Sunday, June 3. 2007

The Holy Trinity
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

O Jehovah, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth!

With Pentecost, we usher in a new season in the Church year. This season, which lasts until Advent, is a season of learning, growing and becoming that which Christ has called us to be. The first half of the Church year focuses on the story of God – the coming and birth of Christ, the Epiphany and revelation of His presence to the world, the journey to the cross during Lent, the death and resurrection and finally His final lessons to His disciples then ascension into heaven. The second half focuses more on our story – how to be disciples in the world.

Before we begin this season of learning how to live an extraordinary life in the midst of ordinary circumstances, we stop for a moment to discover the mystery of God. Trinity Sunday gives us a chance to reflect upon our God, to draw deeper into His heart and to ponder His majesty. It is a time for us to discern not our place in God’s kingdom but rather our understanding of God Himself. Who is this God that we are called to follow? What is my relationship with Him? As we come to understand more clearly who He is, we can follow more closely according to His Will and purpose for our lives. We have plenty of time to figure out who we are – a popular practice in modern life. For just a brief moment, let’s spend time figuring out who He is.

I recently received an email with a number of photos of what appeared to be a science project on the solar system and universe. The first picture showed a number of colored balls with earth as the largest. It appeared huge compared to some of the other planets. The next picture showed earth as the smallest of the balls, dwarfed by the other planets like Saturn and Jupiter. Another picture showed the sun as a huge ball compared to the planets. Finally there was a picture of the sun being dwarfed by other suns in the Universe. In the end, the ball representing earth was so small that it was nothing but a tiny speck that could barely be seen in the picture. At the bottom of the email, the writer asks about our place in this universe. If the earth on which we live is nothing but a speck, then we are less than a speck on that speck.

In the Garden of Eden, God made us the crown of His creation and gave us the authority to rule over it. We are not only charged with the care of our immediate place, but of all creation. That means everything from the smallest part of the atom to the largest star in the heavens. Though it might seem impossible for us to reach those things that are physically unreachable, God has given us charge over them. We can study the planets that are too far for us to visit. We can discover every species of every animal that lives on the earth and learn about their habitats, habits and the traits that make them unique. God has given us dominion over them all, and He has given us the capacity in our brains, bodies and abilities to know the smallest of the small and the largest of the large in a way that can benefit all of God’s creation.

In recent history, we’ve had the ability to travel into space. Our telescopes are so incredible that we have been able to take beautiful pictures of what happens millions of light years from earth. We are able to send probes and cameras to almost all of the planets, to study them and learn about the chemical make-up of the surface and the atmosphere. We have landed on Mars and have made amazing discoveries. I have joked with Zack, who has an interest in both space and archeology, that perhaps one day he’ll be leading a dig on Mars to determine the origins of the Martians.

Yet, as we travel into the vast reaches of the universe which God has created, we should be humbled by the reality that we will never fully understand it all. While it is amazing that we can send rockets into space that will send us pictures of objects that are billions of miles from Earth, we have to remember that we are limited by our humanity and we may never really understand many things that will continue to lie beyond our reach. Despite our inadequacies, God has given us the most incredible gifts, the ability to reach beyond what we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch so that we might understand the bigger and the smaller world around us. The fact that we can see an atom or visit the moon is a gift from God. As we continue to explore the far reaches of the universe we should remember that it is God who has given us dominion over these things, to care for it and to use it for His glory.

God has made it clear through His creation that He is God and that He is Sovereign. We can know Him intimately, which is amazing when you think of how small we are compared to all that He has created. We are nothing, yet we are the crown of His creation. We are given dominion over all that He has created, but even more importantly, He has made us children and heirs to all that He has. In the reality of our place in God’s Kingdom, let us always remember that we are specks on a speck in the universe. Even the universe is a speck compared to the fullness of God. His ways are higher, His thoughts greater than anything we can imagine.

It is tempting on Trinity Sunday to try to come up with creative ways of describing the indescribable. The Trinity is a mystery that many have tried to understand and explain in human terms, but it is beyond the human imagination. Every analogy falls apart in some way. Water/ice/steam – the water can’t be both ice and steam at the same time. Mother/daughter/sister – I can’t be my own mother or daughter. The cloverleaf – the leaves are not unique to one another, they are all the same.

My personal favorite is the idea of the ocean – God the Father is the depths of the sea, unreachable, unknowable, endless supporting life; God the Son is the surface, visible, active, touching the lives of men. God the Spirit is the mist and the waves, constantly moving, changing to world around it, invisible and yet visible, unstoppable, affected and affecting all that it touches. The Holy Spirit is like the droplets that evaporate into the heavens to rain back down onto the four corners of the earth and then make their way back to the ocean in streams and rivers. The ocean is all one, but the way the different parts are perceived by the human mind is different. One cannot exist without the other – they can’t be divided, but they can all be understood as uniquely different from the others.

Our Old Testament lesson for today was used from the beginning days of the church to understand the Trinity. In Proverbs 8 we see that Wisdom is both personified but also possessed by God. Wisdom is separate, but also a part of God and equal to Him. The Proverb talks about the divinity and eternity of Wisdom. Nothing is equal to God, or divine like God, or eternal like God. Therefore, Wisdom being possessed by God is an aspect of God and is God. Early Christians recognized that Wisdom, particularly in this Proverb, is the Word, the Logos, Jesus Christ. He, the Son, is also by God, brought up with God, ever present and before all time, equal with God. God’s attributes are a part of Himself. Jesus the Son is an attribute – a unique part of the Godhead, separate but not separate, unified with God the Father. We have certainly heard that recently in the Gospel readings from John, “The Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

Finding Wisdom, knowing Jesus, brings life. It is not enough to believe in some unknown and unknowable ‘god’. Life, salvation, is found in Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Wisdom took pleasure in men, took the nature of men, dwelt among us and filled us with unspeakable treasures. It is no wonder that the early Christians saw Christ in this personification of Wisdom.

When we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, we are saddened like the disciples that Jesus had to go. He was the visible manifestation of the Eternal One, raised from the dead to a new life that would last forever. Couldn’t He stick around to continue guiding and leading His disciples? Wouldn’t it have been easier that way? We certainly would not have questions, like we do today, about all our differences of opinion on theology and the things of God. When we have a problem, we could just go to Jesus and ask Him for the answer.

However, there would come a time – much sooner than we would ever realize or expect – that the disciples would not longer receive from Christ what they needed to do His work in this world. We think it impossible for Jesus to fail to be enough, but as a flesh and blood man Jesus was limited as we are limited. It would only be by the Holy Spirit that the disciples – and us today – would ever be able to accomplish His work. In our scripture for today, Jesus said that they could not bear to hear everything. They could not because they did not have God’s Spirit dwelling within to give them the gifts necessary to bear it. As long as Jesus existed in flesh on earth, they could not have fully what He had to give.

As the early Christians pondered the things that Jesus taught and the things they were learning by the Holy Spirit, it became more and more clear that God was more and more complicated than they could ever imagine. The more they discovered, the more mysterious He became. I suppose that is true also of God’s creation. The farther into space we travel, the more we realize how little we really know about the majesty of God’s creation. The more we are able to magnify the microscopic parts of the creation, the more we realize how complicated and incredible it is.

Why should it be any different with the things of God? After all, we are just specks on a speck compared to the fullness of God’s magnificence. How could we ever imagine truly understanding something like God? And isn’t it truly even more wonderful that the God who is beyond our words cares so much for us that He willingly dwelt amongst us in the flesh of a man and now dwells in our hearts in the person of the Holy Spirit?

People have tried to define God for generations – ever since the earliest days of the Church. The discoveries were developed into what we know today as the creeds – basic formulas of religious beliefs. Most of us are familiar with the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. Many churches will drag out the Athanasian Creed – a lengthy tome on the Trinity. Though many people think that creeds are unbiblical, the creeds are simply statements of faith that help us to proclaim together what it is we believe about God. There are creeds in the scriptures – brief statements of those ideas about God that were beginning to surface in those first churches.

The first creed is probably the one found in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.” The New Testament is filled with examples of statements of faith. Paul writes in Philippians 2:6-11, “[Jesus Christ] who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Just as the Hebrews recited the Shema together in worship, t is likely that the early Church recited Paul’s words to state with one voice their faith in Christ.

We learn these creeds early in our lives of faith and our journey of understanding often begins with those words. There are those, of course, who would suggest that the creeds have a sense of brainwashing – forcing the believer to conform to a human understanding of God. However, creeds are simply statements of faith, defining the things that matter to the body of Christ.

It is important, however, that we not only know how to recite these creeds, but that we understand what they mean. Creeds are meaningless if they are just memorized words that are regurgitated on cue each Sunday. The creeds define God and to fully live the life we are called to live, we must know the God we serve. The creeds we accept today came into being as the body of Christ pondered together the revelation of God found in the scriptures and in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. God was manifesting Himself to them in miraculous ways and they worked together to find some way of communicated between one another and with the world the mystery of the One True God.

Christians have, throughout the ages, found ways to express their faith in God. Paul and some of the disciples wrote their experiences for us to read today. In the Bible we see a growing and developing understanding of God, especially in the work of Paul. There are volumes of work attributed to the church fathers, the generations of leaders following the apostles. In those writings you can see a similar development of thought. Others have used art to show their understanding of God. In churches and museums around the world you can see magnificent masterpieces showing the stories of God’s grace in paint, glass, sculpture and other mediums. More recently, men and women have used movie and television to share their faith in Christ. Musicians have always put their faith into song and hymn.

St. Patrick is often identified with the concept of the Trinity because he was able to make the Trinity easily understandable to a pagan people. The Celtic people had a similar Trinitarian formula in their faith, so conversion to Christianity came rather easily. For St. Patrick, the Trinity was the center of understanding faith in Christ. Many might be familiar with a hymn that he wrote to share his faith called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate. The familiar portion recognizes that Christ is so fully involved in the Christian life that He is in every aspect of our being. There is more to the hymn, however, and is worth posting today.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate was the way one human being defined the God whom he loved and served. How is He defined in your life? If someone asked, “Who is God?” What would you say? Would you share the words of one of the foundational creeds? Would you talk about your relationship with God? Would you share your calling and describe the work you have been ordained to do? That’s what Trinity Sunday is all about – discovering God, even the mysteries that we can’t fully understand, so that we are fully aware of the One whom we will learn to serve in the coming months during the season of Pentecost.

I suppose it could be daunting to think about serving a God that we do not fully understand, particularly in this modern age when we can study the smallest microscopic things of this world and the largest suns in the universe. We do not want to believe that there is a mystery we will not solve. It troubles us, leaves us without peace. But the purpose of discovering about God is to find the peace He offers.

The hope we hear about in the passage from Romans is about a hope that will never fail. We often think of hope in terms of things that are little more than wishes and dreams, trusting and hoping in things that are created and perishable. We hope we will find the cure to a dis-ease by studying the microorganisms or the solution to some other problem by chasing after the stars in the heavens. However, when God speaks of hope, it is something more. Hope in God and His promises will not disappoint because it is the expectation of the fulfillment of God’s Word. Paul writes that we are justified by faith and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus. Through Him we have access to the faith that justifies us. All of this comes because the Love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Our hope rests on the Trinity. That hope does not disappoint.

This does not mean that we will never suffer. As a matter of fact, suffering is part of the circle of faith – joy in the hope and joy in the suffering leads to perseverance leads to character leads to hope. It is part of the life of faith. The joy we feel is not a giddy happiness because everything is perfect, but it is living in the expectation of God’s amazing grace. Will God’s grace grant my daughter – and later my son – all the rewards of this earth? Will they receive the scholarships that will help pay for college and recognize their accomplishments? Not necessarily. However, if those hopes fail there is always a greater hope, one that will never fail. That hope rests on the promises of God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. He does not disappoint.

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