The Rev. Paul J Cain
One God in Three Persons
Trinity Sunday, First Sunday after Pentecost, 30 May 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One God in Three Persons. This is the simple truth. Yet, every Trinity Sunday, some explanation is in order.
Trinity. The word isn't in the Bible.
That is a true fact, but it is not the whole truth. The word may not be, but the concept is. One just can't say it in one word.
How would you explain one God in three persons and three persons in one God without speaking of Three Gods, demoting Christ and the Holy Spirit, or teaching about a "god" with multiple-personalities? Scripture clearly teaches three in one when Jesus tells us that disciples are made by teaching and by baptizing in the [one] Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In order to teach this Bible concept, Christians came up with one new summary word: Trinity. Take "Tri" from triangle or tricycle and "unity" and put them together like the Cookie Monster teaches phonics on Sesame Street, and you get "Trinity."
You learned the Apostles' Creed from the Small Catechism. It got its name to honor the continued teachings of Christ and His apostles. By the year 325, false teachers had arisen that were not teaching about God from the Scriptures. In order to correct this, Christians composed a creed that said what the Scriptures said about Father, Son and Spirit being one God in three persons. The Nicene Creed was written at Nicaea and Constantinople, sites of two ancient Church Councils or conventions. The third universal or ecumenical creed was named in honor of the great defender of the Trinity, St. Athanasius. This morning, our hymns are a sung version of this creed, one we confessed responsively just before the sermon.
And the creed explains in great detail the very simple point of today's Holy Gospel: Jesus is God. There are three persons in One God.
The Jews answered [Jesus] him, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?"
Jesus answered, "I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death."
The Jews said to him, "Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, 'If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.' Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?"
Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, 'He is our God.' But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad."
So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?"
Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
Picking up stones to throw at Jesus never seems like a good idea to me. Why did these Jews do so? They thought Jesus was…well, many things.
A Samaritan. This was a way to really run a guy down. Jews and Samaritans didn't get along. After the united kingdom of Saul, David, and Solomon split, the conquerors resettled the land with non-Jews who intermarried with the remnant of the so-called 10 lost tribes. They weren't ever totally lost. The folks down south in Judah claimed they had lost the true religion and pure blood of their ancestors. Good Samaritans were rare, if not non-existent in the eyes of most Jews of the time.
A demon. Yes, this is a common complaint against Jesus. You think people today "demonize" their opponents? This is where that idea comes from. Jesus was possessed or at least taught demonic ideas—or so these Jews thought.
The real problem that Jesus was to these Jews and the official leaders of the day was what they considered to be blasphemy, Jesus saying He was sent from God, spoke for God, was the Son of God, and therefore IS God. Their zeal for protecting God from pretenders ignored the One True God in the flesh in their midst.
We spend our grammar school years learning about words. We learn to read before we read in order to learn. And we learn about verbs. We learn about tenses. We sometimes introduce them to children as past, present, and future. Jesus turns all of those on their head when He simply says: I am.
I am is a loaded phrase, especially in Old Testament Hebrew. I AM is . one name by which God reveals Himself to His ancient people. And this isn't the first time Jesus has publicly said who He was by saying I "equals sign" God. I am the door. I am the vine. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I AM says, I and the Father are One. And so the people brought out their granite baseballs.
Picking up stones to throw at Jesus never seems like a good idea to me, especially today, but people do. They don't like the Jesus of the Bible, so they throw a stone. They don't like hearing their pet sins condemned by Jesus, so they call Him old-fashioned. They don't like His claim of authority over them and their lives and their actions, so they deny His divinity, His truth, or even His very existence. And before we get too proud, we all realize that even Christians at times do the same thing. It is easy to agree with the Word in public where you have the support of other Christians. It is harder to put the Word in practice when no one else is watching…except God Himself.
We continue to pray for steadfastness in the Word. We pray for those who are persecuted to the death for holding to the Word above all. We pray for those who are imprisoned merely for their confession of Christ. We pray for those who face subtle but real persecution in our land for not "getting with the times," "going with the flow," or condoning what "everyone" allegedly does.
It is particularly popular to say that all roads lead to the same God. If a group, teacher, or body of teachings denies the clear self-disclosed message of who Jesus is and what He has done for you, one is not taking Christianity or the Bible at face value. No, the Father of Jesus cannot be the God of Muhammad and Islam. Even Jews who reject their Messiah cannot claim a separate salvation on the basis of the Hebrew Scriptures. Denying the existence of Adam and Eve, the historical nature of Jonah, the Virgin Birth and Jesus' physical Resurrection are all anti-Christ and cannot be properly believed, promoted, or tolerated in Biblical Christianity.
We conclude where we began: One God in three Persons. Trinity. Tri-unity. One in three and three in one. Simple, Biblical, yet impossibly complex. It is a statement of belief, of faith, not of complete comprehension. Thus Christians throughout the centuries have explained the Trinity.
We have many Bible texts including "in the Name," "I and the Father are One," "The Lord our God, the Lord is One," and many others.
Christians composed the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds.
They composed the Athanasian Creed.
Shortly after the Nicene Creed was first confessed, St. Patrick taught the Trinity to the Irish using a hymn he wrote and the famous shamrock.
By 1679, a rather creative author wrote the hymn that serves as all of our hymns this morning.
And while the words may be new, the teachings are the same, old Bible truth: One God in three persons. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.