Thursday, May 28, 2015

Introduction to the Sunday readings - Trinity

May 31, 2015 - The Holy Trinity

The mystery of the one God in three persons

Icon of the Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rublev
It is very appropriate that the feast honoring the Holy Trinity occurs the Sunday after Pentecost. On Pentecost we heard Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would guide the disciples ‘into all truth.’ In the early centuries of the Church, God’s people examined the Scripture and meditated upon the Lordship of Jesus and his prayer to his Father. In examining Scriptures such as the ones we will read today, the Church was guided by the Holy Spirit into the mystery of the Trinity – one God in three persons, the Son being made human for the sake of the world.

We confess the Athanasian Creed every Trinity Sunday. This creed was first used in the early sixth century. It can be intimidating because of its length and because of the condemnations of those who do not hold to the Trinitarian faith. However, these very condemnations indicate just how important the Church believes faith in the Trinity to be.

The creed was written in order to counter many errors in understanding the Trinity. Chief among these beliefs was that the Son was a creature of the Father, the first of his works in time. While this would seem to guard the uniqueness of God, the creed insists that the unity of God is seen in the relationship of three eternal ‘persons’ (an imperfect translation of a Greek word, hypostasis.
These three persons share one divine essence or ‘being,’ and in their unity of love are coeternal and coequal.

For if the Son of God is truly eternal with his Father, begotten, not made, then in his incarnation God himself has entered into our existence: in Jesus, God himself has become a human being and lived a human life. Some believed that God could not become a human being, and even among those who did, there was disagreement about the particular mode of his humanity. Were these disagreements mere theological hair-splitting? Not according to the Church, which held to the argument ‘What has not been assumed cannot be redeemed.’ If God the Son does not assume humanity, then his obedience to his Father and his acceptance of death do not count for us. But if Jesus takes up humanity for the world’s sake, then we are truly brought into his eternal life and given a share in the Spirit which he shares with the Father. We too may pray to his heavenly ‘Abba,’ his Father, believing that we are his children and Christ's brothers or sisters.

Do we have trouble understanding the mystery of the Holy Trinity, or do we have doubts? Does this mean we are among those who are ‘condemned?’ We take comfort in the fact that even the most learned and subtle theologians of the Church cannot fully exhaust or understand God’s mystery. I personally agree with Pastor Frank Senn, a renowned historian of creeds and liturgy, who writes that a lack of full understanding is not what is condemned in the Creed. Rather, it is the outright rejection of the Trinitarian faith by those who do understand it (perhaps especially by theologians responsible for teaching the faithful) which is condemned.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sermon Seventh Sunday of Easter 5-17-15

Easter 7B – May 17, 2015
St Stephen Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh, PA
The Rev. Maurice C Frontz III, STS

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

He ascended into heaven,
and he is seated at the right hand of the Father.
When I was younger,
I had this image of God the Father on his heavenly throne,
and on his right (which would be left from my perspective)
Jesus sitting on a lower throne.
Truth be told, it’s hard to get rid of that image.
I doubt that it will ever be erased from my imagination
until I see God face-to-face.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sermon Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 10, 2015

Easter 6B – May 10, 2015
Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
St Stephen Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh, PA
The Rev. Maurice C Frontz III, STS

Alleluia! Christ is risen!               He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Can you remember the best sermon you ever heard?
It might have been a wedding sermon,
although I would be surprised if it was your wedding sermon.
Most couples are too nervous to listen very closely
to the sermon at their wedding,
although I remember some couples
that hung on my every word,
their faces filled with joy and hope
and awe and reverence for the moment.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Your Questions Please! Bread, Wine - And Water?

Someone asked me why I put a little water in the chalice of wine before communion. It’s not a ‘necessary’ thing; in other words, if we didn’t do it, the Eucharist would not be ruined. Most Lutherans probably don’t mix the wine with water. So, what’s the point?

Before I begin, a confession: sometimes I do things that I don’t understand myself. I pick up things and assume there is a good reason, because there are usually reasons behind tradition. So it is with this particular ritual action.

This tradition of a mixed cup of wine and water comes from the early Church. Around 155 A.D., in his first Apology (that is, his ‘defense’ of the faith), Justyn Martyr gives an account of the worship of the Church, saying, among other things, ‘There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he, taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at his hands.’

Originally this was simply good Greco-Roman social custom – to dilute strong wine with water for what we would call ‘social drinking.’ But the wine and the water together came to symbolize the unity of Christ’s divinity and humanity. The water symbolized humanity; the wine divinity. Once water is added to wine, it can no longer be separated. So it is with Christ, who is both God and man, and yet he is one indissoluble person. The cup of mixed wine and water symbolized and illustrated this developing doctrine of the Church.

So, while it is not nearly as important as using wine (which is done according to the Lord’s command), the continued practice of mixing wine and water is both a connection to the ancient tradition of the Church and can be a helpful testimony to the identity of the Christ who is present in the Eucharist.

Sources: Senn, Frank. Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.