Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sermon: Holy Trinity - 2018


27 May 2018

Text: John 3:1-15 (Isa 6:1-7, Rom 11:33-36)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  For many people, this is their favorite verse in all of Scripture.  Dr. Luther called it “the Gospel in miniature.”

This passage beautifully sums up the Gospel.  But there is a temptation to put this verse on a bumper sticker, hang it from a banner in the end zone, have it tattooed on our body, or send it out in a tweet – as a single verse removed from its context.  And that context is very important.  Jesus is teaching a teacher of Israel who doesn’t understand what Jesus is teaching him.  This is where Jesus tells Nicodemus that, “You must be born again.”  Nicodemus is struggling with this second birth that Jesus is talking about.

Indeed, to a lot of people, being born again is an experience, a feeling, an emotional high.  To many people, being born again means not drinking, dancing, or playing cards; watching your language, voting the right way, and being judgmental.  But this has nothing to do with birth, with the process of being born.

When you were born the first time, dear friends, you weren’t even aware of what was happening.  You did not make a choice.  You did not feel a certain emotion.  In fact, when you were born in the flesh, you were helpless, dependent, and not capable of decisions.  And Jesus uses this metaphor of fleshly birth to teach us about spiritual birth.  This is not the only time Jesus will befuddle His listeners about what it means to enter the kingdom of God.  On one occasion, when the disciples were arguing about which one of them was the greatest, our Lord put a child in their midst and told them that unless you “become like children,” you “will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

And this is very similar to what our Lord teaches the teacher of Israel: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  This is what it means to be born again, dear friends: “water and the Spirit.”  Our Lord cleared up this mystery when He commanded the apostles: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

St. Peter made it very clear when he wrote in Scripture: “Baptism now saves you.”  St. Paul likewise wrote in Scripture: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

To be born again is to be baptized, and to be baptized is to be reborn of water and the Spirit in the name of the Trinity.  It is not about intellectual understanding.  It is not about being “the greatest” as the world judges such things.  It is not about decisions or emotions.  It is about being baptized in the name of the Trinity.  And having been born, we grow: we learn to eat, to read, to reason, and to live.  So too in our spiritual life, we are born helpless, and we grow: we learn to hear the Word of God, to believe, to eat and drink the Lord’s body and blood, and to confess the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, into whose name we are baptized.

And, dear friends, it is no accident of language that Jesus doesn’t say the “names” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but rather “the name.”

His Jewish listeners knew what He meant by saying “the name.”  For that is what they called God: “השם” (Ha-Shem).  They called God “The Name.”  It was the name that they didn’t speak for fear of misusing it.  This, dear friends, is “the Name” that Jesus commands us to be baptized into: the one name of the one God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

We Christians are under a lot of pressure to back off of our confession of the Trinity.  We may be tempted to pray to a generic “God” such as the Creator which is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, or the God of the Pledge of Allegiance.  We are sometimes encouraged to treat Jews and Muslims – and sometimes even Buddhists and Pagans – as people who pray to the same God as we Christians. 

But what does our Lord say? “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God…. Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Unless we pray to the Trinity, we are praying to a false god.  If we deny that Jesus is God, we are praying to a false god.  If we are praying to a “life force in the universe,” we are praying to a false god.  If we deny the divinity of the Holy Spirit, we are praying to a false god.

Our Lord could not be more clear.  The Church sums it up in our creed: “the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three Gods, but one God.”

And this is an important distinction.  Jesus doesn’t tell Nicodemus that being born again is a luxury.  Nor does He tell the disciples that baptism is a nice ritual and a chance to take some pictures.  Jesus also makes it clear that we are baptized in the name, in השם: that is, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And we must be born again!  As St. John the Evangelist put it: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”  What we believe is important.  The name into which we are baptized is important.  For as we confess in the church’s ancient creed: “whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith.  Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.  And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.”

Our creed makes it clear that: “It is also necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ” and that He “suffered for our salvation.”  The cross is part and parcel of this Trinitarian faith, the faith into which we are baptized.  And just before the Lord teaches Nicodemus that famous John 3:16 passage, the Lord mentions the cross: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

God the Son came into our world to suffer for our sins, to die on the cross for our salvation, to rise again for our justification, and to come again for our redemption and the redemption of the world.  God the Son is no mere prophet, avatar, or great teacher.  He is God the Son, “begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages: and He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age.”

The faith into which we are baptized and born again is the faith of the Holy Trinity, the faith that confesses that the “Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord; and yet there are not three Lords, but one Lord.”

And this catholic faith of the Trinity, of the incarnate Lord Jesus, of the Cross, and being born again by water and the Spirit in השם “of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is beautifully summed up in the “Gospel in miniature,” that beloved passage of Scripture that delivers such comfort and joy, as well as the profound nature of the Trinity and the Sacraments:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”  Amen.

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


No comments: