The Holy Trinity (May 18, 2008)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s text is the Gospel reading, the very last verses of the Gospel of St. Matthew: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Trinity Sunday follows on the heels of Pentecost. Last Sunday we heard about the sending of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, upon the Church. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, accompanied by wind and fire and the ability to speak in other languages, and enabled them to be powerful preachers of Christ and his cross. All the Sundays from here to the end of the Church Year are now called Sundays after Pentecost, and the first one – today – focuses us back on not just one Person of the Trinity but the entire Holy Trinity. All the Scripture readings for the Sundays after Pentecost reveal to us the ways in which the Holy Trinity works in the life of the Church, to forgive, renew, empower, and enable us to be disciples, learners, followers of Christ. It’s fitting that today’s Gospel reading recounts for us the way in which disciples are made: by baptizing in the name of the Triune God and by teaching them God’s Word.
Now, the Holy Trinity is a big topic. It’s not something that you can easily explain. In fact, it’s best simply to worship the Trinity, not try to explain the Trinity. The Trinity is one of those mysteries that the Church believes and confesses based on what the Bible says. With the Lord’s words from St. Matthew’s Gospel this morning, however, I want us to consider for a time the unity of the Holy Trinity, and how the Holy Trinity shares that unity with us.
Next month, a remake of the 1976 movie “Sybil” is going to air on television. The original starred Sally Field in the title role, a true story based on the life of a young woman whose real name was Shirley Mason. Shirley Mason suffered from what is known as “dissociative identity disorder.” Most of us know this as “multiple personalities.” Because of some awful abuse that Shirley Mason faced in her childhood, she developed thirteen distinct personalities.
Many people confuse multiple personality disorder with schizophrenia. But the two are not the same. The confusion happens because of the meaning of the word schizophrenia. It comes from the Greek words “schizo” meaning “split” and “phrenos” meaning “mind,” “thinking,” or “understanding.” So people with schizophrenia have a “split mind.” In other words, what they think and feel have no connection to reality. And so they often hear voices. Or they might think that someone is out to get them. They have irrational fears of things that you and I come into contact with on a daily basis.
Both of these psychological problems are very serious and sad for the people who have them. They require years of therapy and medication. Those who suffer from them are often misunderstood and ostracized from their communities and families. The most severe cases require that the patients be institutionalized.
Hopefully none of us will ever be personally afflicted with either of these conditions. However, each of us has symptoms that are similar to these much greater problems. You and I are often conflicted within ourselves. We have a “split mind.” We act one way with one group of people and another with a different crowd. In public we are very nice and polite, but at home we are rude and impatient with our family. We tell ourselves “I’m not as bad as that person,” yet another voice inside of us accuses us nonetheless. We are one person, yet we often feel as if there are two who are battling it out within us.
Of course, we are indeed one person, but the battle we feel inside us is that conflict between the two natures that every Christian has. The Christian still carries his old sinful nature inherited from Adam. But through Baptism and the hearing of the Gospel, God has given us a new nature. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation.” God has made us into a new creation which wants to love God and do his will. And until we die, the new nature is always going to be fighting against the old nature. Pauls says in Romans 7, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind.”
Each of us is one person, but we are conflicted within ourselves. We have a “split mind.” We are spiritually schizophrenic. God, on the other hand, is Three Persons. Not multiple personalities, but three “persons” ... three “individual and rational beings existing” (Mueller, p. 154) by themselves, yet not three Gods but only One God. The ancient Athanasian Creed tries to get a handle on this idea and confess it according to what the Bible teaches. We sing about it in our hymns: “Holy, Holy, Holy ... God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity” ... “O blessed, holy Trinity, Divine, eternal Unity.”
Yet those Three Persons are not conflicted within themselves. The Triune God is One God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One in mind and purpose and love. In our text today, right before his Ascension, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me.” Hours before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples, “I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (John 14:10-11) And of the Spirit, Jesus said, “he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speaks, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-15) Also, in John 3, Jesus said, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” (John 3:35) And in John 6, we hear Jesus saying, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will bu the will of him who sent me ... For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” So the Father loves and sends the Son. The Son loves and obeys the Father. The Spirit loves the Father and the Son and proceeds from the Father and the Son in order to renew us and direct us and draw us to Christ, giving us eternal life and the promise of resurrection on the last day.
I’ve heard it said that God made man because he was lonely. As a matter of fact, I think in my younger years I may have said that, too, in answer to the question, “Why did God make people?” But when you really stop to think about it, that’s quite silly. God did not have to make the world to feel somehow complete. He did not have to make Adam. He did not have to make you or me. God is sufficient in himself. Even before time began, the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and the love which they share is poured out by Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:5) The circle is complete. Nothing more is needed.
Here’s where the Holy Trinity differs from other conceptions of God. St. John writes that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Love is God’s chief attribute. And love needs an object. In other words, love needs something or someone to love. How can an eternal being know or “be” love without having something eternal to love? The Muslim god Allah is one, but he has nothing or no one eternal to share his love with before anything was ever created. Hinduism and Buddhism both have an impersonal view of god and spirituality, not to mention multiple gods and goddesses. Therefore, the chief aim of a Hindu or Buddhist is not to love god or be loved by god but to enter into the great “nothingness” of the universe. And impersonal gods cannot possibly convey love, which is very personal.
But the Holy Trinity is love and can love and does love. It’s true, God did not need to create the world and humanity to be complete or because he was lonely. But the fact is, he did create the world and Adam and Eve and you and me and shares his oneness and his love with us. The members of the Holy Trinity are in relationship with each other. God created Adam and Eve and entered into a relationship with them and gave them to each other to be in relationship to each other and to their children ... ultimately calling all of us to be in relationship with each other.
Well, you know what happened to all of that. Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Their relationship with him and with each other was broken. Eve’s mind was “split” because although she knew what God had said about eating the fruit, yet it sure looked good and that serpent sure made the deal sound sweet: “You will be like God.” How can that be a bad thing? But it was, because it was outside of God’s loving will for his creation.
But even in the face of such disobedience, God acted on our behalf to save us from that disastrous day in the Garden ... to save all of us from our disastrous disobedience of his Laws and Commandments. The Father sent his Son to bear the sins of the world at the cross, and the Father and the Son send forth the Holy Spirit to work faith in our hearts through the message of the forgiveness of sins because of Christ’s finished work at the cross. Here’s how Peter said it in his Pentecost sermon, on that great day of rushing wind and tongues of fire: This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it ... This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing ... Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the Lord Jesus, the authority he shares with the Father. He sends his Church to Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. In Baptism, the name of the Triune God is placed on you. You are born again of water and the Spirit. You enter into the Kingdom of God. The love of God is planted in you, and Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
Just think ... the Triune God himself comes to live within you. The very oneness which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share with one another touches you. The very body and blood of Jesus is placed in your mouths. You are forgiven. You are renewed. The Holy Spirit begins to work in you to make you whole again. He is at work to heal that “split mind” that you have, silencing the accusing voices because you know you are forgiven in Christ. He is at work to heal the broken relationships that you have in your families and in your church ... so we can all express the God-given unity that we have as we remain united in all the teachings that Jesus has given us.