Holy Trinity/Memorial Commemoration
May 27, 2018
“The Mission of God”
Rev. Richard Langness
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Co
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours this day from the triune God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are consistent elements in worship. The first one that we encounter is what is called the Invocation. It is a simple line, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That is it. There is nothing more, other than the congregation’s response of, “Amen.” But what exactly is the invocation and what does the amen mean? And with that, why do we have this one day in which we celebrate the Trinity? These questions, I believe, make for some good conversation as we consider who we are as the Church.
In any conversation there is recognition of the parties involved in the dialogue. This recognition can be verbal as when Sven says, “Hey Ollie, how you doin’?” Here, Ollie knows that Sven is talking to him and not someone else. Recognition can also go deeper such as when Ollie gets pulled over for speeding. Here, both parties know who is involved in the conversation but there is also the recognition of the authority held by the officer which might curb the attitude with which Ollie speaks. Consider, also, what trouble might take place should Ollie not recognize the honor and respect that is due Lena’s father when he comes to call on her for a date. Obviously, the end result would certainly be far from the desired goal.
As we come together in the conversation that is worship, we first recognize the parties who are involved in the conversation. If we have taken the time to prepare ourselves, we should have a right recognition of the one who gathers us and the honor and respect that is due Him. Along with that we recognize who is gathered here with us. The Invocation, then, is simply a verbal recognition. It is not to God but to one another. It is the recognition that it is the one true God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who calls us together and has come to engage us in conversation. To this we simply answer in agreement, “Ya sure, you betcha!” or in a more unified voice, “Amen” which simply means, so let it be.
The God who gathers us is the God revealed in the Old Testament. Just because we have the New Testament does mean that we have some new God. Remember what Jesus did as He cared for the disciple on the road to Emmaus. He walked them through the Scriptures, through Moses and the Prophets, and He showed them not only who the Son is but that the Son must suffer and die. There is only one God and only one Church. There is only one means whereby we can and must be saved. Nicodemus was like many of the Pharisees and thought salvation came through his own works, his own merits. It was his religion that saved and not his relationship. As with most people, he saw his actions as a means to the relationship rather than the relationship as the means to his actions.
In the opening lines to the Athanasian Creed we have this: Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally. And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance. Nicodemus, as with most of the Jews of the day, did not understand the Trinity even though God revealed it throughout the Old Testament. One need only look to Genesis 1:26 to see the multiple persons of God when He says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” There is only one God, one unity, and yet in that unity there are three distinct persons. The conversation with Nicodemus, then, helps us to understand the distinctions between these persons.
There is only one purpose for God giving us the Bible; it is for the sake of our salvation. The mission of God is to bring salvation to the world. This is the truth brought forth in John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 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.”
The whole of Scripture points us to who God is, who we are, and our need for forgiveness and a right relationship with God.
The prophet Isaiah tells us who God is and who we are when he declares, “And one [seraphim] called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”” (Isaiah 6:3-5) God is holy and we are not. We are a people of unclean lips dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips.
There are many religions out there and for the most part they all share this understanding of God, that He is righteous and holy. This is why Christianity and Christians are held in judgment for past acts done in the name of God. People take note of hypocritical acts done in the name of a righteous and loving God. In understanding the Trinity, then, we see this holy and righteous God as the person of the Father. He is the standard bearer. He is the final judge. He is the one who holds the full essence of what is holy. Thus, no unclean thing can stand before Him. And this is the issue that Isaiah faces. Yet, it is the desire of the Father to be one with His creation. Thus, it was the plan of the Father from the before the foundation of the world to insure that His fallen creation would be restored. He would send His Son who, equally holy with the Father, would be born in our flesh and take upon Himself the full weight of the world’s sin.
So consider the work of the Son. Like the Father, nothing unholy can stand in His presence. Yet, in humility, He denies His right equality with the Father and He who knew no sin becomes our sin. He hangs upon the cross as the very abomination of God, the very cursed one of God. Thus, consider the fullness of judgment that must take place for the Son to be one with the Father again. He cries out, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” He does this because there upon that cross there is no sin left unpunished. The sins of every person are judged in Jesus Christ. To fulfill the high standard of the Father, Jesus suffers the judgment of all people, even the Hitlers of this world. It makes no difference of how heinous the crime might be in our eyes; in the eyes of the Father it is far worse. And yet the full burden of judgment is born out through the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ upon the cross. You are forgiven at the price of Jesus’ suffering. The world is forgiven at the price of Jesus’ suffering. The empty tomb, Easter itself, is the mark of the full payment of Christ, the very Son of God. The Father raised Him up because there was nothing left of creation’s sin. It had been judged in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
So now the Holy Spirit comes and this is the issue that Nicodemus struggles with. In order to receive the forgiveness won through the sufferings and death of Jesus one must be born again. One must be born of the Spirit. One must die with Christ upon the cross to embrace the new life that comes forth from the empty tomb. The Holy Spirit comes to you not as a feeling but as a faith giver. He takes the Word of God that is preached into your ears and awakens you to its truth and gives you the faith to believe it. Faith is not created through man’s reason but through the very presence and work of the Holy Spirit.
When the Word of God is preached, faith is created in every hearer. The problem comes when, like in the parable of the sower, that faith is snatched away by the devil or other factors come along and allow it to die. This is why the only unpardonable sin is the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. It is to take the faith that the Holy Spirit creates and say, “I don’t need it or want it.” What condemns us now is not our sin; it is our rejection of the work of Christ who forgives our sin. When we reject Christ we still stand in the condemnation of our sin for we fail to receive the forgiveness given to us in Christ Jesus. Our unbelief is a result of our rejecting the primary work of the Holy Spirit; that is, to create faith in the heart of the hearer of God’s Word.
God comes to you today in His fullness to proclaim His love to you. The Father is present through the proclamation of the Law to inform you that you are powerless to stand before Him in your own good works. But since it is the will and desire of the Father that you be saved, He gives to you His Son. The Son is now present for you through the means of grace, Scripture itself; the proclaimed Word of God and the preached Word of God, along with the Sacraments; Baptism and the Holy Supper. In them you have the wonderful Gospel gifts that assure you of the forgiveness of sins. And with them you have the Holy Spirit who awakens and enlightens you to the salvation that is in them and with that He creates the faith to believe. Today, you are forgiven and one with God. God’s mission comes to you as He forgives, redeems, and gathers you to Himself. May that mission of God go forth as you engage in a people of unclean lips. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.