Today is a celebration in the church year like no other. Today our theme is based upon an article of the Church’s doctrine. Today we celebrate the Holy Trinity. We celebrate a Triune God. Surprisingly enough the words trinity, or triune are not actually mentioned anywhere in scripture. But they are words that the Church uses to help us understand a concept of God that is everywhere in the scriptures. This God that we worship is one God. But he is also three separate persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Now I realize right from the start that what I just said makes very little sense. How can someone, even God, be three and one at the same time. Common sense would tell you that three is not the same as one, nor is one identical to three. It just doesn’t add up. How can St. Paul say in I Cor. 8:4 “there is no God but one.” while in our Gospel lesson, as Jesus tells his disciples to Baptize others in the name of the Lord, God is named as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”? How do we know which is true? Is God one or is He three? As you can well imagine this is a question that has burned in the minds of Christians and non-Christians alike for thousands of years. It is a doctrine that has been plagued with controversies for that long too.
This is where you might expect the pastor to rub his hands together in glee and start lecturing you about the various false teachings surrounding this particular doctrine. After all it is not every Sunday in which he is given an open invitation to speak forthrightly about so many “isms” he learned of in school. Such things as Unitarianism, Dynamic Monarchianism, Modalsim, Tritheism, or even Subordinsim. What a perfect opportunity to show his flock the value of a seminary education! What a chance to deepen their understanding of the divine mysteries of the Godhead! What a dreadful way to confuse the issue even more!
So instead, the pastor will keep all his 20-dollar words to himself. He will not confuse you with them, unless you specifically want to know about dynamic Monarchianism, then he will be happy to tell you after the service. Instead he will very simply tell you that all of the false teachings about the Trinity, no matter what they have been labeled, fall into one of two errors. Either they deny the three persons of the Trinity in favour of the unity of having one God. Or they deny the unity of one God in favour of distinguishing the three persons.
The first group of false teachings will say to varying degrees that there is only one “person” of God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit stuff is just the different forms this “one” God takes at different times, or the different roles he assumes to complete his work. On the other hand the second group of false teachings will say that there is not one divine essence but three. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not only separate, they are unique, and they are not necessarily equal in their divinity either. Both of these view points are in error. The scriptures plainly teach this from beginning to end.
We don’t have time during this sermon to take you through the scriptures from beginning to end, so I point you instead to their summary as is found in the creeds of the Church. These creeds, the Apostles, Nicene, and the Athanasian have been used for centuries to teach the summary of scriptures, and to safeguard against just these false teachings. Each one of these creeds speaks very clearly about the Trinity.
And the Athanasian (which we speak today) is the clearest of them all. As the Athanasian Creed said “We worship one God in Trinity, and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.” God is clearly not one or the other, but both. God is one and God is three. The creed is very clear about this, and yet how this can be is not once said anywhere in that same creed. It simply can’t answer that question because God hasn’t told us. As frustrating as that might be for us, the doctrine of the Trinity is a matter of faith, not understanding. God has only revealed that it is, not how it can be. And when we try to make logical sense of it, we can only end up going too far into one false teaching or the other.
And besides, that is not what Trinity Sunday is all about anyway. Knowing about the Trinity, will never be enough. Trinity Sunday is about coming to know the Triune God himself; and more specifically, what He has done for us. That task is pretty simple. The scriptures, from beginning to end, show what God has done for us and mankind. The creeds summarize it all, categorically describing what each person in the Godhead has specifically done. And our text for this morning, the last verse of the Epistle lesson, sums it up even more succinctly. “The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” If you really want to know the Trinity, you need to know what He has done for you. And what he has done for you can be summarized in three words: Grace, Love, and Fellowship.
God shows us grace through the Son, Jesus Christ. For it was in Jesus that we lost and condemned sinners were redeemed. It is through Jesus that we were purchased and won from all sins, death, and from the power of the devil; not with silver or gold, but with his very own precious blood and with his own innocent suffering and death. It is through Jesus that God has claimed us as his own to live under Him in His kingdom in righteousness, innocence and blessedness, forever. For just as Christ is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity, these blessings have been showered upon us.
God shows his love for us through the Father who made us and all creatures. By giving us our body and soul, eyes and ears, and all our members, our reason and our senses, and by taking care of them. By giving us shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and home, land, animals, and all that we have. And the Father richly and daily provides us with everything that we need to support our body and our life. He defends us from all danger and guards and protects us from evil. And all this he does out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without worthiness or merit in us.
And finally, God gives us fellowship in the Holy Spirit. Where we cannot by ourselves come to God or believe in him, God the Holy Spirit comes to us and gives us faith. He calls us by the Gospel, he enlightens us with his gifts of peace and joy and hope and love, he sanctifies us (makes us holy), and he keeps us in the true faith no matter what befalls us. And he does the same for the whole Christian Church on earth. He keeps us all with Jesus in the one true faith, daily and richly forgives us all our sins, and on the last day will raise us up to eternal life.
That’s the doctrine of the Trinity that we celebrate this morning. Not some distant and confusing scholarly debate over the mechanics or the nature of the “Deus Absconditus” but a very practical doctrine of a God who richly and daily loves you, forgives you, cares for you, and calls you to Him. It is the doctrine of God the Father who loves the world so much that He gave it the gift of his son at Christmas. God the Son, who loves you so much that he willingly died upon your cross and rose again from the dead on Easter. And God the Holy Spirit who loves you so much that he came to you in your Baptism to give you life and faith and fellowship like he did on the first Pentecost. Father Son and Holy Spirit; Love and grace and fellowship now and forever.