Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sermon: Holy Trinity

30 May 2010 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.

A lot of people are mad at us today, dear Christians. For this is one day of the church year in which we Christians do not play nice with the rest of the world. We are exclusive, and we make claims about God that many other people on the planet cannot stomach nor will tolerate. We confess, as God’s Word has taught us, that God is far more complex than we simple human beings can comprehend.

We confess “one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.” We do not acknowledge the god of the Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Pagans, or Unitarians. As we have been taught in Scripture and as we have been baptized: we confess the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be the only true God. And we do so in spite of the world’s mockery and hatred, “neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.”

For this is the “catholic faith” universally held by the Church, the “one true faith” as our Small catechism words it. And as such, we are “compelled by the Christian truth” to confess the Trinity, and we are “prohibited by the catholic religion” to deny a belief in many gods. And what makes us most hated of all, we dare to confess before God and one another that: “Whoever desires to be saved must hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.”

Some look upon this confession as a way for us to condemn nonbelievers and gloat over the true and saving faith which we believe faithfully and firmly. But this is not so.

We confess with our Blessed Lord Himself: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” We do not confess this one true faith to condemn people, but rather that they might be saved. We are fishers of men and we draw people into the net of salvation; we do not desire people to be condemned. As our Lord says: “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

We confess that which is true, not to berate those who do not believe, but to clarify what is taught in God’s Word. For to deny this truth is as deadly as fooling oneself that the train bearing down upon you as you lie on the tracks is only an illusion. We Christians confess real, concrete truths in our creeds, so as to call out to people lying on the railroad tracks. We want them to move, and we warn them and plead for them to confess the truth with us, and be saved.

This is not easy. We live in a day and age of human triumph. Just look around at our technological marvels! Look at what we can do as “one people” – far more than what our ancestors at Babel could do with bricks and mortar. Our temptation and burden is that we see our human triumphs as signs of our own glory instead of singing the praises of God who created a universe that is comprehensible, the God who made us with minds capable of grasping its mysteries.

For as much as electrons and mu mesons and genomes and the speed of light are things we human beings can grasp, God is not in that category. What we know about God is what He wants us to know and reveals to us in His Word. “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” proclaims St. Paul, “How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscritible His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord?”

Theology is not technology, and confession of divine truths cannot be discerned by logic.

Those who expect God to make sense according to our small human minds and limited reason will mock our humble confession of the “one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.” They will scoff and cast aspersions upon our confession of “the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ… the Son of God” who is “at the same time both God and man.”

And yet this is the overwhelming revelation of God Himself in the Holy Scriptures, the catholic and saving faith confessed by centuries of Christians – many of whom were not merely mocked, but executed for holding this faith and refusing to compromise with those who deny it.

Make no mistake, dear friends, those who deny the Trinity and the Incarnation of our Lord would gladly send you to the lions and claim they are doing “a service to God.” Our divine Lord has said so Himself. And yet we confess it in the very jaws of them that want to devour us. And we do so out of love for them, that they repent and believe, and join us in the one holy catholic and apostolic church and have eternal life through the free and boundless gift of the gospel! Jesus took human flesh to save the world, having been “lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

He instructed us that this belief is bundled with being “born again” of “water and the Spirit.” And it was our Lord Himself who would charge and commission the church and her pastors to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” There are not three names, but one name into which we are baptized – even as there are not three Eternals, three Uncreateds, or three Infinites, but only one Almighty.

Those who rely on their own reason and refuse to submit to this “Christian truth” have made their own minds into a false god, and they do not hold the one true faith that saves. We plead with them, like a lighthouse in a storm, like a watchman at the precipice of a washed-out bridge, to turn back and prostrate themselves before the true God.

For this is what Isaiah did. He fell on his face. He did not quibble about how it was that he saw God and lived. He did not stand around demanding a logical answer as to why God was praised as “holy” three times. Instead, he confessed his sin, his inadequacy, and his unworthiness. And while assuming a posture of submission and adoration, the angel placed the holy element from the altar onto his tongue while pronouncing that this was indeed done “for the forgiveness of sins.”

Isaiah did not force God to fit into the mold of his own small mind. He did not ask how a physical element placed into his mouth could remove guilt and atone for sin. But rather accepted the mystery, received the gift, inherited eternal life, and joined in the ancient and eternal liturgy of the church, the common worship enjoined in unity by saints in heaven and on earth, by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” singing the praises of the Most Holy Trinity.

For we Christians join our Lord’s defeat of Satan by the fact that “we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity,” being united in Him by being baptized into Him, into His death, and into His Triune name. We bind unto ourselves today and every day, the “strong name of the Trinity.” And it is no accident or coincidence that this hymn has been used for centuries to cast out very real demons and to exorcise truly malignant evil spirits that themselves know the truth about God, but nevertheless seek to confuse us, cause us to doubt, and make us more palatable to the unbelieving world. The evil one hates the Trinity and hates the divinity of the Son. And that is why he hates the church.

Take heart, dear Christians! The Lord has not come to give us complex theology to master, but rather a simple faith to confess. Just as a child does not have to understand the complexities of DNA and the mechanics of genetics to place his trust in his loving parents, neither are we bound to understand the “unsearchable” and “inscrutable” God.

Rather, we hear His word, we receive the gifts, and we believe. We are baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, forgiven by the Father for the sake of the Son and quickened by the Holy Spirit. We receive absolution and the Lord’s Supper in the one true faith confessed by the holy church. We respond with joy to the good news of forgiveness and eternal life. We taste and see that the Lord is good, and we sing, even unto eternity, “His mercy endures forever.”

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all good things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”

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

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