Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday (June 3, 2012)

Wordle: Untitled

“The Glory Due His Name” (Psalm 29:2)

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness” (Psalm 29:2).

Recent polls tells us that a majority of Americans still believe that there is a God. The question is: what kind of a god do they believe in? And how do they relate to that god?

English theologian J.B. Phillips wrote a book entitled Your God is Too Small. Phillips discusses the numerous faulty views of God which people have. For some, God is a “resident policeman” – he is that conscience that eats at us on the inside when we do something wrong. For others, God is a “parental hangover” – that is, your view of God later in life is shaped by what kind of parents you had. God is sometimes also seen as a “Grand Old Man” – a great, big, grandfatherly figure in the sky, but who is really out of touch with the modern world. People might also view God as “gentle Jesus meek and mild” – the pale Galilean who wouldn’t hurt a fly and who died a tragic martyr’s death to uphold his principles. Or maybe, it’s all about having “God in a box” – thinking we know everything there is to know about him, we’ve got him neatly packaged, and if you jump through all the right hoops, we can introduce you to God, because, of course, at our church we know everything there is to know about God. Phillips mentions a few others, but you get the point. Each of these images of God are faulty or limited. And I would add one other to his list: “God in my pocket.” This is the view that sees God something along the lines of a genie who you can pull out of your pocket to help you whenever you get into a jam.

If we were left to our own devices, we would surely have views of God that are faulty. Whereas God made man in his image, our problem today is that we often make God to be in our image. We invent a god that suits our own fancies rather than worshipping the true God who has revealed himself in Holy Scripture. We still see God as less than he truly is, and our lives reflect it. We take him for granted. We don’t fully trust him as we ought to. Our love for God has run cold. We don’t pray to him like we should. The way we worship him is molded by our own individual tastes and wanting to be left with a good, uplifting feeling. We don’t truly do as the psalmist says: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” God’s name is his character and the way he has revealed himself to us. And we fail to “worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” Without fully trusting in this one and only God who has revealed himself to us and given himself to us, we cannot properly honor him nor worship him.

Thankfully, God has not left us to our own devices. He has revealed the truth about himself to us in his Word. On Holy Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the revelation of God to us as Three Persons in One Divine Essence. Over the course of our lifetime, we have learned about the Trinity in Sunday School, confirmation class, Adult Instruction Class. Every Sunday we sing praises to the Triune God in the liturgy. We make the sign of the cross “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We confess the three Persons of the Trinity in the creeds of the Church.

The Trinity is often seen as a very abstract doctrine. Really, though, it’s much less abstract than most people’s idea of a god who is simply “out there.” The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us about a personal God who personally relates to his creation, who acts on our behalf, and who loves us.

The Bible clearly confesses God’s “one-ness.” Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” That’s still the great creed used in Jewish services today. At the same time, the Bible shows us God’s “three-ness.” God does not merely appear sometimes as Father, sometimes as Son, and sometimes as Holy Spirit … as if the one God wears a different mask at different times. That’s an ancient heresy called “modalism.” No, rather, God IS Father, he IS Son, he IS Holy Spirit. Jesus said in the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name” … not NAMES, but THE NAME … “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).

Now, how to explain this is another story. It is indeed a mystery. All human illustrations fall short, so I tend not to use the various illustrations with which people have attempted over the years to describe the Trinity. Instead, I’ve used this story. A pastor gave a sermon on the Trinity one Sunday. A man in the congregation came up to him and said, “Pastor, I just can’t get it through my head that there are three Persons and yet only one God.” The pastor replied by asking, “What size hat do you wear?” The man responded, “7 3/8 … but why do you ask?” The pastor answered, “I was just wondering how you expected to get this great and almighty and majestic God of heaven and earth into that little 7 3/8’s head of yours.”

How God can be three in one is truly a mystery. Yet this is the way that God has revealed himself to us. Instead of trying to understand the mystery, we bow to the mystery and worship God in his majesty, splendor, and holiness … one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Having said all that, this still does not tell us about how God feels about us. A majestic, splendorous, holy God could also wish to crush us for the ways in which we have disobeyed him, the ways we have disregarded his holiness. But today’s Gospel lesson assures us of God’s love for us sinners. It teaches us how God’s love moved him to act on our behalf, to save us from our lost condition by Christ’s death on the cross for the sins of all mankind: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). But we would still be lost had not the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts by water and the Word so that we might be “born again” and enabled to believe in Christ, receive God’s forgiveness, and once again love God who first loved us by sending his Son for us.

The Trinity is a God of love. Love is central to his being. 1 John 4:16 tells us that “God is love.” John 3:35 says, “The Father loves the Son.” And the Bible shows us that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God in the flesh, always perfectly loved his Father and continues to love him. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son to unite all of us in Christ and in his love. St. Paul appealed to his hearers in Rome to strive together in prayer “by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit” (Rom. 15:30). And you are familiar with the apostolic benediction, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14). The Holy Spirit unites us in fellowship, koinonia, “life together” in the grace and love of the Trinity. By faith you share in all that Jesus has earned for you at the cross and the empty tomb. Through God’s Spirit you are adopted as sons of God. He brought you out of the spirit of fear: the fear of judgment and condemnation … into the spirit of love: the Spirit of sonship, the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. You are co-heirs with Christ. You have been brought into an intimate relationship with God the Father. He loves you. He cares for you. You can come to him confidently at all times knowing he will listen to you and forgive you because your brother Jesus paid for your sins at the cross.

What a comfort for those who are without families, for those who are alone. You are a part of God’s family, an adopted child of God! You have a family here in the fellowship of his Church!

What a comfort for those of you in families who are dealing with strained or broken relationships. God is your Father. He is in control. Relationships that have become broken by sin can be healed by divine love and forgiveness in the power of the Holy Spirit.

When you hear the word “God,” you should automatically think of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is truly a mystery, how God is Three in One and One in Three. Still, knowing this tells you much about God. It tells you how he relates to you. As a personal God, he relates to you in a very personal way. He is active and present in your life. He acts out of his great love for you, even as he acted in love by sending his Son to die and rise for you. His goal is to bring you back into a relationship with him by forgiving your sins and by bringing you into his family, the Kingdom of Grace, the Holy Christian Church.

Knowing this shapes how we relate to God. We pray to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. Through Word and Sacrament the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith and grows the fruit of faith, the good works of love and service to our neighbor. We worship a God who loves us as individuals, who is a personal God, and who is active in our lives. Because we know God loves us by sending his only Son to die for us, we can trust him with our whole heart and offer to him our whole lives as living sacrifices of thanksgiving. And we can tell others about this personal, loving, active, forgiving God so that they, too, may receive new life by faith and “ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name” and “worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.”


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