THE FEAST OF THE HOLY TRINITY AD 2018
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one 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!"
 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.  And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.
 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."
Acts 2:14; 2:22-36
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.
 "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—  this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.  For David says concerning him,
" 'I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.'
 "Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne,  he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.  This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.  Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.  For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
" 'The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
 until I make your enemies your footstool.'
 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him."  Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."  Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"  Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
 Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?"  Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?  Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.  If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
 "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.
I have often scratched my head at the Church’s choice of Gospel reading for today’s feast. Why these verses from this chapter of John’s Gospel? They don’t specifically speak about the Holy Trinity. There’s nothing here about God being one God in three persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It doesn’t get into the whole part about them all having the same attributes - that all three are eternal, infinite, almighty etc. It does not speak about the fact that they are all equally God - the same in every way except for the fact that they are three separate persons - that the Father isn’t the Son, nor the Son the Father and that neither are the Spirit nor is the Spirit either of them. In other words this Gospel reading doesn’t get into all this head scratching stuff about the nature of God.
Now there is plenty of head scratching that goes on in these verses of the third chapter of John. Nicodemus who comes to see Jesus at night is left scratching his head over most of what Jesus has to say to him, which may just be the reason that the Church chose this text for this day. A text full of head scratching for a day whose theme can’t do anything but but leave us scratching our poor befuddled mortal heads! I took some comfort this year in learning that five hundred years ago, Martin Luther scratched his head about the Church’ s choice of reading for this day as well, reflecting on the fact that he couldn’t see how it addressed the nature of the Trinity either.
The Church’s choice of this Word of God as the Word that she would set before her children to ponder on the feast of the Holy Trinity may simply come down to the fact that, as the Jehovah witnesses will be quick to point out to you at your door, there actually is no passage of scripture that contains the word -“Trinity.” The Bible as a whole from Genesis to Revelation, however, does reveal this truth about Him. The Word “Trinity” is simply the Churches way of summarizing this teaching, although as I already mentioned the teaching is profoundly head scratching in it’s simplicity. This I have told you many time before should be the case when you start pondering and speaking about God.
If you struggle with getting the ins and outs of the Trinity do not be distressed, beloved, you are in good company. The greatest minds of the Church catholic have wrestled with it. And contrary to what the world will want to say, the early Church fathers were not simple minded men, they were amongst the brightest minds of human history. We can and never will figure out God, as much as our sinful nature might think we should be able too. Mastering God makes you God’s master and the desire to be so is at the heart of our brokenness - remember the lie we accepted in Eden? - “You will be like God.” And so if you’re left humbly scratching your head, beloved, it’s a sure sign that you’re on the right track. The things of God are not to be figured out, but rather believed. They’re simply to be accepted because the Lord has revealed them.
Now, although today’s text does not deal directly with the nature of the Trinity it does, however deal with their activity, which is something else as we see with Nicodemus that can leave you scratching your head. God’s ways are not our ways. To begin with what Father amongst us would give up His only begotten son out love for a world that hated him? And what son, no matter how much he loved his father, would go at his request to give up his life for a world that would reject him and mock him for what he was doing for them? And whose spirit would go out to people filled with such hate for you and reject and mock your greatest act of love and bring them into your family by giving them a new birth as your children?
Head scratching indeed. But just because it makes you scratch your head doesn’t mean that it isn’t true… that it isn’t real. The same can be said about the fact that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit do all of this without any merit or worthiness in you … that they do it all purely by grace. Not because any of us is good but because He is good. Not even because after He does it He believes that we will be good or better anyway. No, He does it knowing full well what kind of kids we’re going to be on the other side of it all … what it will mean to have us in His family … in His house. Even when we are faithless He will remain faithful. Even when we fall and fail He will remain steady and sure. Even when we are hateful He will continue to abound in steadfast love.
Head scratching in so many ways … head scratching indeed. You mean you don’t have to earn your way in … you don’t have to be a good person … you must at least have to try? No, the Lord replies as He speaks with Nicodemus. You can’t afford to earn your way, you never can be good enough and you’re really pathetic at trying. No, you can only enter my Kingdom, my family, in the same way that you entered your own you have to be born into it. It has to be given to you as a free undeserved gift of love. You do not choose it. Love chooses you for it. You don’t work your way into it, it’s simply your birthright. The only way into my Kingdom is through a new birth from above. You must receive a new birth.
Head scratching, yes, that certainly got Nicodemus scratching his head. How can this be? I’m an old man. My mother is dead and gone. How can I crawl back into the womb a second time and have another birth? You have to understand that as a Pharisee Nicodemus was trying really hard to be a good person, and as a Jew, he believed that he had a pretty good birth to begin with, as he had been born as a son of Abraham - a member of God’s chosen people. Besides the fact that, at his age, a new birth hardly seemed possible, what Jesus is saying about needing one would have really puzzled him, even offended him. Jesus’ answer though comes back loud and clear. If you’re going to belong to God you must be born not of blood, or the will of the flesh, or the will of man, but of God.
You must be born of water and the Spirit - you must be baptized. Another head scratcher. You mean to tell me that all that I try to do for God, all my good works, all my prayers, all my service are nothing compared to some guy pouring water over my head and saying a few words? You mean to tell me, that even if I do my best to be a good person that won’t be enough to get me into heaven, if some guy didn’t do that for me? You also mean to tell me that no matter how badly I mess up, or how many times I fall on my face making the same mistakes over and over again, that some guy pouring water over my head with some words will be enough to wash that all away? Even years after he did it to me? Right up to the moment I die?
What’s so special about this water and those words? What? That’s where I received a new birth from above? Really? The Spirit was in that Word that God connected up with the water through that guy that He commanded to speak it and that made it a life giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit? I have a hard time seeing it. To which Jesus replies, “You can’t see the wind either. You don’t know where it comes from or where it goes but it’s there all the same.” The wind’s another head scratcher for many of us that we know is true and real, no matter how much scratching it might cause. The wind simply is because it is and when it comes down to it that’s all we really need to know.
One God in three persons … yes, it’s a real head scratcher … as is the truth that God so loved you that He gave His only begotten Son to be lifted up on the cross for you so that looking to Him you might be saved … as is the truth that He sent His Holy Spirit to you in the waters of Holy Baptism to give you a new birth from above so that you could be His child now and forever. Yes, it’s all head scratching stuff but today God in His mercy has sent me to you to proclaim to you that whether you get it or not that it is all true for you. And that, beloved is all that you really need to know. Amen.