Holy Trinity Sunday – Series C – John 8:48-59
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Holy Trinity Sunday, is a day in which we are all examined and tested in a variety of ways.
In the first place, we are examined on whether or not we hold the orthodox faith, which is to say, the faith of Christ as He has given it, the confession of God as He has clearly revealed Himself through Holy Scripture.
For it is this orthodox or catholic faith, that the Athanasian Creed confesses as being life itself.
That if we believe and keep it, then we will not see death, but if we butcher, manipulate, compromise and reject it, then we will have only death.
And with those words, that of life or death given to us on account of the faith that we keep, we are examined again.
This time it’s not just do we confess the orthodox faith, but do we believe that it’s actually the only way of life eternal.
For there are parts of the Athanasian Creed that might cause us to jerk our knees, or think that the Church Fathers went a bit too far, that they overstated their case, or used harsher language than was necessary.
Perhaps we squirm a bit as the Creed ends with the words, “Whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.”
Or maybe it’s the phrase, “Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled, will without doubt perish eternally.”
Maybe we’re tempted to think that this goes a bit too far, that it’s too harsh, too mean, too rigid.
Do we actually believe Jesus when He claims that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, that no one comes to the Father, except through Him? (John 14:6).
That He is the door, the very entrance to salvation itself? (John 10:9).
That He is the Bread of Life, that His flesh is true food, and His blood is true drink, and that whoever eats and drinks of Him, has eternal life? (John 6:35, 55, 58).
Whether this is too harsh or too rigid, doesn’t change the fact that Jesus, Himself claims it.
That He preaches it as the truth, as salvation, as life itself, and that the absence and the rejection of this truth leads only to death.
There is no middle ground here, no spiritual neutrality.
Holy Trinity Sunday does indeed test and examine us. And it does so, not according to some made up standard of what it means to be right or to be faithful, but simply according to Christ and His Word.
And that, quite simply, is the orthodox faith. Hearing, receiving and keeping His Word.
And yet, with all that being said, it’s also quite possible today, that we never actually register this kind of testing and examination of the Word of God to the faith that we claim to confess.
It’s possible, because Trinity Sunday also has a way of testing us on something completely mundane, human, simple, and unimportant.
And that is, that it tests our patience and our attention.
After all, the Athanasian Creed is long, it takes no short amount of time to confess from start to finish.
Today do we begin with the initial careful attention to the words that we’re saying we believe, and then later lose interest and simply mumble along with the rest of the crowd?
Do we scratch our heads at some of the phrases, and wonder earnestly for a moment what they mean, but then quickly dismiss these questions without a second thought?
Do we grow impatient with whether or not the service will end on time? Whether the coffee will run out, or the restaurant get busy?
Are we tempted to believe that these words and the words of our liturgy are nothing more than that, just words, and therefore, nothing important, nothing life-giving, nothing divinely spoken?
And if they’re just words, then why should they take so much of our time, so much of our attention, why should they make us scratch our heads and dig any deeper?
After all, shouldn’t the Christian faith be simple? Isn’t it not supposed to be challenging? Do I really need to study it? To learn it? To ask questions about it?
And perhaps part of our poor attention and our impatience with Trinity Sunday, is found in the fact that these words that we confess are not our own words. That they sound foreign and unfamiliar.
Perhaps that’s part of the difficulty, that we grow frustrated with a faith and a confession, namely, that sounds unfamiliar, one that has been given to us, something that took form without our help, without our suggestions and without our feedback.
And yet it’s that very tension, that frustration, and that difficulty that we find so clearly in our Gospel text from John chapter 8.
Here the Pharisees are scandalized and incensed by what Jesus claims.
And it is not just that He claims God as His Father, when He says, that “My Father glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’” (John 8:54).
It’s not just that He makes the claim to be the One God, Yahweh, when He says that, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58).
To be sure, these are monumental confessions of Christ about Himself, of which no one can deny that Jesus declares His divinity, Lordship and rightful place as the Second person of the Trinity. And indeed, the Pharisees do try to stone him for saying this.
But the foundation of the Pharisees’ unbelief begins and rests in this Word of Christ, when He proclaims that, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51)
And so, “You do not keep the word, you do not know the Father, and you lie about who He is.”
Jesus is not nice to the Pharisees in the Temple, He is not winsome, gentle or patient.
No, He is on a mission, and He has no time to hear the opinions and theories of the Jewish leaders. He is not there to listen or make them feel good about themselves.
Instead He gets right to it: ““You do not have life, and you stand in the way of death. You do not keep God’s Word and you have not yet received it.”
As much as the Pharisees added more restrictions and traditions to the Law; what they kept as the Word and practiced as the truth, was not Word of God or the Holy Law at all.
It was and it remains a lie, an imaginary God they had built in their pride and their sin.
And of course, the made-up God of the Pharisees is not just theirs only, it’s the made-up God of you and I;
the imaginary God of sinful humanity.
It’s the God who is not angry and couldn’t care less about our sin and unrighteousness, rather He winks at it, turns a blind eye, and reminds us that He doesn’t really mean what He’s said in His Law, He just wants us to try hard and be good people.
It’s the imaginary God of your fragile pride, which is constantly working to redefine and reword the 10 Commandments, and so to make you feel better about yourself, that you’re really not all that bad, that you haven’t really stolen, you haven’t really hated your neighbor, you haven’t really lusted after someone else, or despised God and His gifts.
That instead, it’s just that you make mistakes, and everybody does that, so God doesn’t really care.
Repent. This is not the Word of God at all. It is not the Word of Life, it’s not the orthodox faith, it’s a lie, and it leads to death.
God does not smile or wink at our sins, He doesn’t change His Word or redefine what it is to be Holy, righteous and without blemish.
He demands perfection, that you keep His Word faithfully and believe His Son entirely.
For this is the Word that Abraham kept, the Word that called him and his son to Mount Moriah.
It’s the Word that commanded Abraham to lay his son on the altar, to put the knife to his neck; for God does not smile and wink at our unrighteousness, and Abraham believed this. Indeed, we have broken His law, and payment must be made, there is no other Word.
And yet it is this Word that caused Abraham to rejoice in the Day of the Lord; the Word that spared Isaac and killed the ram instead. The Word that demanded payment from Abraham, but paid with God’s offering instead.
And it is this Word that Jesus is keeping, and will keep perfectly. For He knows the Father’s will, the demands of the Law, the payment that has to be made, and he keeps not to glorify himself, but to reveal the Father to you.
For He is going to the mountain as well, not with a ram but with His own body and life.
This Word which demands perfection will find it given in the Son as He is lifted up from the earth.
As His body is handed over and His blood pours down, this Word will come to its fulfillment.
For it is the Word that Abraham rejoiced in, the one that Jesus kept in his life, death and resurrection, and it is the Word which is now given to you.
It is the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, washed over you and held to you in Holy Baptism. It is not just that you keep it, that you observe, practice and bear it, but that Christ through Holy Spirit, according to the Father’s will keeps it with you and for you. He calls you away from your imaginary Gods and to faith in His Holy Word.
For it is the same Word that cuts through the pride of your old Adam and makes you uncomfortable.
The one that exposes you when you want to hide or pretend to be something that you’re not.
It’s the Word that calls you to believe that sin does demand payment, that it is no small thing, that you are not righteous, holy, getting better, or ok on your own.
And so it is the Word which tells you and comforts you with the promise that payment already has been made, that the death of Christ Jesus for you is no small thing, and that you are righteous in Him and for His sake.
It is the Word kept with you as you approach this altar, confessing your sin, believing Christ’s promise and receiving the fulfillment of the covenant in His blood, the one that promises that you will never see death, for you live in him and through His Word.
The Creeds of the Christian Church are given to us not only to confess the fullness and comfort of our faith, but also to constantly expose and confront the imaginary God’s that we worship in our sin.
As we read, speak and digest their words, whether they seem foreign to us or not, they work in faith to tear us away from the lies that we believe and so root us in the truth that Christ confesses.
They keep us from the false pride of our sin and our vain attempts to redefine God’s Holy Law for ourselves, as they move to graft us instead into the righteousness that is Christ’s alone.
They may not always be words that we would naturally use, or easily pay attention to. They may seem foreign or even unfamiliar. They may at times cause us to scratch our heads and force us to dig a little deeper.
But that’s really exactly the point.
The Doctrine of Christ is not your doctrine, though it is given to you.
Christ is not simply the source of your faith, He is the teacher of it. He calls you not to your Word but to His, not to your version of the truth, but to His nail-driven finishing of the Word that endures to eternal life.
Therefore, Hear, believe, scratch your head, dig deep and rejoice in His Word, and in it be kept in His faith, for you, O Christian, in the life of Christ, will never see death.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.