Sunday, June 15, 2014
Homily for The Feast of The Holy Trinity
John 3:1-17; Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 6:1-7
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Yes! In that powerful creative, redeeming, and sanctifying Name you were born again, forgiven, and sealed with and in a promise that cannot be broken. You have God for a Father, Christ for a Bridegroom, and the Holy Spirit as your very breath and life. That is who the Holy Trinity is, and that is what the Holy Trinity does. That is the essence and the work of your Holy Triune God for you.
Each of His three persons are distinct and unique, but they are never alone. Indeed, whenever one person of the Holy Trinity is at work, the other two are present and active as well. In the beginning, when God the Father created the heavens and the earth, He created by the person of His Word, His only-begotten Son, and the person of His Holy Spirit hovered over the chaotic waters. When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John, the person of the Father spoke from the heavens as the person of the Holy Spirit descended upon and remained with the person of God’s Son, Jesus, standing in the midst of the waters. Even in Jesus’ crucifixion, the Father’s justice was served, the Son’s sacrificial love was offered, and the Holy Spirit was given just as He promised. These three persons are one God, and your God is one in three persons: Trinity in unity and unity in Trinity. It is a truth, a holy mystery, which cannot be comprehended by human reason but which is apprehended by Spirit-given faith – faith which is the certainty and assurance of things hoped for though not seen.
While most everyone knows and confesses that faith in Christ is what makes one a Christian (Yes, the title should give it away, right?), belief in the Holy Trinity is necessary as well. For, what good would it do to confess Jesus if He were only a man? Indeed, it is necessary to believe and to confess that our Lord Jesus is not only a man but also the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. The obedience, suffering, and death of a mere man would do no good for you at all; you would still be in your sins. But, if God, as a man, has been obedient, has suffered, died, and has been raised from death, then you are truly free from your sin and guilt and you can hope to be raised from death as well to new and eternal life. This is why the correct answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” cannot be “a great rabbi” or “a great prophet,” or even “Elijah,” but the only correct answer is the answer revealed by the Father’s Holy Spirit to Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Indeed, this is precisely what Nicodemus was struggling with when he came to Jesus by night. He came by night because he did not want to be seen by others speaking to Jesus. Therefore, Nicodemus, speaking for himself, but also on behalf of the Pharisees, acknowledged Jesus to be a rabbi and that God was surely with Him. But, that is a far cry from the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Thus, Jesus answered Nicodemus saying that he must be born again if he hoped to be able to see the kingdom of God. Now, here, all manner of foolishness is concocted and taught within Christ’s Church when well-meaning believers seek to create their own doctrines from Jesus’ teaching about being born again all the while missing His point entirely! The impetus for Jesus’ teaching about being born again and the Holy Spirit was Nicodemus’ confusion concerning the identity of Jesus. Therefore, what Jesus sought to teach Nicodemus was that only the Holy Spirit could reveal to him the truth of His identity – that He was the Son of God in flesh and blood as a man. Indeed, this is precisely what Jesus said to Peter upon his confession of Him as the Christ, the Son of the Living God saying, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” God the Father reveals who Jesus is by means of His Holy Spirit. Therefore, faith, itself, is a work of the Holy Triune God!
In effect, being born again is a figure of speech for coming to and having faith. However, Jesus’ analogy is instructive as to how you come to faith. Coming to believe is like being born. And, being born is not something that you do, it is not something that you choose or decide, but being born is something that happens to you, wholly apart from your choosing, your decision, or even your rational understanding. That is precisely why Jesus then shifted to another analogy to describe how the Holy Spirit creates faith – the wind. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound,” Jesus taught, “but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Do you choose or decide when and where the wind blows? Of course not. Likewise, neither do you choose or decide to believe, or to have faith, but the Holy Spirit creates faith within you when and where He pleases. Thus, flesh and blood play no role in faith, but faith in Jesus Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit and the gift of God the Father. Therefore, once again, the faith you have in Christ is the work and the gift of your Holy Triune God!
Yet, faith in Christ is absolutely necessary. Therefore, Jesus concludes His teaching to Nicodemus with a reference to His own crucifixion and death. Jesus said, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Long ago, God had disciplined His people who rebelled and disobeyed by sending poisonous serpents to bite them. Many were bitten and many died so that the people cried out to Moses to pray that God would take away the serpents. Therefore, Moses prayed and, while God did not take away the serpents, He did provide a means of grace by which those who were bitten might be healed and live. He commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent and to set it upon a pole so that all who were bitten by poisonous serpents, when they looked upon the bronze serpent raised up on the pole, might not die, but be healed and live. Of course, the people thought this to be absurd. Why would people who had been bitten by poisonous serpents desire to look upon the bronze image of a serpent? How could such an absurd thing possibly heal them? It could do what God said it could do because, and only because, God had attached His powerful and creative Word to that bronze serpent so that it delivered healing and life just as He promised. Likewise, Jesus is the very Word of God in human flesh, as a man. Jesus was raised up upon the pole of the cross so that all who have been bitten by the poisonous serpent, Satan, may look to Jesus for healing and life. Jesus was God’s gift of life to the world, two thousand years ago, for those who would believe, and Jesus is God’s gift of life to the world still today. Thus, Jesus concluded His teaching to Nicodemus with these words: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
God the Father gave the gift of His only Son. God the Son sent forth the Spirit of God to teach the world about Him and to bring to your remembrance all that He said. As the Holy Spirit creates faith in Jesus in the hearts of men and women throughout the world, throughout all time and all places, and they confess His holy Name, God the Father is glorified. This is the Divine Economy of the Holy Trinity, an economy of substance, of will, of work, and of glory. St. Paul confessed this truth beautifully in his epistle to the Church in Philippi saying: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
When it’s all said and done, God the Father sent His Son Jesus to suffer and die and to be raised from death to life to redeem you, a lost and condemned person, from sin and death. The Son sent forth His Holy Spirit to create faith in your hearts, and to sanctify and keep you in faith in Jesus Christ. In your faith in His Holy Son, God the Father is glorified. And so, it’s all about glory to your Holy Triune God, but it is also all about you. Yes, it’s all about you! God so loved the world, God so loved you, that He gave His only Son! It’s all about God’s love, and God’s love is poured out upon you. You are the object of God’s love, created by Him in His own image to receive His love and to love others in the way He has loved you, and to love Him in return.
Now, this is a most relevant theme for Father’s day as well, for a father is a reflection, even though dimmed by sin and brokenness, of God the Father of us all. For, a father is called to love his wife and his children selflessly and sacrificially and to teach them by his love and discipline the nature of God’s love that they might show it and share it with others and return it to both their father and to their heavenly Father, God. While we earthly fathers will never fulfill our fatherly roles to the extent that our heavenly Father desires and wills, our failings are forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit equips and empowers us to strive, in humility and repentance, to love as we have been loved, to give as we have been given to, and to forgive as we have been richly, mercifully, and graciously forgiven. But, we can only love, give, and forgive as much as we have received these same from our Holy and Triune God. Therefore, the first and the most important thing for a Father to do is to receive God’s gifts in Jesus Christ, through Word and Sacrament, and to encourage his family to do the same. First you must be fed; only then will you in turn be equipped to feed and to teach as the head of the family should in a simple way to his household.
Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.
In the +Name of Jesus. Amen.