Sunday, June 25, 2006

2 Corinthians 6:1-3 - “Augsburg Words”

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
Thursday, June 22, and Sunday, June 25, 2006

I’d like you to take a look at the picture on the front of your bulletins. It’s a fresco, a wall painting, depicting the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession on June 25, 1530. As we’ve already seen in today’s worship service, this is a major moment in Lutheran history and in the history of Christian Church as those who followed Martin Luther’s interpretation of Scripture had come together to submit this Confession, this document outlining their teachings.

Looking at the picture, you see the Lutherans giving their Confession to the man on the throne, that’s Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. They’re at the Diet of Augsburg. A diet is a formal assembly that debates an issue.

What might not be clear from this painting is that Martin Luther himself was not at Augsburg. Since 1521, Luther had been in hiding or at least staying in certain German territories where the princes would protect him, because 1521 was the year that the pope declared that Luther was a heretic, excommunicated him from the church, and issued a death warrant. Nine years later for the Diet of Augsburg, it still wasn’t safe for Luther to appear in public, so others had to present the Augsburg Confession based so much on what Luther had been teaching about the Bible.

Our worship service today has used many words from the Augsburg Confession reminding us of how this document teaches what God’s Word says. However, besides just looking at the Confession itself, which was actually the subject of our sermons this past Lenten season, I thought on this 476th anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession that it would help to look at what Martin Luther said about the event.

You see, Luther couldn’t be at Augsburg in person, but that didn’t keep him from trying to influence the outcome, trying to lead from a distance, through his writing.

So, then, you’ve got two quotes from Luther’s writings sent to Augsburg. Let’s take a look at these Augsburg Words as reminders of what it means to confess our faith in Jesus, to stand up in front of the world and tell everyone what we believe.

First, you have a quote from Luther’s “Exhortation to All Clergy Assembled at Augsburg.” This was a longer essay that Luther sent to a printer in Augsburg; it was published in June 1530. The Diet of Augsburg wasn’t just Emperor Charles and a few Lutherans. This was a huge meeting with clergy coming from all around. The clergy who came were both Roman Catholic and followers of Luther. Luther’s “Exhortation” is written as a way to reach out to all of the clergy, encouraging the Lutherans but also trying to win over some of the Roman priests.

The quote we have here is from early in the letter. Luther says:

The reason for this is that my conscience drives me to entreat, implore, and admonish you all in a friendly and cordial way not to let this diet slip by or use it in vain. For God gives you grace, opportunity, time, and cause through our most gracious Emperor Charles to do and accomplish much and great good through this diet, if you only want to. He now certainly speaks as St. Paul says, II Corinthians 6[:1–3], “We entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.’ Behold, now is an acceptable time and a day of salvation,” for you above all. We see and hear how the hearts of all people watch and wait upon this diet with great expectation that good will come of it. (Luther's Works, vol. 34 : Career of the Reformer IV)

Luther is saying use this diet: use this assembly, use this time for good. Use it to study, discover, and proclaim God’s truth. Luther probably didn’t really think that Emperor Charles was going to change his mind; the Emperor couldn’t dare go against the Pope. However, Luther is saying that if Charles is going to gather everyone together, well, then God’s going to use this situation. Luther is trusting that God is going to work His grace through the Diet of Augsburg.

God will work through situations that don’t seem so good, and He will make sure that His truth is heard through those situations.

The cards were stacked against the Lutherans. It seemed like the Diet of Augsburg was just another opportunity for the Emperor and the Pope to condemn the Lutherans. What good could come out of that?

But Luther is reminding the clergy in his “Exhortation” that God will use this opportunity to shine the light on the truth of the Gospel. Even if the Emperor isn’t convinced, the world spotlight was on what the Lutherans were saying at Augsburg. Other people were going to hear the Confession, were going to hear the true teachings from Scripture, and God could use that to help others know the wonderful truth of salvation through faith in Jesus, a salvation through faith alone and not by works. It wasn’t the situation the Lutherans would’ve picked, but Luther is convinced God will use it for good.

Same thing in our lives: they are times when we’re called on to speak God’s truth in situations that don’t seem ideal. I remember going to a coffee shop once to do some work. It was during Lent. As I was sitting there, the owner and a customer were having a rather loud conversation that cut down the Church, Christianity, and the tradition of Lent. After awhile, the one guy asked what I was working on. My gut reaction was: this conversation isn’t going to go so well.

I told him that actually I was a Christian pastor and I was typing a sermon for an upcoming Lenten service. Rather than immediately shooting me down, he seemed a little surprised and curious. We talked about the Church and Christianity a little bit, and while I don’t think I convinced him of much that day, I trusted that God was going to use that situation for good. To me it didn’t look like there was going to be much point in confessing my faith, in speaking clearly about believing in Jesus in that coffee shop that day, but apparently God saw something else. He created the opportunity for me to speak; He gave me the words to say; He is in charge of the outcome.

So that’s the first thing to take away from these Augsburg Words: the next time you’re in a situation where you couldn’t possibly imagine any good coming from you admitting your Christian faith, trust that God created the opportunity and will use it for good.

And just in case the clergy forgot, Luther points out the ultimate good that God is trying to bring about through a situation like that: the day of salvation for all people. For the Lutherans at Augsburg and for us at the coffee shop or wherever, God wants to speak His Word so that when the Lord returns, it will be a day of salvation for many people. He wants to use us in any situation to help others look to Jesus for hope, forgiveness, and salvation.

Well, those are some Augsburg Words that the clergy read before June 25, but our next quote comes from a letter dated July 9, 1530. It’s just over two weeks since the Lutherans presented their Confession to the Emperor, and they’ve stayed in Augsburg as the meetings continue. Luther is chomping at the bit, so to speak, hardly able to keep himself where he is in Coburg, because he wants to know what’s happening, wants to be there to defend the faith.

So Luther writes to his friend, Justus Jonas, a layman who was part of the Lutheran delegation at Augsburg. Jonas was instrumental in helping to write the Augsburg Confession.

Luther writes to Jonas saying:

For, first of all, and this is most important, Christ has been proclaimed through this public, glorious confession, and has been affirmed in bright daylight and in the very presence of these, [his opponents,] so that they may not boast that we have run away, have been afraid, or have hidden our faith. I only envy you this opportunity, for I could not be present at this [time when] the beautiful confession [was presented]. (Luther's works, vol. 49 : Letters II)

Again, Luther is emphasizing that the good of the situation has come about because God gave them an opportunity to clearly speak the true faith according to the Scriptures. There may have been many in the room that were against the Lutherans; they may have been at an assembly arranged by an emperor who was against them; but God used it for good, because the true faith was heard loud and clear in what the Lutherans said.

Luther seems to be encouraging Jonas to continue in what they were doing at Augsburg, saying that at least no one could accuse them of running away, being afraid, or hiding what they were teaching. It would’ve been far easier to avoid the controversy; it would’ve been far easier for the Lutherans to simply agree with the Pope and then secretly teach something different.

However, Luther is saying that it is better that they weren’t hiding what they believed, taught, and confessed.

It would’ve been easier for the Lutherans to run and hide back in 1530, and it would be easier for you Lutherans to run and hide in 2006. Perhaps you can think of times when you did hide your faith, when you did run away from an opportunity to speak God’s truth. I think of a time when I tried to hide in my first week at the Seminary in St. Louis.

I had just gotten to campus and started to meet some of the other first-year students. A group of us decided to spend a Saturday night downtown at a Blues Festival. Being a new seminarian, I was OK if no one figured out where we went to school. I just wasn’t sure if I was ready to have conversations with everyone I met that yes, I was at the Seminary, yes, I was going to be a pastor, and yes, that means I believe in Jesus Christ. So I was OK to keep my faith on the downlow. I didn’t think of it as hiding; I just thought, “Aw, no one needs to know.”

Well, one of my new friends thought differently, in fact, he thought a lot more like a witness of Christ. His name is Chris, and instead of hiding his faith, he looked for every and any opportunity to talk to people about Jesus. He was never rude about it; he actually had a great way at making people feel at ease and open up and talk to him about their beliefs. You couldn’t meet Chris without knowing that he truly believed in Jesus.

I remember standing waiting for the subway, and trying to slink away as Chris started up another conversation with someone about Jesus. Of course, Chris wasn’t going to let me hide, as he gestured to our little group saying, “Yeah, we all go to Concordia Seminary and are studying to be pastors. We’re all Christians.”

That person on the train platform could’ve very well have pointed to me and said, “Even he’s a Christian? It kind of looks like he’s trying to hide.”

We’ve all tried to hide our faith; we’ve all tried to avoid talking to people about Jesus or church. But Luther says he envies the opportunity that Jonas had to boldly confess the faith at Augsburg. That’s a little hard for us to imagine: being sad about not being at a very difficult, tense assembly where you are outnumbered but still have to say what you believe. Yet, that’s exactly what Luther is saying: he was sad that he couldn’t be there.

We might get nervous about the crowd of people, we might get nervous about having the right words, we might get nervous about making people mad or getting into trouble or what our hair looks like. We might think of lots of reasons we wouldn’t want to be in a situation where we had to tell lots of people about our faith, or even a situation where we had to tell one person about our faith.

But you see, when Luther said he wished he could’ve been there at Augsburg, he wasn’t focused on what people were going to think of him. He was thinking about what it meant to have the opportunity to tell other people about Jesus, to tell anyone who would listen that Jesus gives us salvation.

Someone, actually probably many people didn’t hide their faith from you. Someone, actually probably many people have told you about their faith in Jesus, so that you would know that the day of salvation will come for you as well, so that you would know that Jesus died on the cross to pay for all of your sins, so that you would know that Jesus rose again from the dead to give you life after death. Think of all of the people that showed you their faith, how God used them to teach you, encourage you, and strengthen you in your faith. Rejoice that those people didn’t run away or hide, and then let us follow their example.

That’s what you can take away from these Augsburg Words: rejoicing in the fact that God will give you opportunities to tell someone about Jesus. In these Augsburg Words, we’ve been reminded of our sins, of how we hide our faith, but you’ve been forgiven for those times. The forgiveness of Jesus washes away those sins, and now the joy of forgiveness leads you forward to try again. These Augsburg Words ultimately are encouraging us to rejoice in the times when God can use us to share His Word, encouraging us to see those times as gifts from God. God will help you to stay instead of running, to speak instead of remaining silent, to appear instead of hiding, and in the end, no matter what kind of situation you find yourself in, God can use it for good, as a time when someone else will get to hear about His great, glorious, wondrous, gracious love in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 - “Is That Still Broken?”

Pentecost 2 (Year B - LCMS Readings)
Thursday, June 15, and Sunday, June 18, 2006

It’s been six years since I preached my first sermon here at Redeemer. It was in 2000 on this liturgical date—the Second Sunday after Pentecost. And I remember being puzzled by this light switch in the pulpit. I turned it on and off a couple of times, nothing happened. Over time, I realized that it was a broken switch, or a dead switch. Six years later, is that light switch still broken? Yep. It still doesn’t do anything, although I found out that it used to turn on the pulpit spotlight. We’ve got that fancy control panel back there now, so we don’t need this switch. If you don’t mind, I’m just going to get rid of the switch. (use drill to unscrew switch, pull out the switch to show everyone)

It’s still a broken switch, a dead switch, but it’s a good reminder of what I said to this congregation in my first sermon six years ago. I was preaching on this same text, the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 4, where Paul is talking about keeping this treasure in jars of clay, in other words, God puts the Gospel in us. In that sermon, I said:

I turn to look at you—jars of clay, one and all. You before me are a dying crowd. There is brokenness here, sinfulness, disease, decay. You are under the persecution of Satan for your faith; you are wearing the cross of Christ.

Apparently I wasn’t looking to make many friends with that first sermon—calling you a dying crowd. Although, I did go on and also say:

I see life in this broken vessel. I see the hope that you have in Christ, a hope that we can share with others. When people come to us saying that they feel as if life has got them down and out, we can say that they might be down but they are not out. We can show them our fragile, broken, dying bodies and say, “In Christ, I have life.”

I was speaking God’s truth—we are broken, dying, sinful, but God chooses to put His life, salvation, and Gospel in us anyway.

This idea that we are fragile jars of clay, just broken sinners, and God’s puts His treasure in us, His Gospel, that idea comes from what Paul says about himself in chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians. Six years ago I explained it this way:
When Paul talks about his faith, he talks about how God gave him the faith, it is not his own. Then he says that [God puts] this treasure, the treasure of faith, in a jar [made] of clay. While God had given him a wonderful treasure of faith, Paul is still just a [clay jar], fragile, easily broken, sinful, dying. Paul is not going to brag in himself or his faith. Paul does not want to cover up his brokenness, sinfulness. Paul doesn’t want to fool anyone into thinking he is something that he is not. Paul doesn’t want to lie.

And [Paul] doesn’t want us to miss the best part. Paul is broken, persecuted, put into prison, cast down, tempted, in many difficulties, tormented, dying. He is down but not out. Paul doesn’t want anyone to miss the fact that he has hope when there is no hope. He is down but not out, because Christ was down but not out. Christ was nailed down to the cross, put down into the tomb, but don’t count Him out, because Christ had victory over death. That same victory is Paul’s victory.

Six years later that’s still what God is showing us through Paul’s words today: we are broken, sinful, fragile, facing defeat, but that Christ gives us victory. We are down but not out.

And that’s why I pulled out this switch today, because it’s a reminder that yes, we’re still broken.

Oh, I mean, I wouldn’t want you to think that I haven’t noticed all of the ways that we’ve made improvements around here together. In the six years I’ve been here, we’ve created and remodeled a youth room downstairs, taken down the doors on the inner lobby opening up the space, improved the office equipment and computers. You’ve fixed leaky faucets, broken light fixtures, a broken organ motor, and purchased a new lawn tractor. There’s been plenty of broken things around here that have been fixed, improved, or replaced.

But this switch is a reminder that we’re still broken. No matter how many things we do to our building, we’re still going to be broken spiritually.

This switch is nothing without power running through it. If this switch isn’t connected, it can’t do anything.

Spiritually, we’re all dead switches—disconnected, powerless, unable to do a thing. Our sin disconnected us from God. Our sin makes us powerless over our own sin, powerless against the devil or death. Our sin makes us unable to do a thing to save ourselves.

Jesus, though, comes along and runs His electrical wire through us, connects us to His power. Jesus brings the power of His Word, His Gospel, the power of salvation that comes through His death and resurrection. We’re connected to the power of Christ.

Paul used jars of clay as the metaphor for what Christ does, because jars of clay were a common item, and people really did keep treasures in clay jars. Even though clay jars were fragile, easily broken, and cheap, they kept items dry, safe, hidden, and protected. Clay jars were an unlikely spot to put a treasure, but turns out that was a great place for them. Same thing with God’s Gospel. Sinful people are an unlikely place for God to put the treasure of His Word, His ministry, but turns out God can use those unlikely people.

Well, that was a common image for Paul’s day, and now with this light switch, you’ve got a common image for today. You probably use many light switches every day. They are common, small, usually not very noticeable, the basic switches costing around 29 cents, but those switches are entrusted with a lot of power. Those switches control the electricity coming into your house. Those switches turn on lights, but they might also be found controlling your furnace, air conditioning, computers, all kinds of big, important machines. A little plastic switch on the wall is an unlikely place to find power, but turns out that’s where the power is. Same thing with God’s Gospel. Sinful people are an unlikely place for God to put the power of His Word, His ministry, but turns out God can use those unlikely people.

We’ve got to remember that the switch doesn’t have any power on its own; it’s just a plastic switch with some metal attached to its back. The power comes from the wire that’s connected all the way back to the power plant.

Same thing with us, right. We’ve got to remember that on our own, we don’t have the power; we’re just sinful, dying, fragile people. The power comes from the Word that’s connected to God. We’re broken switches until we get connected. (put switch on the Bible) We’re spiritually dead until God’s Word makes us alive.

Seeing that we’re broken switches, I again go back to that first sermon from six years ago where I confessed my brokenness. Let me repeat to you what I said then because it’s just as important to say it today, because I’m still a broken switch.

I do not want to hide my brokenness. I do not want to hide my sinfulness. I am a jar of clay. I come to you making many mistakes in life. I have hurt people along the way. I do not always handle arguments well. I do not always make Christ first in my life. I come to you broken, sinful, tempted, dying, down but not out. I do not want to hide the fact that I am a jar of clay, because I do not want to hide the best part from you: I am down but I am not out.

I come also having received the gift of faith. God has enlightened my heart with the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. In Christ, we see God’s glory, that He would come and suffer and die for us in order that we might have salvation. God has given me faith; this is not from myself. I have hope when there is no hope. I am down but I am not out. I want you to see in me the dying of Christ so that you might see the hope in His death, so that death would work life in you.

After confessing my brokenness and sinfulness to you, that’s when I called you a dying crowd—because God’s Word says we’re all the same. We’re all sinful, we’re all broken, we’re all in need of God’s salvation. So six years ago I said to this congregation:

Do not hide your brokenness from me. You are sinners. Don’t try to hide that from me. I see already that there are broken things around here, broken on the outside, a community where everyone does not know Christ, and broken on the inside, a congregation like all other congregations where we forget that we know Christ. [And] in seeing your brokenness, how you are cast down by life but not destroyed, by seeing the death of Jesus in you, I see life. The death of Jesus in you works life in me. I see that you are a jar of clay with a treasure from God, the treasure of faith inside of you. I see that you are down but not out. I see that you have a wondrous hope, a hope for eternal life, a hope to be in the light of Christ [in] this dark world. I see life here at Redeemer. If you can have hope and faith in the midst of your struggles, then I too can have that same hope for eternal life even when my own life gets me down.

And what I was working toward was helping us to all see that when the world sees our brokenness, the world will also be able to see the power of Christ. When we see this broken switch, we see the power that an electrical wire could bring. When people see us as broken switches, they can see the power that Christ brings into our lives. By seeing the ways that Christ works in each other despite our brokenness, that gives us hope. And that’s what our ministry is all about—showing the world our broken switches and how Christ’s power comes to give us life.

So may we in our ministry together not hide our dying, so that we might show the life of Christ to others. May our ministry together be down but not out. May others always see in us the hope of eternal life, a hope in the face of death. May [our message always be: that Jesus Christ has saved us from being broken switches and has given us the power of His salvation.] Amen.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Romans 8:14-17/Athanasian Creed - “Athanasius, Can You Help Us Dance?”

Holy Trinity (Year B - LCMS Readings)
Thursday, June 8, and Sunday, June 11, 2006

For today’s celebration of the Holy Trinity, the teaching that our God is one in three, three in one, one God, but three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in preparation and studying about the teaching of the Trinity, I came across the quote that you have on the insert in your bulletins. It comes from a blogger, someone who writes a Weblog or Internet journal. She goes by Maggi Dawn and is a Anglican priest and college chaplain. As she discussed what it means that our God is Triune, three in one, she says,

“We do not need to create, as it were, a good enough party to wake God up and make him think he might join us. It's quite the other way around. The Trinity are already having a party of their own. There they are, communicating, loving, worshipping, laughing, dancing, always and forever, without a break. Grace, love and adoration flows constantly between the Godhead. Welcome to Trinitarian worship - the party where God is, and always was, and always will be, engaged in mutual adoration and praise, and where you can be drawn right into the centre of God….” (original location of quote)

She’s right about worship, of course. Worship isn’t about trying to get God to come down to us; worship is where God invites us to see that He’s already with us, already given us His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation through Jesus.

She’s also got a beautiful way of talking about the Trinity—the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit having an eternal party celebrating who they are as God, celebrating true love. It’s such a mystery to us, just what does it mean that we have one God who is also three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s such a mystery, but rather than trying to explain it in detail, Maggi Dawn simply describes the Trinity as “communicating, loving, worshipping, laughing, dancing, always and forever, without a break.” She’s picking up that idea from Scripture where we see God showering His people with love, where we see God rejoicing in the salvation of His people, where we see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all giving glory to one another as one God.

Maggi Dawn helps us to see that worship is where God invites us to join the party. In worship, God is asking you to dance. But just how are we going to dance today in this service dedicated to the teaching about the Holy Trinity?

We’re going to dance school with Athanasius. You walk into this dance school and ask the instructor, “Athanasius, can you help us dance?”

You see, traditionally on this Sunday of the Church Year, the first Sunday after Pentecost, the Church has focused on its doctrine of the Trinity, and when teaching about the Trinity, one of the best instructors is Athanasius, so if we’re going to learn this Trinity dance that Maggi Dawn is talking about, Athanasius has got to be our instructor.

Athanasius was an early church father who lived from 298-373. On your insert, you’ve got a creed printed out that’s named for Athanasius (Athanasian Creed as .pdf). While he probably didn’t write the creed itself, it’s named for him, because he worked most of his ministry to counter false teachings about God, teachings that would’ve gotten rid of the teaching of the Trinity. Athanasius is kind of known as an expert on the doctrine of the Trinity, so of course we’d go to him for help.

Traditionally, the Athanasian Creed was read on Holy Trinity Sunday, but as you can see, it’s quite long. It’s repetitive, over and over again saying that God is one in substance, but God is also three persons. It’s repetitive as it tries to explain something that can’t be explained. It’s thorough, trying to make sure that false teachings about the nature of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, making sure that the false teachings are rejected. It takes awhile to read, it’s kind of cumbersome. I imagine that the people complained about having to read this creed in worship, and awhile ago, most congregations stopped reciting this creed. Maybe they stopped because it doesn’t seem like much of a dance.

You look at how Maggi Dawn describes the Trinity, a party, laughing, dancing, and it doesn’t seem that kind of celebration is part of the Athanasian Creed. Maggi Dawn says that worship is where the Trinity invites us into their party, but I’m not sure Athanasius would’ve been very much fun at the party. He doesn’t seem like he was a dancer. Athanasius was constantly on the lookout for false teachings, kind of angry in his demeanor and writings. When he’s talking about the Trinity, it doesn’t sound like what Maggi Dawn describes.

Maggi Dawn encourages us to dance and celebrate the Trinity today, well, maybe Athanasius can’t help us dance. What do you think Athanasius would say if we asked him, “Athanasius, can you help us dance? Can that long-winded, repetitive, cumbersome creed that you inspired teach us how to dance with the Trinity?”

I think Athanasius would say yes, because he understands a dance is made up of steps, and in order to dance, you’ve got to know each step. Athanasius can teach us the steps, keep us from making the wrong steps, and in the process, we’ll have learned how to dance with the Trinity. Athanasius can teach us about the truth of Scripture, the truth about the Trinity, and when you’ve learned those points of Scripture, that’s when you’re able to dance and celebrate.

Flip your bulletin inserts over, and there you’ll see that we’re going to learn two dance steps this morning, two teachings from the Athanasian Creed. So if you’re ready, put on your dancing shoes so to speak, and we’ll learn the steps in this dance of the Trinity. Because the truth that the creed teaches are the steps in this dance, you could call the Athanasian Creed the Danceable Truth, a true teaching that leads us to celebrate who our God is.

Step #1 – The creed says, “And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in trinity and Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance. For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Holy Spirit is another.”

Here “catholic” means “universal” or the faith of the whole Church. That faith doesn’t confuse the persons of the Trinity, each is one person. The creed talks about how the Father didn’t die on the cross; the Son was the One who died on the cross. In that way, each person of the Trinity has His own role, His own identity.

It’s easier to learn how to dance if you can see it, so the Church has often used visuals to help teach about the Trinity. For Step #1, there you can see the diagram showing the three persons of the Trinity, and while all three are God, the diagram also says that “the Father is not the Son,” “the Son is not the Spirit,” and “the Spirit is not the Father.”

That’s an important step in this Trinity dance, because some people were teaching, and still do, that the Father and the Son are just two sides of the same coin. That’s the wrong step that the creed is trying to help us avoid making. Take a wrong step in a dance, and you might step on your partner’s toes. Take a wrong step in this dance, and suddenly you’re dancing with some kind of false truth that doesn’t come from God.

If the Father and the Son are just two sides of the same coin, that causes problems for the times when Jesus talks about the Father as separate from Him. Jesus prays to the Father, the Father speaks from the clouds about Jesus, Jesus dies crying out to the Father. Scripture doesn’t talk about them as the same person, so we shouldn’t take that step either.

OK, so you’ve learned one step in this dance. Let’s try one more.

Step #2 - Just as we are compelled by the Christian truth to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord, so also are we prohibited by the catholic religion to say that there are three Gods or Lords.

While each person of the Trinity, Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit is distinct, has their individual roles, so we still say that they are one God. They are one in substance, one in will, one in thought.

The picture you have there is from one of our stained glass windows. It’s a combination of two traditional images that try to explain the Trinity. There are three circles linked in the center. The three circles are the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, but they are interlocking circles showing that we have one God. Then there’s the triangle which has three sides, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but together those three sides form one triangle, one God.

Again, there’s a wrong step that we could take here and completely mess up the dance. Some were teaching, and still do, that the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are three separate beings. Jesus says that He and the Father are One, so we can’t teach that they’re separate. If we had three gods, we’d be breaking the first commandment, which the New Testament never rejects. Some people accuse Christianity of having three gods, but that’s not true. That’s not what Scripture says, and that’s what the creed tries to explain.

Those are just two steps in the Danceable Truth of the Athanasian Creed. Walking through those steps, walking through those teachings seems kind of deep, works the brain in a way that it wasn’t meant to work. We’re trying to put into words a mystery of God that is beyond words.

Perhaps you’re fidgeting on the dance floor, thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I got the idea. Let’s just dance already.” But the problem is if we dance without learning the steps, if we just start talking about God without studying, if we just worship without knowing what we’re worshipping, we’re going to end up taking a lot of wrong steps.

Athanasius doesn’t seem like he was having a party celebrating the Trinity, and the Athanasian Creed doesn’t look like a dance, but they have given us the steps so that we know how to dance, so that we know how to celebrate our God who is one in three, and three in one.

And now that we know some of the basic steps, some of the basic teachings about the Trinity, now we can continue to celebrate, party, dance with God today. You see, today, the day of the Holy Trinity shouldn’t just be about saying we got the right words on paper on how to explain God. Yes, the day is named for a doctrine, a teaching, an explanation of Scripture, but that’s not what we’re celebrating today. No, today is a celebration of who God is.

That’s why I like this other quote I found from another blogger, Grey Owl. He sees the whole dance, not just the steps.

“I believe in the trinity - I also believe that, like most Christian expressions about God, it is a poor model for a fantastic and glorious reality that we are incapable of understanding completely.” (original location of quote)

At first, it seems wrong to say that the Trinity is a “poor model.” Yet, it’s exactly what we’ve been saying today with Maggi Dawn: there’s a party going on in the Trinity, and the party seems beyond our explanations of the Trinity. We’ve got to learn the steps of the dance, but the dance is more than just the steps. We’ve got to learn about our God, but He is more than just a list of teachings. Like Grey Owl says, we’re trying to explain something that is “a fantastic and glorious reality that we are incapable of understanding completely.”

So again, the day of the Holy Trinity isn’t about celebrating that we got some right words on paper to explain our God. The day of the Holy Trinity celebrates the fantastic and glorious reality of who God is.

Have you ever seen the video game “Dance Dance Revolution”? They have it now at the Family Room at the YMCA. The players stand on an interactive pad on the floor that’s connected to the game. On the TV screen, the game tells the players what steps to take in the dance—forward, side, one foot, two feet, spin, etc. If you watch the TV screen, it’s kind of boring—left, left, right, jump, left, right, left. However, if you watch the players, then you see the dance, then it’s a beautiful thing watching all of those individual steps become a great dance. The dance is more than just a series of steps; there’s more happening that can be explained by the individual steps. The whole is greater than the parts.

In that same way, if we just look at the steps, the teachings outlined in the Athanasian Creed, if we just think of today as a list of doctrinal statements, there’s not much of a dance, not much of that “worshipping, laughing, dancing” of the Trinity that Maggi Dawn talks about.

You see, the Trinity is greater than those individual teachings. The whole is greater than the parts. The ways we explain the Trinity can never hope to completely explain the beauty of who our God is.

You’ve been invited into the dance celebration of God, and while God has taught you some of the steps, there’s more going on than you can understand. However, God has also sent His Holy Spirit into your heart, kind of teaching you the dance from the inside. As the Holy Spirit works in your heart, giving you glimpses of the Trinity dance, you start to see the beauty of who God is, of how He made us in His image, of how the Son came to save us, of how the Spirit creates faith in our hearts, of how the Trinity works in our world and in our lives, of how they wait for us to be with them forever in life after death.

So today’s worship is more than just a series of true statements. There’s something more going on here that we can’t explain. It’s the Danceable Truth of the Holy Trinity. As Maggi Dawn says, “Welcome to Trinitarian worship - the party where God is, and always was, and always will be, engaged in mutual adoration and praise, and where you can be drawn right into the centre of God….”