Download or listen to The Holy Trinity, “The Story of God” (Matthew 28:16-20)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What comes into your mind when someone mentions the Trinity? What do you think about? A symbol, like a triangle or three, interlocking circles? Or maybe another image that someone once used to help you understand the Trinity: maybe a three-leaf clover or an apple, or the three states of water of the sun with its heat and light? Well, God isn’t really like any of those things; He’s not an analogy or an abstraction or a symbol. The Trinity is absolutely unique, and there’s nothing in this world that can really come close to a good metaphor. And God is not an object out there for us to observe, examine, consider. He doesn’t exist for us to figure out how the relationships work between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. I think we sometimes imagine that the doctrine of the Trinity came about when some guys got together in an ivory tower and said, “Let’s gather all the data we can find in the Scriptures about God and put it all together as a Doctrine. Then we’ll put it on the list of things that people have to believe.” In a very real sense, it is necessary, as the Athanasian Creed teaches us, to believe in the Trinity in order to be saved. But it’s not because the Trinity is on a list of things you have to check off in order to be called a Christian. It’s because there is no salvation outside what God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has done. This God has created everything that exists, and if you are a creature in His creation, then there is nowhere to go that is outside what He has done.
But the fact is that the Trinity was not a doctrine invented out of the words on a page. We have the revelation of the Trinity because the Word became flesh. If the eternal Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, had never entered this creation and lived, died, was raised, and ascended, then the Trinity never would have been a “problem.” The Trinity never would have been an issue if Jesus was not born. Because Israel believed in one God, as the creed of Deuteronomy 6 has it: “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.” But when this Man is on the earth and His disciples—who never would have worshiped a creature—fall down and worship Him; when Thomas says, “My Lord and my God!”; when His enemies try to kill Him for “making Himself equal to God,” then it becomes necessary to understand how there is one God, but both Jesus and His Father are to be worshiped. To put it shortly, the revelation of the Trinity comes as the story of God unfolds. Not so much the story of God as He is in Himself, but as the Father-Son-Holy Spirit together do the work of salvation, redemption, and restoration of this creation and everything in it.
It’s a story that begins, well, in the beginning, as we heard from Genesis 1: God creates the heavens and the earth and everything they contain. The Spirit is brooding over the face of the waters, whatever that means. God says, “Let us make man in our image.” Which we understand from John 1 to mean the Father and the Son, and elsewhere, by the Holy Spirit. It is a Trinitarian act of creation involving water, and so the story goes. At the flood, water cleanses and restores, as 8 people are brought safely through water. At the exodus, as Israel walks safely through the water on dry ground, while her enemies are drowned and destroyed. And now, as people are baptized into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And the story goes on until the completion of this age, and into eternity.
Unfortunately, the story of God is not the only story that’s being told in this world. You know many of them. You hear the story of God Sunday after Sunday, but each day, many times a day, you hear other stories. One of them goes like this: you need to get good grades so you can get into a good school; if you get into a good school, then you can get a good job; if you get a good job, then you can have a good and successful and comfortable life. Another story goes like this: your happiness is the point of this story, so whatever helps you be happy is good and whatever gets in the way of your happiness is bad. So keep whatever makes you happy, and get rid of whatever doesn’t, even if you made a promise or a vow. Those are some of the broad stories, and you could probably tell others. But then there are the more personal stories: the ones people might tell about you. What you’ve done, what you’ve said, your family situation, your past; what you think, how you dress, how you vote. And as much as you try to prevent those things from defining you, as much as you try to justify your actions or your past, somehow they get into your story. But thank God that your story is not the only story there is. Thank God that He is telling a different story, that revolves around His Son in this world. Because if your story is the main one or the most important one, then you will misunderstand God, Jesus, the Scriptures, and, finally, yourself.
If your story is the main one, then you have to fit God, or church, or religion into it. If your story revolves around being successful or comfortable, then you have to figure out if God fits into it somehow. Does God help you to be successful or to live the good life? Or, at least, can He be part of it without interfering? If not, you may discard Him for something else. If your story revolves around being happy, you’ll find a use for God if He can help make you happy. If His commandments or His Word keeps you from being happy, then you’ll find some other god that can contribute to your happiness. But that gets things exactly backwards: this isn’t your story; you’re not the author. It’s not about you, or me, or any creature. This is God’s story, and the question is, rather, how do you fit into His story? That’s why you’re baptized not only in the Name, but into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Name of God is the story of God. The Name of God is who He is and what He does. And now, by His Name, He has written you into His story.
Week by week, day by day, through His Word, through His Sacraments, through the liturgy, and through the Church year, you are being brought deeper and deeper into the story that God is telling. You hear what God requires of you, where He has put you, what He commands of our life together. As fathers, as mothers, as children; as preachers, as hearers, as citizens, as rulers. But also and even more, what God has done for you, what the Father, the Son, and the Spirit together have accomplished. If your story were the only one or the main one, it would end as the story of sinners must end: in death. But God’s story in Christ takes up death and makes it one of the many pages in His story of eternal life. You have that eternal life now, because this is Jesus’ story, and He is alive forever. His is the story of life that has no end, where death has no place, and now that is your story as well. It is the story of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/14/14