The Holy Trinity (June 7, 2009)
“The Giving Nature of the Holy Trinity” (John 3:1-17)
Today we honor the giver of all good gifts, the Holy Trinity. Each of the members of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are in a perfect, eternal, loving relationship with one another. And the Triune God sets us in families and relationship with others outside of our families. Sadly, our relationships are often a far cry from the relationship which the members of the Holy Trinity share with one another.
Have you ever gotten so frustrated with the members of your family, that you have felt like crying out, “Look at all I do for these people, and they don't even appreciate it!” I wonder if God ever feels that way. We certainly take for granted all the wonderful gifts that God has given us. Every single heart beat is a gift. Every crumb on our table is a gift. Every rag of clothing that we wear is a gift. Every ounce of his forgiving grace is a gift.
All of us whom God sets in relationship with others become selfish with our time, selfish with our own needs. We often think that we are not appreciated and that we deserve to be treated better. And this kind of attitude brings conflict into our homes and lives.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about those situations where there are really some difficult problems that need to be worked out. You may indeed deserve better treatment from your spouse or your children. What I am talking about is the need for each one of us to honestly look into our own hearts and recognize how we each fall far short of the way in which the Triune God shares his love with us.
Although you and I are often selfish and think that other people owe us their love, we have a God who is wonderfully selfless. He is such a wonderful giver and He loves us with an everlasting love. That's the nature of the Holy Trinity.
Trinity Sunday is not a time to explain the Holy Trinity. The Trinity can’t be explained, as much as we try. In today's Gospel reading, Nicodemus had a hard time understanding how to be born again, asking Jesus, “How can these things be?” Jesus responded, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is one of those heavenly things that the Bible teaches, but which we cannot understand with our limited minds.
The Trinity can’t be explained. The Trinity must be believed, and only through the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God can we believe that God is One God in Three Persons.
The Trinity must be believed, and then must also be confessed. St. Paul said, “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, 'I believed, and so I spoke,' we also believe, and so we also speak.” (2 Cor. 4:13) And so, we believe in the Triune God, and this belief leads us to speak about the Trinity, to confess faith in the Trinity in the creeds, and especially today in the words of the Athanasian Creed which so beautifully and thoroughly confesses the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
Trinity Sunday is not a time to explain the Holy Trinity. Rather, it is a time to talk about what the Trinity means for our faith and life. The Holy Trinity is all about giving and loving.
Because he loves us, the Father gave us all of creation to use and to take care of. Because he loves us, the Father especially gave us his Son, as our text says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Because he loves his Father perfectly, and because he loves us, the Son gave us his life. Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Our Lord Jesus was lifted up on the cross, giving up his life in exchange for ours, paying the price for our disobedience to God.
Because God’s Son loves us, he gives us not condemnation, but salvation. Again, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
God has every right to condemn us for our sins of selfishness in our marriages, in our families, in our friendships, for all the ways in which we have fallen short of God’s holy and perfect will. But Jesus also carried our sins of selfishness and our faltering love to the cross. He forgives us.
Because the Father and the Son together love us so much, they also give us the Holy Spirit. This is what we confess when we say in the Creed that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” He is sent to us out of love.
Because he is sent from the Father and the Son, and because he, too, loves us, this third member of the Holy Trinity gives us new birth. Jesus said, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Then, he explains that we receive this new birth through Holy Baptism. He says, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
We are baptized in the name of the Triune God. We are brought into a new family, a new relationship. In Romans 8, St. Paul says that we have “received the Spirit of adoption as sons.” (Rom. 8:15) We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Rom. 8:17) That means we have the awesome privilege of calling the Father of our Lord Jesus our own “Father.” (Rom. 8:15)
And this new birth also means you have the privilege of starting over again. You can return in repentant trust to the promises once given to you in Baptism, and all the junk that happened beforehand is forgiven and forgotten by your gracious Father. And when this happens in families, they, too can start over, start fresh, start new. Your marriages, your families, and your friendships can be “born again” through the Holy Spirit working in Word and Sacrament.
At dinner one evening, Tommy misbehaved. His father, always a strict disciplinarian, reprimanded him saying, “Tommy, if you do not behave you will be sent to your room!” Tommy did not listen. Ordered from the room, he heard his father’s last words: “And there will be no more food for you tonight!”
Later, in bed, Tommy’s thoughts of his behavior began to bother him. He was hungry. He couldn’t remember ever having felt more alone or alienated. He began to cry. Then he heard a noise on the stairs. Footsteps came closer to his room. The door opened and his father came in. Closing the door, he came over to Tommy’s bed and said, “I love you, Son, and I’ve come to spend the night with you.”
Our God is holy. You might say that he is a strict disciplinarian. God’s holy and perfect Law condemns our sins of selfishness and our lack of love. Just like little Tommy was sent to his room without any dinner, Adam and Eve were sent out of the Garden, away from God’s presence. Likewise, our sins separate us from God, and we are alone and alienated.
But our Triune God is also a loving, giving, and forgiving God. Although our sins have alienated us from him and from others, you can hear his “footsteps in the hallway … coming to spend the night with us.” Those footsteps are the sound of a baby crying in a manger, the sound of sandaled feet walking through Judea and Galilee, the sound of nails being driven through flesh and bone into two beams of wood, the sound of a stone being rolled away.
The Holy Trinity is all about giving and loving. He works in love for us and in us, takes away our selfishness, heals our brokenness, and strengthens us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” And then he strengthens us to be all about giving and loving … loving one another as God loves us and giving sacrificially to one another as Christ has given Himself for us.