Our Ministry Proclaims the Triune God
(Matthew 28:16-20 / June 7, 2020, Trinity Sunday)
There are so many voices in our nation that are clamoring to be heard right now. Have you posted anything on social media during the past week and a half? Some people may wonder what the church has to say in light of everything that has been going on. Indeed, some may be wondering whether the church is even relevant to what is going on.
I confess that I also pondered the relevancy of the Christian church as I read the news and watched videos this week. I knew that the appointed theme for this Sunday was that of the Holy Trinity, and I remember thinking to myself, “Oh boy. That is a deep topic. How is that going to be relevant to the issues on people’s minds right now?” The country is full of protests and rioting, and my task is to speak on the truth that God is three distinct persons, and yet one God.”
Well, as the week progressed, the more it became apparent that with all the voices shouting for attention, there is one voice that is conspicuously absent to which our nation would do well to give its attention. And that is the voice of God.
You see, there is a third voice out there that is not Democrat or Republican, wealthy or poor, socially advantaged or disadvantaged. There is a voice that that speaks about genuine equality—all people have been created in the image of God; all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; and yet all—and we need to fully understand that word “all”—all people have had their sins paid for by Jesus on the cross. And so, when it comes to the people we minister to as a church, it is either everyone or no one, and with God it is everyone, and so it is with us.
Now I say all of this as an introduction to make the point that because the voice of God is always present, and because the voice of God always speaks what is true, that the Bible which you and I proclaim is always relevant, no matter the circumstances of the moment.
Sometimes we are tempted to compartmentalize God’s word into a sacred corner of our life. We think: “Well, God’s word has to do with such and such aspects of life, but when it comes to the daily practical things of life, the Bible really doesn’t deal with those issues.”
Not true. All of theology is practical theology. Which means that none of it is purely theoretical. Rather, it is practical. You can put it into practice. You can test it. You can see for yourself how it is true and therefore works in the everyday affairs of life.
So, today is Trinity Sunday. The Sunday of the church year when we emphasize the truth that the God of all creation is Triune. He is three persons in one God. And if all of theology is practical theology as I just said, then the teaching of the Holy Trinity must be relevant to the situation facing us today. How so?
Well, there is a creed that was written toward the end of the fifth century called the Athanasian Creed. It is a long creed, but it is long because it deals with the Triune nature of God. It goes into great detail explaining what 3 persons in 1 God means, and just as important, what it does not mean. You can look it up on the internet and read it for yourself.
The last line of the Athanasian creed says: “Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all else, hold to the true Christian faith. Whoever does not keep this faith pure in all points will certainly perish forever.” And seeing as how a creed is a “statement of belief”, and seeing as how the Lutheran church subscribes to the Athanasian Creed, well then the issue of the Trinity is not some side-bar discussion intended for the philosophical among us, but rather it is central to our salvation. In other words, a person cannot go to heaven if he or she denies the Triune God.
“Well, that doesn’t sound very inclusive.” Oh, but I assure you that it is. For this Triune God is the Father and Creator of every human being. He is the Savior and Justifier of every human being. Yes, the Triune God has as his motto “Everyone or No one”, and he holds no prejudice. He freely and earnestly invites all people to believe in him and to be in heaven with him. You cannot be more inclusive, loving, and acceptive than the God of the Bible. His love goes out to all; his grace he extends to all; there is no sin beyond the reach of his forgiveness.
And that is a voice that this world is not hearing.
You see, when I ask myself: “Is the church relevant today?” Or, “Is our congregation relevant to Waukegan?”, the answer that drives me to get out of bed each morning is that it most certainly is. For how many churches today do you think are proclaiming this message? How many Christian churches are clearly proclaiming this message? Or is it more of a surface-level, “love, hope, and peace” type of message that fits well on a sign but doesn’t communicate very well to people’s hearts?
Now, you see, we are all for love, hope and peace. But the voice of God reminds us that there is no such thing as love, hope, and peace without Jesus. All other love, hope, and peace is more of a wish that never really seems to come true. Ask yourself: has our country arrived at love, hope, and peace, and will it ever? At best it has been short lived. But the Christian message, far from being an empty slogan that leads to temporary change, is a message that brings about true and everlasting change. Why? Because it is the love, hope, and peace of Jesus.
And that’s what makes the Trinity relevant. Jesus must be real and present if there is ever going to be true love, hope, and peace. For only Jesus ever loved his fellow man with the full love of God. Only Jesus took the evil of this world seriously enough to truly pay for it, which is why the Bible claims that only in Jesus can there ever be true forgiveness, because forgiveness is releasing someone from their debt, and no one, you see, can truly be released from their debt unless it’s paid for.
And so, if you take Jesus out of the equation. Or, if you say (as many do say) that Jesus is not true God and that he was just a man, well then there is no such thing as genuine love, hope, and peace because men, you see, they’re all flawed.
Think about it. Sin is the most verifiable reality that exists in the universe. You can test it and prove it in every person. People who deny sin are denying reality. No one can deny that there is evil in this world. And yet, who are the perpetrators of evil? People. “Oh,” but you say, “well that’s just some people, not all people.” Really? Hey, let’s be honest with ourselves and realize that although we may not have committed the same evil act as another, the seeds of evil are deeply rooted in each of our hearts. And at times those seeds have sprouted and shown themselves for what they are: the seeds of hate, the seeds of thinking that I’m better than someone else, the seeds of pride, and the seeds of revenge. And the fact that those seeds (which have also been present in the evilest men and women of society) haven’t grown out of control in my life is only due to the grace of God.
So, let’s be humble. And let us recognize that the blood of Jesus is the only cure for sin. Seriously. If there were another cure for the evil heart, don’t you think we would have figured it out by now? It’s not like the things that are going on today are new. We’ve been plagued by the very same issues since the time of Cain and Abel. So, you think we might have been able to figure it about by now, but we haven’t, and why haven’t we? Because the voice of God is all but silent in our world today, and where it does exist it is often so watered-down that people don’t even recognize it as the voice of God.
Which is why this congregation matters.
It matters not because of the people who form it, but rather because of the message we proclaim in it and through it. One of the messages is that the Holy Spirit is present in the voice of God to unblock deaf ears so they can hear and to open blind eyes so they can see. You say, “If sin is so obvious, and if it’s so evident that we as people are what is broken in society, and that we are powerless to fix ourselves, why can’t people see that?”
And the answer is because we, as the human race, are broken. You can shout at your broken car motor all you want, and it is not going to fix itself. But if you send a mechanic, who is totally separate from the motor, and if the mechanic thoroughly rebuilds the motor, it can be saved.
Loved ones, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a person’s heart by nature. Evil dwells in a person’s heart by nature, but the Holy Spirit is entirely separate from the human heart. Which means that like the mechanic, he is able to come to the human heart from the outside and thoroughly rebuild it so that even the most hateful of haters begin to love; so that even the most vengeful of fighters prefer to forgive.
How is the Holy Spirit able to do this? Well, he is God. And as such he has all power to turn bad into good, to convert hate into love, and to make dead people alive. The proof? There are Christians in the world. Many of them. They still have a sinful nature too, and so they (you and me) can be very hypocritical in their words and actions. But the way you know a true Christian (the way God knows a true Christian) is that at the end of the day (or some point in the future) he or she humbles themselves and repents. They have a change of mind. They have a change of heart. There is a change in the way they now see the things of life. And that change only comes from the divine power of God, the Christian God, the Triune God, the God of the Bible, the only God.
Jesus said to his disciples just before he ascended, “…repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
That is our message. That is our voice to society. Our message is one of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. So, let us be men and women of repentance and forgiveness. “Freely you have received, freely give,” Jesus said. (Matthew 10:8). That is our mission: to extend God’s free forgiveness to all people in the world. It is either everyone or no one.
Matthew 28:18-20. “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Amen.