Bible Passage: 2 Corinthians 13:11-14
Pastor: Pastor Berg
Sermon Date: June 11, 2017
It’s confession time. How many of you groaned when you saw that it was Trinity Sunday today? How many of you groaned when you leafed through the bulletin and saw that we’d be reciting the Athanasian Creed? It’s a long one, isn’t it? 661 words in our English translation. And it’s certainly thorough too, almost to the point of redundancy, maybe? How many different ways do we need to say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are equal but different? Maybe, though, there should have been another reason for the groaning. Do you remember how the Athanasian Creed started? “Whoever wishes to be saved shall must, above all else, hold to the true Christian faith. Whoever does not keep this faith pure in all points will certainly perish forever.” That sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? And then it continues for 615 words with phrases like, “The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Spirit uncreated; the Father infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Spirit infinite; the Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal; yet they are not three who are eternal, but there is one who is eternal, just as there are not three who are uncreated, nor three who are infinite, but there is one who is uncreated and one who is infinite.” It’s enough to make your head spin. And on and on it goes until it comes to the end where it says, “Whoever doesn’t not faithfully and firmly believe this cannot be saved.” Faithfully and firmly? How can I faithfully and firmly believe in something i have a hard time saying, much less understanding?
If God is so far above our understanding, then why did he give us these doctrines? Did he do it to confuse us and make us feel foolish? Of course not! That’s not how God operates. So why did he give us these doctrines? What does the doctrine of the Trinity have to do with my life today? Perhaps a fresh way to look at this is to understand what doctrine is in the first place. A doctrine, very simply, is something that is taught. The doctrines or teachings that we find in the Bible are God’s teachings. And if we want to simplify it even more, the doctrines of the Bible teach us one of two things: they either teach us something about God or they teach us something about ourselves. And that’s what we have in the doctrine of the Trinity! God is teaching us about himself—One true God in three persons.
However, the doctrine of the Trinity is a heavy-duty, big-league doctrine. And because of it’s weight, and because we can’t fully understand it, we’re tempted to file it away in the back of our brains as irrelevant for my daily life. “We’ll just let the pastors worry about that one.” But there’s no hiding today. In 2 Corinthians 13, the doctrine is staring us straight in the face. This doctrine is here for a reason. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” This has been called the practical doctrine of the Trinity. What does practical mean? Something you can use or practice, right? Something applicable to your daily life. And that’s what we’re going to see in this doctrine of the Trinity. In fact, far from irrelevant, we’re going to see that The Trinity is Central to our Faith and Ministry!
Before we can focus on the words that deal with the Trinity specifically, we really need to see what else Paul is saying to these Corinthian Christians. The Christians in Corinth were immensely blessed. They had spiritual gifts that were clear for all to see. But they were also a congregation filled with turmoil and trouble. Paul had written very sternly to them a number of times. He had seen first-hand how they behaved. He had heard negative reports. And yet, notice how Paul addresses them: “Finally, brothers, rejoice.” Paul still considered them brothers. “All the saints greet you.” The believers who were with Paul sent their brotherly greetings as well! How could Paul speak so kindly to the same people who had ignored his words, who had flocked after flashier preachers, who had caused division among the congregation? Because of the doctrine of the Trinity. Because of the story of the Trinity in the lives of those believers. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
The doctrine of the Trinity is central to our faith and our ministry because the greatest work of the Trinity is the master plan of salvation. Notice how each person of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is connected with a noun that describes their work in the master plan of salvation. And each of those nouns—grace, love, and fellowship—is significant.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ…” The catechism definition of grace is “undeserved love.” But what does that really mean? The Bible very clearly shows us God’s undeserved love for sinners. When Adam and Eve took the fruit of the forbidden tree, they blew apart their relationship with God and brought sin into God’s perfect world. God should have condemned them to hell right then and there. That’s what they deserved. But, he didn’t. Instead, he promised a Savior to be born from their offspring—the exact opposite of what they deserved. That’s grace! When Abraham traveled to Egypt, he passed off his wife as his sister to save his own hide. God should have pushed Abraham aside and picked another man to be the one through whom all nations would be blessed. That’s what Abraham deserved. But God didn’t. Instead, he gave Abraham and Sarah a long-awaited son. That’s grace! When Jacob wanted the number one position in the family line, he cheated his older brother out of that favored position. God should have treated Jacob with disdain and restored Esau’s position. That’s what Jacob deserved. But God didn’t. Instead, he kept Jacob in the line of promise. That’s grace! When sin raised its ugly head in the Corinthian congregation and caused all sorts of problems, Paul could have sent a letter that said, “God has written you off.” That’s what they deserved. But he didn’t. Instead, Paul promised them the exact opposite of what they deserved—the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ! When we doubt God’s promises, when we trust in our own plans to get us out of trouble, when we ignore God’s will to serve our own purposes, we don’t deserve anything good from God. We deserve to be condemned and sent to hell forever. We deserve to be abandoned by God. That’s what we deserve. Instead, we receive grace. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He forgave us our sins and gave us a place in heaven with him for all eternity! That’s grace! We didn’t deserve it. We haven’t earned it since then. God simply gives it to us because he loves us!
It’s God’s love that drives his grace. It’s God’s love that moved him to send Jesus to be our Savior. When we were unloveable—when there was nothing about us to love, God loved us anyway and sent Jesus to be punished in our place. It’s God’s love that gives us forgiveness and salvation! And in another display of grace, God’s love extends beyond our salvation and also concerns our daily needs. God not only forgave Adam and Eve, but he also gave them food, clothing, and companionship. God not only gave Isaac to Abraham, but he also gave him a new homeland and great wealth. God not only let Jacob keep the number one position in the family, but also gave him twelve sons and thousands of sheep and goats. When Paul wrote the the Corinthians, he could point to abundant evidence of God’s love in their lives. Look at the gifts of the Spirit in Corinth. Look at the resources to support the poor in Jerusalem. Corinth was an exciting place to be. Oceans of love from God the Father have been poured out on us, too. There isn’t a country in the world that has the advantages and resources that we enjoy. Look at the people that we’ve been given in this congregation to carry out God’s work. Look at the opportunities we have right at our fingertips, oodles of opportunities to share the truths about Jesus with others! Eastside Ev. Lutheran Church is an exciting place to be because of God’s great love for us!
“And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” God’s grace is what we don’t deserve and God’s love is what drives that grace. And what is the result? The fellowship we have with God and one another. Fellowship from the Holy Spirit puts us in touch with all God’s blessings. God’s gifts are not far away. They are not detached or out of reach. They are not like a rain cloud that passes by on the other side of town and misses our lawn. God’s gifts of grace and love and everything else become ours personally because the Holy Spirit let us share in them and lets us share them with each other. He is the bridge. That’s fellowship. Consider how the Holy Spirit put this fellowship into action throughout history. Abraham didn’t just hear about a son to be born in his old age. He held Isaac in his arms. The Israelites didn’t just march toward the Promised Land. They lived in it. They early Christians didn’t just hear about God’s grace and love. They put it into practice.
“Set things in order. Be encouraged. Agree with one another. Be at peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” Perhaps there isn’t a better feeling that to have things set in order, working just as you planned. And that’s really Paul’s encouragement here. Follow God’s will! Set things in order. Follow God’s will and God will be with you. And how can we obtain this order, this maturity? “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
The doctrine of the Trinity is central to our faith and ministry because the Trinity is part of the fabric of our story. Intertwined in every fiber is the work of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s God who bring sus to faith, keeps us in faith, and completes our faith in eternity. It’s God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who is with us, working in us to make us his children. And it’s God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who we take to an undeserving, lost world. The doctrine of the Trinity is what separates those who are being saved and those who will perish.
So how can I faithfully and firmly believe in something I have a hard time saying, much less understanding? We’ll never be able to fully understand it, by by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of God, and with our fellowship with the Holy Spirit, we believe it and we teach it. AMEN