A Trinitarian Life – Sermon for June 15/16

Living a Trinitarian Life

2 Corinthians 13:14

Trinity Sunday

June 15th/16th, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI


A Pastor named Norman Nagel once quipped, “If someone asked you what God is like, you probably wouldn’t answer by reciting the Athanasian Creed.  After all, at first glance the creed looks like it was designed to show you just how mysterious and beyond comprehension God truly is.”[1]  It speaks of unity and substance, of the glory equal and the majesty coeternal, begotten and proceeding, and a whole host of other terms that seem to confuse more than explain.  But we have to remember the creed for what it is.  As another pastor put it[2], the Athanasian Creed is not written to be a creed that fully explains the mystery of the Trinity, rather it is written to be a statement of belief to which deceptive religions cannot agree.  For example, a group known as the Arians at the time of the creed’s composition and the Mormons of today will gladly say that Jesus is the son of god, but they will not agree that “the Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one.”  They don’t believe Jesus is God in the same way or on the same level as God the Father.  The creed serves to set boundaries and the fence-line around what can rightly be called Christian theology and the teaching of the Scriptures, and what is something else.  As such, in many ways it is more helpful in clarifying what God is not than in fully explaining what he is.

But none of that changes the fact that today we are celebrating the Feast of the Holy Trinity, a day where it is appropriate to consider the nature of the Trinity.  But to do so, I do not want to spend a lot of time unpacking all the language of the Athanasian Creed; I’d rather we tackled some simpler language, language which you have heard many times in your life as a Christian, language you have heard even from this very altar.  I’d like to take some time this morning to reflect on the blessing that Paul left with the Christians in Corinth: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”[3]  I’d like to spend some time today using Paul’s words to reflect on the nature of the Trinity, and to attempt to understand how we as God’s children are shaped into living a Trinitarian life together.  To do so, I’d like you to look at the bulletin cover for this morning.Holy trinity

Take a moment to look over this artist’s depiction of the Trinity and notice first that the figure in the forefront of the piece is Christ.  Jesus is the one who reveals the entire Godhead to us.  In the painting, as in real life, you have to look through Jesus to see God. Isn’t that what Jesus himself told Nicodemus in today’s Gospel reading?[4]  “We speak of what we know,” Jesus said, “and I know who God is and how He works, for I am God.  So if you want to know about God, you need only look to the one who knows.  And that’s me.”  We must look through Jesus to rightly understand God the Father, but so also God the Father looks through Jesus to see us.  This is what Paul is writing about when he prays that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ would remain with us.  Grace isn’t something that fills a person enabling them to complete a task.  That’s what knowledge is and how knowledge works.  If I learn something in theory about physics and engineering, then I am filled with that knowledge so that I can in turn use that knowledge to accomplish a task, like building a bridge or a building.  That’s not how the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ works.  Rather, his grace is his attitude toward us.  As you see in the picture, it was his gracious love that led him to be nailed to a cross for you.  It was his gracious love that led him to pour out his blood for you.  And most importantly, it was his gracious love that frees you from the chains of death, as you see the skull at the foot of the cross being defeated by the sacrifice of Christ there.  It is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that moved him to all these actions for you.  And when this grace remains with you, when this Jesus remains with you through the proclamation of his word and the participation in his sacrament, then you are kept right with God and your Trinitarian life begins to take shape.

Luther famously said that we are to be Christ to our neighbor.  In his treatise on Christian Liberty he wrote, “Just as our neighbor is in want, and has great need of our abundance, so we too in the sight of God were in want, and had need of His mercy.  And as our heavenly Father has freely helped us in Christ, so ought we freely to help our neighbor by our body and works, and each should become to the other a sort of Christ, so that we may be mutually Christs, and that the same Christ may be in all of us; that is, we may be truly Christian.”[5]  Part of the Trinitarian life we now lead as God’s children is to be like Christ to our neighbor.  Now, we certainly cannot defeat sin, death, and the devil for the people around us, but we can point people to God by living sacrificially.  We can provide for the proclamation of the Gospel in this place and around the world through our offerings and sacrificial giving.  We can be living examples of the sacrificial love of Christ when we sacrifice our own wants and desires for the benefit of our children – when we spend time together as a family apart from the constant distraction of having work email at the fingertips, when we sacrifice our own desires to do those things that make our children happy and build the relationships in our families.  Also, we as parents teach our kids to live sacrificially by having them put aside their own desires to instead attend their siblings’ activities and events.  We can live sacrificially in our school and church when we step back to look at the big picture, when we as church see the value of our school and support the ministry and efforts there, but also when we as school step back and see the value of our church and worship, supporting the ministry and efforts there.  There is no shortage of opportunity to live in sacrifice to the people around us.  To live such lives is to see the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ active among us, viewing the people around us with the same gracious and sacrificial attitude with which our Lord Jesus sees and acts toward us.  That is the first part of our Trinitarian life.

Holy trinity             The second part is drawn from God the Father.  Paul prays that the love of God the Father would remain with us.  As we celebrate Fathers’ Day, we hear much from our world about what dads ought to do.  We see commercials for power tools and golf clubs as if those items embody fatherhood.  But look again to the picture on your bulletin cover to see how this artist saw the love of God the Father at work.  There are two things to notice about Father in this painting.  The first is that he is sitting on a throne wearing royal robes.  This is obviously a confession that God alone is the true ruler of this world.  As the prophet Isaiah recorded for our Old Testament reading today, when he saw God our Father, our Lord was “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.”[6]  He is the King of kings.  He is the Lord of lords.  This is his creation, and we are all subject to him as our supreme ruler.  But the temptation in talking about the reality that God is the all-powerful Lord of all creation is to forget what He does with his lordship.  Look again at the picture and, as I’m sure many of you noticed right away, look at what the Father’s hands are doing.  They are holding up the cross of Christ.  Our God rules in love by sending his own Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.[7]  Our Father in heaven does not use his lordship as an opportunity to humiliate or subjugate the people of this world.  He created us to live in communion with him, and when that communion was shattered by sin, he set into motion a series of events to restore what was broken.  He made promises in Eden, made promises to Abraham and his descendants, remained faithful to those promises for his name’s sake, even though the people of Israel continually profaned his name among the nations.[8]  He used all his power and authority as God to redeem you, to restore the broken relationship with you.  God made a promise, and He remained faithful to that promise to the point of death – the death of his own Son on the cross – and now we have been given the crown of eternal life.

So also in our lives we have to deal with authority.  There will be many times where we find ourselves under the authority of another – be it a boss or manager, a parent, or teacher.  The mark of our Trinitarian life in those situations is that we are called to remember the fourth commandment and honor their authority, being obedient to their direction and respectful to their office, recognizing that there is no true authority except that which comes from God.[9]  But there are also instances in our lives where we find ourselves as the person in authority.  Fathers find themselves in position where they have authority over their children.  Sometimes we are the ones who are the manager or boss.  Sometimes we are the ones who are the government officials or the board and council members elected to positions of leadership.  It is in these instances where the contours to a Trinitarian life begin to become even clearer.  As we are called to lives of sacrificial love that enable us to be like Christ to our neighbor, so also we are called to use our authority in love, and in so doing be like God our Father to our neighbors.  Rather than using our authority as an opportunity to belittle or crush those under us, we act in love.  We treat them fairly and with respect.  We find ways to highlight each person’s individual skills so that we put people in a position to succeed.  Just as God our Father rules this world through various the vocations he has given people, like governments and parents, so also when we are the ones in positions of authority we allow other people to take on responsibilities, especially in the community of the baptized here at St. John and within the church at large, in order to foster a sense of community and camaraderie.  We certainly are not God the Father any more than we are Christ, yet just as we can act as Christ to our neighbor by living graciously and sacrificially, so also we live a Trinitarian existence when we act as God the Father to our neighbors by exercising authority in love.

Holy trinity

This brings us to the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, the third element to a Trinitarian life.  As more than one theologian throughout the years has said, the Holy Spirit is like the glue that holds it all together.  In the picture on your bulletin, the Spirit is located directly between the Father and the Son.  He is depicted as a dove, which is the well-known form that he took when he descended upon Jesus at his baptism.  So also the Holy Spirit was given to you in your baptism.  He is the glue that holds your Trinitarian life together.  For when you try to live a life of sacrificial love as Christ to your neighbor, you will find yourself unable.  You will find yourself manipulating the emotions of others: “I did such-and-such for you, why won’t you do what I’m asking in return?”  Or you will find your pride won’t allow you to be truly sacrificial without expectation of recognition.  You may not demand a standing ovation in front of the church, but you still feel embittered when no one, or not enough people, say thank you or truly appreciate all you do.  Our sinful flesh will not allow us to live a purely sacrificial life.  When you try to exercise authority in love as our Father in heaven, you will find the responsibility is more than you can bear.  You will make decisions that are secretly or subconsciously self-serving rather than being made for the good of your neighbor.  In anger or frustration you will seek vengeance and label it justice.  None of us can ever hope to fully live as Christ or the Father to our neighbors, which is exactly why the Holy Spirit is at work within us.  He is the glue that holds your Trinitarian life together.  He drives us to repentance when we fail, and sooths our wounds with the sweet healing words of forgiveness.  He gives us the desire to try to live in love and service again even after we have failed to do so before.  He keeps us coming to the well of our Lord’s church to drink the life-giving water of his Word, for it is only when that word is living and active among us that we can truly give and receive forgiveness, which is the key ingredient to living together.  That is the unity of the Holy Spirit.  That is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, that He calls us and gathers us together through the Gospel, enlivens us with his gifts of forgiveness and new life so that we can live a Trinitarian life: showing the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ through lives of sacrifice, showing the love of God the Father through the ways we rule and are governed, and living in the unity of the Spirit that binds it all together through mutual confession and absolution.

Such is the Trinitarian life.  Such is your life as a child of God baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  By the grace of God, may such a Trinitarian existence be recognizable among us here at St. John, so that all who come into contact with this place may see God at work among us.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.


[1] Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel p. 152

[2] Rev. Jonathan Fisk “I Bind Unto Myself Today” http://www.worldvieweverlasting.com/2012/11/30/i-bind-unto-myself-today/

[3] 2 Corinthians 13:14

[4] John 3:11

[5] Treatise on Christian Liberty (public domain translation by R. S. Grignon) p.37

[6] Isaiah 6:1

[7] John 3:17

[8] Ezekiel 36:22-28

[9] Romans 13:1


One thought on “A Trinitarian Life – Sermon for June 15/16

  1. I enjoyed your use of the bulletin cover image to bring home the point of living a “trinitarian” life as God’s people.

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