Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sermon: Feast of the Holy Trinity

7 June 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 3:1-17 (Isa 6:1-7, Rom 11:33-36)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

It used to be common to see banners with the notation “John 3:16” painted on them at sports events. The idea being that this verse is a summation of the Gospel. And indeed it is!

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

John 3:16 addresses such depths and riches of the Gospel as: the incarnation, the atonement, faith, sin and its penalty, salvation, as well as the absolutely unnecessary, but wonderfully comforting, information that all of God’s redemptive work is indeed motivated by love.

And all of these things are a mystery to us. We know we are here, that God created us – but why? We know that we, as a species and as individuals – have sinned – but why? We know that God concocted a plan to send His Son into flesh, to die, to pay the penalty of sin, to defeat the devil, and to rise again to glory – but why?

God owes us no answer to the question “why?” Indeed, in Scripture, He is known to become angry when His will is questioned in this way. But in this short encapsulation of the Gospel, God gives us a glimpse behind the veil of His mysterious work. Why? Because He is motivated by love.

To be sure, God doesn’t love us because we are loveable. Far from it. An honest review of the Ten Commandments teaches us as much. The prophet Isaiah’s reaction in the presence of God – “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips” – is a clear refutation of any worthiness in us “poor miserable sinners.”

And yet, the text is clear: God loves us. And as our Lord says: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” And as St. Paul argues, Jesus goes even further: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” and this, says St. Paul, is how “God shows His love for us.”

Love is a great mystery. It causes people to do extraordinary things, to act with nobility, courage, affection, and with reckless disregard to the petty things of this fallen world – even one’s own life. Love is closely bound together with our salvation, and God’s love is an even greater mystery than the weak imitation we offer up as human beings.

And on this feast day of the Church year, we celebrate the mystery of God – especially in His existence as Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity: “neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” And as we confessed in our creed, this reason-defying truth is the very essence of our catholic faith, and “whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.”

God is shrouded in mystery. How can three equal one? How can the transcendent and almighty God be contained within human flesh and blood, and in bread and wine? How can God die? How can a man rise from the dead? And why does He love us, we who rebel against Him, to the point of where He becomes both priest and sacrifice for our salvation? And why does He require nothing of us to be saved other than to believe the catholic faith? And how is it that we are saved by grace alone, and yet we confess that “those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire”?

Those who seek simplistic, rational answers to all of the above are doomed to fall into heresy. We don’t have all the pat answers of the universe, and it is sheer hubris for us to try. Rather, we simply confess what God has revealed to us. Although we don’t know everything, though we can’t comprehend all the hidden mysteries of our Lord and the holy faith – He does reveal everything we need to know to partake of His love, of salvation, and of eternal life.

You do not need to figure out the mysteries of the catholic faith, you only have to believe. It is a matter of trust from the heart, not merely doctrinal head-knowledge. Though I am utterly ignorant of the mathematical calculations and engineering formulas that went into the building of the Crescent City Connection, if I didn’t have faith that it was structurally sound, I wouldn’t drive my family over it.

Every day, we put our trust in doctors, engineers, and scientists. We place our very lives in their hands, in faith that they know what they are doing. Even the atheist lives this way, day by day, by faith. And yet, some will scoff and chafe against such Christian doctrines as the Trinity because they cannot be made to understand it.

The demons have perhaps a greater intellectual grasp of the Trinity than we do. One thing is for sure, they are awed by the Triune God. They recoil at the mention of the Holy Trinity. Whenever we bless a home or a sacred object, it is always done in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and always involves the marking of the cross – a reminder to the demons of their defeat, and of Him who defeated them.

Our opening hymn, “I Bind Unto Myself This Day,” written by St. Patrick more than 1,500 years ago, has been sung during exorcisms and prayers of deliverance from evil spirits for centuries. There is just something about “the strong name of the Trinity, and invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three” that scatters the forces of evil in a panicked rout.

For to be delivered from the forces of darkness, we must be saved. Our Lord told Nicodemus, who was lurking around in the darkness of night, “you must be born again… of water and the Spirit.”

It is no accident that our Lord instructed us to baptize with water “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Every baptism is an exorcism, and this is why Luther retained the traditional exorcism as part of baptism – a practice that has been restored among us also.

In these growing days of darkness, we need to take advantage of every blessing, of every remembrance of baptism, of every opportunity to throw the sign of the cross in the devil’s face, every opportunity to cast out demons.

We do this when we bless our food with the Word of God and prayer. We do this when we begin our prayers in the name of the Trinity. We do this when we surround our homes with crucifixes and icons depicting the victorious saints and our Blessed Lord.

And most of all, dear Christians, when you come to this altar and partake of the Holy Supper of our Lord’s body and blood, you are, in a very real way, standing with Isaiah in the throne-room of God Almighty as a forgiven sinner, hearing the declaration: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

The eternal presence of the flesh-and-blood second Person of the Holy Trinity, given to us Christians to eat and to drink for forgiveness, life, and salvation, is the very last thing the devil can abide. And this is why he works so hard to keep you away from this place.

For this church, this pulpit, this font, and this altar have all been consecrated by “the name, the strong name of the Trinity.” You have also been consecrated in this name, born again, given the forgiving coal from the seraphim, enabling you to stand in God’s presence. “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And this is how we can sing with St. Paul, with the hosts of angels, with saints strewn far and wide around the globe, and with all our victorious brothers and sisters from every time and place who now sing in heaven in the very presence of the “Three in One and One in Three”:

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!.... For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.


Peter said...

I preached in Noblesville, where the organist played this on his penny-whistle. . . . quite beautiful.

Father Hollywood said...

Very cool!