The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you. 2 Corinthians 13:13
OK. I admit it. Yes, I am Lutheran, but I occasionally watch EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network). You know, it’s the Catholic world wide television network begun in Irondale , Alabama by Mother Angelica about 30 years ago.
There are some programs I like to watch on EWTN including the daily mass, Scripture and Tradition, and programs on Thomas Aquinas and a theological discussion from professors of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. And there is one more program, Journey Home, where the host interviews someone whose spiritual journey led that person to conversation and to become a Roman Catholic.
As I watched this program last week, the host interviewed a young man whose journey led him from Islam to Christianity and membership in the Catholic Church. He said that in college he and his friends talked about religion. They tried to explain to him the Holy Trinity where there are three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in one God. The young man said this was confusing. How could three persons be one God? That was some kind of “crazy math” for this young Muslim.
It is 325 in the city of Nicaea (modern day Turkey) where the church explained the meaning of this so-called “crazy math.” Emperor Constantine called bishops from the surrounding countries to gather for the First Ecumenical Council to confront the teachings of Arianism.
What was the result? The first version of the Nicene Creed explained the doctrine of the Trinity – three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one God. It stated that Jesus was of the same substance (homoousios) with the God the Father. These three persons in one God are co-equally divine, yet distinct from each other.
Specifically, at the Council of Nicaea, Arianism was condemned as a heresy. Arianism was a belief that Jesus was a created being and not equal to the Father. So despite Arius’ attempt to bring clarity in the fourth century about the Holy Trinity, his teaching was condemned as a heresy.
Now I agree a little with the Islam young man who converted to Christianity and became a member of the Catholic Church. To try to understand the Trinity is challenging. Nonetheless, it is one of the mysteries of the Christian Church which is held dear and taught throughout the centuries.
I am sure we have heard about the examples of how to explain the Trinity.
Peter, James and John are three persons yet they are all part of one humanity.
Water comes in the forms of liquid, solid and gas – three forms of good ole H2O.
Some have used the three leaf clover to explain the Trinity – three distinct leaves and yet one clover.
All these are simple and simplistic ways to try to describe the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and its mystery.
We confess the Nicene Creed throughout the church year, but especially on Holy Trinity Sunday. Let’s look briefly at each of the three parts of that creed.
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
When we confess these words, our minds think of the story of creation in Genesis chapters one and two. Seven times God spoke and the world was created with…
light and darkness,
water and sky,
earth and seas,
plants and trees of every kind,
stars, sun, and moon,
living creatures such as the great sea monsters and winged birds,
living creature, cattle and creeping things and wild animals, and everything that creeps upon the earth,
and finally, the crown of creation, human beings like you and me created in God’s own image.
That final part of creation tells us that all of humanity is made in the image of God. This is important to understand in the light of the death of George Floyd. Mr. Floyd was made in the image of God just like any other human being. His death was so tragic and unjust and millions believe it was due to racial prejudice. Many believe that Mr. Floyd who was made in God’s image had his life taken away from him from a police officer who is a racist. And that violence led to protests across our country and condemnation for that ugly death.
But in the creation story, God looked at everything he had made in six days and called it very good. Then God sat back from all that he had made and rested on the seventh day.
Sometime we forget about the beauty and goodness of God’s creation and neglect to acknowledge how God designed and created it all from the tiniest molecule to the vastness of the universe. So, take a break, take that Sabbath day of rest and take a walk in the park, go to the sea shore, hike a trail, or climb a mountain and gaze at the beauty of creation. Get lost in its wonder. Contemplate its beauty and how wonderfully God made us. It all comes from God the Father.
So in this crazy math of the Trinity, we begin with one person with God the Father.
Again from the Nicene Creed we confess, I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten – Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with Father…
Jesus is of one substance (homoousios in Greek) with the Father. Jesus is from eternity just as God the Father and God and Holy Spirit. And since Jesus is God himself, the Nicene Creed goes on to list the highlights of what Jesus has done for our salvation:
who for us men, and our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures…
So Jesus is truly God and truly human. His death and resurrection offers us the salvation which frees us from power of sin, death, and evil that only the Son of God could give. As a human being, Jesus knew temptations to sin as we know them. As a human being Jesus felt the sting of suffering and death. And because Jesus is God, He was able to save us from our sins which separate us from God Himself. It takes the God-Man, Jesus Christ, to offer us forgiveness, life and salvation. He did that by dying on the cross and rising with life from the tomb on the third day.
During World War II, the Nazis occupied the Netherlands. They wanted to deport 50,000 Jews to a death camp. But one German, Walter Suskind, a pianist and manager of a theater, heard about the murdering acts of the Nazi, and devised a plan to save Jewish children. He hid them in various places and found ways to secretly set up travel for them to a safe land. With his staff, Walter Suskind, saved 1,000 Jewish children.
But when the Nazi commandant discovered that his “friend,” Walter Suskind, had deceived him and saved so many Jewish children, he ordered his soldiers to capture his wife and daughter. As his family was slowly leaving town on a train and headed to a death camp, the Nazi commandant told Walter the number of the train car they were in. Walter ran to that train car, boosted himself up to get in, and found his wife and daughter. Sadly, all three of them died, his wife and daughter at Birkenau and Walter died four months later on a death march. With his courage, Walter Suskind, a German – Jew, gave up his life to save the lives of almost 1000 Jewish children.
In the Nicene Creed, we confess Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again… It is God’s only Son who sacrificed his life for us. And we now live forgiven of sin and live with abundant life because of Jesus, the Messiah, who died and rose from the dead for our sake.
St. Paul summed up what we believe about Jesus in his letter to the Philippians chapter two:
Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to to the point of death – even death on the cross.
So in this crazy math of the Trinity, we add one more person with God the Son.
Who is the Holy Spirit? What is the divine work of this Spirit? The Nicene Creed tells us that the Holy Spirit is,
the Lord and giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son…we acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
The Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life. In John 14, Jesus promised to send to us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, or the Spirit of Truth. In other words, the Holy Spirit will breathe life into us. It is the abundant life which Jesus promised to all of his followers. It is the life in which we know Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is the Holy Spirit who comes to us in Holy Baptism and makes us members of the body of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who will give us life after death. In the Nicene Creed we confess that the Holy Spirit promises to all the faithful the resurrection of the dead.
Scott Hahn and Emily Stimpson Chapman recently wrote a book entitled, Hope to Die – The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body. In their section on The Breath of Life, they wrote this, Unlike bios (Greek for physical life), zoe (another Greek word for life) conveys much more than mere physical air into Adam’s nostrils; he (God) breathed life – spiritual life, eternal life, divine life. He breathed his own life into Adam…That life is so whole, so complete, it’s actually a Person: the Third Person of the Trinity. God breathed his Spirit into Adam, and that made it possible for him to live a life that wasn’t just natural, but supernatural.
So, too, today, the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts so that we have that close and loving relationship to God the Father. In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther wrote that the work of the Holy Spirit is to call, gather, enlighten, sanctify and keep us in the one true faith. The Holy Spirit breaths that breathe of God into our lives so that we receive the abundant life Christ promised to us.
And in this crazy math of the Trinity, we add one more person with the Holy Trinity.
In the end, there is one God with three distinct persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each person is fully God. Each person has a distinct role. The Father creates us. The Son redeems us. The Holy Spirit gives us new life.
So in the crazy math of the Holy Trinity, one does equal three.
I am glad that this young Muslim man after talking with friends about Christianity and after he read famous Christian books such as The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, converted to the Christian faith. He first became a Presbyterian and later became a Catholic because he loved the liturgy and the way the Catholic Church uses Scripture and Tradition of the early church fathers to make sense of what we believe.
And as his spiritual journey moved along, he finally accepted the crazy Math of the Trinity. One does equal three. That’s the divine math of the Holy Trinity. God the Father created us and all things visible and invisible. God the Son redeemed us by giving His own life for our sake. And God the Holy Spirit gives us life everlasting.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Thanks be to God.
(Photo of Rublev’s Icon of The Holy Trinity, Wikipedia Commons; Nicene Creed quoted from the 381 AD altered version; all Scripture verses from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, National Council of Churches)