Based upon some questions that came up during our Wednesday book study concerning the Trinity and given that today’s gospel story is focused on Christ’s Resurrection and the commissioning of the disciples to tell the story of Jesus’ life to all nations, a commissioning we as the extension of Christ own body have received ourselves, I want to spend some time this morning talking about who Jesus is and what teachings about him the early church felt was important to both protect and to share.
Christianity is unique in that we claim belief in a Triune God. It is a difficult concept, one that doesn’t easily lend itself to examples without committing heresy. Heresy is not a lack of belief, but a belief contrary to the teachings of the church. To talk about who Jesus is, we must talk about who our Triune God is.
I want to follow some of C S Lewis’ logic in Mere Christianity and also look at the Nicene Creed, the expression of our faith that we recite every Sunday during the Eucharist.
Lewis’ first question is do you believe in the existence of some form of intelligence that has intentionally created the universe or do you believe that all that surrounds us, the ordering of the chaos, occurred by random accident without any purpose or intentionality. Are you a theist or an atheist?
Christians are theist, we believe in a higher intelligence and we believe the creation of the universe was done with intentionality and purpose.
Next, is this intelligence separate from creation or is it just the sum total of the universe itself. The term pantheism is generally used to describe the religious beliefs that the universe is an emanation from god. The universe is the physical expression of god and god does not exist separate from the universe. Another older Greek definition of pantheism is the belief in “all gods” Pan meaning “all” and theos meaning “god”, like the “pantheon” of Greek and Roman gods. Christians are not pantheist. The opening chapter of the book of Genesis and the opening chapter of the gospel of John clearly establish that the creator and creation are separate. The opening sentence of the Nicene Creed states that “We believe in one God” and describes God the Father as “maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.”
The next and admittedly very difficult question is: If God created the world, and called it good, what happened, because when we look around we see a lot that is not good?
One answer is called dualism. Dualism states that there are two equally powerful and opposing powers in existence that are at war with each other. There are various versions of how this works out, but the challenge of dualism is who decides which one is “good” and which one is “bad”? Lewis contends that the very fact that most of humanity considers certain behaviors as bad, means there is some greater law that guides us that defines what is good and what is not good. That law Christians believe comes from the mind of God and we call it the law of love. Christians are not true dualists, though we believe in evil forces that we are called to combat.
How did evil come into God’s good world if God did not will it? What we believe is that God created both heavenly creatures and human beings with free will because it is only when we have free will that we can love and be obedient out of that love. Obedience that is compelled by external forces only creates puppets. If we have free will, we have the ability to be obedient to God’s will or to do as we please. Often, when we do as we please we find the consequences harmful to others and/or ourselves. We call this sin, we have missed the mark, strayed off the path and we are called to repent, to change direction. Often, we tell God to quit backseat driving and we wind up lost or we crash. This is how evil came into the world. The Bible uses the story of Adam and Eve to explain it. Humans desired to be like God to the point they became jealous of God, they quit trusting God, they quit doing as God commanded and they suffered the consequence. They allowed evil to enter their world.
There are other religions that would agree with us up to this point. What separates Christianity from all other religions is not God – the creator, but a Triune God. A God of one substance, but expressed in distinct three persons. This is not, as the example is often given, like one person who is a parent to some, and child of another, a person with an occupation, etc. That is the heresy called Modalism. We are not talking about one God with 3 tasks, but 3 distinct persons that we experience as such yet that share one will, one mind and who are in relationship with one another. There is Biblical evidence for this, but for the most part it is something that we must call a mystery, beyond complete understanding.
In the first chapter of Genesis, God speaks and God breaths and chaos becomes order and the world as we know it is formed. The Jewish word Torah, that we translate as Law means more like the thoughts of God and Jewish tradition holds that it existed before creation. The Gospel of John tells us that the Logos, a Greek word we translate as “word” but which could also be described as reason, persuasive argument, and which John seems to mean the thoughts of God, was eternally with God, was present “in the beginning” and participated in the creation process, this Logos we are told became flesh.
What was important for the early church fathers to make clear was the Jesus was both fully human and fully God. There have been and still are people who hold that Jesus was either/or but not both. Many people see Jesus as a good person, but not God. That is difficult to reconcile with the fact he was accused of blasphemy by the Jewish leaders. If he is not God, they were justified in their accusations. Some believe that Jesus was the first of God’s creation, not God, but more than human. If that is the case, Jesus would not be able to be in union with humanity, because he would be other than human. Others, especially many of the Gnostics who are true dualist, claimed that Jesus only appeared to be God, but that he could not have been human because they believe the material world to be the creation of the evil demi-God. So we begin the description in the Nicene Creed.
“the only Son of God” – Roman Emperors claimed this title
“eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.”
But why and how could God become man? The why – “for our salvation he came down from heaven:”
The how – “by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary” – we have not talked about the Holy Spirit, yet, but ruach – the word in Hebrew that means wind or breath also means spirit. Christians believe that wind that moved across the waters at creation and the breath that God breathed into Adam in the 2nd chapter of Genesis was the Holy Spirit. This same Spirit came upon Mary, with her willful knowledge and consent, forming the infant Jesus of her flesh and God’s Spirit.
How did Jesus save us? This again is a bit of a mystery we know what Jesus did, but not exactly how his actions reconciled us to God. The Nicene Creed tells us “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate (Pilate’s name is here to indicate that this was a real historical event, not a myth); he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scripture.”
That takes us to today’s gospel reading. Luke emphasizes that Jesus’ resurrection was an incarnate one. Jesus was not some disembodied spirit or ghost. He eats a piece of fish to prove it. At the end of the Nicene Creed we state, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Our hope is that we too will experience resurrection, just like Jesus. We believe that life continues after death, changed, perfected, but we don’t cease to exist, we don’t dissipate into some energy force called God, we don’t continue to live in a cycle of rebirths as someone or something else until we reach perfection. We are resurrected as incarnate beings, still distinctly ourselves.
What does this mean? It means that who we are matters. What we do in this life matters. How we treat our bodies and the bodies of others and all of creation matters. Life matters. Alleluia, Christ is risen and we will too.