June 16, 2019
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On a cloudy night with a new moon, three men are moving slowly across the equatorial plain. It's also raining steadily, but there's no lightning. They suddenly encounter an obstacle. They stop and take stock. They can't hear much and can see even less, so they'll feel around this roadblock.
The first man feels around and finds a sloped, strangely bumpy wall. The second man feels around and grabs what he thinks is a snake. The third man feels around and thinks he's found a big leaf.
What had they found?
This story from India, first recorded in a Buddhist text around 500 BC, was meant to say that no one can really know what the world is really like. Everyone has their own experience of reality, so don't get mad when someone else's experience is different than yours.
We'd agree with the not getting mad bit, and with the truth that your own senses will deceive you and can only give you an incomplete picture of reality.
What is missed is that the elephant can talk.
Our huge and otherly God, the God who lives and talks, tells us who He is. Our creeds, which is how we, who used to be the men in the dark, agree with God. He speaks about who He is, and we say it back to Him.
This is what is happening with Nicodemus and Jesus. Nicodemus was in the dark, and Jesus told him who God is, and it's Him! It's the Spirit blowing where He pleases according to His promised baptism, it's the Father sending His only-begotten Son to save the world, and it's the Son who loves the Father and loves to do what He wants done.
This unity in three Persons—Father, Son, Spirit—speaks forth living seeing people—believers—whose personal deeds are declared good and just in God's all-seeing sight according to the work and merit of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection.
Let us confess the Athanasian Creed and hear the Church talk back to our talking God.
This creed is named after St. Athanasius, a staunch defender of the Christian faith in the fourth century. It was prepared to assist the Church in combating two errors that undermined Bible teaching. One error denied that God’s Son and the Holy Spirit are of one being or Godhead with the Father. The other error denied that Jesus Christ is true God and true man in one person. The Athanasian Creed continues to serve the Christian Church as a standard of the truth. It declares that whoever rejects the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of Christ is without the saving faith.
Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all else, hold to the true Christian faith. Whoever does not keep this faith pure in all points will certainly perish forever.
Now this is the true Christian faith: We worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God, without mixing the persons or dividing the divine being. For each person—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—is distinct, but the deity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory and coeternal in majesty. What the Father is, so is the Son, and so is the Holy Spirit. The Father is uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Spirit uncreated; the Father is infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Spirit infinite; the Father is eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal; yet they are not three who are eternal, but there is one who is eternal, just as they are not three who are uncreated, nor three who are infinite, but there is one who is uncreated and one who is infinite. In the same way the Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, and the Holy Spirit is almighty; yet they are not three who are almighty, but there is one who is almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord; yet they are not three Lords, but one Lord. For just as Christian truth compels us to confess each person individually to be God and Lord, so the true Christian faith forbids us to speak of three Gods or three Lords. The Father is neither made nor created nor begotten of anyone. The Son is neither made nor created, but is begotten of the Father alone. The Holy Spirit is neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeds from the Father and the Son. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And within this Trinity none comes before or after; none is greater or inferior, but all three persons are coequal and coeternal, so that in every way, as stated before, all three persons are to be worshiped as one God and one God worshiped as three persons. Whoever wishes to be saved must have this conviction of the Trinity.
It is furthermore necessary for eternal salvation truly to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ also took on human flesh. Now this is the true Christian faith: We believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is both God and man. He is God, eternally begotten from the nature of the Father, and he is man, born in time from the nature of his mother, fully God, fully man, with rational soul and human flesh, equal to the Father as to his deity, less than the Father as to his humanity; and though he is both God and Man, Christ is not two persons but one, one, not by changing the deity into flesh, but by taking the humanity into God; one, indeed, not by mixture of the natures, but by unity in one person; for just as the rational soul and flesh are one human being, so God and man are one Christ. He suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty, and from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. At his coming all people will rise with their own bodies to answer for their personal deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire.
This is the true Christian faith. Whoever does not faithfully and firmly believe this cannot be saved.
* Painting: Christ Instructing Nicodemus, Crijn Hendricksz, 1604