Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him…
We are gathered together today to worship the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity; the one God, three persons, one substance; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; three in one. For our feeble minds this is too much to fully comprehend. But thanks to the faith worked in us by this Trinity in Unity, we are able to fully believe and fully confess this Unity in Trinity as the one True God. And because of this faith given to us, we know with all certainty that we are saved by the grace of this God we cannot comprehend. We are saved in a way we would never have designed. We are saved by the Trinity in Unity – Unity in Trinity God himself … through the greatest event in the history of the world. The death and resurrection of the second person of the trinity, lowering himself to the place we deserved to be, yet loving us too much to abandon us. And this too, just as the ins and outs of the Godhead, 1 in 3, 3 in 1 is beyond our comprehension, so too, the death of the Son of God on behalf of the enemies of God is too much for us to handle, cerebrally. But faithfully, filled to the full with the faith of this one in three, three in one, we believe and confess with all certainty that we are saved. And please do not get me wrong. Do not put the cart in front of the horse. It is not because of our confession that we are saved, but because of our saving we are able to confess!
One Father of the Church, St. Augustine, studied the mystery of the Holy Trinity and although he was at his wits’ end, he still could not comprehend it. One day he was walking on the sandy beach by the ocean. There churned in his mind the mystery of the Holy Trinity. He was talking to himself: “One God, but three Persons. Three Persons…not three Gods but one God. What does it mean? How can it be explained? How can my mind take it in?” And so he was torturing his mind and beating his brains out, when he saw a little boy on the beach. He approached him to see what he was doing.
The child had dug a small hole in the sand. With his little hands he was carrying water from the ocean and was dumping it in the little hole. St. Augustine asked, “What are you doing, my child?” The child replied, “I want to put all of the water of the ocean into this hole.” Once more St. Augustine asked, “But is it possible for all of the water of this great ocean to be contained in this little hole?” And the child asked him in return, “If the water of the ocean cannot be contained in this little hole, then how can the Infinite Trinitarian God be contained in your mind?”
This Sunday in the church year is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. This does not mean this is the Sunday in which the pastor will stand up and fully explain the ins and outs of the one God three person Godhead in whose name we are gathered. No. This is not an exhaustive treatise on the Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Nor will you find that in Pastor Carr’s Bible study. That would be foolish; just about as foolish as trying to fit the extremely voluminous amounts of water from the oceans into a small hole. The grandeur of our Godhead cannot be understood, explained and certainly not mastered by our feeble created minds. To master, to fully understand and to completely explain God would be to become that which we were attempting to explain.
There are people in the world who are completely convinced that man has created God. That God is something our creative mind has developed for entertaining purposes or whatever reason. To me, the fact that God is beyond our understanding, explanations and mastery is proof in itself that God is God. Explaining God would make us more powerful than God.
The fact that we cannot fully explain or fully know God is not just a sign that there is a God, but it is also a sign that we are disconnected from God. The fact that there are people in the world who deny the existence of God, argue against and even come up with notions that God is created by man is a sign of the separation that exists between God and man.
This separation is evident in many other ways as well. The pain we experience and cause in this world, the empty feelings that drag us down and the longing to feel needed by those around us. The feelings of inadequacy and restlessness are all symptoms of the problem. Perhaps most telling in our world this week of the separation that exists between us and God is the disaster that took place in Oklahoma. Two schools ruined. Neighborhoods flattened. Families left to pick up the pieces, sometimes missing pieces of their families while they do it. All creation groans. We groan because of the separation that exists. We are not united with the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity. In fact we are bound in the sins of the world around us rather than united to God in love for him.
Yet the Father, Son and Holy Spirit has not left us to wallow alone in our groaning disconnected state. God who created us has created us again through His Son whom He sent to save us. And He doesn’t leave us to figure this all out on our own. No! We have this trifecta of perfection working to bring us to an everlasting union with all the saints.
And this trinity has been working united from before the creation of the World. In the creation account we see one God, three persons working to create. God the father speaks and in speaking uses the Word, the Son of God … who is the Word made flesh (and is present whenever God speaks,) and we see right in Genesis 1:2 that the Spirit of God was there hovering over the face of the waters. God has been from the beginning of this earth and from the beginning of your walk with God in the waters of baptism where the Word is combined with the water and you are combined with the word made flesh into his death so that you may be united into his resurrection. And it is done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Unity in Trinity, trinity in Unity, working to unite you to the source of all that is good.
It is clear from scripture (and creation) that God is beyond us. He is over our heads. Too much for us to grasp. The gospel lesson today shows us that it has always been too much for our feeble human minds to take in. The confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees that we see climax in the Gospel lesson from the end of John 8 leaves the Pharisees so unable to see God right in front of their eyes, and so enraged at the audacious claims of God that they were ready to kill God with stones. Jesus speaks words that just don’t make sense to them. He tells the Jews gathered around at him, squaring off with him, “Before Abraham was, I AM” If you know just a bit about the Gospel of John you know that there are seven “I AM” statements in John. We have been holding a Bible study over these sayings on Monday nights. “I am” is actually from the Hebrew word for Yahweh, The mysterious name of God. When Moses stood at the burning bush and said, who should I tell the Israelites has sent me to release them from captivity and slavery, from the burning bush, God speaks and says, “I am who I am… say this to the people of Israel, I am has sent me to you.”
The Pharisees hearing Jesus say, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Had a number of different synaptic connections firing in their brain. #1, this man, Jesus, is saying he is older than Abraham! #2, this man Jesus is saying he is Yahweh! #3 never entered their stubborn hardened minds, they did not consider that this man was the word of God spoken in creation, made into flesh, the wisdom calling out saying, here I am the savior of the world from before the foundations were laid, before the mountains were shaped and the hill were laid he was there. He was there in the establishment of the heavens, and the hanging of the stars and his delight was to come from on high and dwell below with the children of man.
Yet just as our sinful human minds cannot, theirs could not comprehend No our minds can’t even be persuaded by acts of God in miracles of creation and life. Our sinful nature rebels against God and nails the Word to the cross. And on that cross in another mystery we cannot believe but only confess through faith, we find our door to life. In Jesus, the Word who gives us the only image of God we have, we find our salvation.
And through His Spirit working in this word, we are made worthy recipients of this life with God the unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity.
Trinity is a word we never find in scripture. Skeptics and plain old thorns in our sides might confront us saying, “why would you name your church with a word never used in scripture?” It’s the same reason why fathers are to teach the catechism to their households. The Word of God found in scripture and revealed to us in creation is vast and voluminous. The catechism takes the chief parts of our faith from the revealed word of God and simplifies it without replacing it. In the same way, when we want to summarize all the Holy Scripture says about God as our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, we call Him the Trinity. And so the name of our congregation is a confession on our lips and into our community of the God who creates us, redeems us and sanctifies us, the Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity which is beyond our understanding has come to be ours by revealing to us who he is, when he draws us to himself and gives us our faith.
This is the faith which we will now confess together in the words of the Athanasian creed. The Athanasion creed was written to counter heresies that were corrupting the early Christian church. There was an idea infecting the church that Jesus was not true God. Just as the Pharisees… couldn’t take it, Arius and followers of Arianism couldn’t believe that Jesus was God. It seemed too strange and impossible for their sinful minds
God has revealed himself to our sinful minds, breaking through and making them new. From this renewal enabled by the Holy Spirit, we now confess together the words of our faith found in the Athanasian Creed.