Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday
Text: St. John 3:1-15
Dearly beloved in Christ:
Who is God? Or, perhaps a better question would be: Who is your God? In His larger catechism, Martin Luther defined “God” in the following way:
A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.
According to this definition, many things and people could be our “gods.” Does your life revolve around money and earthly possessions or fame and popularity? Then that is your god. Does your life revolve around food and drink, sports or leisure? Then they are your gods. What brings you confidence in life? What makes you happy and secure? Where does your heart find peace and solace and strength in times of trouble and distress? Answer these questions and you will likely discover who or what your God is.
Whether we realize it or not, we all have gods. In fact, probably one of the most common and universal gods that people have is themselves. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a famous poet, once said: “Trust Thyself.” To trust myself is to make “me” my god. To make myself the center of the universe, to serve myself, to look to my own strength and goodness is to be my own god. If I am “god” then I am also the final authority in all matters. I determine what is right and wrong, what is true and false. I take for myself the ability to kill and make alive.
This belief is as old as sin. For Adam and Eve’s desire was to “be like God, knowing good and evil.” Given the opportunity to take control of their lives, they jumped at it. And in so doing they jumped right out of a relationship with the God who created them. What’s worse is that they pulled all of humanity into their disobedience. Since that time every man, woman, and child, born or unborn, old or young has been doing everything possible to “be like God.”
“Trust thyself.” Isn’t that the real motto of modern humanity? We are not content to submit to or even acknowledge an authority higher than ourselves. We cannot surrender our own opinions and feelings to the Truth of God’s Word. We do not like to entrust ourselves to someone else. We prefer to do things our own way, and to be in control of our lives. Our confidence is in ourselves. Our refuge in times of distress and trouble is our own strength and goodness. Our hearts are curved in on themselves. Who is your god? You are. Repent!
All questions aside, there is only one true God. All others are but idols. They did not create the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. They did not knit us together while we were in our mothers’ wombs. They do not send rain upon the earth or make the sun rise and set. Neither can these idols who pose as the true God save. They cannot deliver us from trouble. They cannot give us true peace of mind, true contentment of soul, true satisfaction of heart. They always disappoint, or their rewards are short-lived. Our strength can only get us so far. Our wisdom has its limits too. Our minds cannot grasp all the mysteries of the earth. And our earthly goods and possessions? Well, they are there one minute and gone the next. All it takes is a bad tornado, a hurricane, or a flood and it is gone.
Put your trust in these idols and you may have happiness for this life, but only in this life. What about the life to come? Where will your strength and power and fame and popularity and wealth be then? There is only one true God. There is only one who can save us from our sins, deliver us from everlasting death, and abide with us forever. He is the God who created the world and everything in it, who gave us our bodies and souls, eyes and ears, the ability to reason and think, to smell, to taste, to eat. He is the God who also puts clothes on our backs, food on our tables, a roof over our heads, and gives us everything that we need to survive. And we have learned from the Holy Gospel that this God is also a gracious and kind heavenly Father, who loves us dearly.
So deep was His love for us fallen creatures that He could not just sit by and watch us self-destruct. He could not just leave us for dead after our first parents, Adam and Eve, fell into sin. His heart was so full of love and compassion and pity for us miserable sinners that He came down from heaven to help. “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Like the Samaritan who came to the aid of the man who had fallen among thieves, so also did our Good Samaritan, Christ, come to rescue a world which had fallen victim to the Devil. He did so by giving up His life into death on a cross. He suffered the penalty that our sins deserved. His death, like the serpent lifted up on a pole, is the true antidote to the poison of sin. For only in His blood do we find the medicine that can heal our souls.
Adam and Eve wanted to “be like God, knowing good and evil.” But in the cross we come to understand what it truly means to be like God. To be like God does not mean to serve oneself, as Adam and Eve thought. To be like God is to give. In the beginning when God created the heavens and earth, He gave this all to man and made him ruler over it all. God the Son gave up His life into death on the cross for people who considered Him their enemy.
This is the God whom we Christians confess in the Creeds. Today we confessed the Athanasian Creed. Once a year on Trinity Sunday we recite this creed because of its marvelous description of the mystery of God’s Triune nature. Like the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, this Creed speaks of God as being Triune, that is, three persons in one God. It emphasizes the Oneness of God when it says that there are not three gods or three lords but one God and one Lord. It emphasizes the plurality of God when it says that there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. It also speaks at length of the Person of the Son of God, naming Him both true God and true Man, having a human and divine nature.
It is careful to point out, however, that though there are two natures, one human and the other divine, there are not two distinct persons, but one Man, Jesus Christ. The Athanasian Creed also makes it clear that only by faith in this Triune God can one be saved: “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the Catholic Faith. And the Catholic Faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.”
To worship this Holy Trinity is to believe in Him, to trust Him and to expect good things from Him. It is to be in a relationship with Him, not some sappy emotional relationship, but one in which He is the gracious giver of divine blessings and you are the happy and grateful recipient of His goodness and blessing. To believe and worship this God as the only true God is to look to Him as a beggar to a rich man, who is eager to shower you with His love and generosity. If this is your God, if He is the one in whom your heart takes refuge, if He is the one to whom you look for all your good, then you have the true God. And whoever believes and worships this true God, will inherit eternal life.
Bradie, today you will confess before us all that this God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is your God. You hold this catholic faith and are counted among those who are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. In your instruction over the past two years, you have learned from the Holy Scriptures that you are a sinner, and that no one could make satisfaction for your sins except Christ alone. You have learned that no person is acceptable to God by his own efforts and merit, but solely by God’s grace, through faith in the merits of Jesus Christ. You have learned to trust in this one true God and His Son Jesus Christ.
In the process of catechesis you have learned by heart the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and all of their explanations. You have been examined and absolved of your sins by your pastor. And you have acknowledged that the true body and blood of Jesus are given with the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. You are truly worthy and well prepared for this Supper, for you not only have faith in the words of the Sacrament, you are also sorry for your sins and wish to grow in holiness and righteousness.
Today marks the end of formal instruction for you in the Christian faith, but not the end of learning. Today you will receive your first Communion; let it not be your last.Those who join the Christian Church as communicant members make a promise; a pledge, if you will, to remain in this faith until the end of their days here on earth. They promise to suffer all, even death, rather than forsake this Church and the Faith which they confess. These are big promises for such a young person. But they are made with the understanding that such things are done with God’s help, not by our human powers.
Bradie, to be confirmed is not to accept Christ into your heart. It is not to become a Christian. You were already a Christian when you were born again by water and the Holy Spirit. To be confirmed is simply to acknowledge the gifts you received in that heavenly rebirth. It is the Church’s way of formally receiving you as a full communicant member. You will find as you grow older that this Holy Christian Church is a community like no other on earth. It is a heavenly community, a community made up of people from all different walks of life, but who all share one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism. It is a spiritual community, where the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of believers and bestows His heavenly gifts of divine love and peace and forgiveness. And it is of utmost importance that you come to understand your place in this community. It is of utmost importance that you remain an active part of this community. It is necessary for you to see all of these people who receive Christ’s body and blood with you as your true brothers and sisters, and to see God as your true Father, and this holy Christian Church as your true mother. You are a member of Christ’s holy Body the Church, and these all are your fellow members. Each one of you has value. Each one of you has a role.
It is no different with God Himself. He is one God, but a community of divine persons, with the Spirit as the bond of love that unites each member of the Godhead. In relation to each other, each person of the Trinity has His own role and function. The Father begets the Son from eternity. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father. The Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son. In relation to the rest of the world, God acts as one. So also the Body of Christ is one Body, but it is a community of persons. In relation to one another, we all have different roles and functions. Not everyone is a pastor. Not everyone is a musician. These differences are necessary, as necessary as are the differences of the members of our own bodies. But in relation to those outside of the Church, we act as one Body.
Today we offer our solemn and earnest prayer to God that the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh will not cause you to forsake this Christian community. Outside of it you are like a fish out of water. You need it, and it needs you. You will be expected to contribute something of yourself to this body. Members of the Body of Christ give what they are able to give in support of the Ministry of the Church. Those who take their role as Christians seriously offer their time, their talents, and their service in ways that are acceptable to God. You do not join a church simply so that you can have a place to be married and buried from. This is nothing but hypocrisy. The Church is not a club, where if you just pay your dues once in a while you can remain a member. Sadly we have given that impression to too many people I think. You are either an active member of the Christian community, or you are no member at all.
In many ways being a member of the church is like being married. A Covenant is established. Promises are made. It is a lifelong commitment to faithfulness and loving service. To be united to the holy Christian Church is to be united to God, for anyone who is in communion with Christ through the Word and Sacraments is united with all three Persons of the Holy Trinity. This day, both because of confirmation and because it is the Festival of the Holy Trinity, belongs to God. Today all honor and glory and blessing goes to Him, for He has taken us miserable sinners, baptized us, washed us of our sinful filth, placed us in the Christian community, led us like little lambs to the heavenly banquet table, and will finally lead us to heaven where the grass is never greener on the other side. May God abide in all of you by His Holy Spirit into eternity. Amen.