Sermon for Trinity Sunday

In case you still can’t get to church, or wanted to read it again, here is Sunday’s sermon:

Each year on Trinity Sunday we celebrate the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. It is a high and lofty doctrine, and it can not be understood by human reason. No matter how much we study or how big our brains get, God is bigger, and we can not figure out the mind of God.

The Gospel on this day each year is Jesus, teaching Nicodemus about Holy Baptism. On the one day in the year when we celebrate a doctrine, and speak the creed to defend that teaching, we hear about infants, the little babies. So why have a Baptismal reading on Trinity Sunday?

Because, as Saint Augustine said, “In Baptism sounds the voice of the Trinity.” We see this in Jesus Baptism. Jesus tells John he must be baptized to fulfill all righteousness (that is so that he can pay the penalty for your sin and make you righteous by the forgiveness of sin). As Jesus comes up out of the water, the voice from heaven speaks, and the dove descends. Jesus Baptism is the first time in scripture that the Holy Trinity reveals himself as Trinity to the world. Father speaking from the cloud about His beloved Son who stands in the water, while the Spirit descends from heaven like a dove and remains on him. Jesus Baptism shows us what Baptism is – it is where the righteousness of God is fulfilled – where you are made righteous in the sight of God, your sins taken away by the blood which Jesus shed on the cross. After the resurrection, Jesus speaks to the twelve and tells them “Baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We are baptized into the name of the Holy Trinity. God’s name is placed on you. And the sign of the Holy Cross is made both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. You are not longer your own. You have been bought with a price. You have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb that was shed, and in Baptism you are washed in that blood and given a new birth in Jesus Christ. Now you belong to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That is why the reading for today begins with talk of Baptism, and ends with Jesus predicting his own death. We are Baptized into the name of the Trinity and so joined to Christ’s death. That’s what Jesus means when he says the Son of man must be lifted up so that all who believe in him would have everlasting life. Jesus is lifted up on the cross and he goes into death so that you would have life.

That’s why the Athanasian Creed – which we say this day – follows the same pattern – confessing first the Holy Trinity and Undivided Unity into whose name we were baptized, and then confessing that Jesus Christ true God begotten of the Father from eternity and true man born of the Virgin Mary has redeemed me from sin death and the power of the devil with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. We confess according to this pattern because it is the pattern of our life in God. Made His through Holy Baptism, having been redeemed by the death of our Lord.

Now we no loner live to ourselves. We no longer live according to the pattern of the flesh, no longer chase after the things of this world, but instead live in faith toward God and love toward our neighbor. Faith toward God means we no longer look to our own works to save ourselves. This is hard to do – Luther calls works the greatest idolatry. When Jesus says that Nicodemus must be born again if he has any hope of entering the kingdom of God, he is setting up a radical way of considering our own efforts. When you were born, you didn’t do anything. You were given life by the creator and knit together in your mother’s womb. You have nothing at all to do with your own birth. Others do the work. When Jesus says “you must be born again…” he is saying, “You must let someone else save you. Nicodemus question shows how absurd our own works sound “Surely a man can not enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born.” Of course not! You must be born from above – given a new birth of water and the Spirit by your heavenly Father. And you have as much to do with your new birth as you did the first one. You were there. That is all. Last week on Pentecost we heard about the work of the Spirit – how you can not by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ your Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel. That is the work of the Spirit – to bring you to faith so that you can receive the benefits of the promise given in Holy Baptism.

Through baptism we die to self and are born again into Christ. We are baptized into His death and we are buried with Him in order that His resurrection may become our resurrection; His new life may become our new life, and his eternal reign in the kingdom of heaven may become our inheritance as well.

As Saint Paul writes to the Colossians in chapter 2 “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” When you have been given new birth into the Son, he shows you the Father and gives you the Spirit. Jesus himself tells us that there is no access to the Father except through Jesus. You can not find the Father apart from the Son. And you must never try to feel the Spirit apart from the Son. God has chosen to reveal Himself to the world only in the person of the Son. So if you want to find the Father, look to the Son. If you want to be full of the Spirit, look to the Son. That’s why the Spirit is given on Pentecost – after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

So also, to be baptized in to Christ Jesus is to be baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; for the whole God-head, the entire Trinity, dwells in the person of Jesus. Wherever Jesus is there is the Father and the Spirit.

The Athanasian Creed teaches this with the words, “Therefore, whoever desires to be saved must think thus about the Trinity. But it is also necessary for everlasting salvation the one faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is not enough to believe in some generic father-figure. You must believe in God as he has revealed himself to us: As Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and you must also believe that this Triune God is made present on earth in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. It is necessary for salvation to believe that the Triune God deals with us only through the person of Jesus. Baptism into Jesus’ name is baptism into the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. There are not three gods, but one. And that One God is revealed to us in the life death and resurrection of Jesus, who came not to do his will, but to do the will of the Father, and who now sends his Spirtit to create a living faith in your heart, so that you might believe and be saved through the work of the same Spirit which was given to you in Baptism.

Baptism is where the Trinity is proclaimed. And so today when we consider the Holy Trinity, we consider our own entrance into the Trinity, the place where you were marked by him and where he placed his name on you – your Baptism. And today we give thanks for that Baptism, which has given you a new birth – a birth not of this world and the flesh which leads to death. But a new birth in God, a new life that is not lived as a slave to sin, but as a servant to righteousness. That is the life of the Christian – striving after the things of God, working toward him and his gifts to you, given in that water, given by Jesus Christ, through the Spirit, who open heaven to you and so gives you access to the Father who made you.

And while you struggle against your sinful flesh each day, working to do the good works of God as explained in the Ten Commandments, recognize that you do not do the work of saving. It has been given you as a gift, you earn nothing by your efforts, rather it is done for you by your God and Lord, the man Jesus Christ.

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