The Holy Trinity
The Holy Trinity (C)
May 22, 2016
Text: John 8:48-59
“Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us” (Liturgical Text from the Introit). The Feast of Holy Trinity is different from other feasts and festivals in that it commemorates a doctrine rather than a particular event or person. This morning we highlight our confession of the two great dogmas of the Church catholic (small c, not Roman, although Rome also confesses these). “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith… And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity” (Athanasian Creed, LSB 319). In other words, there is one God, and He is Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is the first great dogma of the catholic faith. And this is beyond our comprehension. There is no mathematical equation that can explain it. Every illustration falls far short and will eventually land you in heresy, denial of the catholic faith. If you think you understand the Trinity, you are in error. This is not an article of faith to be understood, but to be believed. “Therefore, whoever desires to be saved must think thus about the Trinity. But it is also necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (LSB 320). In other words, there is one Lord Jesus Christ, who is God from all eternity, the only-begotten Son of the Father, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; but also man, who in time was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, from whom He received our human flesh and was born under the Law, fulfilled it for us, was crucified, suffered, died, and was buried, rose from the dead on the Third Day, ascended into heaven, and is even now seated in His human flesh at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, ruling all things in heaven and on earth, and that He has done all of this for us men and for our salvation. That is the second great dogma of the catholic faith. We confess these two great dogmas in the Athanasian Creed this morning, as we do also in a simpler way in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. This is what it means to be a Christian. We believe these articles. There are many sects that claim to be Christian, but do not believe these two great dogmas, the Trinity and the Incarnation of our Lord, that have been believed and confessed by the holy Christian Church in every time and every place. That is what the word “catholic” means, “according to the whole,” the whole doctrine believed and confessed by the whole Church. If a Church does not confess this, it is not a Christian Church, whatever else it may be.
And so, the Feast of the Holy Trinity makes us uncomfortable, doesn’t it? It’s not just the length of the Creed, and the length of the Service. It’s the exclusivity of the confession that this God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the true God. And it’s the confession of these very technical and precise points of doctrine. We don’t like it. It’s too theoretical. And it is, by definition, incomprehensible. It gives us a headache. We like things we can grasp. And when we can’t grasp a thing, when we don’t have command over it, or when we have trouble directly applying it to some concrete circumstance in our lives, we dismiss it as irrelevant. Which is simply to say, we’re totally self-obsessed. We’re in love with ourselves. We think it’s all about us… or to be exact, it’s all about me. We like the sermon to be about us. We want something we can take into our life to improve our marriage or our job or even cure our depression. That’s what makes a sermon relevant, we think. But when a preacher comes along with all this high-fallutin’ talk of Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity, we’re not quite sure where to hang it in our self-construction, and frankly, what does it even mean, anyway? And so we do what self-obsessed human beings, particularly 21st Century Americans, always do with things we don’t understand. We dismiss it as irrelevant to us. And do you see what you did, there? You dismissed God as He reveals Himself in Holy Scripture, as He reveals Himself in the flesh of Christ, as irrelevant. Is this Sunday a tough one for you? Get over it. Get over yourself. Repent.
Holy Trinity Sunday takes us out of ourselves and our self-absorption and gives us to ponder the ineffable mystery of the nature of God. This is not something to be comprehended or understood. That would be to put God in a box of our own making. This truth is something to behold in wonder. This is a reality in which to bask and delight and simply praise. You are not God, and neither am I. It’s okay that we don’t understand everything. We live by faith. And so, Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity. God in the flesh of a little Baby born in Bethlehem. God dead on a cross for you. A man risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of God the Father, whom we worship as God. How can these things be? It is not for us to know the how, but simply to know as reality, because our gracious God has revealed it. Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown mercy to us.
And in reality, this is finally all about you. Because God has made Himself all about you. He shows mercy to us. He does not remain a stranger, a great Other, infinitely separate from His creation. Instead, He reveals Himself as our God, our Father who created us and sent His Son to be one with us, to redeem us and make us His own, a Father who loves to hear and answer our prayers, and who preserves us by His Spirit in His Word. He reveals Himself in the flesh of His Son, Jesus, who was crucified for our forgiveness and is risen from the dead for our justification, in whom we have salvation and eternal life in heaven, who will raise us from the dead on the Last Day. He reveals Himself in the sending of the Spirit who gushes out of Jesus’ wounds, proceeds from the Father and the Son, who teaches us and reminds us of all things that our Lord has taught us, who points us ever and always to Jesus and keeps us in the one true faith unto life everlasting. There is nothing more relevant than our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He wrote His Name on you in Baptism, made you His own child, washed away all your sins. He declares you forgiven in Absolution as He traces His Name on you again, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He speaks Himself into your ears in Scripture and preaching, and He feeds you with all His fullness in the Body and Blood of Jesus. How could there be anything more relevant than that? It’s a matter of eternal life and death. If you have this God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have eternal life. If you don’t have Him, you die for all eternity in hell. So I guess it’s okay that we spend a few extra minutes on the Creed today.
The point is not that you understand it, but that you believe it. Abraham believed God, and his faith was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham longed to see the day of his Descendant, Jesus. He saw it and was glad (John 8:56). Faith is not the same thing as understanding, though, to be sure, it always seeks to understand more and more. Faith is simply trust, trust that God is who He says He is and does what He says He does, that He saves us, as He has promised. And that is what He does in Christ. And if you know God in Christ, you know God. If you know God in Christ, you know Him as your Father. If you know God in Christ, the Spirit of God is in you. If you know God in Christ, you have eternal life. The Jews in our Holy Gospel were blood descendants of Abraham, and they prided themselves on their knowledge of God. In fact, they thought they had Him pegged, they thought they understood Him. But Jesus says to them, “you have not known him” (v. 55; ESV). Because you cannot know God apart from Christ. If you know Christ, you know the Father. If you do not have Christ, you do not have the Father. Jesus reveals the Father as your God who loves you and is for you. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and the Spirit always points us to the Son, by whom we have access to the Father who loves us in His Son.
At this point you may wish you had an aspirin. But you’re thinking too hard. Just look at Jesus. Just look at the Son of God crucified. Jesus is all you need to know. That is why God gives pastors. To point you to Jesus. To proclaim Christ crucified and distribute Him to you in the Supper. That is why we have a vicar this Summer. This is really a good day to install Vicar Gaschler. He is here to learn and to teach us. He is here to proclaim the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is here to proclaim Christ crucified in every word he speaks and everything he does. Pastors are servants of the Word. The Word is the vehicle of the Spirit, who gives us Jesus, who gives us the Father. Jesus says, “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (v. 51). To keep the Word means not only to obey it, but to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it, to believe it, to treasure it, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. Because the Word gives you everything you need. And everything you need is Jesus.
So… heady stuff this morning. But all good stuff. The Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity. One God, Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One Jesus, Two Natures, Divine and Human. God in the flesh, crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. This is the holy catholic faith. This is what the Word gives us. And so we believe, and so we are saved. “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.