Monday, June 13, 2022

Sermon June 12, 2022 - Trinity Sunday

 Who, or what, is Jesus of Nazareth?

A very religious man?

An avatar or manifestation of God, or one of the gods?

What do we believe about Jesus?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


Her name was Jean Deemer, she suffered from dementia,

  and she was a resident at the Mennonite Home in Lancaster

  when I was a Therapeutic Recreation Assistant there

  many years ago.

It was around Easter, and we had those magazines

  you have around nursing homes,

  with pictures of flowers and eggs and Jesus,

  you know, Easter-y things.

‘You know who that is,’ I said to Jean,

  pointing to a picture of our Lord.

‘Yes, I do,’ she said. ‘That’s Jesus.’

After a pause, she added,

  ‘He was a very religious man.’


Well, Jean, yes, he was.

And though I’m not going to take that

  as her fully-formed statement of faith,

  that’s all some people believe about Jesus of Nazareth –

  that he was a very religious man,

  and that he taught wise and enduring truths about God,

  and that if more people listened to what he had to say

  about how to treat people,

  the world would be a better place.

  That’s a creed, if you will.


That’s a different creed than what some people,

  especially long ago, but some still today,

  believe about Jesus –

  that he was not a very religious man,

  because he wasn’t a man at all.

He was a manifestation or an avatar of God in the world,

  perhaps one of many sent time to time to visit us,

  who may have looked like a human being,

  who may have appeared to suffer in the world like a human being,

  but in reality was not, could not have been subject

  to physical exigencies like hunger and thirst and violence.

Who, or what, is Jesus of Nazareth?

A very religious man?

An avatar or manifestation of God, or one of the gods?

What do we believe about Jesus?


After his death, those who believed Jesus had risen from the dead

  had a lot of very interesting questions to think about.

If he was a man, then why were they worshiping him

  and calling him Lord,

  a title reserved in the Jewish tradition for God alone?

If he was God, or a god, could he really suffer like a man could,

  and die like a man does?

If he was God,

  then who was this ‘God’ he kept praying to and calling Father?

And if he was God, and he’s praying to a God, then are there two gods,

  and who’s this mysterious third ‘Holy Spirit’ he keeps talking about?


It took the Church a few hundred years to puzzle this out fully,

  and for the rest of the time

  we’ve been trying to hold on to the teaching.

It is this notion

  that Jesus is both God – the Son of the Father – from eternity

  and man, born in time of the Holy Spirit by the Virgin Mary,

  that is the subject of our thanksgiving today.

I’d say understanding,

  but there’s only so much understanding that can happen

  when you’re talking about the Trinity.

St. Anselm of Canterbury said, Credo ut intelligam,

  ‘I believe in order that I may understand,’

  but with the Trinity there’s only so far you can go.

Analogies are no good,

  as St. Patrick famously tried with the shamrock,

  likely confusing the Irish even more than they already were.


What does a Church do which can’t draw a picture of its god?

For we can’t draw a picture of the Holy Trinity.

I’ve even probably gone too far

  in putting that symbol on the cover of the bulletin today.

We can’t, or shouldn’t,

  put an old guy, a young guy, and a dove on an icon

  and say this is what God looks like

  when God is just sitting around in heaven doing nothing.


What does a Church do when it can’t draw a picture of its god?

It writes a creed.

We say, this is what we believe is, this is what we believe isn’t,

  and we try not to imagine more or less than we’ve been given.


The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God,

  and yet there are not three gods, but one god.

Jesus Christ is fully God from eternity and fully human in time

  and both of those statements are true –

  not just a very religious man, not an avatar of the divine-in-all-things,

  but the only Son of the Father taking on flesh for our sake.


But we are people who tell stories and who need imagery.

Neither the Athanasian Creed nor any creed satisfies us without context.

No one likes to hear this statement,

  ‘Believe this highly speculative set of propositions

    and you’ll be saved.’

Even if it is the first thing we hear in the Athanasian Creed.

But we can ‘see,’ we can ‘experience’ the Trinity

  in the stories of the life of Jesus,

as at his Baptism the Spirit alights upon him

  and the Father testifies to him,

as in the Garden of Gethsemane he prays earnestly to the Father,

  showing the communion of Spirit he has with his Father

  even in extremis;

as in the Upper Room after the Resurrection

  he bestows the Spirit on the disciples.


We can also ‘see’ the Trinity as we tell the story of the life of the Church.

In Romans Paul tells us that we have peace with God

  through our Lord Jesus Christ,

  and that we can boast of two things

  the hope of sharing God’s glory

  and in our sufferings.

The one is highly attractive, the other is not.

Who boasts about sufferings?

No one wants to have them,

  and if you do, it might be a sign

  that God’s not really looking after you that well.

Something might be wrong with you,

  or worse yet, something might be wrong with God.


But we suffer, as Jesus did in his life,

  from both the ‘normal’ sufferings of hunger, thirst, and violence

  and the specific sufferings of being God’s people

  in a world that wants no part of God.

If we find ourselves putting our hope, as Jesus did,

  in the promises of God rather than the false promises of the evil one,

  then we can have boast that we have assurance of faith

  far more than we could

  if our lives since baptism had been nothing but a bed of roses.

Under the attacks of the evil one,

  we rejoice because it is the Spirit of the Son and the Father

  that is sustaining us in our sufferings,

  keeping us sure of the Father’s love.

Because the Father was faithful to his Son in his sufferings,

  the Father will be faithful to Jesus’ sisters and brothers

  in their sufferings.


So the message is not ‘believe in this set of propositions,’

  but, ‘live in relationship with the God

  who is described and proscribed in this set of propositions,

  and you will be saved.’

And if you live in relationship with this God, you are being saved.

But if you have a different Jesus of Nazareth,

  not the Son of God who became like you for your salvation,

  but simply a very religious man

  or a manifestation of God

  for your ethical or esoteric insruction,

  then your salvation is still really all up to you, isn’t it?

That’s why those blessings and curses are in there,

  because the story we tell about Jesus matters.

It’s either a story about pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps

  and making ourselves more spiritual or ethical,

  or we ask our beloved brother Jesus to fulfill his promise,

  to ask the Father to send the Spirit to strengthen us and sustain us

  until all sufferings are at an end.

I think I know which story I want to be part of,

  and which story is going to have a happy ending.


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz III +

St Stephen Lutheran Church