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“The Mystery of the Trinity”
Matthew 28:19


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Trinity Sunday—June 7, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

There are several distinctive doctrines which totally separate our Christian faith from all other religions.  One such distinctive doctrine is the vicarious atonement: Christ died on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice, in your place, to pay the penalty for all your sins.  Your sins are forgiven, not because you earned it or deserve it, but as a gift of God, because of God’s own sacrifice on your behalf.

Today is Trinity Sunday, on which we focus on another distinctive doctrine of the Christian faith: the Trinity.  God is three in one; one God in three persons.  According to our human reason, the Trinity is illogical and doesn’t make sense.  A child just starting mathematics knows that 1+1+1 does not equal 1.  And, yet, that is exactly what the doctrine of the Trinity says: God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet not three gods but one God, as we just confessed in the Athanasian Creed.  The doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery beyond our human reason and understanding, but a mystery clearly taught in the Word of God. 

The word Trinity comes from “Tri-Unity,” literally “Three-in-One.”  On the one hand, the Bible strongly stresses the unity and uniqueness of God:  “Thus says the Lord . . . ‘I am the first, and I am the last, and beside me there is no God.”  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  “The Lord, he is God; there is none else beside him.”

But, on the other hand, the Bible also speaks of the plurality of persons within this one Godhead: “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’”  “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’”  “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 

Perhaps the best picture of the Trinity in the Bible is at the baptism of Jesus, depicted in one of the windows in our baptistery:  God the Son in the flesh, standing in the river; God the Spirit descending in the form of a dove and resting upon Jesus’ head; God the Father proclaiming in a voice from the clouds, “This is my beloved Son.”  Father, Son and Holy Spirit—three persons in one God. 

The three persons of the Trinity are equal in every way.  All three persons of the Trinity are equal in power, glory, majesty and honor.  All three persons of the Trinity exist from eternity.  From eternity the Son is begotten of the Father; from eternity the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

On the front wall of our new sanctuary will eventually be three large stained-glass windows, depicting the three persons of the Trinity.  The first to be installed beautifully represents God the Son, and his primary work of redemption.  The scenes of this and the other windows will all be connected by a red ribbon, representing the blood of Christ, which cleanses from every sin, for that is the unifying theme of the entire Bible.

The center window representing God the Son follows the opening verses of the Gospel of John.  It actually begins with the star in the upper left quadrant.  This star represents God the Son in his divine nature only, before he came down to earth and was made man.  As the Gospel of John begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Nicene Creed puts it this way, “Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of Very God.”

The window continues with the nativity scene, representing God the Son’s incarnation, which literally means “to become flesh.”  As we confess in the Nicene Creed, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”  And as John’s Gospel says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Next is his earthly ministry, represented by him teaching the people.  As John’s Gospel says, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “We preach Christ crucified,” and that is the next scene in this window.  As John’s Gospel says, “We beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father.”  It is on the cross that we behold Christ in his glory as the Redeemer of the world, as Paul says in Galatians, “May I never glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Finally, his resurrection, which assures us of forgiveness and our own resurrection to eternal life, is symbolized by the empty tomb.  As John’s Gospel says, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.”

The Son’s work of redemption is also represented by the sculptural element incorporated with this window, the most recognized symbol of the Christian faith, the cross, upon which he sacrificed himself for our salvation.  As Paul says in Colossians, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

This interconnected series of windows will begin at the top of the east window with a downstretched hand, which is the traditional symbol for God the Father in his role as Creator, as Genesis says, “The Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground.”  The downstretched hand also symbolizes God’s continuing care for us and preservation of his creation, as the Psalm says, “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”

In the west window, God the Holy Spirit will be represented by a descending dove, because he descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove at Jesus’ baptism.  The primary work of the Holy Spirit is sanctification, giving us faith and helping us to live a holy life.  The descending dove symbolizes that through the Word of God and the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion the Holy Spirit descends upon and dwells in us with his sanctifying power.  As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God.” 

A dove is also a universal symbol for peace, and for us it means the spiritual peace we have because of our faith.  As Paul says in Galatians, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.” 

Another symbol for the Holy Spirit in this window will be tongues of flame, because the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples like tongues of flame at Pentecost, as we heard in last Sunday’s reading from Acts.

The Trinity is more that just a abstract doctrine for us to talk about once a year on Trinity Sunday.  The Triune God wants to be the Lord of your life.  Make your life like these stained-glass windows, letting others see the Triune God through you, reflected in your life by your faith and your commitment to him.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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