Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Awesome God

Isa. 6:1-8; Ps. 29[1]

The best way I know to put you to sleep right at that outset of my sermon today is to say that this is “Trinity Sunday.” The very idea of “Trinity” is something that most of us have relegated to the ivory towers of those who have nothing better to do than to speculate about how many angels can fit on the head of a straight pin! But I’m going to go there anyway because I believe that the Christian view of the Trinity is not just “mere dogma.” It’s not just an intellectual notion that applies only to the most “nerdy” theologians. The Trinity is the core of our faith.

The Christian view of the Trinity is a unique way of looking at God. Trinity says that God is the one who created all things and made them very good. Trinity also says that God is the one who entered into our struggle in order to heal our brokenness. And Trinity says that God is the one who is always among us, working to make all things new. [2]

Now, maybe that’s no big deal to you. You may take all that for granted because you’ve spent your whole life in a Trinitarian church. But there are many people in this world who do not have this view of God. Many think our world sort of “happened” on its own, which means that any “God” we might believe in is merely a spectator. Some may affirm that God truly created all things, but the notion that such a God would enter our experience to redeem us is completely foreign. Then there are those who think that God may have done some wonderful things in the past, but that was a long time ago.

It’s true that the word “Trinity” never occurs in the Bible. But make no mistake about it—this view of God is thoroughly biblical. One way in which the Bible articulates this view of God is with the concept of “glory.”[3] I realize that may not help you much with the whole “trinity” thing. “Glory” is another word that we don’t much use in our everyday conversations. If we do use the word at all these days, we may think in terms of a spectacular athlete who wins universal acclaim and celebrity. But for the most part, I would have to say that “glory” is a word that we speak only in church, and then it really doesn’t mean much to us. But in the Bible, the notion of “glory” is a wonderful image of the three-in-one God. In some contexts, the word glory seems to refer to the “beauty” of God. In others, it has the notion of God’s “majesty.” And I think that everywhere the word glory occurs, it has the implication of God’s “mystery.”

I think the best way to illustrate this is with nature. This, of course, is not original to me. It was St. Paul who said long ago that “By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being” (Romans 1:20, The Message).[4] Think about a breathtaking mountain vista with its seemingly immovable firmness and crisp clarity; or a vibrant sunset that re-defines the spectrum of colors from red to purple and stretches across the vast expanse of the sky; or a spectacular seascape that gives only a hint of the power that moves such incalculable volumes of water down to the murky depths of the oceans; or the amazing beauty of a nebula in space, massive and stretching its colors over unimaginable distances.

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind in this is the beauty of it all. When the Bible speaks about God’s “glory,” it presents God as the author of beauty—all beauty. More than that, it depicts God as the highest embodiment of beauty. But perhaps in the same breath, when you speak of the beauty of creation, you also immediately perceive the amazing power that is behind it all—from plate tectonics forming the mountain’s grandeur to the fabric of space and time that holds together the whole universe. From this perspective, the Bible ascribes “glory” to God as the source and highest embodiment of this power as well.[5] There’s a “something more” in all of this that is unnamable. We all sense it behind the breathtaking beauty and the awe-inspiring power, but we can’t quite put our fingers on just what it is. It is the mystery behind and through all mystery, and we perceive that this presence is what we affirm as “God.”

When the bible speaks of God’s “glory,” that’s what I think it means. And it gives new meaning to the affirmation that “the whole earth is full of God’s glory” (Isa. 6:3).[6] We are affirming that God’s inspiring beauty, awesome power and unspeakable mystery are all around us. It gives new meaning to the prayer of the Psalmist, “let your glory be over all the earth.” We are praying that God would continue the “very good” work of creation by sustaining the beauty and life all around us, and that God would continue the work of redemption by establishing in our midst the kingdom of merciful justice and life-enhancing peace, and that God would continue the work of restoration, making all things new, bring all things to the place where they are once again very good. This “glory” has been the defining mark of the Trinity—Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer—throughout time and eternity.[7]

[1] © 2009 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 6/7/09 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] Cf. Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics 1:379, where he points out that the doctrine of Trinity is derived from the self-disclosure of God in the acts of salvation. Cf. also ibid., 1:389, where he says that God’s being corresponds to God’s work as creator, as reconciler, and as one who sanctifies us.

[3] Cf. J├╝rgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, where he consistently interprets the concept of trinity through the lens of God’s glory manifested by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. See esp. p. 176-77.

[4] In addition, the focus of Psalm 29 seems to be the revelation of God’s glory, power, and sovereignty over all things in the experience of the thunderstorm. Cf. James L. Mays, Psalms, 135-39; cf. also H. –J. Kraus, Psalm 1-59, 348, where he points out that God’s “glory” is often associated with nature.

[5] Cf. Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 348, where he points out that God’s “glory” relates to his acts of power. Cf. also Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 1:239.

[6] Cf. Moltmann, Trinity and Kingdom, 101, where he interprets the whole earth being full of God’s glory in terms of other passages that describe the ultimate restoration of all creation. Cf. also ibid., 128.

[7] Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 351, says that Ps. 29 presents the claim of the creator in the midst of competing claims: “Yahweh appears. Yahweh’s kabodh [glory] radiates forth. Yahweh’s voice resounds. Yahweh makes heaven and earth quake. To him all powers must bow in homage, and him they must serve.”

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