and brothers in Christ,
grace and peace to
you in the name of God the Father, Son (X)
and Holy Spirit. Amen.
we celebrate the Holy Trinity – God the Father, Son and Holy
Spirit. Every year, following the Feast of Pentecost, we praise
God, the Holy Trinity. On this day we declare to the whole world
that the one true God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. On this
day we duly note that we become Christians through the waters of
Holy Baptism, in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
(Matthew 28:19). And on this day we note that we pray to God the
Father (Matthew 6:9) in the name of the Son (John 15:16) by the
power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26). So, in effect, on this
day we confirm that Christianity is Trinitarian. Therefore we
hold that everyone who “glorifies the Father does so through
the Son in the Holy Spirit; [and] everyone who follows Christ
does so because the Father draws him and the Spirit moves him”
[Catechism of the Catholic Church, Revised edition (1999) §259].
This is an
important day and we need it. This is because we are prone to
settle for less. We are quick to believe in a different god –
some Supreme Being, or a Force in the universe, or a Great
Spirit in the sky or the Ground of Being from which all things
emanate. But such a generic god is no god at all. It’s only
the projection of human hopes and dreams – writ large in the
sky or on the oceans blue or on the vast horizons of the earth.
But against these alternatives, Christians have taken
their stand – even if it has meant dying the death of
martyrdom – going where St. Stephen, the first martyr of the
Church, has led the way (Acts 7:51-60). This is because right
teaching is non-negotiable. In fact, quite everything depends on
right doctrine. For where “the doctrine is right, then
everything is right” (Luther’s
Works 43:281). For indeed, it is “the greatest thing in
heaven and on earth, to know God correctly” (LW
21:331). And so regarding the Holy Trinity, we confess in the
Athanasian Creed, “whoever does not guard it whole and
inviolable will doubtless perish eternally” [Lutheran
Book of Worship (1978) pp. 54-55].
Therefore on this day we reaffirm our belief in the truth of the Holy Trinity. Even though our next of kin, the Jews, condemn it as blasphemy [David Klinghoffer, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History (2005) pp. 28, 67-69, 77, 173], we still believe it and teach it. And even though the Muslims, our relatives by way of Abraham and Hagar condemn it as “contradictory” [David Thomas, Anti-Christian Polemic in Early Islam: Abu ‘Isa al-Warraq’s ‘Against the Trinity’, (1992) p. 31], we don’t let up in our reverence for it. And when our Buddhist friends issue their quite remote denial of the Holy Trinity for being “superstitious” [Gunapala Dharmasiri, A Buddhist Critique of the Christian Concept of God (1988) p. 223], we go on glorifying it as our priceless treasure and source of salvation.
the Holy Trinity
But this is
not the end of our troubles. There are more hazards still for
the blessed Holy Trinity. Christians themselves, mind you,
tamper with this theological gem. In our time the first person
of the Trinity is “neuterized, the second person is
spiritualized, and the third person is sentimentalized”
[Donald G. Bloesch, The
Battle for the Trinity (1985) p. xv]. And the Trinity is
also attacked for its supposed patriarchy, twisting the
baptismal formula out of shape to say: “Father, Son and Holy
Spirit; Mother, Lover, Friend; Wisdom, Word, and Breath of Life.
Amen” [Word & World, Fall 1989, p. 384]. We are told that without some
such revision of God’s ancient name, his love will be lost on
us. And so along with this liturgical howler – this nine-point
name – there are many other proposals, such as “in the name
of Source, Servant, Guide” [Ruth C. Duck, Gender
and the Name of God (1991) pp. 172, 184].
Our celebration this day, then, must be marked by repentance. We must feel ashamed (Ezekiel 16:54) for our wickedness, rebellion, disobedience, and the dishonor we inflict upon God’s glorious triune name. We must not take lightly our yearning for other names, descriptions and definitions of God. We must condemn them all for the sheer licentiousness they are.
there’s even more that plagues us on Holy Trinity Sunday. We
must also note that over the years many a teacher has fallen
into the silliness of trying to explain the structure of the
Holy Trinity – one God in three Persons, blessed Trinity. For
how, indeed, we wonder, is God one but also three, without
losing the divine unity?
Water and triangles have been the most popular ploys in
this regard. Water, we are told, is one substance, H2O,
and yet also found in three forms – steam, liquid and ice. Or
a triangle – it has but one geometric shape, while still being
made up of three equal length sides. In these two ways what is
three can be seen to be one as well – something which seems
impossible since three doesn’t equal one but only three.
Another solution simply says that three divine Persons can be
counted as one rather than three since the Persons “stand in
the relation of numerical sameness without identity” [J. Bower
& M. Rae, “Material Constitution and the Trinity,” Faith
& Philosophy 22 (January 2005) p. 69].
this ratiocination, however, comes up empty. It doesn’t
resolve anything. All it does is try to show how the Holy
Trinity is plausible. But reason mustn’t be the judge of the
holy. In fact, the Holy Trinity is impervious to rational
analysis. Luther’s damning concession is therefore binding,
that all “who have tried to grasp the Holy Trinity have broken
their necks over it” (LW
we need then is more than rational plausibility. Such assurances
don’t help. All they do is reduce the Holy Trinity to a puzzle
made for rational scrutiny. But that’s not what God, the great
Three in One, is for. If we are to move beyond these puzzles, we
will need to state clearly what the point of the Holy Trinity
The Point of the Holy Trinity
that point can be plainly put. It’s all about saying that
Jesus of Nazareth is God – and fully God, at that (John
10:30-33; Colossians 2:9). And this is crucial because without
him being fully divine, he cannot save us from our sins. For
indeed, “Christ the man, separate from and without God, would
be useless” (LW
52:54). But as the divine Savior, Jesus gives us “access to
the grace of God” (Romans 5:2). And this is salvation, for
Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me”
(John 14:6). Without this access through faith in him, we are
damned in our failures and sins and doomed to everlasting hell.
the Holy Trinity is about the divinity of Jesus is obvious
because he is the contestable one in the Holy Trinity. All the
weight of the Trinity rests on him. He is the disputed one.
He’s the one who looks like the odd man out. For he appears to
be the exception to the rule in the Trinity. The Father and the
Holy Spirit, after all, are both eternal, infinite, and
invisible. But not so for Jesus. He’s another kettle of fish.
He’s a man – walking the dusty roads of Galilee and
Jesus is God
how can he be God? No wonder our fellow heirs of Abraham, the
Jews and the Muslims, balk at the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
Jesus, you see, seems too angular and obtuse to be God. He
therefore is to blame for the offensiveness of the doctrine of
the Holy Trinity. If he weren’t included in it – if we had
only a Holy Binary or a blessed twosome – matters would be
the Holy Trinity is for Jesus. It drives home the point that he
is fully God. Now if that case didn’t need to be made, the
Holy Trinity would be far less significant. But as it stands,
the Holy Trinity is the battle cry for the divinity of our
Savior, Jesus Christ. And so we confess that the “entire holy
Trinity, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, directs all men to
Christ… in whom they are to seek the Father’s eternal
election” [The Book of Concord, ed. T. Tappert (1580, 1959) p. 627].
we have that election or salvation from God through Christ
because of the sacrifice he makes for us. In his death on the
cross he pays the punishment for our sins and thereby frees us
from being punished for our sins in hell forever – provided
we, of course, believe in him and entrust our lives to his safe
keeping (Romans 3:26; John 3:16, 36).
Glorifying God Through the Holy Spirit
But can we
now truly praise and glorify the Holy Trinity this day? Can we
do that when there is so much to understand but also to resist
regarding it? In John 16:14 Jesus says, “The Holy Spirit will
glorify me.” Now that’s precisely what we want to do, but
fear we cannot do as we should, in both “spirit and truth”
However, just as the Holy Spirit helps us to pray as we
ought (Romans 8:26), so he can also help us to worship and
glorify God as we should. And he does this not by nudging us
along in our own way. No, he does it by actually glorifying God
in our place and for us. Just as the Holy Spirit helps us to
pray “with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26), the same
happens in our glorification of the Holy Trinity. The Spirit’s
glorification of God becomes our own. It wells up in our hearts
as we mouth the words.
And so we need not fear that our worship will fall flat.
All we have to do is look to the Holy Spirit and call upon him.
Through his power our dead worship comes to life. Just as long
ago he breathed life into that valley of dead, dry bones
(Ezekiel 37:10), so now, through his Church – that valley of
dry bones – he does the same for us that we might glorify God
rightly. This divine power keeps us focused on the truth. It
also fills us with sincerity and love. Therefore our praise of
the Holy Trinity blesses us and sustains us in our walk with
Christ. So because we are living “by the Spirit” we can now
“walk by the Spirit” as well (Galatians 5:25).
And the power for all of this comes from the cross of
Jesus Christ whereby God glorifies his Son (John 12:23, 31-32).
For in the cross both God and sinners are reconciled to each
other. It’s not one side being drawn to the other, but both
sides being drawn to each other. So Christ is not the
“Mediator of one; He is the Mediator of two who were in the
utmost disagreement” (LW
26:325). This is the good news that comes to the ungodly (Romans
5:6-9). This is our joy even though we know we “deserve
nothing but punishment” (BC,
So on this
blessed Sabbath day we glorify the Holy Trinity. And then in
discipleship we leave this consecrated place to serve the Lord
in his vineyard. And we do so knowing that we go out “as lambs
in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:2). And so we go out bearing
a cross and suffering with the Lord (Luke 9:23-24; 1 Peter
4:12-14). We suffer because of the opposition we receive for
what we believe and teach (Luke 2:34; Galatians 5:17; Ephesians
6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:2-6). So wake up! The worldly have no
hunger for the faith we proclaim. Just hostility (John 3.19,
But on this day we also learn that this opposition and
pain and sorrow and loss are good for us. And so Romans 5:3-5
says we are to rejoice – of all things! – in our very
sufferings. We are to do this because this anguish produces
endurance, character, hope and love. And these are all for the
But on this matter we naturally think the opposite. We
think we should rejoice in pleasure and run away from pain.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the famous, ground-breaking
psychiatrist, called this the pain-pleasure principle. That
principle expresses our penchant for “gaining pleasure and
avoiding unpleasure” [Sigmund Freud, Beyond
the Pleasure Principle (1920; Norton, 1989) pp. 37, 6-7, 41,
77]. Now while this is a reasonable way to live, it doesn’t
capture our life with Christ. So if you’re a disciple of
Freud, give it up today. Follow instead, Jesus Christ, the
suffering servant. Walk in his steps, suffer with him, follow
his example (1 Peter 2:21).
following Freud, we should look to the sufferings and wounds of
Jesus and find in them our way of life, our modus
operandi, if you will. We even are to boast in all of this
(Galatians 6:14). Now how shall we do this? Martin Luther (LW
42:13-14) explains this in his beloved Mediation
on Christ’s Passion (1519):
pain or sickness afflicts you, consider how paltry this is in
comparison with the thorny crown and the nails of Christ. If you
are obliged to do or to refrain from doing things against your
wishes, ponder how Christ was bound and captured and led hither
and yon. If you are beset by pride, see how your Lord was mocked
and ridiculed along with criminals. If unchastity and lust
assail you, remember how ruthlessly Christ’s tender flesh was
scourged, pierced, and beaten. If hatred, envy, and
vindictiveness beset you, recall that Christ, who indeed had
more reason to avenge himself, interceded with tears and cries
for you and for all his enemies. If sadness or any adversity,
physical or spiritual, distresses you, strengthen your heart and
say, “Well, why should I not be willing to bear a little
grief, when agonies and fears caused my Lord to sweat blood in
None of this,
however, means that we should seek out pain – masochistically
(LW 30:110). That would be abnormal psychology rather than
Christianity. Instead we are to “defend the truth and oppose
unrighteousness” and then we will find “affliction and
adversity enough” (LW 35:56). The point in all of this is not to back off of our
confession when the going gets tough. Instead, with our Lord and
Master Christ Jesus, we should stretch out our arms
“confidently and let the nails go deep. Be glad and thankful,
for thus it must and will be with those who desire God’s
Word” (LW 48:387).
We will suffer because of the offensiveness of the Christian
message. We will not suffer because we like to.
no intrinsic worth in our suffering, since affliction isn’t
any good all by itself. Its goodness comes only from what it
produces. And what it produces is character (Romans 5:3-5).
Now character is good because it enables us to help
others. People of character know how to put up with unhappiness.
So they don’t let that stop them from helping others and
showing love. People of character know how to defer their own
self-gratification – sometimes even on into the next life
(Luke 14:14; Romans 8:18). And this frees them to help others
– as Jesus did (Luke 10:37; John 15:12). So character enable
us to skip ourselves and love others. That’s what makes it so
valuable. And that cannot happen without suffering for the
truth. For character, after all, is rooted in “a creedal order
that constrains, limits, binds, obligates, and compels” [James
D. Hunter, The Death of
Character (2000) p. xv].
Now all of us should want to be such people of character.
Just imagine, if you will, how your death will affect others.
How would you like people to feel on the day you die? Will the
people who knew you – on that dreadful day of your death –
give up a sigh of relief that you’re finally gone? Or will
they weep – not knowing how they will manage without your care
and concern? Which seems most likely to happen on the day you
to God that you may be changed into the likeness of his dear Son
(2 Corinthians 4.18). Pray that you will never run out of zeal
for good works but burn with the fire of the Spirit and serve
the Lord with gladness (Romans 12:11). Pray that you may be a
blessing to others (Genesis 12:2). Amen.
as preached with some changes)