Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection August 28, 2016
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
In the past two weeks, I have preached about the wisdom of God Made Flesh, Jesus Christ. I wish to expand a few thoughts from the sermon for August 14.
Part of the difficulty we have with the concept of the Trinity of God is that we have been taught to think of the Trinity as “Three Persons.” This inevitably leads to some conceptual problems. We understand that a “person” is a distinct entity - someone who stands apart from every other person. But when it comes to the Trinity, we must be careful with this human understanding.
When we talk about the “Three Persons” of the Trinity of God, it might be better to recognize that the word “person” in Greek (the language of the New Testament) refers to the masks actors wore in Greek and Roman theater productions. The masks denoted what role they were playing: comedy, tragedy and so on.
“Persona” might be a better translation for “person.“ The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity of God is better understood as three distinct “faces” or manifestations of God. God is One.
As Christians we are absolute monotheists - always believing God is One. There is no multiplicity in God. God is not divided. There is no “hierarchy” in God. The Father did not come “before” the Son. Father and Son (and Holy Spirit) have co-existed eternally together - with no beginning and no end. One “person” is not somehow “greater” or “higher” than the other two “persons.”
In our human understanding, “Father” always precedes, always comes before, a “Son.” This is not the case with God. God as “Father” did not predate God as “Son.” Our language tends to break down when we try to make sense of such absolute Christian beliefs.
Jesus Christ, as the Second Person(a) of the Trinity, is the human face of God. Jesus is what God looks like as a human person. But Jesus Christ is not separate from God - he is God; fully human, fully divine. As Christians, we believe and embrace three manifestations of the One Eternal Undivided God.
We believe Jesus Christ came to save us from everything that keeps us from God. In his life, death, and resurrection, we overcome the chasm, the great gap, existing between the God as Creator and all of creation. I know this is difficult to fully understand. As mentioned above, human language breaks down when we try to speak about God and about what God is doing among us and within us.
As American Baptists, we believe we are saved by faith rather than by works (anything we might DO!). Our Brother Paul teaches us in Galatians 2:16: “ … so we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by doing the works of the law.” But the Greek translated as “by faith in Christ” could as easily be translated as “by the faith OF Christ.” This makes a big difference! We are saved, according to this translation of Paul’s Greek not by faith IN Christ but in and through the faith OF Christ.
Let me add another quotation from Brother Paul: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8)
We are saved “by grace” - by what God does - not by what we do! It is all a gift that we embrace and accept. We cannot save ourselves! God saves us in and through Jesus Christ. But it is always by what God is doing - not anything we are doing. Otherwise, we are back to the question of “works” - something that we do rather than a free gift from God.
Many preachers and pastors over the years have taught us that when we have faith IN Jesus Christ - we are then saved. But then we need to do something - we need to have faith IN Jesus Christ or else we will not be saved. But if we are saved by God’s grace alone, then salvation is what Paul says it is: a free gift given to all in and through Jesus Christ. All anyone need do is accept what is given to us in and through God’s grace, God’s love.
The emphasis needs to be always on “grace” rather than on “faith.” Salvation is something God does; not something we do for ourselves. Faith is not something “required” by God. If we have too little “faith” - do we run the risk of eternal separation from God?
If we emphasis “faith” as THE requirement for the Christian life, we misunderstand what God is giving us in and through Jesus Christ. It is a free gift offered to everyone through God’s grace.
Professor Marcus Borg, in one of his many books, noted a bumper sticker that stated: “Christians aren’t perfect - they’re just forgiven.” Professor Borg wondered if other people who are not Christian aren’t then forgiven. But didn’t Jesus’ death on the cross cause everyone to be forgiven? That’s what Paul believes! This is what I believe!
Jesus is the Light of the World. Jesus is the Prince of Peace! And so I offer a prayer that I pray daily: “Lord Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world! Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Prince of Peace! Fill my mind with your light! Fill my heart with your peace! Amen!