The Message of Trinity Sunday
Trinity Sunday has been observed since the 11th century; it's been observed on the First Sunday after Pentecost since 1334. It concludes the first half, or festival half, of the Church Year. Trinity Sunday focuses on the fact that the true God is 3 distinct, divine Persons yet one, undivided, divine Being. In today's rising tide of Islam and civil religion, this is a truth that needs to be emphasized, taught, and confessed. Yet no matter how much we emphasize, teach and confess it the Trinity remains a mystery. So I don't want the message you take away from Trinity Sunday to be the same one you came in with - one of mystery, but one of ownership.
The Trinity owns you body and soul. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created you. "Let us (plural) make man in our image (singular)." The 3 divine Persons made you in the image of their one divine Essence. God the Father is revealed as the Creator. God the Holy Spirit is revealed hovering over the waters as a mother hen flutters above her nest shielding it. And God the Son, the Word who was in the beginning with God and was God, speaks.
The Trinity created everything matter, light, water, air, birds, fish, animals, angels, by God the Son, the Word speaking, except one thing: Man. The Triune God made Adam from the dust of the ground and handmade Eve from him. Why would the Holy Trinity who is Spirit make something by hand? Why do people make cakes, cookies, and clothes by hand? Out of love.
Ever hold a puppy or kitten, lovingly petting it by hand, only to have it suddenly bite you? Quickly your tender love turned to rage, didn't it? Well God's handmade creation turned around and bit the hand that fed them by eating from the only tree they were told not to. O the betrayal! O the rage! O what swift, certain, sure punishment they, we, all their posterity deserves. Not just thistles and thorns. Not just aging and illness. But just like we do to the puppy or kitty that bites us, "Off my lap; out of my sight; get away from me." Away from us is the back porch. Away from God is the outer darkness where the gnawing worm lives and the fire that never dies burns.
We belonged to the Triune God by creation, but we rebelled and found ourselves outside of Eden looking in. We couldn't get back in, so God came and got us. God the Son took on our flesh and blood coming all the way down into the womb to rescue everyone from the womb on up. But don't think this rescue was only the Son's idea or action. No, God the Father so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son into it to rescue it. And God the Son was conceived by Holy Spirit in the Virgin's womb.
You were the Holy Trinity's by creation, but you sold yourself into slavery to sin, death and the Devil. The only way out of slavery is to be bought back. O you've tried to break your chains of sin, haven't you? That didn't work. The more you tried the thicker chains you forged. You've tried to climb away from death's gaping mouth, haven't you? You scraped and crawled up the hill of life, diet, exercise, medicine, health, but relentlessly you slid toward the open grave. "Your mine," death whispers and every ache, every wrinkle, every illness, every fear nods in agreement. And you've tried to break free of the Devil's paw, but like a cat with a mouse, he lets you go only to slap you down all the harder.
The Trinity saw your plight. God the Father had pity upon you sending God the Son to deal with the Devil taking away his power over death by dealing with your sins. God's holy Word promises death for your sins. Even if you could stop sinning today, you'd still have to die to pay for your sins of yesterday. The only way to deal with the Devil who keeps you in fear by his power over your death is to deal with your sins. God the Son did that. All that sinning you can't stop doing, God the Son never did. All the do's and don't's of God's Law that convict you, instructed Jesus who kept them all. All the death your sins call for you to die, Jesus died drop by hellish drop on the cross. So now when the Devil roars, "Your sins mean you mine!" You can answer, "What sins?" When he roars, "Your death is in my power!" You can answer, "What death?"
Now the Trinity owns you twice. Once by creation and a second time by redemption, but unless the Trinity owns you a third time by sanctification you're toast. See this in the Gospel. Even after Easter, after weeks of being taught by the risen Jesus it says of the 11 apostles, "When they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some doubted." Unless the Holy Spirit keeps you in the faith that you've been created by God the Father and redeemed by God the Son, your doubts will carry you away to misbelief, then unbelief, then to other great shame and vice, and finally to the outer darkness.
In the pre-Flood world, the Holy Trinity put a time limit on how long the Holy Spirit would struggle to bring and keep men in the Faith. He gave the pre-Flood world 120 years. He gives this post-Flood world till the end of the world or till your individual world ends. As the Holy Spirit waged war against unbelief through the preaching of Noah, now He wages war for your soul. In every drop of Baptismal water, the Holy Spirit is at work causing you to trust in Jesus' redemption. In every syllable of Absolution, the Holy Spirit gives faith. In every molecule of the Body and Blood of Jesus in Communion, the Holy Spirit gives forgiveness, life, and salvation bodying and blooding you to the Holy Trinity who created and redeemed you.
The message of Trinity Sunday is the Holy Trinity owns us body and soul by creation, redemption, and sanctification and we own Him. As we sing in the hymn, "And adoring bend the knee, While we own the mystery." We don't understand the mystery of Trinity; we can't explain it; we can only recognize, worship and adore it, i.e. own it.
We own the mystery of the Trinity in the Old Testament. The Trinity is the God of the Old Testament. When Isaiah sees the Lord, he hears the seraphim calling the same triple "Holy, Holy, Holy," that these six-winged beings do in Revelation. When the Lord commands Aaron to put His name (singular) on His people, He commanded him to say over the Old Testament Church what continues to be said over the New. "The Lord bless thee and keep thee; the Lord make His eyes shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee; The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee and give thee peace." The same God who revealed Himself to Moses and Elijah on Mount Sinai, revealed Himself to them on the Mount of Transfiguration. The God who walked with Adam in the cool of the evening is the same God who walked with Peter on the shores of Galilee.
The same God we worship and adore in, with, and under Baptism, Absolution, and Communion, the Old Testament Church worshiped and adored in, with, and under circumcision, sin offerings, and Passover. The New Testament Church testifies to this by ending every Psalm from the Old Testament Church with, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit." We do this to testify that the God or Lord revealed in the Psalm is none other than the Triune God.
We own the Trinity not just in the Old Testament but in the New. At His Baptism, Jesus stands in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a Dove, and the Father speaks from heaven. Paul closes his letter to the Corinthians, "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." Note, Paul starts not with the Father but the Son. That's because as Jesus taught us, "No one knows the Father except those to whom the Son reveals Him." It's in Jesus that we have the fullest revelation of the Triune God. It's in the face of Jesus that we see the glory of the Trinity. Jesus says John 12:45, "Whoever sees Me sees Him who sent Me." And the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. The Holy Spirit doesn't speak or give of Himself. He speaks and gives only of Jesus. So in Jesus we have all the fullness of the Triune God bodily.
We own, or recognize, adore, and worship, the Trinity in the Old and the New Testaments, and we also do so in life. You know how some people remember they've been baptized into the Triune God by making the sign of the cross on themselves? By a physical action, they testify to a spiritual reality. We do a similar thing with the Triune God. Whenever we sing a doxology at the end of a hymn, a verse of praise to the Triune God, we stand. We do this to remind us that something powerful and wonderful is being confessed. Well, when standing it's proper also to bow from the waste. You bow when you're in the presence of greatness. We bow before kneeling or leaving the altar to acknowledge that we're in the presence of Jesus who's on our altar. Bowing when singing or saying the doxology owns the presence and mystery of the Holy Trinity.
As with crossing yourself, you're totally free to do or not to do this. The Triune God doesn't care. You're not a better Christian for bowing or a poorer one for not. You don't bow or cross yourself for God. You do it for yourself. When teaching our kids to kneel, bow their heads, and fold their hands to pray, we don't do it for God's sake but theirs. These are aids to their prayer life not to get their prayers to heaven faster. So with bowing at the doxology. I do it to remind myself of what I often forget. I live, move, and breathe in the presence of the Triune God who created me, redeemed, me and sanctifies me.
The Devil commands me to bow in honor of him; death demands I bow in fear of it; and sin tempts me to bow before its power. When I own the mystery of the Holy Trinity by bowing at the mere mention of His Name, I look down and see laying there sin, death and the Devil under the feet of the Triune God. And then I find true what G.K. Chesterton said, The Trinity that bewilders my intellect utterly quiets my heart. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Holy Trinity(20080518); Lessons A ILCW