May 30, 2021 The Holy Trinity The text is John 3:1-17.
1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In a few moments we will recite the Apostle’s Creed, as we collectively do on most Sundays during the church year. And, in doing so we will affirm the theological crux of this doctrine of our Christian faith which hinges on the three Articles. “I believe in God, the Father almighty, I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, and I believe in the Holy Spirit.” There you have it, this is all we need to know about the trinitarian God; Happy Holy Trinity Sunday! Well, maybe not so fast; there might be a bit more we have to say regarding this rather challenging concept that lies at the very core of our faith. Martin Luther is quoted as having written, “to try to deny the Trinity endangers your salvation; to try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity.” Brother Martin did however, make a valiant attempt to explain the three Persons of the Trinity as he teaches the specifics of the three Articles in the Small Catechism. God is the Creator; Jesus, the Redeemer; and the Holy Spirit sanctifies us by calling us to, and sustaining us in faith.
Over many years of teaching Confirmation classes, I’ve not yet had a young student answer in the affirmative, “who understands the concept of the Trinity?” Bless their honest little souls. But I’ve participated in Adult Forums when this same question was asked of the grownups. And inevitably, one or more adults would raise their hand and affirm that yes, they had the doctrine of the Trinity all figured out. Good for them! Well, I for one have difficulty grasping the intricacies of the Three-in-One and the One-in-Three nature of our God. And in reading Luther’s quote, it’s apparent that he wasn’t fully at ease with the concept either. And neither was the protagonist in this morning’s lesson from John’s gospel, poor old ‘Nic at Night”. Nicodemus was anxious to gain an understanding of Jesus’ teaching, but circumstances forced him to seek out Jesus under cover of darkness. And in what is a rarity in the gospels we find Jesus discussing the Persons of the Trinity in his encounter with this Pharisee. Now, Jesus doesn’t lay out the nature of the Trinity per se, but he does list the three individual entities that comprise the Triune God. And, in what is arguably the most well-known, and for faithful Christians the most important verse in all of Scripture, Jesus describes the three Persons in John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” He tells Nicodemus that God is the One who loves the world so much that he sent his Son to redeem it. ThatJesus as the Son of God and the Son of Man has descended from, and ascended into heaven in order to secure eternal life for those who believe. And that in order to live this unending life in God’s kingdom, one must experience a rebirth through the action of the Holy Spirit. After this meeting with Nicodemus Jesus goes into the countryside with his disciples, so we don’t know if Nicodemus understood the explanation or not. And if he didn’t that puts him in the same boat as Luther, and me, and maybe you.
I’ve found that it’s helpful if I don’t stress too much over trying to reconcile God as three separate and distinct beings, although that is a true description of the nature of the Trinity. It might be easier to consider God as being revealed to us in three different ways; distinct and co-equal parts of the same God. And through these three separate elements of the Godhead the world is blessed with Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Three different functions; each fulfilled by the same God, as revealed by the role each plays in the life of the world. Even as I was writing these words, I realized that if I wasn’t careful this would detour from a sermon and turn into a Confirmation class. And, bible geek that I am, left to my own devices worship would still be going on well into Memorial Day barbeque time. So, what do you say we just accept that our understanding of the nature of the Trinity is a blessed mystery and we turn our attention to celebrating the ways the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit interact with us and how we are connected to our Triune God?
God as Father is the Creator, the One who made everything in the universe, and continues to govern all things. As Father-God, he protects, nourishes, and sustains all creation, ensuring that every part of the vastness of the cosmos functions as was intended. It is this Person of the Trinity that reassures us that the sun will come up in the morning and that we can trust that our Divine Parent bestows unwavering love, grace, and mercy on the world.
God as Son is revealed as the redeeming, justifying, and liberating Savior, the One who overcomes the chasm that exists because of our broken, sinful nature. The Christ who invites the world into loving relationship with his, and our Father.
The third role of God is manifested in the Spirit that flows from the Father and the Son; granting to the people renewal, transformation, aid, and comfort. The Holy Spirit, as Advocate for God’s people serves as the voice of God to us, and our voice back to our God. Three distinct identities of One Godhead; each revealed to us through their individual characters, yet sharing one Divine will for all creation and everything in it. To create, to redeem what has been created, and to be eternally available for creation to call upon to provide for all our needs.
Our Triune God is above and over us, giving life to the world; with us, meeting us in the life-giving bread and wine, and the water; in and among us, sustaining our lives through the promises of the Gospel. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that we are led by the Spirit to become God’s children and that adoption into God’s family places us in sisterhood and brotherhood with Christ. Father, Son, Holy Spirit; if we overlook all the deep theological questions that surround the true nature of the Trinity one thing remains. Our God is revealed to us in many ways, all we need to do is accept that it isn’t necessary to fully understand the mystery. Whether we think of the Holy Trinity in the role as Creator-God, Savior-God, or Sustainer-God, we only need to remember that we have been made, saved, and are cared for. Thank God!
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, you made us all and gave us a universe to live in. And you chose to descend from heaven to walk among us, your children. And you come to us as the unseen wind that sustains us. And for all that you are and all that you do we give you thanks; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.