A Sermon for Trinity Sunday
In one of the earliest Christian documents in existence--the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, dating from the early 60's A.D--Christ is described as having “equality with God” before He humbled Himself in becoming human. As a result of the Savior’s sacrifice on the cross for us, Paul continues, Christ has again been exalted, His name worshipped by every creature in the Universe. These are unmistakable claims of divinity for Jesus made only thirty years after the first Easter. It would be easy to multiply this example dozens of times using the writings of the New Testament. The Church has consistently taught that Jesus Christ is “our Lord and our God” ever since St. Thomas trembled in awe before the risen Christ a week after His Resurrection from the dead.
Of course, from the beginning the proclamation of Christ as Lord and God has raised serious questions. Christians are, of course, monotheists. The followers of Jesus still worshipped the one true God of Israel--the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And yet these first Christian preachers claimed that Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnation of God's Word, “through whom all things were made.” This Word, the Apostle John had taught, was “in the beginning … with God, and the Word was God.” But how does that work? Did they really claim the all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present, and eternal God of all creation also existed as an individual human being on the earth at one particular place and time? That claim seems, on the surface, to violate the basic principle of monotheism. There can only be ONE God, after all. How can there be only one true God and a God-man walking around in Galilee?
These earliest Christian evangelists had not yet have developed a full vocabulary to discuss the nature of the only true God, the God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ. But their writings as preserved in the New Testament clearly reflect the fundamental Truth later elaborated by councils of the universal Church—the one true God is triune, existing in three distinct but indivisible persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Paul the Apostle gives us an early glimpse this eternal truth in our epistle today, where he asks that divine blessings flow to his friends from three sources, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.”
But this early Christian insight into the three-in-one nature of God did not materialize out of thin air. The Truth had been waiting, undiscovered, in the Holy Scriptures of Israel since Moses first came down from Mt. Sinai. The opening chapter of Genesis, for example, reveals the triune nature of God for those with eyes to see it. There the Creator God speaks, "Let there be light," as His Spirit moves over the waters of chaos—the Father utters His Word as agent of creation in the power of the Spirit and all created things come into being. The Word of God, whom Christians also know as God the Son, exists before time and space, energy and matter come into being. Indeed, time and space exist because of Him. The divine Son is eternal and uncreated, “begotten of His father before all worlds.” He is God in the same way the Father who uttered Him is God. He is entitled to the same honor, glory, worship, and majesty, bearing a Name that is above every name, in heaven and on earth. And this incomprehensible power and majesty of God the Father and His Son was manifest in the eternal Spirit of God that moved through the formless void of nothingness before the dawn of time. Thus, the Holy Trinity is already revealed in the first three verses of the Bible!
Nor did early Christians neglect the fact that the Creator God speaks of Himself in both the plural and the singular in the creation story: “Let us make mankind in our image, according to our likeness. … So God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Thus the creation story further reveals that there is some mysterious multiplicity in the oneness of God, a fact driven home by the creation of Adam in the second chapter of Genesis. There “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” In both the Hebrew original and the Greek Old Testament commonly used by the early Church the same Hebrew and Greek words are used for “breath” and “spirit.” Therefore the passage could justly be translated “the LORD God … spirited into his nostrils the Spirit of Life.” From the first instant of the human race’s existence, God the Holy Spirit has revealed Himself as “the Lord and Giver of life.”
It is no accident that the Holy Trinity is clearly visible in the Old Testament in the creation of man. For the most complete revelation of the nature of God would later come through a descendent of Adam and Eve—the God-man, Jesus Christ. The One “in whom the fullness of Deity was pleased to dwell”--the incarnation of the divine Word, God the Son—came in human flesh to the world He had once created when, according to the will of God the Father, the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Thus Jesus of Nazareth is in truth God, the same God who created the Universe, split the Red Sea, and gave the Law to Moses. The doctrine of the Trinity reveals that Christ is God in every way that our feeble minds can fathom, His divinity in no way less than that of God the Father. The words Christ spoke were the words of God. The love Christ showed was the love of God. And the Blood He shed for our salvation was the Blood of God Himself. At Calvary the very One “in whom we live and move and have our being” hurled Himself into the abyss of death so that He might fill it with resurrection Life through the power of the Holy Spirit. And to those who received the only-begotten Son it was given to be born again as children of His divine Father, sealed by God the Spirit in baptism, members of the Body of Christ.
In our Gospel lesson today we hear the final commandments given by the risen Lord Jesus to His disciples before He returned to His Father. They are the words of One who speaks with the authority of God Himself, One who possesses “all authority in heaven and on earth.” Christ orders His disciples to carry His authoritative teachings out into the world and lead the nations of the earth into obedience to the Divine Will as exemplified in His own life, death, and resurrection. The work of the Trinity had been visible in Christ Jesus from the moment of His conception until He walked out of the tomb on Easter morning. Now the Triune God forms the centerpiece of the Great Commission, underpinning the sacramental life of Christ’s Church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Christianity without the Holy Trinity is unthinkable, for Jesus Christ could not be our Savior God in truth if God is not Three-in-One. All those who worship Christ as Lord would be idolaters if He is less than fully God. But Christ came into the world to reveal God in His fullness and He has given His Church on earth the sacraments, empowering us to approach the Triune God He revealed and enabling us to have fellowship with the Creator as Christ has made Him known. Through God the Holy Spirit baptismal water purifies us to approach the throne of the Father in the footsteps of the Son. Through the power of the Spirit bread and wine become the precious Body and Blood of the Son as we re-present His once-for-all sacrifice upon the altar, joining our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to the eternal oblation offered by the Word made Flesh. You and I are creatures of the Trinity, made a new creation through our baptism in the Triune name and sustained by the Life the threefold Godhead gives us in the Eucharist. May God give us grace to take the message of that God out into the world for the healing of the nations.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, even unto ages of ages. Amen.