The Feast of the Holy Trinity ’12

3. June 2012
The Festival of the Holy Trinity – Octave of Pentecost
Isaiah 6:1-17; Romans 11:33-36; John 3:1-15

Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us. Amen. Today is the conclusion of the festival half of the church year. We have come from Advent, through Christmas, and Epiphany, into the Gesima Sundays, and Lent, finally to Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. It is fitting then to reach the culmination of this journey with a festival dedicated to “the Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Spirit incomprehensible, the whole thing incomprehensible” (Dorothy Sayers).

This does not bode well for the sermon. All this talk of eternals, incomprehensibles, and uncreateds will make your head hurt. You might think its the kind of stuff for academic theologians, too heady for common folk. We pastors delight in this day even if you secretly hate it. For some of us, the Athanasian Creed is our favorite. We love the detail which the confessor of this creed refutes error and believes the truth of God revealed in Holy Scripture. The word games it plays delights our inner theologian. It is even fun to confess.

Not only that but every Christian pastor vows it is true. I said at my ordination “Yes, I believe and confess the three Ecumenical Creeds [Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian] because they are in accord with the Word of God. I also reject all the errors they condemn.” Our congregation, according to Article III of our constitution,  “acknowledges and accepts without reservation… all the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, contained in the Book of Concord of the year 1580, to be the true and genuine exposition of the doctrines of the Bible.” These “Confessional Writings” include the three Ecumenical Creeds.

Both the Lutheran church and your congregation believes, teaches, and confesses this creed. But maybe not for you? This creed so infrequently confessed is just something you suffer through each year, perhaps to fit your pastor’s fancy or because its just what-you-do-on-Trinity-Sunday. Maybe your agreement is just a token assent, a nudge-nudge-wink-wink acceptance. When have you taken the time to confess this creed? Do you even say the Apostles’ in your daily prayers?

For all their complexity, these creeds, especially the Athanasian, are not simply verbal exercises and wrote repetition. The many confessors died for the sake of what the Creed says. The swore to uphold this faith even unto death because they are true and genuine expositions of the doctrines of the Bible. In other words, to deny the creeds is to deny the faith. There is no middle ground, no wishy washy confession that is suitable for the Christian. Its the whole Trinity or nothing.

As a friend of mine wrote: “Confessing [the Athanasian Creed] is like jumping into the deep end of the pool for the first time as a child: at first you are somewhat timid, but once you jump in you can’t wait to do it again and again and again, exploring the depths, swimming in its sonorous life. A new world—indeed a new life—has been opened up to us, revealed for us in this name. For it is the life and Name of the very Triune God—who is love in Himself—that we come to know and worship whenever this creed it confessed.”

If this is true, then it is a pity we only confess it publicly once a year. For it presents to us in a comprehensive way what God himself has revealed in the Scriptures. For who could imagine a God like the God of the Scriptures and the God of the Creeds who would assume human flesh and blood in time and history, not by conversion of the divinity into the flesh but by the assumption of our humanity into God? No one. Everyone’s mind is blown. He’s not the God we want nor one we could ever dream of. He is the God who is real, merciful, loving and revealed to us.

The old appointed Gospel for the festival of the Holy Trinity was from St. Matthew chapter twenty-eight. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen (Matthew 28:18).

This familiar Gospel is the locus classicus, the central quoted passage for the doctrine of the Trinity. Jesus shortly before He ascended to the right hand of the Father spoke for the first time the complete Name of God, that is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity was revealed to us in Genesis (as the Spirit hovered over the face of the deep and the Father breathed Jesus/the Word calling all into being and life) and further throughout the Torah, the Psalms, and the Prophets. The full Trinity was revealed at the baptism of Jesus, when the Father spoke: “This is my beloved Son” and the Spirit descended as a dove. Yet, now the Name is given, not just to be heard but to be placed upon you.

Our Lutheran fathers chose to retain the old eighth-day-of-Pentecost reading of Nicodemus and Jesus.  Perhaps you were wondering why a text about Holy Baptism was chosen for a Sunday celebrating the Holy Trinity? At the center of the old reading was not simply the Name of God but the verb of the name, baptizing. Its one thing to know God’s name, as mind-blowing as a God who is one, indivisible and yet three persons is. Its another thing and far beyond our wildest dreams to know what God does for us. God’s name is given so that God’s name does what the Name loves to do.

His Name loves to drown the sinner until he is dead, just like He drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh. His name loves to give new life, to be born of water and the Spirit. He loves to give entrance into the kingdom of God. His Name is placed on the forehead and heart to mark you as one of His redeemed. The Name is given so the Name does what the Name loves to do.

Even in the third century, St. Tertullian reports on how beloved the name of the Trinity was to the Christian. “In all our undertakings—when we enter a place or leave it; before we dress; before we bathe; when we take our meals; when we light the lamps in the evening; before we rise at night; when we sit down to read; before each new task—we trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads.”

Baptizing into the cross, baptizing into the Name is what our Tri-une God loves to do. Its not a one-off event but is a daily dying and rising into the life of the Holy Trinity. This is why the daily remembrance of Baptism is described in detail by Augustine and commended to us by Dr. Martin Luther, of blessed and holy memory. Each day, when we rise, when we receive our food, and when we go to sleep, Christians make the sign of the cross, the sign of our redemption, with three fingers for the Holy Trinity on their foreheads.” Later, it was added upon their hearts with the words “In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Our daily life is confessing our baptism and thus the Name, remembered as we make the sign of the cross. How is it that we born of this Spirit and thus have a new life in this Name? Jesus tells us: this is not an earthly birth, of our earthy mother. He is speaking of heavenly things and thus of a heavenly birth. This birth comes by water, Word, Spirit, just as the waters were collected by the Word of Jesus as the Spirit hovered at creation. So again, the Spirit of God hovers over the font, the Father speaks Jesus with the Word over the water, and new life is given where the Spirit wishes.

How can these things be? Nicodemus asked. We probably will ask ourselves the same thing as we witness Vincent receive this new birth next week in Holy Baptism. We don’t have to nor cane we understand our Triune God. We don’t have to solve Him. We can’t plumb His depths, not the riches, the wisdom, or the knowledge. How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! No doubt, St. Paul. That does not mean that we ignore Him. He is the giver of every good. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.

We are given the Word of Jesus to speak, the Spirit to grant faith to believe, and adoption as Sons to call God Father. We only say what we have been given to say. We have been given the Holy Scriptures and confess the Athanasian Creed not because its easy or simple but because it is true. It is the testimony of Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit. Truly, truly, I say to you, we [the Holy Trinity] speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen.

But don’t just take my word for it. Nor ought you believe it because the confessors including Athanasius, the councils at Nicea and Constantinople, or even the Apostles’ believed it. Even if you think the Bible is authentically an old book, you don’t believe it because it seems probable. No, belief does not come by seeing, or by mind, or by reason. Believing comes by the Name doing what the Name loves to do.

The Name loves baptizing. The Name loves giving new birth. The Name loves you. How do you know this is true? No one has ascended into heaven except Him who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 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.

There’s proof positive Fact. “It is simple religions that are the made up ones… If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course, anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book Four, chapter 2.)

The Scriptures and by relation, the Creeds and Confessions, are far from easy to understand for they are Word given by the Holy Trinity. When Isaiah saw the Word incarnate in heaven, heaven barely could contain even the train of His robe. His Spirit fills the heaven and the Earth. These are heavenly things, incomprehensible, unbelievable apart from the Spirit. Thanks be to God He has come to us, just as He wishes and granted us the confession of the true faith by the power of the Divine Majesty, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen (2 Cor 13:14).

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Trinity 17 2010 – Luke 14:1-11 – Unity in Humility

Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
26. September 2010
Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
Proverbs 25:6-14; Ephesians 4:1-6; Luke 14:1-11

Fellow beloved of God,

You have heard it said: pride comes before the fall. According to God’s Holy Word, this saying is true. Our selfish pride can lead to no good thing and always leads to our downfall. It destroys relationships. It destroys churches. It destroys true religion. Only by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit can we turn from this wicked vice of pride to the Godly virtue of humility. Pride comes before the fall. Let us instead follow after Christ in humility and all virtue and so remain in a right relationship before God and man.

In today’s Gospel text, we hear what might be considered two stories. The first is of Jesus’ visit to the house of the ruler of the Pharisees. The second is the parable of the wedding feast. These Pharisees in the Gospel texts are notoriously arrogant and prideful people. According to Jesus, “they chose the places of honor” (Luke 14:7). Their very lack of action, to care for the man with dropsy, betrays this their character. The man with dropsy, their brother, is in need of physical healing. The ruler, the owner of the house, has invited him to bait Jesus, to tempt Jesus to heal on the Sabbath, to break the Sabbath code. Jesus smells out the trap. He instead turns the trap back on the trapper and asks the question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into the well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” (Luke 14:5-6). No amount of pride would get in the way of taking care of your own son so why do you ignore your friend in need?

These Pharisees boast of their piety. They boast of their ability to live as strict and upright Jews. The take great pride in their ability to keep the Law and all the statutes of their people. They are so confident in their knowledge and practice of the Sabbath that the ruler tries to humiliate Jesus by leading him to sin, breaking the Sabbath code. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. It is fitting for all believers to keep the Sabbath by hearing of God’s Word and serving our neighbors with Spirit-led good works. The Sabbath was given to us for rest and to serve others. The other six days of the week, we toil and labor for ourselves and our family.

While the Pharisees boasted in their ability to keep the Sabbath, their pride was their downfall. The failed to give to the man with dropsy the same ethical treatment they would give their own son or ox. The sit in high seats of honor, boasting of their lawfulness. Yet, the neglect their neighbor in need, the man with dropsy. As promised by Solomon in Proverbs, Jesus, the God-made-man humiliates them. They think they hold places of honor, as rulers of the people and perfect examples of piety. But they deceive themselves and the truth is not in them. There is but one who deserves the seat of honor and that is God, creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. Only God can be seated on the heavenly throne. Those who seat themselves in the place of honor will be humiliated.

Yet, even God himself does not boast with prideful arrogance. He serves the people in humility and meekness. Consider Christ Jesus: He is already humble, taking the lowest seat, serving his neighbor and not boasting of His extraordinary righteousness. Jesus is humble and does as only a humble man can do. He lived a perfect life of humility, serving the poor, the hungry, the ill, the outcast, the loser, and even the dead. He gladly gave of his sleep, his energy, and his leisure to help those in need. Nowhere more obvious is this than in his suffering and death for the sin of the whole world. He drank deeply to the dregs from the cup of wrath in our place, seated at the lowest possible seat on earth. After His resurrection and ascension, He was given the highest seat, the right hand of God. This is not because of His pride or arrogance but because of His perfect submission to the will of the Father, even unto death.

The Lord teaches us that the Pharisees have it backwards. The Sabbath is not a seat of honor for us to boast. The Sabbath is a day of humility, allowing God to crucify in us once again our evil flesh. We take the lowest seat, declaring our utter lack of worthiness to join in His wedding feast, His heavenly banquet. We are not worthy to hear His Word nor receive His heavenly gifts. We enter into His presence with holy and righteous fear of his wrath and judgment.

Only then does God raise us up to new life. He removes our filthy rags and clothes us with His Son’s righteousness. We are taken from our low and humble estate as sinners and exalted as fellow heirs with Christ of eternal life. Our God and Father raises us up from our depths of woe to seat us at the seat of honor with the Holy Trinity.

This exaltation is not our action. We do not receive it because of our pride or humility. We receive it only by God’s good grace. Dearly beloved, beware of having pride like the Pharisee. We must not take pride in our perfect church attendance, our pious life of prayer, our joyous songs of praise, or our preacher’s dynamic and entertaining sermons. We must not take pride in the size the congregation, the gifts and talents we bring forth, or the amount of time, energy, and money we pour into to this enterprise. Grace is not a place for self-righteous pride.

Everything we say and do as Christians ought to be done with a spirit of humility, a spirit that says: Lord, we are not worthy to boast in our church, our sanctuary, our singing, or our programs and activities. If we are to boast in anything, we boast in the gracious love of God which has given us all we have. The very fact that Grace and this sanctuary still exists these forty eight years since its founding cannot be attributed to our work. It was not your hands that built this place. It was not your time that kept the Spirit of God present here, working forgiveness of sins, life and salvation here. It was not your treasures that kept this church financially afloat.

It was God’s good gifts to you that preserved this place. It was His granting of faith in Holy Baptism that brought faithful Christians into the family of believers. It was His forgiving Word of Holy Absolution that comforted your humiliated and tormented soul. It was his refreshing gift of the Holy Sacrament of His body and blood that forgave your sins and sustained you in the true faith.

We do not boast of these good gifts. We do not take pride in our worthiness to receive them. No, the opposite is true. We receive them in humility, confessing we are not worthy to be baptized. We are not worthy of God’s gracious gift of forgiveness. We are utterly unworthy to receive His very body and blood in our mouths. We can only come into His presence to receive His gifts on our knees, taking the seat of lowest esteem.

Yet, we come trusting that our Lord is merciful and gracious. He has promised to forgive us, to accept us back into his wedding feast, you take our hand and lift us up from our lowest seat to be seated with Him. He has promised to seat us in His heavenly mansion, to clothe us with the wedding garment of Christ, and to feast there with the lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world. We can take great joy in this terrific gift, not boasting but proclaiming the goodness of God to the world.

I have to admit a personal weakness. I love the the hymns of our Lutheran tradition. I love the liturgy as it has been received from our church forefathers. I love the wise design of the lectionary. I love the Confessions of the Lutheran church, her teaching and doctrine. I love the way Lutherans conduct the Lord’s Supper, with motions and postures that reflect the reality of our Lord’s body and blood present under bread and wine. But I have a weakness. My love of these things often turns into pride. My sinful heart will place its trust in the these external things for salvation. I am tempted to take pride in our Lutheran hymns and place my trust in them. I am tempted to boast that I conduct the service in a way that is more Christian than that of our neighbors. I am tempted to take pride in the joyous singing, our thoughtful architecture, the quality of the preaching or life of service that you lead as Christ’s children.

Beloved of God, these things are good, right, and salutary. We ought to sings hymns that only confess the faith as it is given in the Holy Scriptures. We ought to follow a pattern of worship that is in keeping with the patterns handed down by the Apostles and the church through the ages. We ought to respect the wisdom of the lectionary. We ought to uphold the doctrine and practice of the Lutheran church.

But we ought not do this in pride but rather in humility. These things we have humbly received because they are in harmony with God’s Word. I admit that I often have presented these things as absolute necessities or sources of great pride. For this I ask your forgiveness. I am sorry if I have taken a seat of honor, lording these things over you. I humbly ask that the conduct of our Divine Service, our preaching, our singing, and our praying be in harmony with God’s Word and its truthful exposition in our Lutheran Confessions. These are great and wonderful gifts but not a source of pride. In all of them, we say “to God alone be glory.”

From Christ in today’s Gospel, we can understand the pattern of the Christian Sabbath. The Christian Sabbath is not about legal code and righteous pride. It is a day of humble submission to the Word of God read, taught, and preached. It is a day of renewal of our rebirth in the Spirit through Holy Baptism. It is a day of kneeling before the judgment seat in complete submission. It is a day of being lifted up by the hand by our forgiving Lord. It is a day for receiving His body and blood for our forgiveness. It is a day of service to neighbor, to friend, to spouse, to children, and to the world.

This is the calling that we have all received. We bear with each other in love, as one body and in one Spirit. We join to proclaim the great deeds of the one Lord who redeemed us, and the one faith which unites us. We have received this calling of humility, patience, gentleness, and love in order to serve the Lord. This Sabbath as our Lord served the man with dropsy. He healed the man and sent him away. So too, this Sabbath, our Lord has healed us and sends us away with all His gifts. Let this Sabbath remind you to never be prideful of yourself but your only boast is what your Lord has done for you in your humble estate. Amen.

Let us pray: “Eternal, merciful God, You are a God of peace and of love and unity, and not a God of divisions and schisms with which, in Your righteous judgment, You now afflict this world because it has departed from You, who alone can re-establish unity, and has followed after its own wisdom. You have permitted it to be divided and scattered, especially in those things which pertain to You divine truth and the salvation of human souls, that it may come to shame in its assumed wisdom and turn again to You, the eternal friend of unity. We poor sinners, to whom You have mercifully granted to realize these things, ask and invoke You, by Your Holy Spirit, to gather again all that is now scattered, to unite and make whole all that is now divided. Grant also that we may return into unity with You, to seek Your eternal truth and turn away from all schisms, so that all may be of the one heart and mind, will, knowledge, thought, and understanding which is patterned after Jesus Christ our Lord, and may with one heart and voice praise and glorify You, heavenly Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the same Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. Amen.” (Löhe, Seed Grains of Prayer, p. 116-7)