Holy Trinity Sunday

S. Holy Trinity.24 Is. 6:1-8, Jn 14:8-11

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him… ‘whoever has seen me has seen the Father’.

Like a solar eclipse is a confusing day for flat-earthers, so is Trinity Sunday for modern Christians. Because modern Christendom’s view of God is typically as flat as the flat-earthers’ view of the cosmos. Jerome was no saint (more an ignoramus, really 😉 but he did get one thing right: the time and reason that the faith blurred for the world when he said (after another disaster church council in 360 AD) “the world woke and groaned to find itself Arian.”

This is ‘Arian’ with an ‘i’, not a ‘y’. Not the imaginary Indo-European Aryan race, but the followers of the 4th century heresiarch Arius. Every good story has a villain, and in the story of the great screw-up of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Arius is our villain. But, unlike Bond villains, he was neither smart, nor rich, nor handsome. When the Emperor Constantine finally met him in person in the early 330s he said “Good, Lord; you look horrible—like the crypt-keeper or worse. Whatever is wrong with you?”

Heresy is what was wrong with Arius! He was a presbyter in the Alexandrian church and very missional. He did not think the church was as large or rich as it should be, so he took it upon himself to popularize Christian teaching, de-mystifying it to better suit the unwashed masses’ low tastes and limited imaginations.

Perceiving the doctrine of the Trinity is difficult, too hard to fathom as it stands in scriptures, Arius dumbed it down for the unchurched—teaching that only the Father is Yahweh, the I AM WHO I AM, the one true God. The Son is a demigod, the first creature God made in creating the world, and the Spirit is even less, some imaginary thing like the Force only imaginary Jedi could wield.

And finding Christian liturgy too lofty and difficult to pull large crowds, Arius put all his heretical nonsense into verse and set the verses to popular sea shanties so you could really rock out to it. He would have loved those video screens with the bouncing ball. Would have had a disco ball, surely, in his church if only they’d had them, then…

A total ass, Arius was. I hate him with the perfect hatred David commends in Ps. 139. You should, too.

Anyway, a guy named Athanasius hated him, and helped get Emperor Constantine to call a council at Nicaea in 325 to sort it. Constantine just wanted peace and unity and didn’t really get the whole Xn thing himself, but Nicaea’s Creed condemned Arius and his cowo crowd—asserting Jesus is one substance or essence with the Father, God from God, Light from Light true God from true God. All but 2 of 300 bishops at Nicaea signed it, mainly to appease the Emperor’s desire for unity.

But this doctrine that Jesus is really God; God is really one; and yet really three Persons; just seemed too difficult for the unwashed masses that came flooding into the Constantinian church (which Constantine hadn’t actually joined himself, but did think was a useful tool for holding a fractious empire together).

However, when Constantine realized, some years later, that Arius and his cowo crowd drew larger crowds than the Athanasian mystery religion no one really understood and that had no sea shanties or disco balls to distract one from difficult doctrine, he exiled Athanasius from his see and started rehabbing Arius.

Constantine finally required Alexander the bishop of Constantinople sometime around 336 AD to receive Arius back into communion because—wizened crypt-keeper that he appeared—Arius was popular with the unwashed masses. Alexander was a pious old man. The night before Arius’ official reinstatement, Alexander is supposed to have prayed, “Dear Lord, I can’t commune a heretic. Please kill him or kill me so I don’t have to. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” And Arius died that night ,on the eve of his reinstatement… 😉

Constantine himself died soon afterwards. And his empire was divided between his 3 sons Constantine II, Constans, and Constantius (like George Forman’s sons George II, George III, and George IV?). Constantius, the last survivor, was an Arian, persecuted the dickens out of Athanasius and the orthodox church. After Arianizing councils—Serdica 343, Sirmium 357—the council of Constantinople 360 repudiated Nicaea, declaring the Arian heresy official church teaching and even a dumbbell like Jerome knew it was horrible, and groaned.

And the world, the masses, have basically been Arian ever since. Because the doctrine of the Trinity is hard. “So, God is just 1, right?” “Right—yet also 3.” “What? So he’s not 1?” “Oh, yes, he’s 1 God.” “But 3 Persons?” “Yes.” “So you have to have them all in a room together to have the Trinity?” “God? No! You Arian heretics, you’re so analytical. Sometimes you just have to let art… flow over you.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xx_pn5XiYnw

A typical conversation with new catechumens. I love catechesis. I really do 😉

Even our own Synod absorbs this Arian shtuff. In 2017, the chairman of the department of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary St. Louis wrote 95 theses, and one of them was that “Jesus is not Yahweh. Only the Father is Yahweh”. Fortunately, he no longer sits in that chair.

Our current 2006 hymnal made a sneaky change to the Athanasian Creed. Grab the hymnals in your pew, and a pencil, and fix it like the insert from TLH. See verse 19, bottom right, pg. 319 LSB? Where it says “we are compelled by the Christian truth to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord…” run a line through ‘distinct’ and ‘as’; put a little dot behind ‘person’ and write as a footnote ‘by himself to be’.

That’s what the Latin says. Not that we’ll treat each distinct Person as if he were God, but we confess each Person, by himself! to be God and Lord!

It’s what Jesus says to Arian-adjacent Philip: “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father… believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me”, as he also said in John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.”

Simple and difficult as that! Isaiah learned the hard way (shaken, stirred, singed 😉 that, for sinful people, seeing God is… a lot. It’s awesome, but it literally un-does you! But that’s OK! Jesus can re-do you. It’s his signature move 😉

I don’t think we can behold the unveiled glory of God and remain as we are. Even in heaven, it will be… a lot. But the constant un-making and re-creating of ourselves as little icons of Jesus—this is the way, our joy, our life.

Because the Trinity is… a lot, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Jesus; him, we’ll happily hang with. His body, his blood both satisfies our hunger, and makes us yearn, makes us chase after him (joyfully!) for the more we can never quite swallow.

This whole Trinity thing will blow your mind. But the body and blood of Jesus will put you back together rite [liturgically!]; so that Peace, surpassing all understanding, guards your heart and mind in Christ Jesus—the One, True, Triune God. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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