Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on Trinity Sunday, 6/7/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 9am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s lessons. To read the Bible texts for Trinity Sunday, click here.
Today is the feast of the Holy Trinity, and it is unique in at least this way: it’s the only festival on the Christian calendar that is completely dedicated to a doctrine. But why should this day matter at all to you?
We celebrate Jesus’ birth, His death for us, and His glorious resurrection; and we usually don’t struggle to understand the reasons. But why celebrate this?
What Gospel, what Good News, is there in proclaiming that God is Triune; that He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Especially now.
Now that the hate and anger which fill the hearts of men have overflowed onto the streets of men; now that we see anew how the justice we desire for ourselves is actively and passively denied to others; now that the uncleanness of our lips is polluting our ears – re-infecting heart and mind. What does the revelation of God as the Holy Trinity have to do with any of that? What good is this doctrine we celebrate and confess?
You’re going to need to hold on to that question as we go on a journey with St. John.
He, the same Evangelist who gives us Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, goes on years later to write this in his first epistle:
God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 1 John 4:16b
It is such a lofty statement that it easily risks becoming an abstract platitude or slogan. And, in fact, for many Christians and observers of Christianity, it has become just that. This divine truth has been thrown about so recklessly that it has become trite, cliché, and even inverted.
But this is not a mathematical formula to prove equivalency. To proclaim that God is love never meant the inverse: that love is God; and yet, it is love, or aberrations of love, that have become idols. So, it is imperative that we understand what this means: “God is love.”
It requires that God is the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This is necessary because love is relational. If there is no plurality within the Godhead, “love” as a divine attribute is illogical. Love requires both a lover and an object of love. God the Father loves the Son; the Son loves the Father; together, Father and Son share in the love of the Holy Spirit as the Trinity.
If God is love, love cannot be an abstraction any more than God can be an abstraction. Thus, like Jesus Himself, who shares fully in our concrete humanity, love does not exist as an idea or in a vacuum. Love is part of how God actually identifies Himself; which means that love belongs essentially to His nature, to the categorical and specific exclusion of every idol and false god.
That the one true God, the Holy Trinity, is love means at least three things. This is the first point, and it is where you come in. Though God was always complete in Himself; though He has always existed in perfect and complete love; nevertheless, God planned from eternity to expand and share that love. On the sixth day God said,
Let us make man in Our Image, after our likeness. Genesis 1:26a
You have been created in total freedom by the God who is love. Your neighbor has been created in total freedom by the God who is love. You share this with every human being: that you have been formed in the image of God, after His likeness. What you owe your neighbor, then, is the love that conforms to that divine image. Again: not love as a concept, ideal, or abstraction, but Love so real that He can be betrayed, stripped of clothing, and pierced with nails.
This brings us to the second point of what it means that God is love. Your failed love for God and man has left you condemned with Adam, Eve, and Isaiah. And so, Jesus, the Christ, has redeemed you, bought you back by His atoning Sacrifice.
How can it be that God is love? He loved the world in this way:
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. John 3:16
The same God of love who died and rose for you did so for the whole world. He did it for τὸν κόσμον, the cosmos, every last person; not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.
One more reminder that the love can never be some kind of idea or slogan; it is that attribute of God Himself, which causes Him to go willingly to the cross to save you.
By any stretch of reason, this could be the end of the matter. But the God who is love is also infinite, and so He has not finished with you.
God the Holy Spirit continues to sanctify you in His love. He continues to make you holy. He causes you to abide in Him, to remain in Him. He has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith. You abide and remain in Him because He has given you His Spirit. 1 John 4:13
Since you abide in Him, shouldn’t the same love that He has for your neighbor be shared by you and lived by you? You are part of the way God extends His love into the world for whose sins Jesus died.
God does not love you out of fear. And neither do you love out of fear, but because God has first loved you in Christ. 1 John 4:19
For all the technical and philosophical language a day like today requires, don’t be fooled into thinking you completely understand, especially since understanding always seems to lead to attempts at manipulation. The Holy Trinity, and the divine love you have been washed into in Holy Baptism, remains outside of your total comprehension. Which means that love also requires humility.
For who has known the mind of the Lord,
Or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him
That he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.