St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Canon Claude Schroeder
It was the spring of 1996, 22 years ago, that I experienced my first theological crisis as an Anglican priest. The trauma of that event is still with me. I was serving a small rural community in Alberta’s Peace River Country, and was driving down the highway one afternoon with my eldest son, who was three at the time, strapped in the child seat in the back of the car.
It was dead quiet, and then it happened. All of a sudden a voice called to me, “Dad, who is God?”
The Preacher’s Kid had heard his Dad talking about God, and now wanted to know, “Who exactly are you talking about?”
This was my crisis. For moment I didn’t know what to say.
My mind started to race. I thought to myself, “lf I can’t I tell my son who God is, when I get home and I will have no choice but to send my theology degree back to Oxford University, and tell them they made a terrible mistake in graduating me. I’ve got the degree, but don’t know who God is. Then I will have to write a letter of resignation to the Bishop, and tell him he made an even worse mistake in laying hands on me. I have the episcopal letters of ordination, but i don’t know who God is.”
There are worse places for a priest to have a theological crisis that driving down the highway at 110 kmh, the pulpit being one of them. But at that moment, i feared for myself and my future, and started to panic.
Is there any more pressing and important question for a person to have and to answer for than “Who is God?“ What would you have said?
After what seemed like an eternity I was given to me to say something that i only attribute to the illumination of the Holy Spirit, “Nicholas, God is the Father of Jesus,” and at that moment, the fear and panic left me, and the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit entered my heart.
Turns out it doesn’t take three years of theological study to know that God is the Father of Jesus.
All it takes is for us to pay attention to the words of the liturgy. And as St Paul wrote in our second lesson, all it takes is for the Holy Spirit to lead us to that place where we cry out with heart and all your voice, “Abba! Father!”
This is how Jesus addressed God. You recall how on the night that Jesus was betrayed into the hands of those who would crucify Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Father if this cup pass from me, nevertheless not my will but yours be done.” And on the Cross with his dying breath Jesus prayed, ”Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
Who is God? God is the Father of Jesus Christ.
In that moment when we cry out, “Abba Father” we not only know who God is, but we know who we are. As St. Paul writes, “It is the very spirit of God bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ if in fact we suffer with him so that we may be also glorified with him.”
Did Paul just say suffer with Him? You heard right. There is no account of the Christian life that does not involve suffering. We are not just talking here about suffering persecution and ridicule on account of your faith in Christ. The suffering that Paul has in mind is the suffering that comes from loving, and the suffering that athletes experience in the course of their training, whereby they do not gratify their senses, according to the motto, “if it feels go, do it!” No, the Christian, like the athlete, disciplines their body in the pursuit of a higher goal than the pleasure of the moment.
As Paul writes, “lf you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit of God you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.“ If what Paul writes here is true, life in its fullness is something that we do not yet have, even though our hearts are beating and our lungs are breathing. Life is something we receive when we put to death our self-centredness, and centre ourselves on God and neighbour. But at the end of the day, this is not something that we can fully accomplish. It is something that God has to accomplish in us, and He will do it in and through our death through which we are re-born into life. “What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of Spirit is Spirit.” It is this rebirth into life through death that is prefigured for us sacramentally in the service of Holy Baptism.
Well, today is Trinity Sunday and we have reached an important turning point in our church calendar. Up to this point in our Sunday services at St. Mary’s we have been rehearsing the saving events of the birth, the baptism, the miraculous manifestation, the temptation, the suffering, the death, the resurrection, the ascension of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit.
The question today is, “In light of all that we have witnessed in and through Jesus, what does this tell us about who God is?” To go back to the fundamental question of human existence.
God is the Father ofJesus.
But if God is the Father ofJesus, what does that make Jesus? It makes Jesus the Son of God.
But in what sense. Son of God? In the Bible Adam was referred to as the son of God, as was the King of lsrael, and the people of Israel. Well, it took the Church about 300 years to find the language to describe in what sense is Jesus Son of God.
It’s what we rehearse every Sunday in the Nicene Creed.
“Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made.”
You see in this formulation of the Fathers that we understand that the One who was lifted up and crucified for us on the Cross, was not just a human being, but was the eternal Son of God, who was co-equal to the Father. Just as when a rod of iron is thrust into the fire, and remains a rod of iron, but is known by the qualities of fire, so it is with Jesus. On the Cross Jesus was thrust into the all consuming fire of the love of God. He remains a human being, but is now known by the qualities of Divinity, so that whatever we say of God, we apply it to Jesus.
As Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. ( 1 Cor. 6. 5,6).
We know of no other God than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And we have no other way of speaking of Him, apart from the way He is spoken of in Scripture.
So when Isaiah declares, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts!” Who is the Lord of hosts, the commander of the angel armies?”
It was Jesus, and we fall down before Him in worship.
Well, now what about the Holy Spirit? ln order to do justice to the words of the Scripture, the Fathers of the Church declared in the Creed that Holy Spirit together with the Father and Son is to be worshipped and glorified, as God, as One Divine Power.
When you and I are lying in the dust of death in our graves, who is it what will raise us to Life? It will be the One who raised Jesus to Life, the Holy Spirit, who is the Lord, the giver of Life.
That my friends is what we call the Doctrine of the Trinity.
You will sometimes hear people say, If the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, how can there be one God? Sounds a lot like three gods to me! Are you not trying to pound a square peg into a round hole?
To which the preacher might say, “It’s a mystery. Just take it on faith and believe it.”
Now, l’m sorry but that’s not good enough. God has commanded us to love Him with all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our minds. In other words we have to think, and what we have to think about is which God we are talking about, and how we are talking about Him. Christians are often very sloppy in their thinking and in their speaking about God. lf in the Christian life we not only have to discipline our bodies, we also have to discipline our minds, and discipline our tongues, which is why Sunday after Sunday the Church insists we recite the Nicene Creed.
We believe in one God, not three gods but One, who is the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
But the One God who is the Father is never without His only Begotten Son, and never without the Holy Spirit who share in the being, the Divinity of the God the Father. So we speak of One Divine Power known in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
This is the grammar, the rule of language that governs the Christian faith. So the Trinity is a not mystery. it is simplicity itself.
What is the mystery?
The mystery is our salvation which Jesus declared when He said that “God so loved the World that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him, Jesus, may not perish but may have eternal life…” through the Holy Spirit whereby we cry out to God, “Abba, Father!” and so become the Body of the Son of God here on earth.
This is the mystery hidden from the ages which has now been revealed and uncovered to us in bread and wine, things we can see, and touch, and taste! This morning as we partake of these holy mysteries, whereby God cleanses, nourishes, and preserves our bodies and souls unto eternal life, let us offer our high thanks to praise to God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.