June 7, 2020
Today is Trinity Sunday. Our Church is named Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. We call our church, Trinity, because we believe in the Triune God. Tri means three. Unus means one. Our God is three in one; three Persons, yet one God. The words Trinity and triune are not in the Bible, yet the teaching of the Holy Trinity is indeed in the Bible.
There are a few examples in the Bible where the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is revealed in a few short passages, for example when Jesus is baptized and the Father from heaven calls Jesus his beloved Son as the Holy Spirit descends upon him, and when Jesus commands that his disciples baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But really, the teaching of the Holy Trinity is constantly and continually taught throughout the entire Old and New Testament, so that, the more you read the Bible, the more you recognize the Holy Trinity on every page.
God is one. Deuteronomy 6 states, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Yet, God is three persons. The Father is God. The Son is God. And the Holy Spirit is God. And although these three Persons are distinct from one another, they are not three gods, but one God. The Bible calls the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit God. The Bible records how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are worshipped by both angels and humans. The Bible tells us that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, and omnipresent. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do things that only God can do; they create, forgive sins, heal, raise the dead, and give eternal life. They are indeed three distinct persons. The Father begets and sends the Son. The Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit. Yet, Scripture declares that these three are one God. The Bible teaches the Holy Trinity and all Christians everywhere at all times have confessed the Holy Trinity. If you believe in the Bible, you believe in the Trinity.
We call our church Evangelical. Evangelical means Gospel. Gospel means good news. Our Church is dedicated to the preaching of the Gospel, the good news, as St. Paul declared, “Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:16). That is why we call ourselves Evangelical.
And of course, to be evangelical means to be Trinitarian. The Father sends his Son. The Son dies on the cross for the sins of the whole world. The Holy Spirit proclaims this message of forgiveness and salvation to the whole world through the proclamation of the Gospel, even working rebirth in the hearts of sinners, so that they can believe this good message and be saved! The Holy Trinity is an evangelical God!
This is why it is necessary for every church that claims to believe in the Holy Trinity to proclaim the Gospel that God saves sinners through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Whoever believes in this Gospel will be saved. Yet, if the Church is to proclaim the Gospel, she must first proclaim the Law. The Law is the love that God commands of us as Scripture says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” This command of love is taught in the Ten Commandments. The commands, “You shall have no other gods; Honor your father and your mother; You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal” are all commands to love God and your neighbor.
God’s Law is good! How wonderful would it be if people would actually try to live according to God’s Law; if people considered the needs of others before their own and did unto others as they would have them do unto them, no matter whether they were black or white, rich or poor, young or old! We would have less violence, riots, and looting, that’s for sure. If men stopped fornicating and instead got married and supported their wives; taught their sons how to be men; to work hard and be honest and protect the vulnerable; to set an example to their daughters of what type of men they should marry. Yes, if more people in our nation would try to live according to God’s Law, we would have less violence, less injustice, less poverty, in short, a better country to live in.
Yet, that is not the main reason why churches must preach the Law. God did not give us his Law, so that we could be a safer and more prosperous country. God gave us his Law to show us our sin and need for a Savior. God’s Law doesn’t simply want you to improve. Rather, God’s Law says, “You must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) That is the Law. It condemns you to hell, so that you look not to yourself, but to God for salvation. “And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24) That is Gospel. The Gospel does not require works from you, but bids you to believe that God is merciful to you for Christ’s sake. Evangelical churches proclaim the Law, so that sinners know their need for the Gospel. And evangelical churches preach the Gospel to sinners, whose consciences are stricken by the Law.
God uses the Law and Gospel to bring sinners to faith throughout the Old and New Testament. Jesus himself uses the Old Testament account of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness to preach Law and Gospel. In Numbers chapter 21, the people of Israel grumbled against God and Moses, so God sent fiery serpents to bite them, so that many died. The serpents were the law. “The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law.” (1 Corinthians 15:56) Yet, when the people cried out to Moses, God told Moses to make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, so that whoever looked at it would not die. So, Moses made a bronze serpent. The bronze serpent was the Gospel; it represented Christ. It was in the form of the curse which killed them, yet it saved them. Likewise, Christ Jesus took the form of our curse to save us. Scripture says, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Galatians 3:10) We fail to keep the Law, so we are cursed. Yet, Scripture says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13) Therefore, whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life, just as whoever looked at the bronze serpent survived his snake bite.
This is the Law and Gospel. Salvation is received as a free gift to those who know from the Law that they need salvation as a free gift. And salvation is a free gift. We heard in our Epistle lesson, “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” God doesn’t give you salvation, because he owes it to you. He gives you salvation, because he loves you.
We call our church Lutheran. The Lutheran reformation began about 500 years ago, but the teaching of the Lutheran Church is grounded in Scripture and has been confessed from the founding of the Church. We confess the Holy Trinity with the ancient Church as it is taught in the Bible. And we are evangelical! We know the mission of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel. The main focus of the Lutheran Church has always been that sinners are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Yet, the underlining reason that Lutherans split from Rome had to do with authority. Lutherans believe that the Scriptures alone are the source of all Church teaching. The Holy Spirit works through the teaching of the Bible to create faith. The Roman Catholic Church did not follow Scripture alone, but rather saw Scripture as a part of the greater tradition of the Church which shared its authority with councils and traditions of men.
Nearly 500 years ago, another group attempted a reformation in Europe. They were called the Socinians. They too claimed that all of their teachings came from Scripture. Yet, they denied the Holy Trinity and they denied the Gospel that Jesus made atonement for our sins, but rather taught that Jesus was a human example for us to follow. How could a group that claimed to follow the Bible stray so far from the Bible’s teaching? Because they insisted that the Bible would not contradict their own reason. If they’re reason could not understand how something in Scripture could be, they explained it away.
The Socinians should have paid closer attention to Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a smart man, but he could not understand how one could be born again. Yet, Jesus points out to him that he doesn’t even understand earthly things. Do you know where the wind is going or where it came from? No? Then why are you interrogating God on how he accomplishes heavenly things? That which is born of flesh is flesh. Our human reason cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God, because it is corrupted by sin. This is why we must be born again by water and the Spirit. Faith in the Gospel is a gift that is received by those who have received rebirth by the Holy Spirit. God designed for this rebirth to happen in Baptism, where the promise of the Spirit is joined to water. Don’t ask how this can be. This is from God! Our job is not to question how, but believe what God tells us!
We believe in the Holy Trinity and that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, not because it makes perfect sense to our sinful and weak minds, but because Scripture clearly teaches this. And those who have been reborn by the Spirit accept the words of the Spirit with renewed minds. To be Lutheran does not meant to follow some smart German, who lived 500 years ago. To be Lutheran means to believe the teachings of the Holy Spirit in Scripture, having been born again by water and the Spirit.
We call ourselves a church. Martin Luther wrote, “Thank God, today a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” That sounds like heaven. Indeed, church is heaven on earth, because heaven is to be with Jesus. We don’t believe in a God far away from us. We believe in the Triune God, who shepherds us here on earth with his Gospel until he leads us to our eternal home prepared for us by Jesus. May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit keep our congregation faithful to her name, so that He may dwell with us today and we may dwell with Him in eternity. Amen.