Sermon by Rev. Zickler for June 11, 2017

20170611 Sermon Trinity Sunday 2017
June 11, 2017
Matthew 28:16-20

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This morning we meditate on our Triune God, and baptism in His Name as our Lord mandated in the Gospel Reading.

Anyone who spends significant time reading the Bible will certainly have no trouble finding the Trinity within its pages. For example, there is the Trinitarian Blessing found in 2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Likewise, we see it implied in the benediction we use at the end of the service, what we call the Aaronic Benediction, which was given to Aaron, Moses’ brother and the first high priest, in the book of Numbers: “The LORD bless you and keep you, the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the LORD look upon you with favor and give you peace.” In fact, we even see the Trinity subtly revealed in the first three verses of Genesis just read this morning: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” The Father is there, “In the beginning, GOD created the heavens and the earth.” The Spirit is there, “the SPIRIT OF GOD was hovering” over the water. And the Son was there, the eternal Word of God incarnate, the Word with God in the beginning, the Word who was God in the beginning, the Word which became flesh, as John told us. This Word was there as God spoke, “Let there be light.” This Son, the Word who is the light of the world. So yes, the Trinity is present throughout Scripture, but this revelation is perhaps most clearly revealed in those words, “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

With those words, we see something important about baptism. We see that in the blessed act, as those waters are poured over us, as Jesus Himself has just told us to do, then the Divine Name becomes placed upon us. I often say that we should think about this like ownership, that we should think about ourselves as being owned by sin, by death, and by the devil by nature of our birth into this sin-fallen world, but that in those waters God Himself claims us as His own, washes the sin away from us and puts His Name onto us. In fact, we should think about this like how we mark our kids’ water bottles for their sports practices and games. You get all of those water bottles on the bench or the sidelines, and who knows whose is whose. But when you put your name on it, then you know that it’s yours. As God puts His name on us, then we know just whose we are. It can be confusing to us if we don’t know, and our sinful nature is easily confused, wanting to identify itself with our now enemies of sin, death, and the devil. But in this act we see whose we are.

But that being said, whose are we? What is this Name that is put upon us? Who is this God that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? And as we ask that question, we enter into the realm of that which is truly mysterious, don’t we? Think about it. Have you ever tried to rationalize the Trinity? You can’t, can you? We certainly make all of our efforts, but they all break down at a point, right? Sure, we’re probably all familiar with that language of One God in three Persons, but go beyond that and good luck understanding it. Even further, good luck trying to explain it. About the best we can do is to say what the Athanasian Creed says, “The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three gods, but One God.” Likewise, we can also say that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father, but all of these are God. But again, to go more in depth and we mess it up.

In fact, as I say this, my wife often gives me a hard time because I always critique illustrations put forth for understanding it. For example, a common one used, and according to tradition this came from St. Patrick, is to look at the three-leaf clover. Each leaf is of the clover, and each leaf is not the other leaf. The hope is that as we look at this we can see that this is like God in a sense. Sort of akin to this is the apple illustration too. But you see the concern is that this breaks down. The Father is not a part of God. The Son is not a part of God. The Holy Spirit is not a part of God as the leaves of the clover are, or as the seeds, skin, and flesh of that apple are. Yes, perhaps this helps to understand how by name God is similar in this way, but God can’t be divided like these things can. It’s heresy to say that He can. In fact, I’ve heard this heresy called partialism, that is to divide God into parts. Although I don’t know how much historical foundation that term has, but you get the point. And so these illustrations breakdown.

But what about others? For example, sometimes people describe this like masks. Like God shows Himself in the mask of the Father as He does certain things, like creating, and as the Son for others, like coming to us, and as the Spirit for others, like bringing us to faith. Now, does the Father create? Well, we attribute that to Him. And to the Son, we attribute redemption and to the Spirit sanctification. But these are not just masks. They are utterly different persons. In fact, this is called modalism—and has historically been called that—to say that God just puts on a different mask like that. And as I say that, I’ve never read it, but my theologically astute friends who have have told me that this would be the critique of the book “The Shack” if you’re familiar with that.

That being said, what’s the point of this? Why am I bringing all of this up? Is it just to be mean? Is it just because pastors like to correct things and sound smart? No! It’s because when it comes to our God we have to always be enduring in our faithfulness to His Word. When something isn’t consistent with what God says, it’s false, and that’s a problem! And when it comes to this, even more so, we have to understand something: we’re not going to get it! Our broken and sinful minds are just not going to be able to understand the mystery. We’re not going to be able to understand what it means that 1 + 1 + 1 doesn’t equal three, but that it equals one. We’re not going to be able to understand what it means that God has entered into the flesh of a man, but that this man remained just that, completely man. We’re not going to be able to grasp how a man can be 100% man while at the same time being 100% God. Ever since we were cast away from our God in our sin, ever since we have been forbidden from partaking of the tree of life that knowledge is off limits to us. It’s just something we can’t grasp.

So, then what do we say? Or as I say, to ask the Lutheran question, what does this mean? It means that we have to remain humble. It means that we have to come before our God and confess, “God, you are God and I am not! Lord you are far more than I can grasp or imagine! Your mystery is far beyond the weakness of my lowly sinful flesh!” And as we do this, then we begin to see. Yes, we don’t understand our God at the core of His being. We can’t understand what we call the “Immanent Trinity,” God according to His essence, but we can understand something, at least by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

God can reveal to us what He does, what He does for each of us, for each of you. God reveals to you that even though your mind is so broken that you can’t grasp who He is by nature, you can understand that He has redeemed your broken and sinful mind. He has sent this God-man to do what you could not. He has sent Jesus to live the life you could not live, to pray the prayers you could not pray, to speak the Word you could not speak, and He has carried all of your sin and brokenness to the cross, bleeding very real human blood to atone for that sin. Him God on the cross, dead for you. He raised that body out of death and the grave to overcome that death that you couldn’t. He carried this Jesus to heaven to reign as you should have reigned before sin came into this world. And He promises Jesus will come again that there will be a new Kingdom where you will be able to see Him face to face and then you will be able to grasp just who He really is.

And you see, this is the God who has baptized you. This is the God who has put His Name on you. In that baptism, you bear His Name. You bear the Name of one called by Him through the Gospel, enlightened by His gifts, His Word, gathered unto His body, sanctified, that is made holy by His Holy Spirit. Yes, you bear the name of the Holy Spirit. But to ask, how does the Holy Spirit do this? He baptizes you, He speaks the Word to you, He gives you the Lord’s Supper. But what is all of this? It is joining, connecting you to the work of Jesus, the Son. You bear the Name of the Son. The Son died on the cross so that the price of your sins has been paid in His blood, so that you would be washed clean, forgiven by His blood poured out for you. And in all of this cleansing, all of this washing and forgiving, what is He doing? You bear the Name of the Father, and so the Son is making you anew in the image of the Father. You see might think about looking like God as what it means that we were created in the image of God, but Paul tells us “you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” This means that image is righteousness, it’s the Father’s perfection, His goodness. You could even say His perfect love. We are created in His Love and now we love reflecting that image of the Triune God.

Thinking about this as a Father – you see my children and how they look like me, especially my poor oldest child. However, they don’t always reflect me perfectly, do they? In some ways they might be better, or they might be worse. But they reflect my image. This is what it means to have that Name ultimately: this triune God who is the image of love, puts that Name on us, and now we bear that love. We broken sinners are made anew in the image of our Triune Lord. He has revealed Himself, His nature to us, not that we can understand it, but that we can understand that love tangibly in His work for us. His work as He created us in love, His work as He redeemed us in love, His work as He has cleansed us of sin through His love. That is what this Name ultimately comes down to then: love. The God who is pure love has poured out that love upon us with His very own Name in His blessed waters. Thanks be to this Triune God for His grace and mercy to us. Amen.