Can I Faithfully and Firmly Believe This?
† IHS †
May the grace and mercy of God our Father, our Savior Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, sustain your trust in their love, and reveal to you more and more, Their Presence in your life!
A moment ago, if you were paying attention as we began the Athanasian Creed, you might have had a moment of concern as we began, as I said,
Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the Christian faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.
But the nature of reciting a creed gave you only a few seconds to say this, and before you could process it, we were moving on to the next phrase.
A little way down, perhaps some of you gasped as we read,
Therefore, whoever desires to be saved must think thus about the Trinity.
If you had a moment to think at that point, you might have jotted down a question for me during Bible Study, and if you did, that is awesome – I will try and answer it then. But really? How can we believe in these words we barely can comprehend as we are reading them off of the page.
And then, my last words,
This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.
Which brings me to a question. Can I faithfully and firmly believe something I just read, even though I don’t understand it completely? Pastor, someone is thinking, if this is that important, shouldn’t we do it, maybe once a month or so? At least more than once a year?
What do you think Chris? Do it monthly?
Back to the more important question….and the one that follows…
Can I faithfully and firmly believe this ancient mind-twisting, theological statement? And if can’t understand it, does that mean I am not saved?
We will answer that in a few moments.
The Isaiah Moment –
In many ways, saying the Athanasian Creed is like the situation Isaiah finds himself in, as we hear it described in the Old Testament reading this morning.
He’s overwhelmed, and confused. Everything he thought he knew of, he is unsure of, all he knows is that God is a lot bigger, than he ever contemplated before. His eyes can’t keep up with all he sees, and you will notice that the one thing he doesn’t describe in any depth, is what God looks like.
Isaiah sees Him, but all He tells us is that God is sitting on the throne, and God is wearing a robe that would take Carol, Linda, Barbara, and Cyndee a lot longer to sew than 18 stoles!
As Isaiah is overwhelmed, he forgets everything he knows about God, and is intently aware of how he doesn’t belong in God’s presence. He’s a sinner, a man who can’t filter his thoughts, and he is surrounded by people just like him.
All he can think of, is I don’t get it, and no maybes, (CLICK) I don’t belong here in God’s presence.
That is where his thoughts are going, as he realizes the glory of God, as He encounters it.
As he finds himself dropping to his knees, in awe, unable even to plead for mercy…
That is what happens to us when we sit down, and start to consider what we do know about God, when we try to summarize it, whether in 12 verses of the Apostles Creed, or the fifty of the Athanasian Creed, or in a sermon, or in a book.
It is not easy to get our minds wrapped around all the scripture teaches about God. Heck I could teach for forty-five hours just on the titles we have for God, and on His name, and on the one line from this creed,
But the whole three persons are coeternal with each other and coequal, so that in all things, as has been stated above, the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshiped!
The Grace of God
And in those four underlined words, we find our hope. We find out that like Isaiah, we belong in God’s presence. Not because we are good enough, or qualified enough, or know and understand enough, but because of the reason we worship Him.
There was one more line that should give us pause…
And those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.
He has judged us already, as Christ bore the iniquities of us all. Because Jesus bore the stripes on His back, and the nail scars in His hands. That judgment comes when the Holy Spirit is poured out on us, as we are declared His people, as we are promised eternal life. Because He loves us, because that love and mercy sent Jesus to die for us, and rise again. Because His death and resurrection brings us into a relationship with Him, a covenant with Him, where God judges us and says, you are righteous, you have done good.
In awe and confusion and fear, we find ourselves in the presence of God.
We hear the angels and archangels, the seraphim and elders, singing the words Holy, Holy, Holy…. And then we are touched, our lips and heart cleansed as God comes near.
And we join in the praises….
For God has judged our trust in His work, our need for Him to do that work, our need to cling to Him, and it is enough.
Enough so that God not only welcomes us into His presence, but sends us out to bring His message to a world that needs it, but needs the work of the Spirit to help them hear it.
There is s a lot of truth in this creed, this statement about the God who we trust, who we know, in who are beliefs are found, revealed to us in Christ. The creed puts what we know is true, and what we know isn’t true.
Yeah, it’s long and complicated, it helps us know that things like Gnosticism and Subordinationism, that donatism and other things are wrong. What it does best? It reveals to us the God who reveals Himself is bigger than our thoughts, is bigger than our theories that try to explain what God keeps as a mystery.
I wrote yesterday that the mysteries of God aren’t there primarily to be solved and explained. These mysteries are here to leave us in awe, to bring us to the point where we are silent, where we know He is God.
Like Isaiah, before the throne, like us as we bend a knee, and take and eat, and take and drink, the body and blood of Christ.
This is our God, trust in His promises, revel in what He reveals, and know that He is your God, and we are His people, who dwell in His peace, and Christ guards our hearts and minds in that place, and no one can change that.
He Thinks About, and Cares for Us!
† In Jesus Name †
May you receive the grace, the mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, that you resonate with the cry for His majestic name, His incredible glory, to fill the earth!
What to Preach about this Week?
When I looked at the readings this week, and realized that on hallmark calendars it was Father’s Day, and on the Church Calendar it is Trinity Sunday, I faced a dilemma.
Which incredible thing do I preach on?
Do it preach on Trinity Sunday, and what the Athanasians’ Creed means? Do I preach on how those of us who are fathers can try to be like our Father in heaven? Or how our children should respect us like we are supposed to respect our Father in Heaven? Look at the readings – we have the incredible passage about the great commission! Go into all the world my friends and let’s get to work making disciples! Or about baptism, or doubt, or faith? I could have even preached on the longer optional reading today, which was all of Creation in chapter 1 and some of chapter 2 of Genesis.
Lot’s of great choices! Which one do we need to hear the most?
Not one of those…
We need to hear the words of the Psalm… we need to grasp the incredible praises that are communicated in those words, and then, join in the praises!
Though we rarely give thought to the psalms, besides to pray through them, I think this day… everything else, why we want to explain the Trinity, the Mission of the Church, the role of fathers, everything, begins to make sense….. so let’s get to it!
- What is Man?
How many of you saw the moon Friday night, or last night? How many have looked up into the sky and seen the brilliance of the millions of stars in the Milky Way galaxy? Or simply lain in the grass and looked at the clouds passing by on a beautiful day, and realized that it is God who put these things in place…it is He who ordained all of creation…..
How glorious, how inspirational, how even creating something like a star, or the universe through which it’s light and energy travel.. How it is all kept in balance, how amazing…
Compare that to us.
Who are we, compared to the distances of space, the energy that could reflect off a moon and shine so gloriously in the night sky?
The psalmist asks that very same question:
4 what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?
Who are we?
We might answer we are dads, or moms, we might answer by what we do for a living, I am a pastor, Tom is retired, Chris is a professor and a musician…
We might answer more honestly from our perspective, we are people who know sorrow and grief, are anxious, sometimes dwell in guilt and shame, we are broken, sinful. We struggle to understand things of God, like how the God is three and one, or how Jesus is 100% God and 100% man… or how a creed written 1400-1700 years ago explains it.
But that is from our perspective, from our view, and the Psalmist is asking God what He thinks about us……. and why He would care for us….
That is why the Psalmist praises God, because God does think about us, and He does care for us…..
Not just think as in – oh yeah, there they are, the word has a depth of perception, of looking into deeply and understanding.
God – the one who thought for a moment and the moon and stars were made….
Thinks deeply and cares about us. About you, about me, about us together as Concordia…
And He cares.. more deeply than we can imagine..
Yhwh and Adonai
I want you to go back, and look at verse one for a moment.
1 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
Do you notice that the first LORD there is all in capitals, and the second is normal? That is because in Hebrew, there are different words. The first, the one all in capitals, isn’t the word LORD, but the actual name of God. Yhwh or Jehovah depending on pronunciation. The Name that is to fill the earth, the Name above all names. The Name God has given us to call upon Him, that we would know He saves us!
The second is His title – Lord, Master, King, the one who reigns over us. But that to is not always what we think. The word comes from the idea of a foundation, of the one who provides support and sets us up firmly to stand.
The description of it in Hebrew reminded me of something here, the base for the processional cross. Hmmm…. Vicar, come up here for a moment please.
We are like the processional cross… without a base – we look nice – and maybe able to stand for a moment. But without the base, we will fall eventually and maybe even crack someone on the head…
But with the base…the foundation, the place where we fit, we stand….
And that is the nature of God’s reign, of His Lordship. It focuses on His commitment to us, the promises He makes and fulfills in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.
We see it in His sharing His creation with us, giving us responsibility for it. A responsibility to care for it, to care for each other, even as He cares for us.
It makes sense for God to do this to Jesus, to place all this authority and responsibility in His hands. But does it make sense to put it in our hands?
It does, when we realize that God never leaves us, that God is always present here, in our lives, even as Christ’s Body and Blood are present in the Lord’s Supper.
And in Christ, joined to His death and resurrection in baptism, we find ourselves alive in Him, His co-heirs, God’s children. I love the Apostle Paul’s way of phrasing this:
12 For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13 You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; 14 he canceled the unfavorable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross. 15 And on that cross Christ freed himself from the power of the spiritual rulers and authorities; he made a public spectacle of them by leading them as captives in his victory procession. Colossians 2:12-15 (TEV)
Does God think about you? Does God care?
Look at what He has done for us in Christ……
And know He knows you, He cares for you…
The Majestic, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Triune God… thinks about you, cares about you… loves you….
And brings you into His glory and peace, a place beyond all description, where we are guarded and protected by Christ….
So let us worship Him! AMEN?
Devotional Thought of the Day:
21 The LORD says, “I hate your religious festivals; I cannot stand them! 22 When you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will not accept the animals you have fattened to bring me as offerings. 23 Stop your noisy songs; I do not want to listen to your harps. 24 Instead, let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry. Amos 5:21-24 (TEV)
314 “Who said that to reach sanctity, you need to seek refuge in a cell or on a solitary mountain?” That was what a good family man asked himself in amazement, and he added: “If that were so, it would not be the people who would be holy, but the cell, or the mountain. It seems they have forgotten that Our Lord expressly told each and every one of us: be holy as my heavenly Father is holy.” My only comment was: “Our Lord, besides wanting us to be saints, grants each one of us the relevant graces.” (Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1490-1494). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition. )
Sunday,we will do something in my church, that we only do once a year. We will pull out of the closet a statement of faith, a creed that is 50 verses long. It’s one of those kind of ancient writings that demands you stop and think through a verse before going to the next. It describes the relationship of the persons of the Trinity, and the complete unity at the same time. It describes as well how Jesus is 100% God, and yet simultaneously man. It is complext, and glorious and needs not 10 minutes to recite it in church, but hours to talk through and realize how incredible this God that it describes is.
Personally, I love it, as I will love the conversation during Bible Study that follows, as we take some time and dissect it.
But I fear that many who will say the words, will walk away, not understanding this complex creed, or why we do it. That is a pastoral concern, and one we should have. It’s one we must have.
But for many of us, tradition has become what the “monastery” of our age. We hide in it, find peace and joy in it, and mistake that peace for the peace that accompanies holiness. We find comfort in the old ways, and romanticize and idolize them, thinking they are the keys to our spiritual health, to our orthodoxy, to our faith. As St Josemaria points out so clearly, it is not the mountain top, or the tradition that is called to be holy. We are.
That’s why in throughout the Old Testament prophets, there is a condemnation of people’s sacrifices. Sacrifices that God called for, things that were the closest thing to the sacraments we treasure today. They were supposed to be a means, a conduit of God’s mercy,yet they had turned into something else, a meaningless time, spent in trying to attain a perfection that ignored their very reason for existence. They didn’t communicate that God was their for the broken, there to heal, to forgive, to pour our righteousness, to let the justice that comes from the cross to lift people up. A purpose to help people realize they walk, their life journey is done with God.
Such is the nature of a baptized, Pentecostal life. A life lived in communion, in fellowship, in a relationship with the God who created the heavens, and comes to us.
Traditions? Practices? Creeds? Do they give people what they need to know about Christ?
They can, they cannot. It is not the traditional practice, whether 1500 years in practice or 15 minutes that makes people holy. It is the presence of Christ, revealed, known, that the Holy Spirit uses to transform us. May all we do bring us to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and therefore ours.
“Stirred but not Shaken”
Acts 2: 14a ,22-36
† Father, Son, and Holy Spirit †
May you realize the grace of of knowing the Triune God desires and works to know you, and make you perfect, perfect for a relationship
Anybody get the number of that creed?
Even though I dearly love the Athanasian Creed, even though I love how it lays out the relationship of the Trinity, even though I love spending a couple of hours with it, and highly recommend that to you, there is a certain feeling I get, reading it in a worship service.
Two ways to describe it…
The first is, I feel like Wiley E Coyote at the end of every scene in the old Roadrunner cartoons….
The other, I wonder if anyone got the license plate number of the theological 18 wheeler than just hit me. I almost wonder if Anthony of the Desert, who is credited with writing it, and Athanasius, a deacon who presented the creed to a gathering of pastors and bishops – comprehended the depth of the creed’s teaching….
Maybe it overwhelmed them a bit two… as if as they read it, they wondered who was driving the chariot that ran over them….
Even as I love this incredible Creed, as I love how it teaches us about the mystery of the Trinity – the Tri-une God, the Three yet One, I realize it has one shortcoming. It was written to challenge all the false teachings about the Trinity, and about the nature of Christ…it seeks to teach us to know about how the Trinity is, and how Jesus is both fully God and fully man…
But it assumes one thing…. That we know this Trinity, this Triune God.
It does a wonderful job stripping away many, if not most of the false teachings about Jesus… yet leaves us there… needing to get to know Him…
May this day, we rejoice, in not just knowing who God is not, but may we rejoice in knowing our Triune God…..
And as we grow in knowing the Trinity, this God of ours, may we be just the opposite of James Bond’s famous drink – may we be stirred, and know we cannot be shaken.
Still a little overwhelmed by the theological semi that ran over my brain, I’m going to do the sermon backward today – and give you the gospel, before the law…
Hear King David’s words again, really hear them….
‘I see that the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. 26 No wonder my heart is glad, and my tongue shouts his praises! My body rests in hope. 27 For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your Holy One to rot in the grave. 28 You have shown me the way of life, and you will fill me with the joy of your presence.’
The very God we proclaimed that we trusted a moment ago, David said is right before his eyes. As God is here, right in our midst. Here to protect, here to be our shepherd, here to be all that we need as our Father, as our Lord, as our God.
He is here…The Triune God who has been at work in our lives since we were created, is with us. He has called us together, He has brought us here, in order that we can know His love, that we can remember His mercy. The Holy Spirit drew us that we can literally taste and see that the Lord is good.
Walking with Him, on this way, which He has revealed, is what our lives are to be, and are, because of that presence of His. To know He is here, To realize that love which causes Him to cleanse us, to assure us that our souls will not fade into nothingness, even as Christ’s body was not meant to tor in the grave.
Paul explain this, in this way,
12 For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13 You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; 14 he canceled the unfavorable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:12-14 (TEV)
That is what the presence of God in our lives means… it’s the time to rejoice in everything that has opened up to us. It is time for a party, for the feast – for the incredible life that God has given us…. And would live with us.
No wonder David says that His heart dances, it rejoices, (forget this line “glad” GRR) and his tongue SHOUTS his praises – the special shout reserved for the jubilee – that one time in life, everything you are shout!
He is here – He has given us life – He has given us the joy of His presence….
He is right beside me… and I shall not, will not, cannot be shaken…
That is where the Law comes in, this idea of being “shaken”. Being shaken is like being out in the middle of Lake Galilee with 80 mph winds raising waves much bigger than our fishing boats, or a spiritual earthquake. Those are the words that are used for those traumas, when life is so in turmoil that you cannot determine which way is which – not just east and west or north and south, but forward and back and upside down.
The Trinity’s presence in our lives takes care of that – for it completely changes our point of orientation. It is no longer us that is spinning out of control, even as the world is spinning – and in such a way that people have to realize God is with us.
As we do, as our lives, as our desires, as our dreams ocme into line with His, as we see that our redemption, our deliverance has been the Father’s goal all along, things change.
The law – which is the way in which God orders the universe, which we struggle with, is revealed to be what drives us to Him, looking for hope, looking for something which will cause the storm…
And when we are with God, Triune, majestic, beyond our ability to comprehend, at least during this life, we do find ourselves able to rest in hope, our heart finds that gladness, and we shout His praise, as we realize His desire is to be here – with us, His people.
It’s His plan…no, we are His plan..
It’s His plan, the reading calls it His pre-arranged plan…
Even to the point where Jesus was betrayed, and fixed to a cross, and murdered. As Peter preaches to the very ones who killed him,
That He could, for the people the Father created, pay the price of redemption, and pour out His Holy Spirit, that we would become His Holy and Righteous people…
Yeah – no wonder our hearts are glad…joyous – know His presence, having been shown the way of life – through the death of Christ.
May we indeed know His peace, as we wait, resting in the hope that comes from knowing He is beside us. May such knowledge stir us to love and good deeds, even as we trust, as we know we’ll never be shaken…
Devotional Thought of the Day:
2 I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains—but if I have no love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2 (TEV)
7 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. 8 Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ 9 and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness. Philippians 3:7-9 (MSG)
“You wrote to me: “To pray is to talk with God. But about what?” About what? About him, and yourself: joys, sorrows, successes and failures, great ambitions, daily worries—even your weaknesses! And acts of thanksgiving and petitions—and love and reparation. In short, to get to know him and to get to know yourself— “to get acquainted!”” (1)
For the last year or so, I have been toying with the idea of going back to school, to get a doctoral degree. I’ve thought about which degree to get, for there are a number of fields that interest me – from worship, to sociology, to counseling, to homiletics and other pragmatic areas of ministry. Yesterday I went back to where it all started, 30 years ago this fall, as I entered a “non-denom” Bible College – in a very accidental “God-thing” type moment.
Combine with that preparing to preach this weekend – “Trinity Sunday” we call it, a day to meditate upon how God has revealed Himself to us, as three distinct, yet …..One. One of the greatest, most complicated theological doctrines there is, and yet, still so far out of ability to comprehend. ( Read the Athanasian Creed – an incredibly beautiful explanation of God, yet each phrase, raises more questions, leaves us more in awe. And for a theologian, albeit an amateur one, (as all pastors are – as serving others takes precedence…always… over such deep thoguhts) I love to just sit back and plumb the depths of the minds who wrote far more comprehensively than I can think.
But then I come to St. Paul – a man who was a first rate theologian in his day, prior to His conversion, who wrote the quotes above. It doesn’t matter how much I know, I’ve got to realize I am loved, I have to understand why Paul so desired to be embraced by Christ, why everything else took a back seat to knowing, not the details.
Which is where Theophilus – the person Luke writes his gospel for comes in. The name in Greek is Loved by God/Lover of God. But it is that relationship that matters, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have revealed that we are the beloved, that we never walk alone, that we have been cleansed and healed and are loved. It is starting from there, realizing the miracles our being justified and sanctified are only to deliver us, the children of the Father, the ones Jesus calls His friends, the ones who are the Home of the Holy Spirit. We must be Theophilus, before we ever become Theologians..
I would never say to not study theology, but first, come to know God, as St Josemaria says – get acquainted with Him in prayer. Talk to Him – about everything and anything. Listen to Him, hear Him tell you of His love, of His mercy, of His grace. That is what matters, in a way, it is ALL that matters….. for knowledge even all the data we can generate about Trinity – without that love… is nothing….empty…worthless.
I pray for you (and ask you to pray for me, as the apostle Paul did for the people of Ephesus…
14 For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. 16 I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19 Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (TEV)
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 365-368). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.