Sermon – June 6, 2004

One of the deacons in my church in Texas was approached by someone wondering about the faith one day, and he asked him, “Frank, what is it exactly that you believe?” Now, Frank was not often posed that question and he stood for a minute, a little flustered, and then he began to recite the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ his son, our Lord. . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting.” What Frank did when that young man posed the question was to state what he knew, as best he could, about God.

When we say we believe in something, when we proclaim our faith, it is a faith a belief, however incomplete, of the radical other, of God. A confession of faith is a confession in, toward, about something. So, Frank asked me, “was that a good response?” And I said that was perfect response, because once we have stated what we believe about God, then we can go from there to what, then, are the consequences of that understanding.

Today is Trinity Sunday in the church, a day set aside each year, for consideration exclusively of the Trinitarian nature of God. We are challenged, this day, to view that understanding in its completeness, and that is no small task.

This notion of the Trinity, best expressed in the Creed, is simply a way for us to give voice to our faith. Too often I have heard the criticism that the creed is a man-made confession. Well, of course it is. We are given faith, and then called to articulate it and understand it, and together, under the guidance of the spirit we have come up with this way to describe how God has been active through all things, through the present moment, and how God will act in the future. I believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Just as an aside, people may imagine that his sort of formulation was conjured up in some ivory tower somewhere, but it seems the process worked the other way around. Believers and worshippers were driven by their experience of God’s activity, to the awareness that God relates in several ways to creation. It’s like the old explanation that I am simultaneously Father, Son and husband, yet remain one man. The expression of the Trinity is a human attempt to use our words to define God,but none are adequate. Nevertheless, we hold to this and believe it and we accept it.

but the confession of faith is more than a didactic exercise. It is a confession that bends us to so what, and that so what, is, finally, hope. That hope is made real for us through God’s multiple expressions of the divine. Recently many of you participated in the community Relay for Life. The subtitle for the project was “a celebration of hope.” Our hope is bound up in God practicing God’s steadfastness and love and purpose in all ways in our life, and the Relay for Life is a marvelous example. The God declares creation good and does not rescind that declaration no matter what the circumstances that befall us. And this unwavering dedication of God that creation is a good thing which God approves sustains us when creation looks not so good to us. I believe in God the father, Creator of heaven and earth. Bound up in this confession is the recognition that God’s urgent love has come to us uniquely in Jesus Christ, in the incarnation of God in flesh. Jesus says, if you have seen me, you have seen the Father, so we see God’s declaration of the goodness of creation made real in his son, for our understanding. But also, friends, so that God would know in a personal and intimate and human way those things which bear upon us, fear and suffering and challenge. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. And, that we might be sustained, that our faith might be strengthened, that our community might be held together, that our hope might reach forward beyond the moment, come what may, God sends the Holy Spirit, the advocate, the helper to bind us to him. So our faith and unity and hope would prevail over all the challenges that would say God got it wrong. God in all these dimensions are given as gift so that nothing can come between us and divine love. Who we believe God is has everything to do with who we are.

This is the weekend in the congregation when we confirm the young people who have been instructed in the faith. Eight youth this weekend will affirm their baptisms, lay claim to these promises, in the rite of confirmation. They will do so nervously, standing before the congregation saying, “this I believe . .in God the Father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit.”

Now, this reaches far beyond a rite of passage or completion of a task. Instead, it is a sign upon the road that these young people recognize and will navigate by that says “because God is in my life, because I accept that power and promise, I may live from this day in purpose and hope.” Today, say these young people, I will live in hope and purpose because of who God is and who God is not.

Who God is not, is a puppet on the end of our string, a prop in our private dramas. Not a one-dimensional God created to fulfill our fantasies. No, this God is a gift to assure and confirm in us who have been marked by the cross of Christ in baptism is the same God that loves God’s people, liberates them from bondage and sin, equips them with faith and passion, and calls us to God’s side, a journey of truth and wholeness and hope and joy.

Confirmation for these young people, or for those of us further along the journey, is no guarantee, however, that this solves the mystery. It is our God-talk, expressing as best we can understand, God’s nature, but directs us, I hope, to the understanding that God reserves some mystery, not to thwart or confounds, but because some things are beyond our understanding.

The spiritual writer, Henry Nouwen, says, “education in ministry is an education not to master God, but to be mastered by God.” To be mastered by God is to live in God’s declaration that God creation, including you and me, is good. To be mastered by God is to give over to God the prerogative to love us beyond our understanding, to see us, flawed as we are as lovable, indeed as the true object of God’s passion. To be mastered by God is to see God’s true nature reflected in Christ and to follow what he teaches about love and compassion, about unity and justice, about hope and healing, about humility and joy. To be mastered by God is to defer to God’s wisdom in our lives as revealed by Christ. And to be mastered by God is to be open to the Spirit, even as we think we’ve come to all the proper conclusions, to be aware that the Spirit of God is beyond our understanding, but not beyond our need. Not to master God, but to be mastered by God’s creative, sustaining and redeeming power is indeed the goal of faith. And that means we accept the mystery

There is a story from Jewish folklore about two young brothers who had lived in the city behind great stone walls and never saw field nor meadow. But one day they decided to pay a visit to the country.

As they went walking along the road they saw a farmer at his plowing. They watched him and were puzzled.

“What on earth is he doing that for!” they wondered. “He turns up the earth and leaves deep furrows in it. Why should someone take a smooth piece of land covered with nice green grass and dig it up?”

Later they watched the farmer sowing grains of wheat along the furrows.

“That man must be crazy!” they exclaimed. “He takes good wheat and throws it into the dirt.”

“I don’t like the country!” said one in disgust. “Only crazy people live here.”

So he returned to the city.

His brother who remained in the country saw a change take place only several weeks later. The plowed field began to sprout tender green shoots, even more beautiful and fresher than before. This discovery excited him very much. So he wrote to his brother in the city to come at once and see for himself the wonderful change.

His brother came and was delighted with what he saw. As time passed they watched the sproutings grow into golden heads of wheat. Now they both understood the purpose of the farmer’s work.

When the wheat became ripe the farmer brought his scythe and began to cut it down. At this the impatient one of the two brothers exclaimed: “The farmer is crazy! He’s insane! How hard he worked all these months to produce this lovely wheat, and now with his own hands he is cutting it down! I’m disgusted with such an idiot and I’m going back to the city!”

His brother, the patient one, held his peace and remained in the country. He watched the farmer gather the wheat into his granary. He saw him skillfully separate the grain from the chaff. He was filled with wonder when he found that the farmer had harvested a hundred-fold of the seed that he had sowed. Then he understood that there was logic in everything that the farmer had done.

The moral of the story: Mortals see only the beginning of any of God’s works. Therefore they cannot understand the nature and the end of creation.

The day may come when we understand the Triune God as fully as we understand the life-cycle of wheat, but for now, such understanding seems to be too much for us to bear.

Until then, God has given us through the word, the community, that which we can know. God has given us this gift of understanding and hope, so that through all the challenges to the goodness of Creation, through all the fear and suffering and struggle we face, for all the doubt that may visit us, God has given us this hope, through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.