Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity (A)
May 18, 2008
Text: Matthew 28:16-20

“All for Thy worship were and are created,” we sang in the Hymn of the Day (LSB 504:3). So also we prayed in the collect, “Almighty and everlasting God, You have given us grace to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity by the confession of a true faith and to worship the Unity in the power of the Divine Majesty.”[1] The nature of God as Triune, three Persons in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a mystery that can only call for worship, not understanding. And the worship this mystery calls for is faith, alone the true worship of God, faith that trusts what God says of Himself and of us whether it makes any sense to our human intellect or not. And this faith will always result in confession, a word that literally means “to say the same thing.” We say of God the same thing that He says of Himself when we confess “that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance” (Athanasian Creed).

Even talking about the Tri-Unity of God is difficult, confusing, as mysteries often are. It is a mathematical impossibility… How can Three be One, and One be Three? The Tri-Unity of God is not a logical assertion. Sometimes we think we can explain it, but the truth is, when we think we understand it, we’re undoubtedly wrong. Even illustrations have their limitations. The Christian Church has tried to explain the article on the Trinity with any number of symbols: three interlocking rings, a triangle, interlocking triangles, a circle interlocked with a triangle, and any number of others. St. Patrick used the shamrock, three leaves, but one plant, to explain the Trinity to the people of Ireland. Makes you wonder why we always go in search of four leafed clovers, the mutants, when God has so richly provided us with reminders of His Tri-Unity. But even the shamrock is only so helpful. None of these symbols really give us understanding of what it means that God is One in Three, and Three in One. And that is why this is an article of faith. We confess it in the Creed, because we can only believe it, not see it or understand it.

When I say we should believe it, I mean like little children should believe a thing because their parents said so. We don’t have to understand the why and the wherefore of the Trinity… just that it is so. The Scriptures never use the words “Trinity” or “Triune,” but they everywhere testify that God is One, and that God is nonetheless three distinct persons. For example, in our Old Testament lesson, all three persons of the Holy Trinity appear already in the first chapter, as the Father creates through His Word, the Word that was in the beginning with God, and who is God, the eternal Son (Gen. 1; John 1), and we find the Spirit of God hovering over the waters (Gen. 1:2), thus all three Persons as one God are in action in the creation of the universe. The second lesson from Acts chapter 2 (vv. 14a, 22-36) records the words of the blessed Apostle Peter, who preached the Second Person of the Holy Trinity in the flesh, Jesus Christ, who was crucified for our sins, but whom the Father raised from the grave and exalted to His own right hand. “This Jesus God raised up,” says Peter. “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (vv. 32-33; ESV), namely, the Spirit and all His gifts at Pentecost. The Father gives the Son the Spirit whom the Son pours out generously on His people. All three Persons are at work for our salvation, and faith, and sanctification. Such is the testimony of all the Scriptures about the three Persons in one God. Jesus even names these Three Divine Persons in our Gospel lesson, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). On the basis of these Scriptures we confess again in the Athanasian Creed that “whoever desires to be saved must think thus about the Trinity.” There is no other god aside from the Triune God. But we don’t say, and the Scriptures certainly don’t say that one must understand the Trinity, only that He must believe it, that this is the Christian faith, what it means to be a Christian, to believe in and confess God as Three in One and One in Three and to worship Him in this mystery. That’s the kind of childlike faith that Jesus calls for when He says things like, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Little children have no problem believing things they can’t understand. It is the adults that have the problem. Little children have no problem believing that God is one, and yet three Persons. They don’t have to understand it. It’s what God tells them, and that’s good enough.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can say about the Trinity. We can say whatever the Scriptures say, and in this morning’s Gospel lesson Jesus tells us some important things to know about the Trinity. Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 18:18). That is to say that all the authority of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has been given to the enfleshed Son, the Man, Jesus Christ. All authority in heaven and on earth, in things seen and unseen, has been vested in the Second Person of the Trinity who put on our flesh, gave Himself up for us all, willingly, winning our salvation with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death on the cross. The Father raised Him from the dead and exalted Him to His right hand, and has given Him this authority. So what do you have to fear, in heaven or on earth, if the One who loved you so much that He died for you has all the authority?

This One who died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ, also tells us that our very identity as God’s dearly loved, forgiven and redeemed children, is grounded in the Holy Trinity. That is why we are baptized. We are baptized into the very Triune Name of God, in the Name (singular) of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. One Name, three Persons, the Name and Persons into which we are baptized, whom we are given in Baptism. The Father becomes our Father in Baptism, as we are made His children. The Son becomes our Brother, the saving work having been accomplished in His flesh, as His death, resurrection, righteousness, and salvation become our own through Holy Baptism. And in Baptism, Father and Son pour out their Spirit upon us, the same Spirit who came at Pentecost. This one God in three Persons defines us as Christians.

So also the doctrine, the teaching, of the Holy Christian Church is grounded in this one God in three Persons who gives us our identity. Jesus makes known the Word of the Father through which the Holy Spirit does His work upon us. We’re talking here about public teaching in the Church, the articles of the Christian faith taught in the Holy Scriptures and confessed in the Creed, all things whatsoever Jesus has commanded, the whole thing. That is the task of the Church, to teach, to proclaim, the Word of Jesus, all of it, without exception, for it is the revelation of our Triune God and His saving will for the world.

The very mission work of the Church, the making disciples of all nations, is done by this Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and this teaching of all the things that Jesus commands and reveals about this God and about humanity’s relation to Him. How do you make disciples? By baptizing and teaching. That’s Jesus’ evangelism program. Make disciples as you go throughout the nations by baptizing them, which is really the gracious action of God Himself, and in this way they will be grounded, as you are, in the Name of the Holy Triune God. And teach them, all things whatsoever the Lord Jesus has commanded. Put them through Catechism class. Bring them to the Adult Information Class. Make sure adults and children alike attend Sunday School and Bible class. Because faith is the true worship of God, and faith is created, given as a gift, through Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and the teaching of all things whatsoever Jesus has commanded. What Jesus is saying is that in bringing the nations into the fellowship of the Triune God, humanity is restored to that for which God created us. What Adam lost for all of us in the original sin and what we have lost as his sinful children, namely, the purpose for which we were created, God restores by Baptism and teaching. “All for Thy worship were and are created.” And the highest worship of God is to believe in Him, in Jesus Christ, sent by the Father, whom the Spirit has given us to trust for our eternal life and salvation.

That is to say that worship is primarily receiving. That is childlike faith. It is receiving God’s good gifts in His Word, in Baptism, in the Holy Supper of Jesus’ body and blood, even when we don’t understand God or His gifts. Worship is not really our action for God. It is God’s action for us. It is the passive receiving of His gifts in Word and Sacrament, by which Jesus is present with and for us, with us always, even unto the end of the age (v. 20). Only after God has acted for us can we respond with praise and thanksgiving. Because God has acted for us as One in Three and Three in One, we praise and thank Him for all eternity. “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us” (Introit). And we do so as those who have our very identity in Him, a Name given us in Holy Baptism, a Name we must never be ashamed to own and trace upon ourselves with the sign of the holy cross, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Pastoral Care Companion (St. Louis: Concordia, 2007) p. 562.

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