I can almost guarantee that someone finished reading the Athanasian Creed with something stuck in their craw. The Creed speaks hard words. We began saying: “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.” And we finished with, “Whoever wishes to be saved must have this conviction of the Trinity.”
No doubt about it, those are hard words, and not simply because they’re hard to understand. And make no mistake about it, the words of the Athanasian Creed are hard to understand. I dare you to make heads or tails of “one God in three persons and three persons in one God, without mixing the persons or dividing the divine being” or “within this Trinity none comes before or after; none is greater or inferior, but all three persons are coequal and coeternal.”
Further, I dare you to say more than our confirmands did last week when I asked them, “How can God be one God in three persons and three persons in one God?” Do you remember what Eric answered? He said, essentially, “It’s a mystery.” Yet despite that we don’t call this Creed, or our other Trinitarian Creeds, the Apostles’ and Nicene, gobbledy-gook and gibberish. We recognize that our Creeds use human terms to try to describe the divine, to try to describe God. And those hard words of the Athanasian Creed are one of the ways we know this isn’t just gibberish and gobbledy-gook, political double-speak and equivocations. The formulator of the Creed said: “Now this is the true Christian faith.”
Leave it to God the true God. Even when He describes Himself to us, even when He reveals Himself to us, He teaches us that He’s God and we’re not. Would you, could you, devise a religion with a Triune God who is not three gods, but one God: a Father uncreated and unbegotten; a Son neither made, nor created, but begotten eternally from the Father; a Spirit neither made, nor created, nor begotten of anyone, but proceeding from both the Father and the Son. Would you imagine that? Could you conceive that?
Thus here, at the center of our faith, as we discover just who our God is, the God we confess, the God we believe in, the God we teach, we’re left with only faith. It must be believed without seeing. It must be trusted in because hoped for. Faith stands at the beginning, the middle, and the end of it all, as our Lutheran confessions note. As the apostle Paul first noted in Romans 5: “Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Through Jesus we have peace with God the Father. Through and by faith we see this Jesus; we see this access granted to us. Through Jesus and by faith we rejoice in hope. “Not only so,” Paul says, “but we also rejoice in our sufferings.”
A puzzling thing to say, a faith thing to say. Note what Paul doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “We rejoice to have troubles.” Troubles stink. Certainly we know, intellectually, that they’re useful, just as the winter workouts are useful for the summer sports season, or all that studying pays off at exam time. But still, they stink. They oppress us. They squeeze us. As Christians we know full well to expect troubles. “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says. “We must go through many hardships,” Paul preached. We suffer because we live in a sinful world. We suffer because we are Christians. And we can rejoice, Paul says, not because of the sufferings, but “in our sufferings,” that is, in the midst of the them. Even while we are suffering, we can rejoice. We can rejoice, maybe even a little bit because we’re suffering, because that suffering throws us back upon the mercy of God, a mercy that says, “You have peace with me not because of who you are, but through Jesus.”
It’s back to those opening words of Paul. Notice the key phrases: “justified through faith,” “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” “through whom we have gained access,” “by faith.” Paul goes out of his way here, as elsewhere, to say, “If you have any hope, any joy, any consolation, any confidence, any peace, it’s not because of you and who you are, it’s because of God and who He is! It’s faith and trust in God that gives you hope.”
Which is why “having this conviction of the Trinity” is so vital. As I said, those words of the Athanasian Creed demanding holding to the true Christian faith and this conviction of the Trinity aren’t merely hard because they’re hard to understand. They’re hard because we don’t want to understand them. We don’t want to be so exclusive. Because a lot of people don’t have this conviction of the Trinity. We want to leave our options open, you know, make room for Buddha or Allah or the cool mystical rites of the Eastern religion du jour. It seems hard to exclude other people of the Book, like Jews, when they read much of the same Bible that we do. So hard is it, that one of the top men in the Catholic Church said that they do not wish to speak about converting and evangelizing Jews. In other words, despite denying Jesus and rejecting Him as the Christ, Jews are just fine. And what about those others who call themselves Christian but have ditched the dogma of the Trinity? Isn’t there room for them? Aren’t we just splitting hairs? Can’t we wiggle a little?
But if we don’t have the Bible’s conviction of the Trinity, then we’re damned, Paul says. Here in Romans 5 he does it in an implicit and gentle manner. He rejects all denials of the Trinity by speaking in a thoroughly Trinitarian manner. He makes it clear that only knowing the True God, the Triune God gives you any hope. Because in knowing the true God, the Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, you have the hope that you are right with God and that you can survive in the not yet.
Being right with God is the goal of all human existence. Even the most godless seek it. We find it in the godless concept of karma and ying and yang – balancing out evil with good. Feng shui tries to find all the right forces and energies around us, to harness them. Of course, those ideas go off the rails, because they have no concept of God. In fact, in Eastern systems, you are god. You do the things that bring your karma into line, or keep ying and yang from fighting. You create the lines of energy in your home. You harmonize the universe, or at least your little corner. You, you, you.
But you’re always out of whack, always wondering why the universe is out to get you. “Why this tornado? Why that flood? Why this economic downturn? Why that terrible diagnosis? Why do these bad things happen to me? I’m a good person!” You’ll never be able to figure out when you’re on the right side of the universe, or if you are on the right side of the universe, without the true God.
All that’s left is to become some sort of dharma bum, just wandering the world, climbing mountains looking for wise men and gurus who can tell you the meaning of life. And it’s a never ending journey. There’s a reason no one can answer the question, “What is the meaning of life?” In the words my Dad has shared with forty years of grade schoolers, without the true God, the answer to every question is, “Because ice cream has no bones,” and without the true God, there’s only this: “Life is tough and then you die.” Hopeless. Meaningless. Depressing. Damning. Because without God, without Christ, you “will certainly perish forever.”
The only answer is to “have this conviction of the Trinity.” And while you might find Athanasius’ words harsh and hard, Paul’s are glorious: “We have peace with God.” “We have gained access…into this grace.” “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” “Hope does not disappoint us.” Because Paul teaches us this conviction of the Trinity. Paul teaches us about being right with God. And it’s those phrases again: “justified through faith,” “through our Lord Jesus Christ,” “by faith.”
And one other phrase: “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the holy Spirit.” That verb, “poured out,” is key. It’s the same verb Jesus used on the night He was betrayed: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Jesus gave, and still gives, His blood for you and to you. His holy, precious blood, He poured out on the cross, and pours out in this meal and it’s a covenant, a treaty, a last will and testament that says, “I have made peace between you and God.” And God says, “I agree.” More than that, God declares us just, holy, righteous. Through faith in that poured out blood of Christ, God says it’s just as if you’d never sinned. Though you do sin and continue to sin, by faith, God doesn’t count it against you anymore. He pours upon you Christ.
Not just at the Lord’s table, of course. This morning God poured out this blood, gloriously gowning Brynn in the atoning blood of Christ through Baptism, in which “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”
And all this carries us, all of us, Brynn, her parents, you, me, the whole Christian Church on earth, through the great not yet of suffering and perseverance. Because we have hope. We have the hope that doesn’t disappoint. We have the hope that comes from knowing, not just intellectually, having an awareness, but knowing by faith, with faith, believing, trusting in the one, true God, the triune God: the Father who poured out His love as He reconciled you to Himself; the Son who reconciled you to the Father by pouring out His blood on the cross; and the Spirit who poured out this love of Father and Son upon you in the gift of faith, which is the gift of hope, hope that’s sure because it’s hope through faith, in Christ.
And so we rejoice in our sufferings, because the Triune God gives us hope, hope of a resurrection through the poured out blood of Christ, hope of eternal life at the wedding feast of the Lamb through our Lord Jesus Christ. Holding to the true Christian faith, you have peace with God, peace through Jesus. Amen!