Sermon 11  

Glorify the Trinity

Romans 5:2

June 3, 2007


Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of God the Father, Son (X) and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today 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].

  The Only True God is Triune

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.

Revising 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. 

Silly Explanations

But 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].

All 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 34:218).

What 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 is.


The Point of the Holy Trinity

And 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.

Saying 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 Capernaum , dining at table, holding children on his lap. He’s temporal, finite and visible.


Jesus is God

So 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 much better.

So 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].

And 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).

St. Augustine (354-430) explains how this works in his classic treatise, De Trinitate [On the Trinity]. Early on in this fifteen book classic he writes that the “True mediator Himself, Jesus Christ, [while] reconciling us to God,…. Himself remains one [unus ipse esset] as both the offerer and the offering [qui offerebat et quod offerebat] (§4:14.19). This means that Christ’s sacrificial offering does not deplete his divinity, and thereby exclude him from the Holy Trinity. No, this means that his voluntary offering is in concert with the Father’s plan (John 19:11; Acts 2:23). This means the Son is in cahoots with the Father for the salvation of the world. So indeed, St. Augustine had it right, the offering and the offerer are one. It’s not the Son being forced by the Father to die unwillingly for the sins of the world. No. The Son is so much a part of the Holy Trinity that he himself offers himself when the Father sends him as an offering for the sins of the world. Indeed it was the Father’s will “to bruise him” (Isaiah 53:10), but Jesus gladly went along with it – he signed off on it with gusto.


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” (John 4:24).

            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, p. 347).


Leaving Freud Behind

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, 7:7, 15:19).

            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 good.

            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 Christ’s Example

Rather than 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):


If 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 the Garden of Gethsemane ? He who lies abed while his master struggles in the throes of death is indeed a slothful and disgraceful servant”…. Christ’s passion must not be met with words or forms, but with life and truth…. Such meditation, however, has become rare.


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.


Building Character

For there’s 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 die?

Pray 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.


(printed as preached with some changes)