The Holy Trinity
Acts 2:14a, 22-26
Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you.
In the beginning. The beginning is always a good place to start. Most biographies are written in chronological order, beginning at the beginning of a life. This isn’t always true. As a matter of fact, I’m currently reading a biography about Martin Luther that began with the end.
The first chapter begins by describing the last letter that he wrote to his wife Katharina, which he wrote four days before he died. The last act of this man who is known for his religious impact on the world was to help settle a copper mining dispute. This chapter opens us to the reality that Martin Luther’s life was more than theology. The description of that letter helps us to see the world in which Martin Luther lived. Much of what we know about the man we know from his communications with friends. While we focus on the 95 theses that he supposedly nailed to the Wittenberg Church door and his role as father of the Reformation, there is so much more to be learned about him.
The author of this book (“Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer,” by Scott H. Hendrix) decided to begin by setting Martin Luther’s life in the context of where it ended. He might have had fame, but he was an ordinary man. He might have been the target of his detractors, but he had friends and family who loved him. The biography could have begun in the beginning, but there is something very interesting about approaching Martin Luther’s life from that letter to Katharina that helps us to see that there was much more to him than a few essays and an argument with the Church.
The Bible begins, “In the beginning...” The author of the Bible decided to begin the biography (after all, it is God’s story) from the beginning. And yet, even this biography is not really chronological, really. After all, God existed before the beginning. God already is when the story starts. This is biographical, in a sense, but it is more about our relationship with God. “In the beginning” is when our story begins.
There wasn’t much “In the beginning.” The scriptures tell us, “The earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep.” This is a human writer’s way of saying that there was nothing “In the beginning.” How do you describe nothing? Our human minds just cannot grasp the reality of this. There are those who try to make is as earthly possible to experience nothingness; there are places that offer “float therapy.” Float therapy is done in a sensory deprivation tank. You float in salt water in a light-proof, sound-proof tank. Advocates claim that it very beneficial; removing all sensory input and existing in a near-zero gravity state is relaxing and healing. That’s about as close as we’ll ever come to feeling as if we are existing in a state of nothingness.
Yet, our human minds can’t really grasp the reality of what it was like in the beginning. We try to explain it, put words to our ideas, or consider it scientifically, yet nothing really answers the uncertainty of what it was like. The sensory deprivation tank might make it seem like nothing exists, but we know that there is water, salt, a pod and a great big world waiting for us after our hour is complete. In the beginning there was nothing.
Well, there was nothing except God. Everything came into being when He spoke. There are those who will tell you that there is no way to reconcile Christian faith with the scientific theory of the Big Bang. I’m not a physicist and I don’t fully understand the theory, so I can’t speak to it. I’m also not one who believes that creationists must believe in the six day creation. In the beginning there was nothing, God spoke and suddenly there was light and matter and life. In the beginning there was nothing and suddenly, out of a single miniscule point, everything came into existence.
The big bang theory teaches that ever since that moment, light and matter and life has existed in an ever expanding form. The Bible when God spoke, first there was light. Then God arranged formless and empty void into sky and waters. Then He divided the waters and created dry land. On the fourth day, He created the sun and the moon and the stars to govern the days and the seasons. Then He added plants, fish, birds and finally the land creatures.
The Big Bang is a theory, and it is a flawed theory. We believe in the Biblical witness not because it tells us how God make something out of nothing, but because God made something out of nothing. Despite the scientific flaws and the faith we have in the scriptures, do you notice how the Biblical witness actually follows the scientific chronology? The Bible will never answer for us the “how” but the more we learn about the earth and everything in it the more we can see that God has done something truly amazing with just a word. In the beginning, God spoke and nothing became something. We could argue whether it happened in six days or a billion years, but the truth is that God created the heavens and the earth, the plants and creatures. Then He created man.
The Old Testament lesson is the beloved story of how God made everything. Our human brains want to explain it, that’s why we turn to science to answer our questions. I think it is good that we seek to understand the world in which we live. However, we have to remember that God is beyond our understanding. He is greater than anything we can imagine. He existed before anything existed. He spoke and made everything come into being. This is a mystery we will never fully understand. It is ok to believe in the mystery and not try to explain it. We reject things about God that just don’t make sense and we call them myths. Or we find scientific explanations for the tangible things so that we don’t have to believe something that is outside our senses.
We can easily get buried by the question of evolution and the six day creation. However, we need to look at these mysteries beyond the words on the page and try to see the One behind the words. The creation story tells us about God the Creator and His love for His people. The details are interesting to discuss and important to study, but as Christians we also look at this story so that we can understand our relationship with our Creator.
How do we respond to the story of the creation? We respond first with fear and trembling. The Creator, who can bring order out of chaos and life out of nothingness is certainly powerful and worthy of our awe. Based on this story we can trust in God, because God provides for our every need. It is humbling for us to see the wisdom of God, not only in this story but in the creation that exists outside our windows. How is it that the bluebonnets know to spring forth in March every year? And how do the animals learn to migrate? Everything is according to God’s plan, the earth turns and is recreated daily according to His design and purpose. There is comfort in knowing that in our times of difficulty God is able and willing to transform our lives with just a word, to bring order out of our chaos and hope into our emptiness. The One who has created the world in which we live must, of necessity, be magnificent, greater than all of creation. This is the God worthy of praise and worship. God spoke and it was good.
We can’t possibly understand God completely, for He is greater than anything we can even imagine. However, He is good. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. We can believe in Him, not out of reason but out of faith. There is a place for reason, a place to study the words and try to understand what they mean. Instead of debating the Big Bang theory, let’s focus on worshipping the God who is so great that there are mysteries we will never fully grasp with our human minds. This is the kind of God that is worthy of our praise, and who is able to accomplish the very works that He promised.
Perhaps one of the greatest mysteries is that of the Trinity, the focus of our worship this coming Sunday. The Trinity is one of the most confusing and mystifying aspects of the Christian faith. How do you explain the unexplainable? Some theologians in the sixth century set out to explain the Trinity in language which the common man could understand and it took approximately seven hundred words. The Athanasian Creed, which is often used in churches on Trinity Sunday, seems to go around and around in circles dividing the persons of the Trinity while holding them together. It is a long creed to recite and generally brings a sigh of annoyance from the congregation whenever it is said. And yet, is a powerful reminder of the incredible nature of the God we worship. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He Is.
Three is a good number. Most of our chairs have four legs, but have you ever thought about how much better it would be if they only had three? A chair with four legs must set perfectly flat on the floor or it wobbles. If one of the legs is slightly longer or slightly shorter than the other three, the chair wobbles. If the floor is uneven and one of the legs just sits in a hole or on a bump, the chair wobbles. However, if the chair has only three legs, even if there is some imperfection in the legs or the floor, the chair stands firm.
In a committee of three, there is usually no leader. The three are equal, all having a voice and a vote. If two are against one another, the third can acts as a peacemaker. If two are overly passionate about something, the third can act as a stabilizer. In a triangle, each side has a relationship with the other two sides; this is not always true with groups with more than three people. While many organizations need more than three to accomplish the work, most organizations require three people in leadership: a president, a secretary and a treasurer. We have three branches of government in the United States. These three keep one another in balance. No one person has to be responsible for everything. No one person can be blamed if something goes wrong. No one person gets the credit when something goes right. Maybe that is why Jesus kept the three disciples (Peter, James and John) close to Him, so that they might balance and support each other. I suppose that’s why the founding fathers of our nation chose to create a government with three branches. Each balances the other and keeps each other accountable.
We set aside one day a year to focus on this concept. Although the word trinity is not specifically written or defined in the scriptures, Christians from every age have experienced God in three persons since the beginning of the Church. Our readings for today show us just a few examples of how the early Christians put voice to the Trinity. Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” Matthew tells us that Jesus commanded the disciples to go into the nations, “baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Those early Christians even saw a shadow of the Trinity in the Word and the Spirit at the creation of the world as God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
In the beginning, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered it. The Creator was able to speak and transform that formless and dark void into something new. He said, “Let there be light” and there was light. He ordered the days and the substance. He brought order to the chaos. He filled the emptiness with good things. He did all this in a way that makes sense, each day building upon the work of the next day. He did not create the animals before there was food for them to eat. He did not create plants until the land and the sea were separated in a way that would provide all that the plants would need to survive. He did not create the fish before there were bodies of water in which they could live. In this story we see that God is. We see that God is powerful, compassionate, wise, capable and magnificent. This God who created the universe also created mankind and gave us dominion over the rest of the creation.
The Psalm for today almost questions God’s thinking in this decision to give mankind rule over the whole earth. “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man, that you think of him? What is the son of man, that you care for him? For you have made him a little lower than God, and crowned him with glory and honor.” When we look at the majesty of God’s creation, it is easy for us to doubt our ability to rule over it all. Modern science has given us a greater understanding of many parts of God’s creation. We have men living in space, cameras visiting planets millions of miles away. We can see stars that are farther than we can imagine. We can study about particles that are so small they are invisible to the naked eye. Our world has expanded both outwardly and inwardly beyond that which the Psalmist could ever have imagined.
Yet, we have not come even close to fully understanding the wholeness of God’s being or experiencing the fullness of His glory. We can’t answer all the questions we have or comprehend the reason and purpose for everything that happens in the world. All too often we feel we have no authority, no power. After all, if we really were in control, would we not try to stop suffering or find a way to end pain? The trouble occurs when we try to be the ones in control. We tempt reality by thinking that we can explain everything with a theory or two. Though we have been given authority of all God’s world, we are just creatures, imperfect and fragile.
Matthew tells us in today’s Gospel lesson that the eleven disciples followed Jesus to a mountain. There they worshipped Him, but some doubted. The eleven had lived and worked with Jesus for three years. They’d seen Him crucified and raised. They had undergone an intense forty days with the risen Christ as He trained them in their mission and ministry. They touched Jesus, heard His voice, and loved Him like a brother. They had seen the miracles happen, eaten the bread that Jesus blessed and tasted the wine of the covenant from His own hand. They confessed faith. They believed. And they doubted.
We wonder how this could be, but it is a very natural response to God. This doubt was probably not so much about doubting God, for they had seen the power and authority by which Jesus had ministered. Despite the training and encouragement they received, they had also made many mistakes. They couldn’t heal all the sick or cast out all the demons. Peter confessed faith in Jesus and then rebuked Jesus for saying that He had to die. They were often self-centered and selfish. They hid in fear, refused to believe the news of Jesus’ resurrection. They failed over and over again. Though Jesus had confidence in the ones He had chosen, they did not have confidence in themselves. They knew all too well how imperfect they could be. How could they do what Jesus had done? How could they go on without Him?
It is no wonder that they doubted. This whole thing is so outside the realm of human understanding. The whole thing is beyond ridiculous. It is ridiculous, except for the fact that it comes from the God who created the heavens and the earth. He made everything out of nothing and He continues to create in this big, beautiful world. He is the God who is worthy of praise, and if He thinks we can do, who are we to doubt?
Jesus answered their doubts. “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” They were being sent into the world to do an awesome thing. They were being sent to change the world. They scattered, each disciple going the way the Spirit led; they took the Gospel to the four corners of the earth. They doubted because they did not know how they could accomplish this great thing, but there was no need to worry. God was not sending them alone. He was there with each one and as they baptized each new believer in the Trinity, He made them part of the body He had created in Christ.
He is still with us today. On this Sunday we honor a God we do not fully understand and contemplate the creation that God made out of nothing of which we are a part. We think about our relationships with one another and this magnificent God who has done greater things than we can ever imagine. We join in community with others, hearing the Word and receiving the sacraments that give us a foretaste of all that God has waiting for us. We live in faith, wait in hope and respond with the love that flows from our lives, the love that first came from the tri-unity of God and now is shared through us with the world. Through it all, Jesus reminds us that no matter what happens as we go to do His work, He is with us always, even unto the end of the world.
We may at first respond to this incredible God with fear and trembling because this is a God who is so great that there are mysteries we will never fully grasp with our human minds. But this is the kind of God that is worthy of our praise, and who is able to accomplish the very works that He promised. God spoke in the beginning and began something that continues with us today. The first words of the Bible are the first words of the story of our relationship with God. We now trust that this Creator God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, will be with us as we continue to share His Light and Life with the world.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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