Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone.

Trinity Sunday 2017

  1. Trinity Sunday.17 “On Learning What Cannot Be Taught” Matt. 28:16-20

In the cartoon, you see Jesus sitting on a mountaintop and a wide-eyed disciple sitting next to Him. The caption reads “Everyone always asks what Jesus would do. No one ever asks how Jesus feels about His complicated relationship with His Father.” I would say the relationship is not complicated as much as it is complex (but you can’t expect a lot theologically from cartoons in The New Yorker now, can you?). Complications suggest problems and there are no problems in that Father-Son relationship. But complexity? Oh yeah. Plenty of that.

            On Trinity Sunday, one is never quite sure how exactly to proceed—except to shorten the Old Testament reading. That move, at least, seems clear, to me. You all know the creation story, I think. What does that have to with the Trinity, right? I suspect it’s to make it look like the Old Testament has a lot to say about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, when the truth is, there’s not much there, really on that topic. The first three verses (quite fittingly) cover it. So I left it at that. You’re welcome. I’ve long suspected (and in heaven, we can surely check) that if you checked with the prophet Isaiah (who seems to have the most complete grasp of the picture of any of the OT prophets): “Hey, Isaiah: what’s up with the doctrine of the Trinity?” I believe Isaiah would say “Huh? The doctrine of the what?”

There is this confused idea of divine inspiration that’s been floating around America since the 20th century that divine inspiration means that all the biblical writers knew everything about everything. But reading the Scriptures themselves gives no such impression. St. Peter says in his first epistle that the prophets of old searched carefully what and what manner of time the Spirit of Christ was indicating when the sufferings and the glories of the Christ were shown them, and they were told only that it was to us, the future generations, they were ministering; and that even the angels in heaven long to look into the things that have been preached to us in the New Testament era. I think they got nothing more and nothing less than the startlingly clear (though admittedly, fragmentary) pictures they report—of thrones, dominions, principalities taken by a Lamb that is slain, Who, by His blood, has made us people of God, and bestowed on us a Kingdom…

Someone asked in bible class on Tuesday when we were looking at it, where exactly the Son of God appears in those first three verses of Genesis. I told them He appears in verse 3 and asked everyone to guess which word shows us the Son? They worked through more than half the words in that short sentence before someone finally guessed “said”. And that’s Him. The Word is not static, but a living, busy, active Person; and when God speaks, it is the Word Himself who is center stage. But admittedly, not a lot to go on. The Athanasian Creed is marvelous for getting so many words out of just that One!

The New Testament really doesn’t say much more either on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Just a few little fragments like our brief Gospel reading today. The brevity of it gives you a very clear picture of how little is actually said directly concerning the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the complex and mysterious relations that are involved there. And maybe that’s the answer that the cartoon writer got so right: we don’t ask about the complex relationship between Jesus and His Father (and even less how the Spirit is involved in that Relationship) because, deep down, we know it’s way above us! Such things are high. Even the angels in heaven long to look into the matter more deeply. Peter’s advice, by the way, in the face of this Mystery the angels cannot even fathom is to “gird up the loins of your mind [hike up your skirts, ladies!], be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”(!) Which is why the Scriptures all point to Jesus, have plenty on Him. Only through the Word made flesh (and come among us can) we have access to that divine and holy life of the Triune God. Without Jesus, it floats far above us, inaccessible, lofty, foreboding, complicated

When Philip asked Jesus to show us the Father, and we’d be happy, Jesus says only: “Have I been with you so long Philip and you do not know Me? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” And shortly after that, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to us, the Spirit of Truth, who will guide us into all Truth; for the Spirit will not speak on His own, or of Himself, but will testify of Jesus. And here’s your best pointer if you wish to know the Holy Trinity: leave off the philosophy and metaphysics, already! Best to look for the Father, through the Spirit, by the Son who took on flesh for us, because only so do we see what cannot be seen, learn what cannot be taught…

Which brings us full circle, back to our Gospel from St. Matthew, where we started. On that mountaintop, they don’t ask Jesus what He would do in certain situations. They don’t ask Jesus how He feels about anything, either. Rather, Jesus tells them, commands them to come to Him on this mountaintop, and when they see Him, there is no asking: they simply worship Him (though some doubted while they worshiped which should be comforting to us today who struggle to figure out the complexities of it all).

And this, I think, is the key verse on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity: it is only by the worship of Jesus that we get in on this, that we learn the things which cannot be taught. Doubt is the devil for doctrine and messes it up. But worship is different. In the Divine Service, you don’t have to understand. Faith need not be perfect. Here on this mountain, with Jesus, it’s enough to simply receive the gifts, say the Creed, adore what cannot be understood in all its divine complexity. Because the Divine Service will actually save you, despite all your doubts and confusion(!) Because it is not you doing it, but Jesus having His Way with you as you receive His Gifts. The non-rejection of those Gifts is faith; and faith is always dropping us to our knees in wonder, love, and praise. Faith alone learns the things which cannot be taught…

Baptizing is the Way into the divine mystery of the Holy Trinity. And Baptism is great because it’s especially designed for infants and little ones who have no rational minds to mess with yet, who simply cling to their mother’s breast. In Baptism, God does not explain anything to us. He simply puts His Name on us: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. And when someone puts their own Name on you, you have been made a member of the Family. Now, the apostolic teaching is not like any other because it does not teach concepts, ideas, propositions. IT proclaims the Word, the central Person of the Holy Trinity abiding with us, communing with us, filling us with the knowledge of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that cannot be taught in any natural, human way, but can be learned only through Worship, by Word and Sacrament, as the Spirit grants faith where and when He pleases in those who hear…

This is how you learn things that cannot be taught—by the worship of Jesus, by Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Supper, Holy Preaching, He comes to us in all His simplicity and complexity, makes us all members of His very Body; He puts in us the mind of Christ. So Peace, surpassing understanding is ours; in the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

Services

11th Sunday after Pentecost

20 August 2017

8:30 a.m. Matins
11:00 a.m. Divine Service with Communion

9:45 a.m.  Sunday School for ages 3 – Adult

Location

Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.