Sunday, June 19, 2011

So, There's a Holy Trinity...What's That Got to Do with Me?

[Today, I did a re-run. Few sermons I've done in thirty years engendered more conversation than this one, given three years ago. I decided that on this Holy Trinity Sunday, I'd share it again. It was shared this morning during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.]

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20
I was about eight years old and I had a question. The first person to whom I posed it was my Mom. When I asked, she stammered. She probably hadn’t expected me to ask the question I asked at such a young age. And so, she told me that I should take my question elsewhere, not to my Dad, but to our pastor at the time, Reverend Blackburn.

I did. I walked up to him the next Sunday after worship and asked: “Reverend Blackburn, can you explain the Trinity to me?”

“Mark,” he told, “I think of the Trinity in this way. Water comes in three different forms: liquid; ice, a solid; and steam, a gas. But though it shows itself in different ways, it’s always water. In the same way, God shows Himself as three different personalities—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But God is always one God.”

That’s a pretty good explanation and it’s one I’ve used myself when inquisitive children ask me about the Trinity. But on this Holy Trinity Sunday, we may have other questions. First among them may be, “I lead a busy, often demanding, life. What does the Trinity have to do with the life I live? What’s the Trinity got to do with me?”

I hope to answer that question. But before I do, I should explain a little about the Trinity. The word “Trinity” is never used in the Bible. But repeatedly, by inference in the Old Testament and in plain words in the New Testament, the Bible affirms that three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are co-equal, co-eternal personalities of the one and only God the universe.

We see the footprints of what the theologians call God’s “triune nature" in three of our Bible lessons for today.

Our first lesson, which is the first of two creation accounts from the book of Genesis, we’re told that a “wind” moved over chaos when God created. The passage might as readily have been translated to tell us that the “spirit” moved over the waters because, as I mentioned last Sunday, the Old Testament Hebrew word ruach can be translated as wind, breath, or spirit. So, at the very beginning, we see God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. And when I read Genesis 1:26, I picture God talking to Himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—when God says, “Let us make…”

In our second lesson, which is from 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul tells the squabbling Christians in the Greek city of Corinth to live out a commitment to what’s best for one another. Live in peace, he tells them, and then he invokes the three Persons of the one God when He says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” In this phrase, Paul puts the three persons of the Trinity on a par with one another, all one God, three persons.

Then, there’s our Gospel lesson, from Matthew. It recounts how Jesus gave the eleven apostles what we call “the Great Commission." Jesus told them and us to teach the whole world about Him and the new life He brings to repentant sinners who believe in Him. Then, Jesus says, we are to baptize, “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” putting both Himself and the Holy Spirit Who on an equal footing with the Father.

“Fine,” you might be saying, “I accept the Trinity, although I don’t quite understand it. But what difference does God being one God in three Persons make in my life?”

Let me suggest three ways it may make a difference to you and me as we go through our daily lives.

Ann and I had been married about five-and-a-half years when my father offered the only piece of advice I remember him ever giving to me. Dad and I were alone when he asked me, "Are you and Ann ever going to have children?" I gave an intelligent reply: "I uh...We uh..." Dad said, "If you're waiting for the perfect time to have kids, the time will never come. You'll never be able to afford them." Then, this man who's the father of five gave his closing argument for having children. Do you know what he said?  "Mark, there are no good reasons for having kids. Have them anyway."

There are lots of things we do that aren't really necessary. Having children is among them. So are creating art or music. So are starting a business, going on mission trips, telling someone about Jesus, perpetrating an act of kindness just to let them know that God loves them, no strings attached, or building a better mousetrap. There are so many things we do that we don't have to do.

But the desire to express ourselves or to give our love away is so powerful that we feel compelled to do the most extravagantly unnecessary things. This fact about we human beings, I think, is one way in which we reflect the presence of the image of God in us.

The Trinity makes a difference in our daily lives, first of all, because in the Three-in-One-God, we see overflowing extravagance of God's love! God gives us His love at least three times over!

God didn't have to create the universe or give us life. But He did.

God didn’t have to take on human flesh to die and rise for us. But He did.

God doesn’t have to reach out to us as He does today through His Holy Spirit, Who creates and nurtures the Church, inspired the Scriptures, and is still inspiring believers today. But He does.

God enjoyed completeness without us. But the Three-in-One-God wants us, wants us today, wants us for all eternity!

The Holy Trinity, this big, full God, cares about you. He’s invested Himself in all His fullness, in you and in your future. God does that over and over again. In the Trinity, God demonstrates, underscores, and underlines that you, your every moment, your every decision matters to God! That’s the first way in which knowing the Three-in-One-God makes a difference in our lives.

Here’s another way. Since the Middle Ages, artists have crafted paintings and sculptures for churches called Gnadenstuhl. In these works of art, Jesus is on the cross, lifeless following His execution. His arms or the crossbeam of the cross are held aloft by the Father, Who is behind Jesus. And from the two of them, a dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, descends.*

We often think of the agony Jesus experienced on the cross, especially as He cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” But we don't often consider the agonies of the Father and the Spirit as they watched the Son bear the sins of the world.

If you’ve ever been a parent who listened to a child cry over homework that seemed too hard, homework it would be easier for you to do for them, but which you know they must do themselves, you know the Father felt agony as Jesus completed His earthly mission on the cross.

If you’ve ever been a parent or a sibling or a relative of someone addicted to drugs and alcohol, knowing that their agony would go away for a moment if you slipped them the money they needed to buy the dope or if you gave them a drink, but for their good, you refused, then you know how the Spirit felt as He groaned in sighs too deep for words at the sight of Jesus in His death throes on the cross.

If you've ever spent days or weeks with loved ones as they lay suspended between life and death, you know what both the Father and the Spirit went through as Jesus hung on the cross.

These agonies the Trinity endured for you and me. And when the Spirit comes to us in Baptism, He brings God's compassion for us in all that comes to us in life. The Spirit comes to fiercely protect us from a life alone, compassionately placing us in the community of the Church, a spiritual family that allows us to experience something like the connectedness enjoyed by the Father, Son, and Spirit.

In the Trinity, God stands with us in our joys and in our sorrows, in everything that we go through. We know this because the Trinity was there together on the cross, sharing our life so that we can share life with God forever.

So the Trinity makes a difference by assuring us that we matter to God and that God stands by us always: Jesus says this is so to the close of the age. Now, here’s a third way the Trinity makes a difference in our everyday lives: He draws us into community with Him.

C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, describes how the Three-in-One-God does this when, for example, we pray. “What I mean is this” he writes. “An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God [God the Father]. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God so to speak, inside him [God the Spirit]. But he also knows that all real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God [God the Son]— that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying — the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on — the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. The whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary act of prayer.”

God in His fullness, Who cares about us even though He doesn’t have to, Who is able to stand with us in every experience, also makes it possible for us to experience fellowship, community, with Him and with His family, the Church.

Pastor Mary Anderson says that at the age of three, she had her first experience of how something could be three and one at the same time. She watched her grandmother taking her afternoon nap and said, “That's Grandmamma, Mamma, and Odelle." Her grandmother smiled as she heard her granddaughter call her by the names by which her grandchildren, her daughter, and her husband called her. As Anderson puts it, "Three names, three relationships -- and yet the same person.”

The Holy Trinity—God in three Persons—is a mystery and that’s as it should be. As I often tell my Catechism students, if you could explain everything about God, then you would be God and you're not. But when we think about all the different ways in which people see us from day to day—friend, employee, boss, parent, child--then the Trinity isn’t so farfetched. And it matters to our daily lives that God is Three-in-One. In the fullness of the Trinity...
  • God assures us that our every moment matters,
  • that He stands with us always, and
  • that He wants us to live in constant relationship with Him.
The writer of Psalm 8, our Psalm for today, is puzzled by something. He writes :
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
Like the psalmist, we might well wonder why a God so big and so great would bother with us, too. But the God revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shows us that He does care for us. More than we could ever imagine.

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