“How to talk about God and have it come out as sheer Gospel.”
This past week as I was preparing for my proclamation of God’s Word to you this morning, I decided to reread a section of Luther’s Large Catechism on the Trinity. This reading gave me the title for today’s Word, “How to talk about God and have it come out as pure Gospel.”
It reads, in part, talking about the Apostles Creed, the shortest of the Christian Creeds, unlike the Athanasian Creed, the longest and most technical of the historical Christian Creeds. Luther writes, “In these three articles, God has revealed and opened to us the most profound depths of his fatherly heart, his sheer, unutterable love. He created us for this very purpose, to redeem and sanctify us. Moreover, having bestowed everything in heaven and on earth, he has given us His Son and His Holy Spirit, through whom he brings us to Himself. We could never come to recognize the Father’s favor and grace were it not for the Lord Christ, who is a mirror of the Father’s heart. Apart from Jesus, we see nothing but an angry and terrible Judge. But neither could we know anything of Christ, had it not been revealed by the Holy Spirit.
It is interesting to note that Luther states that unlike the actual confession, which starts out with the “Father, then the Son, and last but not least the Holy Spirit” he reverses the order. First, Holy Spirit brings us to Christ, and then Christ brings us back to God, who, because of Jesus, is no longer the terrible finger-pointing Judge of the Law, but beloved Father.
So, on this day, the day, we celebrate the Trinity, we are not actually celebrating WHO God is but HOW God is. Sure, the WHO and the HOW are related, but when all is said and done, what really matters to you and me and every other sinner is the HOW of God.
This is what I mean; a hand is a hand. But if I hold out my hand with fingers closed, like this, you feel quite different than if I hold it out with fingers open. If I hold it with my fingers closed it is called a fist. Or if I hold it like this with my index finger extended, all you see is a finger, and whether pointed or wagging, you do not like it, not one little bit. It is an accusing hand. If I were to come over to you and poke you with my finger, you would probably shove my hand away or smack me. You see, the shape of my hand tells you whether my hand is good or bad.
When those you know that are not aware of the wonderful deeds of Jesus hear “God,” what do they see? I would say that if they thought deep enough, they would either see a fist. Or, at the very least, they see a wagging pointing accusatory finger.
Jesus anticipated that. That’s why, after telling us in today’s Gospel reading that “God so loved the world…” (Jn. 3:16), he quickly adds, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but” — surprise! — “that the world might be saved through him” (3:17).
While the actual act of saving us from God’s wrath happened when Jesus took the wrath of God, God’s fist, so to speak, on the cross, the actual people saving started to happen on Easter Sunday night. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said to those locked-in disciples, who were cowering for fear of all the fists out there. Then he showed them HIS hands. Fingers open. And in the middle? Those gaping holes.
A week later, it falls to Thomas — yes, that Thomas, Mr. Doubt himself — to put two and two together. “My Lord and my God,” he gasps. You could call this the Trinitarian Aha, the first Christian confession of faith recorded in the New Testament, God’s Word.
How had Jesus put it? Earlier, he had said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” That is what Thomas suddenly gets. The open, embracing hands of Jesus are the open hands of the One who sent Him. The Fist of God is no longer a fist but an open hand.
In recognizing this, Thomas is saved from expecting nothing from God but the fist and the pointing accusatory finger to knowing the love of God, the open hand of God. Expectation, remember, is everything.
If God, as Fist is the God I believe in, then that’s the God I’ll spend my life reacting to — and, because of that, the God that I’ll be stuck with when all is said and done. Remember Adam after he had eaten the fruit? At that point, if the only God he could imagine is the Fist and or the Finger he would have to dodge or deflect to keep living?
So the God he got was exactly that. God the Finger, drilling straight through his whining accusations toward God, and they were accusations as he shifted the blame of his wrongdoing to God, “It is your fault, God, for the woman YOU gave me caused me to break your commandment not to eat the fruit,” God the Fist pushing him and Eve out of Eden. That is what he saw, and that is what he got; God the Fist.
Doubting Thomas on the other hand, out of his disbelief, got God the Open Hand. In Jesus, through Jesus, on account of Jesus — that’s how he got him. He learned that second Easter Sunday night to head into a world filled with fists and pointing fingers without fear of them any longer. He knew that the only hand that matters in the end, God’s hand, was precisely the position that we all have always ached to find it in. Wide open. The Father is waiting to welcome us for Jesus’ sake when the Holy Spirit brings us to faith in him.
That’s tremendously good news, the best ever. And that’s what today’s celebration of the Holy Trinity is really about; not the WHO as it is stated in meticulous, mind-numbing detail, the Athanasian Creed, but the HOW of God, Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit in the simplicity of Jesus’ open hands.
To keep the work of the Trinity going, you and I might try this week to surprise some folks by waving at them–you know, the open hand thing, unexpected, out of the blue. It could be they’ll wonder why we’re doing that. If by chance they ask, let’s tell them about our God. Their God, too, is the God of the open hand. Amen