Reading Ramblings – May 27, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Holy Trinity Sunday – May 27, 2018

Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; John 3:1-17

Context: Traditional Western liturgy never accorded a place for such an observance through the first thousand years of Christianity on the grounds that the Trinity was honored and glorified every single Sunday. This is impressive given some of the early heresies of the Church that struck at Trinitarian doctrine (Arianism, most specifically). By the first millenia, Trinity-focused services may have started at various places, but it wasn’t until the 14th century that Pope John XXII ordered that the Trinity be specially honored on the first Sunday following Pentecost. The theology is that it is only after Pentecost that the disciples begin actively preaching and therefore sharing Trinitarian doctrine with the world. It is traditional on this Sunday in some circles, (the LC-MS included) to focus on the Athanasian Creed, which strongly articulates what we mean when we talk about one God in three Persons.

Isaiah 6:1-8 – Isaiah’s beautiful vision of the throne room of God seems like the logical place for his formal prophetic ministry to begin, yet it appears after five other chapters. Some scholars see this as proof of a lengthy editorial and authorial process that rearranged the material at a much later date than Isaiah’s lifetime in the late 8th and early 7th centuries. However we have no copies of Isaiah with any other order than the one we know, and I prefer to side with theologians who simply recognize that the Lord speaks and acts and reveals himself according to his perfect will and timing, not according to what we find literarily or vocationally reasonable or logical. God ensures that Isaiah understands that his words are indeed sanctioned by and even sourced in God himself in all of his glory. Perhaps Isaiah struggles with uncertainty over his legitimacy. Such a vision should surely set his mind at ease however that what He says is of divine agency rather than personal whim!

Psalm 29 – As we try to be clear about who we mean when we say God, we should not be distracted to the point where challenging theological criteria obscure God from our sight. God is the creator, the all-powerful and all-mighty. A perfect understanding of the Athanasian Creed is not necessary to have saving faith in this triune God, but certainly for those engaged in theology we need to be as accurate as we can when we speak, to help others speak well also. But it is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit who share the glory that creation proclaims, whose power has made possible everything we know and don’t know. We dare not lose our awe of God as we try to dissect what we can or cannot say about him. At the end of the day we must remember that it is faith that saves, not theological acumen.

Acts 2:14a, 22-36 – Frankly, this should have been read last week with the first half of Peter’s sermon! The first half of Peter’s sermon is a defense and then an explanation for the bizarre thing that has caught people’s attention – the apostles speaking in various foreign languages and understandable to the myriad people gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration. Now that Peter has their attention he proclaims the good news of Jesus the Christ. He draws on their own knowledge or at least familiarity with who Jesus is and why He is well-known. He then moves on to the amazing proclamation that Jesus is alive, quoting the Old Testament under the Holy Spirit’s direction to support his announcement. He ends with the strong pronouncement that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah of God. Efforts to destroy his ministry through execution have failed in his resurrection, properly designating him as Lord and Messiah.

John 3:1-17 – Jesus articulates a Trinitarian definition of God, referring to the Spirit (vs. 5-8), the Son (vs. 13-17) and by implication, God the Father (vs 16-17). Each aspect of the Godhead is indicated in a unique fashion. By the Spirit one is born again in faith. By the Father’s design the Son is sent into creation in order that the Son might be a means of saving grace for creation. Each has a particular role and identity distinct from the other persons of the Godhead. Each executes a particular purpose – the Spirit in bringing a new creation into existence through baptism, the Son in offering himself on behalf of creation, and the Father in orchestrating these things according to a plan.

As such, we can’t simply speak of one God who changes hats or identities, appearing as the angry Father in the Old Testament, the huggy Jesus in the New Testament, and the invisible Holy Spirit here today. Rather, we must speak of one God wherein all three persons co-exist and cooperate in their various roles. Jesus speaks thus of the Godhead, and based on his resurrection, we presume his knowledge to be the best and the most appropriate language for us to adopt in talking about God.

But such details are secondary to the reality of the three aspects or persons of God united in a single purpose, which is to give life where death now reigns, to bring salvation to a creation lost in condemnation. Once again the theological specifics have a time and a place to hash out but far more often than not what should be stressed as we talk with others is the loving nature of God that works so perfectly in unison for our benefit, to reach out to us with both the will and the means of providing salvation to those who will not fight against it. We need to do far less talking about God and more time describing who God is for us.

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