Last week was Trinity Sunday, a date in the church calendar where special attention is called to the Trinity, to the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You may have seen on Facebook or other places online, illustrations for Trinity Sunday involving Fidget Spinner, some of which were jokes and some, I’m afraid, might not have been. You may also have noticed that we didn’t say much about the Trinity last week, I certainly didn’t try to preach on it despite the fact that I like the church calendar and try to emphasize important dates when they come up, and the reason for that is simple: the Trinity is complicated. It’s a difficult concept for us to grasp, it is certainly a difficult concept to condense down into a coherent twenty minutes, and I didn’t want to try because I’m not convinced that Gardner-Webb can’t still take my degree back.
The Trinity is a difficult concept for us today, and we have 2000 years of church history (and fidget spinners) to fall back on, imagine the difficulty of first putting the idea into words. With that in mind I want to introduce you to an important figure in church history, a guy by the name of Athanasius. He lived during what should have been a pretty good time for the church, in 312 Constantine, the Roman Emperor had a vision before a battle in which he saw a cross and underneath it the phrase “by this sign you will conquer.” He had his men put crosses on their shields, they won the battle, and Constantine’s response was to legitimize Christianity. He stopped state-sponsored persecution, he started the process by which Christianity would eventually become the official religion of the Empire. Should have been a good thing, right? The issue was that legitimacy made the church more popular and that brought more eyes to the different discrepancies in how people understood the faith, and the biggest one had to do with how Jesus fit/related to God. A guy name Arian (I know there’s a lot of names, I promise I’ll give you a word bank on the quiz) had risen to prominence espousing the belief that Jesus had been begotten by God at some point in history and is distinct and therefore subordinate to God. Arian and the folks that came after him maintained that Christ was the “first-born of all creation” which meant, in their words, “there was a time when he was not.” You get it: God created Jesus, so there was a moment when there was God and not Jesus, therefore God is above Jesus. That is not traditional Christian thinking on the trinity, and the reason it isn’t is because of people like Athanasius, who pushed back against the idea. So this conflict over how Jesus related to God exploded into a big fight, Constantine wanted an answer so he demanded church leaders get together at a council in Nicea, from which the Nicean Creed, which some of our brothers and sisters who place more emphasis on creeds than we Baptists do still use, which said “we believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God,] Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” Which means that “begotten” does not mean “created” as it relates to Jesus, both the Father and the Son have always existed and are one. Problem solved right (see why I didn’t talk about the Trinity last week)? Except the problem wasn’t solved, the battle continued with Arians getting positions of power in the empire and using those positions to promote their ideas and others, like Athanasius, fighting back. Over the course of his life Athanasius was exiled from Alexandria five times over this issue. People died over this concept. But eventually Arianism was defeated thanks to folks like Athanasius refusing to give up what they believe.
So why did I tell you all that? Some people are remembered as heroes because of a moment. The first responders at the World Trade Center on September 11th are remembered for what they did in that moment. On a lighter note, Deshaun Watson will always be remembered for that final drive against Alabama in January. That moment changed him from someone who lost two straight title games to someone folks in Pickens County will always remember. Some people are heroes due to a moment. Some people are remembered as heroes due to a lifetime of work. Athanasius shows up in church history books, not because of one thing he did, but because he dedicated his whole life to defending the faith.
Enoch is that second kind of hero. He does have a big moment in his life, the end of it where God takes him away, making him one of only two folks (along with Elijah) in scripture who never die, but that moment only happens because of the picture we get of the rest of his life, a life that puts him in position to be taken away with God.
There’s one elephant in the text that has the potential to distract us if we let it, and that’s how long are recorded as living in these early chapters of Genesis. Now there’s a lot out there about the make-up of the pre-flood world and how it could lengthen human life, I’m not going to get into that. What I am going say is this: we live in a how focused world. We are blessed to live in a time where we can understand how things happen at a level that no one else in history has. And that’s a good thing. But it also leads to us treating how like it’s the only question that matters. That happens with these genealogies, it happens with creation, it happens with miracles, and I’m not saying how isn’t a good question to ask, but it isn’t the only question worth happening. Figuring out how something happened isn’t so important that we should ignore what happened and why it happened. I believe that ancient readers would have seen “altogether Enoch lived 365 years,” and said “hmm, good for him” and moved right on. We have a tendency to let the how question become all we focus on, when the significance in scripture, more often than not, is in the what and the why.
And the “what” of Enoch’s life is this: “Enoch walked faithfully with God, then he was no more.” That idea of walking with God is where I want to focus for just a few more minutes today. There are two options here. One is that God literally came and physically walked with Enoch. My pastor growing up described hearing an African-American preacher describe this scene like that, he said that every day Enoch and God would walk. And every day they’d go a little bit farther. And then on that faithful day God said to Enoch “you know, my house it a lot closer than yours, why don’t you come home with me.” And that is great image. But it doesn’t really mean anything for us unless God chooses to come physically walk with us. The other option, and the two don’t have to be exclusive, Enoch could have literally walked with God and there still be a word for us here, is that “walking with God” showcases something about Enoch’s life and the role God played in it. The Greeks jumped on that idea when they translated the Old Testament. There, and we see it in Hebrews too because the author probably used a Greek copy of the Old Testament, it says that Enoch “pleased” God. Enoch’s life was pleasing to God, and because of that God chose to take him from life into life.
The author of Hebrews says that it was Enoch’s faith that caused him to be pleasing to God and points to some ways that faith is manifested and can be a part of our lives as well. Hebrews says that no one who doesn’t have faith can come before God, and those who do have to believe that God is real and that God rewards those who earnestly seek God.
Believe God is real. Seems like an easy thing but there’s more to it than that. When we see that what we’re being called to is more than just saying “I believe in God,” that reality has to define our lives.
Believe God rewards those who earnestly seek God. That’s not some kind of prosperity gospel “if God loves us we’ll be billionaires and never get sick, it is believing that God is true to God’s word, that God’s promises are true. If you were with us on Wednesday night you’ve already heard me reference a belief that John Claypool stated about human action. Claypool maintained that everything we do is done out of either love or fear. He defined love as belief that there is and always will be enough of what we need to cover our needs. Fear is the opposite then, it is the belief that there is not enough of what we need to meet our needs, either now or in the future. Believing that God is real and that God’s promises are good means living lives defined by love. It means living as if we believe that God will provide for us all that we need and won’t leave us without hope for the future. That’s what faith that is pleasing to God looks like, that’s what walking with God looks like, believing that God is there and will be there in our moments of need. Believing that the God who created us will sustain us. Believing that God has given us enough that we can be gracious and loving to others.
Enoch is not the only person in scripture that we see described as someone who walks with God. In Genesis 6 we see that same language used to describe Noah. Noah, interestingly enough, was Enoch’s great grandson. One of the things that happens when we truly make an effort to walk with God, to live lives that are pleasing to God, is that that life rubs off. Our faith becomes something that can be referenced and passed down, something that can serve as an example or a challenge or a help to others. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that Noah walked with God because of examples of faith that came down through his family. Our faith can have impacts that we don’t get to witness, can inspire things that last long after us. It is because Noah walked with God that his family is spared the flood and humanity gets another chance. I believe that Noah walked with God because of the examples he had known. Living lives of faith isn’t just about us and God, its about the results that come from us putting out examples of a life well lived.
A few years ago David Platt, who is now head of the International Mission’s Board released a book called Radical, and in it he maintained that as Christians we all are called to live radical lives for God. For him the way we lived up to that call was by taking seriously the charge to give up our comfort and our security for the sake of the Gospel. There was a book written in response by a guy named Michael Horton called Ordinary. Horton said that what was actually missing from the church was not people who wanted to do radical things, but people who were willing to live ordinary lives of faithfulness to God. People who saw the call of their faith to be faithful members of churches, to strive for excellence at their jobs, to raise faithful families, to do the ordinary things in life, but to do them all in faith and for the glory of God. Both the books are good. I wouldn’t recommend one over the other because I think they’re both important. Some of us may find ourselves in opportunities to do something radical, to be heroes of a moment. But we all have the opportunity to be the second kind of hero. The Enoch kind of hero, who through just living our lives in faithfulness to God will plant seeds and do work for the kingdom that will last long after us. Some of us will lead radical lives because of a commitment to an ordinary life of extraordinary faith. And if we do that, if we embrace that call to define our ordinary lives by extraordinary faith, we can all look forward to the day when we do see God, and hear the voice of our creator say “my place is a little bit closer, why don’t you just stay with me.”