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Holy, Holy, Holy Trinity

Today you will help us to be like the angels in God’s court.  We’re going to say the same words that the angels call out to one another, flying around God’s head in a giant throne room. 


Whenever you hear the triangle play, hold up this sign: “HOLY HOLY HOLY is the Lord of Hosts!” so that one side of the congregation can say those words, then someone else will hold up the other sign to show to the other side of the congregation: “The whole earth is full of God’s glory!”  This is how we’re going to practice being in God’s presence by speaking like the angels.   

What does it mean to say something is “holy?”  The word “holy” means set apart for a special purpose or blessed by God.  This sanctuary is a holy space, where we encounter God and God’s Word.  The altar is holy, not a shelf for stacking things.  This time in worship is set apart as holy—you’d probably be annoyed if I decided not to preach and just played a recording of some famous speech, or if our musicians just played the radio instead of hymns on the piano or organ. 


We celebrate the Trinity every year on the Sunday following Pentecost.  We always read these same readings that attempt to describe God in the forms of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and our language always falls short, because we finally have to admit our language cannot contain God.  We try to explain mystery, to explain God, but we have stumbled upon something holy.  But even if our language about God is clumsy, we can’t give up trying to praise God.  triangle “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;” “The whole earth is full of God’s glory.” 

In our daily lives, we don’t get a good deal of practice speaking the words of angels.  But let’s try it today—might it make a difference in how we show up in our daily lives?  Might this help us notice what’s holy?  triangle “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;” “The whole earth is full of God’s glory.”

We always read from Isaiah, where Isaiah has this strange vision in which he experiences a call from God.  And in this vision, God is more than a voice—God is a mighty presence, more than humans can bear.  Isaiah knows that no human can see God and live, yet he does live.  He hears the voices of the seraphs, the winged angels praising God: triangle “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;” “The whole earth is full of God’s glory.”

 In the throne room of the Lord, in a temple that cannot contain even the entire hem of God’s robe, Isaiah is terrified that he will die, calling out, “Woe is me!”  He knows he is sinful, that he has no business being in such a holy space.  

There’s an altar in the throne room, covered in coals for the burnt offerings that signified confession of sin.  The winged seraph won’t even touch the coal—maybe angels are flammable?—but uses tongs to pick up the smoking coal and then touches it to Isaiah’s lips.  OW.  But instead of burning Isaiah and silencing him, the coal becomes a blessing, transforming his lips so that he can speak the word of God.[1]  Suddenly, instead of saying “Woe is me,” Isaiah is saying, “Here I am, send me!”  And the seraphs are still calling out triangle “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;” “The whole earth is full of God’s glory.” 

It matters how we speak and what we say about God.  Athanasius was a faithful Christian in the 4th century, a time when Christians were just beginning to be accepted by their government rather than persecuted.  With some freedom to speak, there were lots of ideas going around about the identity and the substance of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and how they all fit together.  Christians needed to figure out what they believed, and there were groups and factions forming around different theologies.  They were not saying to one another triangle “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;” “The whole earth is full of God’s glory.” 

 One of the big discussions going on at the time had to do with a man named Arius (AIR-ee-us), who taught that Jesus Christ was not truly God, but that Jesus was something created by God, making Jesus Christ less than God.  Lots of people were taught this and believed it, but Athanasius did not agree.  Athanasius didn’t want to create problems and disagree—Athanasius was dedicated to peace and to living in tranquility.  He spent some of his life living in the desert with monks, sometimes because he was exiled there. 


But Athanasius was also called as bishop of Alexandria, and what he was really good at was not just articulating teachings about God, but also living alongside people and remaining in relationship.  He was deeply convinced that Jesus was the incarnation of the Word, God in the flesh.  And he lived his convictions by teaching and staying connected with the people he served, unlike some bishops who enjoyed their power too much and remained distant.  With his strength in relationships and his gift for explaining theology, Athanasius and his ideas about Jesus ended up becoming part of official Christian teaching in the doctrine of the Trinity.  The idea Arius (AIR-ee-us) had, that Jesus was created, became a heresy called Arianism.  Yay!  Maybe we should cheer: triangle “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;” “The whole earth is full of God’s glory.”  About a hundred years after his death, a creed was developed in honor of Athanasius—can you guess the name of that creed?!  It’s called the Athanasian Creed.  Has anyone ever heard of it? (Ask the kids to help hand out paper copies of the creed to everybody.)  


The Athanasian Creed is one of three creeds that are officially used by the Lutheran church and a lot of other western churches.  Can you name the other two creeds?  Nicene Creed and Apostle’s Creed.  The Nicene Creed is the longer one, as well as the older version, accepted at the council of Nicea, which was an ecumenical council when bishops from all over the world got together to determine what the Christian faith would be about.  The Apostle’s Creed is a shorter version that came along some centuries later.  We don’t often use the Athanasian creed, and if you are looking at it, you can probably guess why: it’s really long and wordy.  It was printed in our worship hymnal when we used the Lutheran Book of Worship or LBW, also known as “the green book.”  But it isn’t even printed in our current hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, also known as “the cranberry book.”  That’s why I had to make copies to give to you. 


You may also notice it has a Latin title.  I don’t know Latin, so I had to look up how to pronounce this— Quicunque vult (kwee-KUN-kway vult), which means “Whoever wants to.”  These are the first words in the Creed.   You might wonder why it matters what some Christians did thousands of years ago.  Who cares if Athanasius wrote a creed?  Well sometimes it’s good to consider our roots.  We don’t give up telling the stories about our ancestors in faith because it’s important to know where we come from. 


Tomorrow in the United States, many people observe Memorial Day—it’s not just a vacation day.  Memorial Day started soon after the Civil War, when so many people were mourning the deaths of soldiers and the deaths were so widespread across the country that the people decided they didn’t want to forget how terrible it is to experience war.  Because some soldiers were buried in or near the battlefield where they died, maybe many miles from their homes, their families couldn’t always travel to honor their loved one so there would be one day to lay wreaths on the graves of soldiers from the north and the south and remember together why they didn’t want a war like this to ever happen again. 


We also keep telling the same stories from the Bible, to remember our ancestors and our shared history, and also to make the words part of ourselves.  The more we repeat these words of wisdom, the more God’s Word is alive in us. triangle “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;” “The whole earth is full of God’s glory.”   

 God has sustained the church for all these centuries.  Faith isn’t just about us.  We confess the faith of the whole church, what we are together.  We belong to something bigger than ourselves.  Faith isn’t solely your personal work and your personal decision alone. 


The Creeds remind us of what we do agree on, and not just those of us here in this building on this particular day, but what Christians have been confessing for hundreds of years.  We say these words with the saints and with the angels who are crying triangle “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;” “The whole earth is full of God’s glory.” When we read together the Athanasian Creed, you’ll notice the word “catholic”  with a small “c” which means “universal.”  When we’re talking about the worldwide Roman Catholic church, then we say “Roman Catholic” and capitalize “Catholic.”  The Roman Catholic church uses the Athanasian Creed too! 


You’ll also notice how often the persons of the Trinity are referenced, to the point of being repetitive.  You can see how important it is to Athanasius to be really really clear that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal to one another, with no one of the persons of God taking priority. 


Let us read together these ancient words of faith from the Athanasian Creed. 

“Whoever wants to be saved              

should above all cling to the catholic faith.

Whoever does not guard it whole and inviolable              

will doubtless perish eternally.

Now this is the catholic faith: 

We worship one God in trinity              

and the Trinity in unity,              

neither confusing the persons              

nor dividing the divine being.

For the Father is one person,              

the Son is another,              

and the Spirit is still another.

But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit              

is one, equal in glory,              

coeternal in majesty.

What the Father is,              

the Son is,              

and so is the Holy Spirit. 

Uncreated is the Father;              

uncreated is the Son;              

uncreated is the Spirit.

The Father is infinite;              

the Son is infinite;              

the Holy Spirit is infinite.

Eternal is the Father;              

eternal is the Son;              

eternal is the Spirit:

And yet there are not three eternal beings,              

but one who is eternal;

as there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings,              

but one who is uncreated and unlimited.

Almighty is the Father;              

almighty is the Son;              

almighty is the Spirit:

And yet there are not three almighty beings,              

but one who is almighty. 

Thus the Father is God;              

the Son is God;              

the Holy Spirit is God:

And yet there are not three gods,              

but one God.

Thus the Father is Lord;              

the Son is Lord;              

the Holy Spirit is Lord:

And yet there are not three lords,              

but one Lord.

As Christian truth compels us to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord,              

so catholic religion forbids us              

to say that there are three gods or lords. 

The Father was neither made              

nor created nor begotten;

the Son was neither made nor created,              

but was alone begotten of the Father;

the Spirit was neither made nor created,              

but is proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Thus there is one Father, not three fathers;              

one Son, not three sons;              

one Holy Spirit, not three spirits. 

And in this Trinity, no one is before or after,              

greater or less than the other;

but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal;              

and so we must worship the Trinity in unity              

and the one God in three persons. 

Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity. 

It is necessary for eternal salvation that one also faithfully believe              

that our Lord Jesus became flesh. 

For this is the true faith that we believe and confess:              

That our Lord Jesus Christ, God's Son,              

is both God and man.

He is God, begotten before all worlds              

from the being of the Father,

and he is man, born in the world              

from the being of his mother—

existing fully as God,              

and fully as man              

with a rational soul and a human body;

equal to the Father in divinity,              

subordinate to the Father in humanity. 

Although he is God and man,              

he is not divided,              

but is one Christ.

He is united because God              

has taken humanity into himself;              

he does not transform deity into humanity.

He is completely one in the unity of his person,              

without confusing his natures.

For as the rational soul and body are one person,              

so the one Christ is God and man. 

He suffered death for our salvation.

He descended into hell              

and rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven              

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 

At his coming all people shall rise bodily              

to give an account of their own deeds.

Those who have done good will enter eternal life,

those who have done evil will enter eternal fire. 

This is the catholic faith.

One cannot be saved              

without believing this firmly and faithfully.” 

We did it!  Give yourself a round of applause.  Now how about a round of applause for God? 


Our words can never contain or fully explain God, as much as we try.  When our words fail, may God receive our words of praise, echoing the angels: triangle “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;” “The whole earth is full of God’s glory.” 


Pastor Cheryl 


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