Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Each year on the first Sunday after Pentecost, the church celebrates Holy Trinity Sunday. And on this day, we’re taught to confess the mystery of God’s being. We believe in one God and three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person is God, and each person is not the others, but there is only one God. The Athanasian Creed does a thorough job of articulating this, but if you’re like me, all of its theological jargon and seemingly redundant language just ends up confusing you. So, the question that I think many of us ask on Trinity Sunday is, How do we understand the Trinity? How do we make sense of our Triune God’s nature? Well, throughout the centuries, Christians have experimented with different analogies to explain the Trinity. Some Christians have used the analogy of water—it can be found in three forms: liquid, solid, and vapor, but it’s all the same essence. Others have used the analogy of the sun—you have the star itself and the light and heat which it emits. Others have used analogies like a three-leaf clover or an apple which has three distinct parts that make up the whole. The problem with all of these analogies (and any analogy that you can think of yourself) is that they are all severely lacking. They all fail to do justice to the complexity of our Triune God’s nature. The reality is this: The essence of our Triune God cannot be reduced to analogy. The Trinity is a mystery which cannot be comprehended by human reason, it is understood (as much as is possible) only through faith, and it is best confessed in the words of the Athanasian Creed. So, rather than trying (in vain) to understand the essence of the Trinity, let’s explore what we can understand about our God—namely how he interacts with our world. We’re going to look at portions of our Gospel Reading from John 3, where Jesus shows us that our God is a “giver.” We’ll see how and what each person of the Trinity gives.
2. We begin with the first person of the Trinity: God the Father. God the Father, as we know, is the creator. He has made everything that on earth: the trees, the grass, the flowers, as well as you and me. And because he is the creator, he has a special relationship with his creation. I’ll give you a some-what trivial example to illustrate this. When I was in high school, I was on my school’s robotics team. We built robots to compete against other school’s robots in competitions. I was the programmer. My main job was to write the code to make the robot go, but many others contributed to the numerous other parts of the robot. At the competition, then, we went to great lengths to care for our robot. Between matches, we would do maintenance, fix broken pieces, make adjustments, and even fix the occasional software bug. I know it’s a trivial example, but the point it this: if my friends and I—a group of high school guys—would go to such great lengths to care for our inanimate robot, how much more does our heavenly Father go to great lengths to care for us? Luther says in his small catechism, “He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” Our Lord gives us everything that we have—after all, he is at his essence a “giver.” But despite this, we fail to trust in God for all of our needs. When we’re in trouble, we turn first to ourselves for help, then maybe to a friend or family member if we’re really in a bind. But we fail to trust in God for all of our needs. But in response to our sin, our heavenly Father does what is in his essence to do: he gives us a gift. God the Father gives us his Son. You know the famous passage: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). In response to our sin, God the Father gives us his Son.
3. This leads us to the second person of the Trinity: God the Son. We’re told immediately after John 3:16, in John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God the Father gives us his Son, and God the Son gives us salvation. Now, this is an incredibly profound reality—one that is so easy to become desensitized to the significance of. But the reality is, without Jesus, our lives are hopeless and purposeless. I want you to think, for a second, about someone you know. It could be a close family member or friend, or it might be someone who is just an acquaintance that you’ve bumped into once or twice. I want you to think about a person whose life has been destroyed by evil. Maybe it was their own poor choices that led them down the path of substance abuse, bad relationships, and violence. Or maybe it was someone else’s poor decisions which led them down that path. Either way, I want you to think about that person. Think about how hopeless and purposeless their life must feel… That’s what we are—times 1,000—-without Jesus. This is why it’s such good news that God the Father has given us his Son, who gives us salvation through his death on the cross. Through his death, he has paid the penalty for our sins, and now he has made the way for us to be given new life through the Holy Spirit.
4. Because of the salvation Jesus has won for us, we are given new life. And that brings us to the third person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. God the Spirit gives us new life. This is the point Jesus is making earlier in our reading, in verses 3 and 5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” There are two things going on here—two things that the Spirit does for us. First, it’s only through being born again by the Spirit that we can even see the kingdom of God. The question is, if the Kingdom of God was right in front of you, would you be able to see it? I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. In the seventh book in the series, The Last Battle, toward the end of the book, there is this stable on a hilltop. And for various reasons, a number of people find themselves coming to this stable. The world is coming to an end, and what these people discover is that by passing through the door of the stable, the pass from one world to the next—from one life to the next. But what’s fascinating about the way Lewis describes this experience is that for those who have trusted in Aslan—the Jesus figure—the inside of this stable is heaven itself—Aslan’s country. But for those who have rejected Aslan, they see nothing but a dark, drab stable filled with straw and all of the unpleasant things you might find in a neglected stable. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Without the Spirit of God, we would never be able to even see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it. And so, we’re reminded of the reality that everything we have is a gift. The Father gives us his Son. The Son gives us salvation. And the Spirit gives us new life. The mystery of the Holy Trinity is this: Our Triune God has entered into our lives by giving us of himself. And so, it doesn’t really matter if we can understand all of the finer points of Trinitarian theology. It doesn’t matter if we can understand the nuances of the Athanasian Creed. What matters is this: God has given us everything that we have. And because of this, we can trust that he will continue to provide for all of our needs both in this life and in the life to come. Thanks be to God that the giver of such great gifts is our God.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.