogma.
Dogma is a fancy word that means “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.”
In this case the dogma is the belief that our God, while being ONE God, manifests God’s self in three distinct ways, which we describe as “three persons.”
Three in ONE, ONE in three – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – as we prayed in our prayer of the day just a few minutes ago.
It was in the process of defining God – how the Father/Creator is God, Jesus/Son is God and Holy Spirit is God, that we get the dogma of the Holy Trinity.
This belief didn’t just fall out of the sky, it was discussed and debated for centuries. In fact, the dogma of the Trinity is the reason we have two of our creeds. Most people in the early Church believed that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were God, along with the Father – how we think of the Trinity.
But there were others, mainly followers of a man named Arius, who believed that Jesus was a created being subordinate to God the Father. This belief, called “Arianism,” was wide spread enough to warrant a council of the Church – and when I say “council” I don’t mean something like our church council – this was a gathering of all the Churches leaders and bishops who would make a decision that would bind ALL the churches and believers together.
And the decision of this council – the Council of Nicaea in the year 325, and again in 381 at the Council of Constantinople – was that Arianism was a heresy – a false belief. Out of these councils we also get what we know as the Nicene Creed. A century of so after that we would get what’s called the Athanasian Creed.
The Athanasian Creed goes to GREAT lengths to define the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to condemn those who do NOT believe in the Trinity, putting the Arians in their place. If you look on page 54 of our hymnal you will find it – the whole page and a half of it. Some congregations will say this creed today – the only time of the year it’s done. We won’t, but I would encourage you to look at it, as it is one of the Creeds we hold to be authoritative for us.
Why were these fights over the Trinity so important? And is the formation of the dogma of the Holy Trinity just a nice history lesson, or is it important for us too, here and now?
I would say “YES” the dogma of the Holy Trinity is more than important – it is crucial to our life of faith. And the fights that were fought over Trinitarian theology and belief were certainly worth it for those who fought them so long ago, and for us today.
Because without the belief in the Holy Trinity, so deeply thought out and refined by discussion and debate, we would be left wanting – our faith would be incomplete.
- Without the Father as God, we’re left thinking the world came to be in a completely random way, with no creative or guiding force, except for that of nature itself.
- Without the Son as God, we’re left with a really good prophet and teacher, but one with a death wish.
- Without the Holy Spirit as God, we’re left without the divine power continually working within us and the world.
- Without a God who creates, redeems and sustains us we’re left hanging… either created and left on our own, or saved but then left on our own.
Without the Father as God, Jesus as God and the Holy Spirit as God, our faith journey is not only stunted and incomplete – it can never really get going.
Because Jesus was more than a prophet and teacher. He was more than the world’s most perfect person who perfectly followed God’s Will and so God brought him back to life as a reward.
Jesus is GOD. God the Son, who we read in our gospel for today was “given” to us so the world could be saved – NOT created, NOT subordinate. Fully divine, yet fully human.
And the Holy Spirit is more than a fond recollection of the Creator or the Son, kind of how we talk about deceased loved ones still with us “in spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is God – actively at work in our world and in our lives, bringing us to faith, constantly giving us strength and power and wisdom to follow God’s Will. As explained in the Athanasian Creed, “the Holy Spirit was neither made nor created,” and as we confess in the Nicene Creed, “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”
We’ll never completely understand how God can be three persons, yet one God. We do our best to give examples, to explain, to write creeds, books, VOLUMES of books! – but no explanation, no example, no creed or book or set of books can perfectly do the job.
Our human minds simply cannot comprehend the complexity and majesty of God.
And isn’t that wonderful? I mean, who wants a god that they can figure out?
A god I can know completely is a god I can manipulate. A god I can know completely turns out to be a god an awful lot like ME – and I am NO god, that’s for sure.
In the end, the Holy Trinity is a holy mystery, a matter of “faith,” and not “knowledge.”
It can be hard for us to accept sometimes, since we are curious creatures and desire to know ALL the answers. But the Holy Trinity is one of the beautiful parts of our faith, that shows us how God is God – and we are not.
And thanks be to God for that. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – ONE God, now and forever.