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The Rector’s sermons for June 16, 2019


                                                                                                                                               

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Canticle 13; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15



 

Today the creators of our liturgical calendar give us a Sunday called Trinity Sunday.   Unlike other feasts that commemorate a saint, or a miracle such as the Transfiguration or the Resurrection, this Sunday commemorates a doctrine of the church.  How boring!  What’s the point?   Does it really matter?  Absolutely, it matters!   

 

Belief in the Trinity of God—one God in three persons—separates us from the non-Christian world, or perhaps I should say from even the Christians who don’t believe in one God in three persons.  Why do I say that?  I’m going to assume that all of us here believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, and I’m also going to assume that all of us have absolutely no explanation for why we believe in the Trinity… except for the presence of one important thing:  faith.  When we are dealing with spiritual truths that cannot possibly be explained in worldly terms, all we have is faith.  And thanks to the fathers of the church, a doctrine was put in place for just such a time as this, when we live in a world that shakes our faith at every turn.

 

Let’s go back to the beginning of the Christian faith.  Pentecost had come.  The apostles received the Holy Spirit and went about preaching the gospel to the known world.  But after the apostles had all died and even though the church had spread throughout the known world, the intensity of the Gospel began to lose its fire.   Just like today, doubts became prevalent and disruptive teachings began…even as it does today.   And those teachers of the Word who thought they had a better interpretation—we call them heretics—began to appear.  One such teacher was Arius.  Arius refused to accept Jesus as divine.  Arius taught that Jesus wasnot God.  And just like today, some in the church began to splinter into other belief systems and follow the teachings of Arius.  The church that Jesus had founded was under attack.

 

Then came the cavalry.   The church fathers came together in what we know as The Council of Nicea in the year 325.  The purpose was to define and hammer out the doctrine of the Trinity:  One God, existing as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit—each person, each entity fully God.    Now the true believer accepts this doctrine without question, but we must realize how radical this doctrine of One God really was for the ancient world.  The Hebrews always professed belief in one God without question.  But we must remember they lived in a world where the majority of people believed in many gods.  There was a god for rain, for crops, for livestock, for fertility, for fire.  You name it, they had a god for it!   But as radical as One God might sound, the trained eye and the sharp mind can find clues throughout Holy Scripture for one God.  And the concept of one God had to be established before moving on to the three persons in one God.

 

Perhaps the most powerful case for “one God” can be found in the first book of Kings.  This is an incredible story with major special effects recounting a showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal.   Picture this:  the land was in the third year of a terrible drought. The Lord sends Elijah to the evil King Ahab with the words “It will soon rain.”  Meanwhile the drought throughout Israel becomes even more severe.   A devoted follower of the Lord named Obadiah, gets into a disagreement with Elijah, and Elijah says, “Meet me at the OK Corral”—no, wait, that’s a different story.  Elijah says to Obadiah, “Meet me at Mt. Carmel, and bring with you 450 prophets of Baal.”   And the showdown begins.  Elijah says to the 450 prophets, “I will prepare an altar of wood; you do the same.   Then you choose one bull and I’ll choose one bull.   We’ll kill them, cut them up in pieces and lay them on the wood.  But do not set fire to the wood.  You pray to your gods, and I’ll pray to my God, and whoever answers by setting fire to the wood is the one true God.”  (Now, I know the one true God, but I’m not sure I would have been that bold!)   Anyway, Elijah says to the 450 false prophets, “You go first.”   So they pray…for hours!.  Then they start shouting, dancing, eventually hobbling around the altar.  But there is no reply…no fire.   Elijah begins to mock them:  “Gee, maybe you need to shout louder.  It seems that your god is daydreaming, or asleep, or maybe he’s gone on vacation!”   Still, nothing happens.

 

So Elijah says, “OK, my turn.”  He stacks more wood on the altar.  He digs a trench around the altar large enough to hold 3 gallons of water.  He places the cut pieces of the bull on the altar.  Then he has a servant pour four large jars of water over the animal pieces and the altar!  Then he has them do it again, and then athird time so the water overflows the altar and the trench.  Then he prays to God.  Immediately, a fire flashed down from heaven and burned up the bull, the wood, the stones, the dust, and even licked up all the water in the trench!  The people who saw all this fell on their faces and said, “Truly, there is only one true God.”  And shortly thereafter, it rained.  One God, no question.   And multiple times in Scripture we can find the words, “I am the Lord, and there is no other.”  

 

Well, the idea of one God worked fine until Jesus came, but no one really had to think about it until Jesus’ resurrection.  Up until that point, many prophets and even false prophets had done some of the things that Jesus did, but bringing his own body back to life was the turning point.  So then, what do we do with Jesus and the concept of God?   No one would argue that he is a holy prophet, but is he God?  The most powerful clues are found in the gospel of John:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…   The Word, who came to be known as Jesus, is now presented to the Christian world as part of God, equal to God, yet separate from God.  So…the accepted Old Testament God, and now Jesus the son of God.

 

Then from Jesus’ own mouth, spoken to Nicodemus—spoken to the apostles—spoken to anyone who would listen—Jesus said: “After I’m gone the Spirit will come.  He will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own, but… he will glorify me…”  Here is a suggestion of another part of God, another person perhaps.  The Father who is universally understood to be the creator of the all things, the father of all;  Jesus who after centuries of heresies and misunderstandings came to be realized as the one and only Son of the Father, fully equal to the Father.  And then something called the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus to abide among His people, to “teach them all truth.”  And this Holy Spirit, this entity with no form and no gender, is also equal to and part of the Father and the Son.

 

So why does any of this matter?   And what difference will it make when you leave here today?   I pray that it makes all the difference in the world.   Your faith is based on the foundation that God is the one true God, that he created you not out of necessity, but out of pure love, in order to share his godliness with you.   Your faith is based on the foundation that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became a human being out of pure love, so that we could experience a taste of heaven that would make us yearn for that eternity throughout our lives.  And your faith is based on the foundation that the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, lives among us, strengthens us from one day to the next, in order that we might work our way back to the God who created us.  

 

Trinity Sunday is a day to look at your foundation and ask yourself:  Am I on solid ground?   Can the chances and changes of life shift my soul from that foundation?   The church as a whole has gone through many difficult times over the years.  There have been many false teachers, multiple attempts to tear down and destroy Godly people.  But no matter what happens in the world today, DO NOT LET the foundation of your faith be shaken.   No one is going to ask you to cut up an animal, lay it on a bed of wood, douse everything with water and then pray for the sacrifice to be burnt up.   What is being asked of you is much, much greater.  You are asked to stand tall in a world that doesn’t see doctrine as important.   You and I are the modern Elijah’s, the current Council of Nicea, the keepers of the faith.  You hold a treasure that cannot be measured.  And when the day comes for you to defend it—and it will come—be ready.  Stand firm, because if your foundation is solid, it will not be shaken.   In the name of One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.



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