Sunday, May 18, 2008

Almighty God: His Own Story

Texts: Isaiah 55:6-11; Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-14; 16:5:15

I KNOW A WOMAN who had a stroke last January and lost her ability to speak. She’s come a long way with therapy, and last month she told me how powerless she felt there in the hospital, not being able to say what she wanted to say. I asked her, "Did you have the words in your head but your tongue just wouldn’t form them?"

"No," she answered me. "I didn’t even have the words in my head. I couldn’t even think. I knew I wanted to, but I didn’t have any words to think with."

Maybe you’ve been through a experience like that. Maybe you remember what it was like as a child when the grownups didn’t listen to you because you didn’t have the words to say what you wanted. Or think of our President. People close to George Bush know he’s a very intelligent man who reads history books for fun and thinks deeply on important subjects. But his style of speech doesn’t match up with that, so many people think he’s stupid and won’t pay attention to him.

We’ve all experienced how having an Idea isn’t the same as having the words to put it into. But we also know we have an Idea only because certain words or a certain image does flash into our heads. If it’s an important Idea about something we have to make or do or tell somebody, we’ll think hard to make the Expression of the Idea match the idea itself. And we’ve known the flash of fulfillment and satisfaction that comes to us when the words or images in our heads match the Idea and we feel their Effect and power.

And like my friend with the stroke, like yourself as a child, like the President of the United States, you want to tell your story, to get your Ideas out into the physical world. You want others to hear what you have to say so they can benefit from its power and Effect, too. Or if your Idea has to do with something you’re making-- a set of bookshelves, a dinner, a painting, whatever-- you want to give your Idea and its Expression physical form. Then other people can experience it and say Yes! that’s just right! too.

But which is the real Idea? Is it the unknowable Whatever you had before you had the words to Express it? Yes. Is your Idea the words or head pictures you came up with to Express it? Yes. Is your Idea the form you gave it when you spoke it or manufactured it in the physical world? Yes. Is your Idea the Effect or power the words or images had on you and other people? Yes.

But is your wordless Idea, its Expression, and its Effect all the same thing? No.

Ideas, their Expression, and their Effect. One process in three aspects. It happens in us every day--it’s as natural to us as breathing. Why should I stand here today and ask you to thinking about thinking? Why do I want you to think about the thinking that results in making?

Because it’s Trinity Sunday. I know preachers who’d rather preach on anything besides the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It seems too distant from everyday life. But I want to suggest that the doctrine of the Trinity isn’t difficult because it’s too far away from us, it’s difficult because it’s too close-- as close as human thought. Every time we think of something that has to be done or made in this world, every time we exercise our creativity, every time, really, we have a thought of any kind at all, we’re acting as little images of Him who is One God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity.

We can truly say that the doctrine of the Trinity is God’s own story, told in His own words. Even in the deepest mystery of the godhead, the Lord God is One God in three Persons, expressing Himself eternally with Effect and power, telling His story within Himself with everlasting joy. But in His love and mercy, God also tells us that story about Himself, in the world, to us, for our blessing and salvation.

We can start with our reading from Isaiah. "Seek the Lord while he may be found!" the prophet urges us in God’s name. Listen! God is telling his story!

But how can we seek God? He is high and lifted up! We can’t think His thoughts, we can’t even know them! God can’t be comprehended by us humans, not in His essence! He’s like an Idea with no words, no images to express it.

There are some people who say that. They claim that God is so high and spiritual and unknowable that it’s a waste of time for us to worry about seeking him or learning what he wants. The answer, they say, is for us humans just to do the good we find in our own hearts. Or we can make gods out of forces of nature that we can see and feel and understand.

But that’s not necessary. Actually, it’s rude, because God is Trinity. He makes Himself known and commands us to listen. God is not like an Idea with no Expression or an Expression with no Power; no, He sends His word to express who and what He is. And His word never returns to Him empty; it accomplishes what He desires and achieves the purpose for which He sends it.

As far as Isaiah knew, the "word" in this prophecy meant the spoken and written word that the Lord God had put in his mouth. In paradise, though, I’m sure he rejoiced to see the day when the Word of God would be revealed as so much more.

For as the writer to the Hebrews says,

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son."

Or as St. John puts it in the beginning of his gospel,

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

John says that Jesus Christ is and always was that Word of God that makes the unknowable God known. He was with God in the beginning, from before time began, before anything was made. The writer to the Hebrews says that the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s being. Even before His incarnation in this world, the only-begotten Son of God was the perfect Word and Image telling God’s own story, for He is and always was God’s own and only true Word.

And even in heaven before anything physical was made, even before the angels and archangels and all the supernatural powers of heaven were brought forth, God the Holy Spirit was proceeding from the Father and the Son, giving glory to the Father through the Son and glory to the Son in the Father.

But was the Triune God satisfied with that? We get a great idea and we want to give it form in the world. How much more does the ever-living, eternal Creator God feel that way! Did you notice how every one of our readings speaks of the Triune God as the Maker and Sustainer of this world? Isaiah speaks of the snow and the rain that water the earth and make it bud and flourish. The writer to the Hebrews says it was through the Son that God made the universe, that all things are sustained through His powerful word. St. John declares that "Through him"-- that is, the eternal Word of God, Jesus Christ-- "all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit expresses Himself in His creation. All around us we can see the sort of God He is, a God who doesn’t remain aloof in the heavens, but a God who comes near, a God who tells His own story in what He has made. Especially, He tells His story in us, His human creation, made in His own image, made to be thinkers and creators like him.

But sin has fogged our thoughts and plugged our ears. Fallen humanity doesn’t want to hear God’s story. We want to go around telling our own story, full of the gods and idols we’ve invented as expressions of ourselves. Humans naturally reject the idea of the triune God, and why? Because the Triune God is the only true God that ever was or ever could be. Only a deity who is one God in three Persons could speak and make Himself known. Only a triune God can exercise power and authority in His creation. Only He who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can come near to us to save us. All other so-called gods are our manmade attempts to stay in control. They’re sinful humanity’s attempt to plug our ears and go "La-la-la, God, I can’t hear You!"

But God insists on telling His own story in this world. For our own sakes we have to listen as He Expresses Himself, then submit to His Effect and power in our lives. And so God chose to tell His story in person. God the eternal Word, the second Person of the Trinity, as St. John says, became "flesh and made his dwelling among us." And He did it effectively, with power, for "We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

I wonder: If we had never sinned, would God the eternal Word have become the Word of God Incarnate? I’m daring to say I think so. For how could God create something and not be totally involved in it Himself? In fact, many theologians believe that the Lord God who walked and spoke with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was the pre-incarnate Christ, appearing to them in the likeness of a Man.

We can’t know this for certain, because we did sin. We did reject God and the story He tells us about Himself. One thing is sure: if we had never sinned, God the Word-Made-Flesh would never have had to hang on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins.

But He did! He did! Jesus Christ who was the perfect Expression of the eternal God offered Himself up to suffer and die for our sakes! Almighty God tells His own story in the most perfect way in the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. He is true Man, so He can be our substitute and make propitiation for us. He is true God, so His shed blood can bring us into the very presence of the Father. On the cross Jesus the second Person of the Trinity expresses the love of almighty God for us in a way nothing else in creation ever could. Even when the world did not recognise Him, even when we His human creation rejected Him, by His death and resurrection Christ the second Person of the Trinity called us as His own and gave us the right to become children of God!

How, exactly? By the power of God the Holy Spirit, God the third Person of the Trinity, working in our hearts to change us, to cleanse us, to make us over into the image of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The Holy Spirit is the effective Power of God who proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Spirit of God opens our ears to hear God telling His own story. He convinces us that the truth we see in Jesus Christ is the truth of Almighty God! As Jesus Himself says in John 16, the Spirit shows up the sin and idolatries of this world as the lies they are. He exhibits the righteousness of God among us, His church, now that Jesus the Son has ascended to the Father. And he condemns the Devil, the false prince of this world, as the lying imposter he is.

Jesus Christ perfectly expresses the Father’s reality because He is God, and all that belongs to the Father is His. The Holy Spirit can take from what is Christ’s and make it known to us, because He is God, working powerfully and effectively in this world. When we receive Christ by the Holy Spirit, we’re not getting some secondhand tale, we’re getting God’s own Self bringing us God’s own gifts. God can offer us light and hope and salvation and life forever more, because He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: eternal, expressive, and effective in this world.

God is Trinity in Himself, and praise Him! He is Trinity for us. He is His own story in His own Word. God the Father is the high and holy One, dwelling in unimaginable light. God the Word eternally expresses the glory of the Father’s being, and now incarnate, has dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. And, children of God, this Jesus Christ by His crucified flesh has made us part of God’s divine story, too! For He has sent us God the Holy Spirit to give us new birth in Him, to minister Him to us in His written word, to make Him present in the sacraments He has ordained for us. And so, day by day God is making us into true words and images on this earth of Himself, the Triune God who rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us into His true light. Hear His story and tell it in His power to everyone you can, for He is the One, the Only, the true and saving God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, ever to be worshipped, honored, glorified, and adored, now and forever, amen.

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