We're All in This Together
Topic: Biblical Verse: Acts 2:14a–2:22-36
The Festival of the Holy Trinity
June 14-15, 2014
Acts 2:14a, 22-36
“We’re All in This Together”
Here in the sanctuary, the suspended cross above the altar, together with the two plaques, are a silent but visible witness to the Triune God whom we worship and serve: the Father’s hand of blessing, the cross of the Son, and the descending Holy Spirit. These are a memorial given by William and Louise Buerhle in memory of their daughter, Karen, who died in 1971 at age ten. Originally, there was only the suspended cross above the altar, but the gifts given in memory of this little girl led to collaboration with an artist who created the two wall plaques, which were dedicated in 1972. Ever since then, they have pointed us to the Triune God whom we worship and serve. A collective but silent sigh goes up from God’s people when they arrive for worship on this day and learn that today is the one day out of the year when we use the Athanasian Creed as our profession of faith. “Isn’t that the really long creed?” And the answer is yes – it is indeed very long, much longer than the other two and more familiar creeds. The very word “creed” comes from the Latin, credo, meaning “I believe. It is a statement of faith that has stood the test of time. We know the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, as we use these regularly in worship on a weekly basis. The Apostles’ Creed has its origins as a profession of faith given in Holy Baptism and is still used for that purpose today. The Nicene Creed spells out more the Person and work of Jesus Christ, and is used in worship when we celebrate Holy Communion, in which Christ comes to us under bread and wine, giving us his true Body and Blood. But the Athanasian Creed? It is named after St. Athanasius (296 – 373 A.D.) of Alexandria – not this one here in northern Virginia, but the original Alexandria in Egypt. Athanasius was a champion in his day of Biblical teaching on the Trinity as well as the Person and work of Christ, over against the Arian controversy. Though attributed to Athanasius, a strong opponent of Arius, this anonymous creed clearly came at a later stage in the debate. The very length of this creed that bears Athanasius’ name can be off-putting, and it seems to repeat itself so much. And yet, this Athanasian Creed is a clear exposition on what is a central belief of our Christian faith, and that is the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Together, they are all in this together, and by the grace of God, so are we. That’s the theme for today’s message: “We’re All in This Together.” Today’s message will weave in that Athanasian Creed in three distinct parts: 1) Introduction, 2) Descriptors, and 3) Jesus. I invite you to take up your hymnal, the Lutheran Book of Worship, and turn in the front part to pages 54-55. Let’s begin!
Part 1- Introduction. Please join me in confessing together what I call the “Introduction” to the Athanasian Creed (through “and so is the Holy Spirit” midway down left column on p. 54). The word “catholic” here is the original meaning of the word, which is “universal.” It is small “c” catholic, not large “C,” which refers to the Roman Catholic church. Central to the universal, catholic Christian Church is the belief in one God in three Persons, “equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.” As the introductory paragraph in today’s worship bulletin states, the word “trinity” is not found in Scripture. It comes from the Latin, trinitas, and simply means “three.” Though the word itself is not in Scripture, what it describes most assuredly rooted and grounded in the revealed Word of God that is holy Scripture. And so all three Persons of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- are all in this together. And we, by the grace of God, are all in this together as we worship that Triune God in spirit and in truth.
Part 2 – Descriptors. Please join me in confessing together what I call “Descriptors” of our Triune God in the Athanasian Creed(through “Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity” two-thirds of the way down in right column on p. 54). Look at the words used to describe our Triune God here: uncreated, infinite, eternal and almighty. These are everything that we as human beings are not. In contrast to what Father, Son and Holy Spirit are, we are created, finite, mortal and limited. Each Person of the Godhead is what the others are, “And yet there are not three gods, but one God.” Over against the world around us that urges us to compromise the truth of who God is, “Christian truth compels us to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord.” This confession of belief in the Triune God may well be met with ambivalence at best and hostility at worst. People may tell us, “That’s ridiculous! You either have one God or you have three. How can you have three in one? It doesn’t make any sense!” And this would “most certainly be true,” from a created, finite, mortal and limited perspective. Let us continue to walk by faith, holding fast the truth of our confession of faith. Notice what this part of the Athanasian Creed says about each Person of the Trinity: “The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten,” the Son was neither made nor created, but was alone begotten of the Father; the Spirit was neither made nor created, but is proceeding from the Father and the Son.” And so all three Persons of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- are all in this together. And we, by the grace of God, are all in this together as we worship that Triune God in spirit and in truth.
Part 3 – Jesus Christ. Please join me in confessing together what I call the Person and work of “Jesus Christ” in the Athanasian Creed(through the end of the creed at the bottom of right column on p. 55). The truth of our confession of the Triune God is always under attack. In Athanasius’ day, it was Arianism that took center stage. Early in the fourth century, a new teaching – a false teaching – appeared which claimed that Jesus was not true God. Arius, the north African priest who first proposed this theory, was extremely persuasive, and soon the controversy was so widespread that a church council was called to settle the matter. Out of that meeting in A.D. 325 came the Nicene Creed, which clearly confesses Jesus to be true God. That creed, which was expanded in A.D. 381 in order to defend the divinity of the Holy Spirit, is still widely used today as a confession of the triune faith. Despite the clarity of the Nicene Creed, the Arian controversy continued for more than another century. Toward the end of the fifth century, another creed was written that marveled at the mystery of the Trinity in a way that no creed had ever done. Still today, not everyone – even those within the Church – will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. They will confess that he was a very good man, a marvelous teacher, an example for all to follow. But is Jesus true God and true man who came into the flesh, to suffer and die as payment for our sins, and who rose again in triumph over death and hell? There are many who will not make this confession. The Athanasian Creed proclaims that its teachings concerning the Holy Trinity and our Lord’s incarnation are the catholic, universal Christain faith. This is what the true church of all times and all places has confessed and will, by the grace of God, continue to confess. This ancient and very long confession of faith that is the Athanasian Creed is still very much needed in our life together today. And so all three Persons of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- are all in this together. And we, by the grace of God, are all in this together as we worship that Triune God in spirit and in truth.
With the psalmist, we say: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – in all the earth!” Amen.