Trinity Sunday ( 1st Sunday after Pentecost )

The Grace of the Father, the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the peace of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 

A young man asked an old rich man how he became so wealthy. The old guy smiled with memories and said, “Well, son, it was 1932,

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the depth of the Great Depression. As a young  teenager on my own, I was down to my last nickel. I invested that nickel in an apple. I spent the entire day polishing the apple and, at the end of the day, I sold the apple for ten cents.

 The next morning, I invested those ten cents in two apples. I spent the entire day polishing them and sold them at 5:00 PM for 20 cents. I continued this system for a week, by the end of which I’d accumulated a fortune of $3.50.  By my mid- twenties, I owned a fruit stand, and continued to build my small nest egg.  Later on, I met the love of my life, and we worked together building our own small store.   (pause)    Then in 1957, my wife’s father died and left us ten million dollars.”   (Source:  Unknown)

There’s a lot to be said for hard work, perseverance and wisdom, but in this man’s case his vast wealth had less to do with his own character than with the generosity of his wife’s father.

The reality of the Trinity is not received with worldly wisdom or pristine character.  It is not even directly revealed in the Scripture.  It is discovered  by intuition from the generosity of God through the Holy Spirit.  It is received by faith in God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit.

Solomon received the gift of wisdom.  Once again, it was less a matter of his hard work, perseverance and character.  It was a gift of God. When we think of wisdom, we face up to the reality that the wisdom which comes from God is often in conflict with what the world considers wisdom.  Believers in Christ Jesus seem so often to be out of step with the world around us. A world that promotes self-interest and political correctness, while it ignores common sense and blends right and wrong into a state of confusion.   Proverbs 9:10 encourages us that “Reverence for the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’. 

In our reading from Proverbs, Solomon in all his wisdom, revealed an intuition from God. Solomon, with poetic license,   personifies wisdom in the appearance of a woman. Almost an angelic being translated from the Hebrew word Sophia.  This personification, speaks of one of the attributes that are common between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God in trinity.  That of wisdom.

The creation of the heavens and the earth, and ultimately human beings, were a matter of God’s wisdom in action. Not an afterthought, or chance, or natural selection.   With wisdom, received from God, through the Holy Spirit guiding our human spirit, we stand out against the wisdom of the world.  We hold firm in our agreement that God is one.  One perfect, eternal, powerful essence, with three distinct persons.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  A trinity in unity:  Described in our Lutheran tradition as our Triune God.

I am convinced that Jesus deeply wanted us to know the Trinity of God.  He spoke to the disciples before he returned to his place of glory at the centre of God’s Kingdom.  He confessed that He had “much more to say to [them], more than [they could] bear.” He promised that  “when  the Spirit of truth [would] come, he[would] guide [them] into all truth”. (Jn 16:12 NIV). 

Luther confessed in his explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, “by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith’.  (The Book of Concord p.355)

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so that we can come to a better understanding of God, as He reveals himself to us.  Even though our understanding of God is at best incomplete, God reveals himself to us as Triune God.

The first appearance of the Triune God is at the very beginning of creation.  Just like the quality of wisdom, the Holy Spirit was active in the creation of the universe, along with the Father and the Son.

The Triune God is present with us today. The Godhead fills our universe and our lives.  God who helps us make sense of our lives and understand God’s purpose for us. Who gives us the courage and confidence to live God’s purpose for our lives.  Who helps change the way we feel about all that happens to us in our everyday lives. And who gives us the courage to confront the corrupted wisdom of the world around us. 

John begins his Gospel, revealing our Saviour in the Trinity “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him.”

Just as Moses began his testimony of Genesis revealing the presence of the Trinity in creation, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.’ (Genesis 1:1–2 NLT)

In the great commission, God revealed Himself to the Apostles and to us in trinity, through the words of Christ Jesus.  “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in a the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.  (Mt 28:19 NIV)  … 

In the wisdom of God, given to us by his Holy Spirit, we can accept Martin Luther’s thesis: “The Holy Scriptures teach that God is absolutely one and that He is also three persons, absolutely distinct.”

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: ‘There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  And because you belong to him, the power‍‍ of the life-giving Spirit has freed you‍‍ from the power of sin that leads to death.’  (Rom 8:1-2)

Paul also wrote what we shared today, ‘since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ 

Luther, called this “the article upon which the church stands or falls.” Justification by faith alone. To Luther, wherever this reality is believed and preached, we find the true church! A church ceases to be Christian when it fails to declare that each person, revealed as both saint and sinner at the same time, is reconciled to God by no other way than by faith.

And so, we stand today united with every Christian in the world, proclaiming our faith in one God in three persons, celebrating our unity, and stepping out in a shared mission to proclaim a common heritage.  It all begins with what our Saviour Jesus Christ did for us.  We worship our ascended Saviour, we praise God our Father, and we honour the Holy Spirit.  
And like the earliest church, we devote ourselves to the teaching of the Apostles, to fellowship, to prayer, and to breaking bread together in Holy Communion – one body in Christ. 

There is an old saying, “There but for the grace of God, go I”.   In the trinity of God, we discover that grace.  We are not just forgiven, but we are changed.  By faith, we are made new and we become precious children of God. 

We come with confidence to God the Father who created us, because of the sacrifice of God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  God the Holy Spirit was poured out upon all believers, to give us the will and the fruit of the Spirit to live Christian lives.   And we give thanks to God for both the spiritual wisdom and the common sense that we have received.

And so, we give thanks and praise to our Saviour, Jesus Christ, God the Son, to our precious creator, God the Father, and to the ever present Spirit of God.

Amen.

David Thompson.

Trinity Sunday 27th May

Holy Trinity.

John 3:1-17

 

It is quite common for pastors or secretaries in church offices to get phone calls from trinitytelemarketers.   Often they will ask a question like, “Are you the owner of this business?” How does one respond to a question like that? Try to enlighten them by saying that the church is not a ‘business’? Tell them if they want to speak to the ‘owner’ they can do that anytime they wish – it’s called prayer?   Such conversations highlight how different the ways of God’s kingdom are from the ways of the world.

Nicodemus, a member of the ruling Jewish council, discovered that too when he came to Jesus at night and wanted to discuss the ways of God’s kingdom.  The ways of God’s kingdom cannot be described in human terms, but must be comprehended, believed and received in Spiritual terms.

Nicodemus was not antagonistic toward Jesus like other members of the Jewish ruling council were. There were things about Jesus and his ministry that genuinely intrigued him and drew him to Jesus, like the miracles Jesus had been doing, which Nicodemus could only conclude were ‘from God’ (v.2). However, in the ensuing conversation, Jesus gently corrected Nicodemus and guided him toward some deeper spiritual blessings of his kingdom.

While Nicodemus had learned and taught that ‘the kingdom of God’ was the nation of Israel, whom God promised to rescue from their enemies by means of a Messiah king, Jesus spoke to him of an eternal ‘kingdom’ that did not belong to this world (v.3, 16).

While Nicodemus was proud to have been born as a child of Israel, Jesus spoke about being ‘born again’ by a spiritual rebirth ‘from above’, very different from a natural birth, which would enable him to ‘see’ and ‘enter’ God’s eternal, spiritual kingdom (v.3-7).

While Nicodemus concluded that Jesus had ‘come from God’, and recognized that ‘God was with him’, Jesus spoke to him about the divine mystery of a God who makes himself known as three persons of the one God.

  • As the Father in heaven, whose love for mankind is way beyond the bounds of human capacity and comprehension (v.16).
  • As the Son who comes down from heaven, speaks to people about ‘heavenly things’ (v.12), and offers his divinely-human nature to be ‘lifted up’ on a cross for the world’s redemption (v.14-15).
  • As a powerful and life-giving ‘Spirit’ whose ways are more mysterious and mighty than the wind that blows in this world (v.8).

Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the divine purpose of an ever-loving God, who does not want to ‘condemn’ sinners to ‘perish’ eternally, but rather wants all people to ‘believe’ in Jesus and what he has done, and ‘be saved’ to ‘eternal life’ (v.16, 17).

Jesus showed Nicodemus that God is truly gracious, in that he makes his divine mysteries known to people through tangible, earthly means; things we can see, hear, taste, touch and experience; things by which ordinary human beings can receive the spiritual blessings of God’s kingdom.

Here is what Jesus told Nicodemus:

  • Even though ‘the Kingdom of God’ is an eternal, spiritual kingdom, Jesus said that it is also something that people can ‘see’ and ‘enter’ through a spiritual rebirth (v.3, 5).
  • Even though the second birth is a spiritual rebirth ‘from above’ (v.3), it is something that people can know and experience here below. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (v.7); then you can ‘see’ and ‘enter the kingdom of God’.  Jesus said that this new spiritual birth is available through the earthly element of water, applied with the audible Word of God in baptism. The earthly means of Word and water convey the mighty working of God’s Spirit in us.
  • Even though the ‘love’ of God ‘for the world’ is beyond human comprehension (v.16), it is graciously shown to the world through the earthly means of His ‘only Son’, born of human flesh and blood; and given to live and die for the sins of the world. This saving act was foreshadowed by an earthly event many years before, through a visible bronze serpent that Moses ‘lifted up’ on a pole in the desert, so that people who were bitten by snakes could look to it and live.  God’s love is remembered and received anew even today in the same flesh and blood given in and with the earthly elements of bread and wine.  The good news of God’s love is told to the world through the visible and audible Word of God, printed on the pages of a Bible, read silently or aloud, proclaimed, explained and explored, or sung in psalms, hymns or spiritual songs.
  • Even though the concept of an ‘eternal life’ beyond this world, free from the condemnation that our sins deserve, is not something we can believe – let alone receive – on our own, Jesus promises to give and nurture a saving faith through those same earthly means; words in a book, on human lips, joined with water in baptism, and with bread and wine in Holy Communion. These earthly means graciously convey to us, in very tangible ways, the spiritual blessings of God’s kingdom.

As Jesus led Nicodemus toward the goal of saving faith in him as the Suffering Servant Saviour, it seemed that the challenge for Nicodemus was to learn to see beyond life in this world and to comprehend things from a ‘heavenly perspective’.  In many ways, that is our challenge too.  We live in this world, as human flesh and blood, with a naturally sinful human nature, surrounded by worldly things and worldly ideas. So, it is very easy for us to be found thinking about things – even spiritual things – from a purely natural, human perspective.  In fact, the more we become immersed in life in this world, the opinions of others, the ideas constantly put forward in media, and our own life-experiences, the more foreign the ‘heavenly things’ of God can seem to be.

It’s hard to stay focussed on a ‘Kingdom of God” that is not actually visible, when the pressure all around us is to be busy building and securing our own little kingdoms on earth with house, money, employment, possessions and a good superannuation.

It’s hard to walk in the ways of that kingdom revealed in God’s Word when the world around us seems to be marching to a completely different set of values and ideas.

It is hard to see ourselves as new people, ‘born of the Spirit’, when we all we can see is our earthly life with its weaknesses, temptations and failures.

It is hard to comprehend a ‘God who loved the world’ when people around us – and our own sinful natures – want to blame him for the things that go wrong in the world.

It is hard to live our lives in view of a time of ‘divine judgement,’ a time when God will ask, “What have you done with the life that I gave you?”; or to believe in the reality that without faith in Jesus, people will ‘perish’ eternally, when the general line of thinking in the world around us is that we are all basically good people and will therefore all go to heaven – or to nothing at all – when we die.

It’s hard to keep ‘believing’ in and seeking God’s ‘only Son’ – and his forgiveness – as the only way to be set free from sin’s eternal consequences and to secure our eternal future, when the devil, the world and our own sinful natures keep on telling us that there are more urgent and important things with which to concern ourselves in life.

Like Nicodemus, Christian people can even find ourselves asking, “How can these things be?” in relation to the spiritual truths of God’s kingdom (v.9).

The first challenge for each of us is to ask, “Where am I getting my thinking from?”  Is it from the Spirit or from the flesh?  The second challenge is to come to Jesus, like Nicodemus did, and learn of the divine mysteries that bring us ‘new birth’ and ‘eternal life’:

  • to open our hearts and minds to understand the ‘heavenly things’ of his kingdom;
  • to learn that we can indeed ‘see’ God’s kingdom and ‘enter’ it when we are ‘born of water and the Spirit’ in Holy Baptism;
  • to open our hearts and minds to the ‘wind’ of the ‘Spirit’ so that it may blow through his Word and daily renew us in heart and life;
  • to go daily and prayerfully to God’s Word, so that we can grow in the grace and knowledge of our loving God and of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ;
  • to make use of the visible, audible and tangible earthly means that God gives us in this world to nurture our saving faith – his Word, revealed in the Scriptures, and added to the water in baptism, and the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

Then, even as we live in the natural world, we will be able to comprehend and receive ‘heavenly things’ through the earthly means that God so graciously gives us.  Amen!

And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.