Our confirmation class this year finished up at the end of May, and I think it’s been a pretty good year. We didn’t accomplish all that I had hoped, but I think relationships with one another happened, and I hope that my students know that they are able to ask me anything that’s on their minds. One thing that these young women have been struggling with over the last year is the concept of God as Trinity, that is, 3 persons in one God. They’ve also been struggling with how Jesus can be both fully divine and fully human, but that’s a topic for another sermon. In an attempt to explain this to them, I have repeatedly drawn this diagram on the whiteboard in the library.
(Click on this link to view the picture: http://www.gotquestions.org/images/trinity.jpg. Not sure why I can’t get it to embed in this post.)
Any time one of the girls has a question that relates to the Trinity, the others groan and say, “She’s going to draw that diagram again!!” What I don’t think they realize yet is that people have been struggling with the concept of the Trinity since the dawn of Christianity, and have also been accusing and condemning each other of heresy when they attempt to explain how the Trinity works, as we will see now in this short video from a group called Lutheran Satire.
(Click on this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQLfgaUoQCw to watch the video.)
So today, I’m not going to try to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to you, although we will use the words of the Athanasian Creed to confess our faith in a little while. Instead, I’m going to use our Gospel reading from Matthew and ask what it means for us to be a congregation that confesses one God in three persons. David Lose, professor at Luther Seminary, defines a Trinitarian congregation as follows: A congregation “that sees itself as called and sent by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed for the sake of the world God created and loves so much.” Such congregations often have three characteristics, Lose writes. First, they are “buoyed by worship, faith, and doubt”. Second, they “do not live on the mountain but pursue their calling primarily down in the valley”. And third, they “find their authority, hope and consolation in both Jesus’ commission and the promise of his presence.”
First, Trinitarian congregations are “buoyed by worship, faith, and doubt.” We come every week to worship God because the Holy Spirit moves us to hear the good news over and over that God loves us and that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, always, to the end of the age. This good news is our spiritual sustenance which renews our faith and gives us strength to go out into the world. But guess what? Doubt is also in that mix. Most English versions of Matthew 28:17 say that when the disciples saw Jesus, “they worshiped him; but some doubted”. This is not an entirely accurate translation of the Greek. A more accurate translation would be, “they worshiped him and they doubted”. In Matthew, this appearance of Jesus to the disciples comes very quickly after the resurrection—there is no 40 days of appearances as we see in the Gospel of Luke. So think about it for a moment: You’ve just been told by the women that Jesus is resurrected. Then you go to the mountain in Galilee, and you see him standing right in front of you. Of course you’re going to have some doubts. “Jesus, is it really you? I’m not part of some mass hallucination here, am I?” Or, as the disciples were probably thinking, “Um. . .Jesus, we didn’t stand by you when you were on trial or when you were crucified. We denied you and hid in fear. Do you really still love us? Are we really worthy to have you come back to us?” We who are his disciples today may doubt that Jesus can come to us in love and that he wants to. We may have been brought up with the idea of a vengeful God, or the idea that even though we know that Jesus will forgive us, he still keeps a watchful eye on us, waiting for us to misbehave. We come to worship asking Jesus if he can really love us, in spite of all of the sins that we commit. We come to worship wondering if Jesus will really come to us and if we will hear his voice saying that he loves us and that he is always with us. Doubt is a part of our faith lives. And I pray that when you all come to worship on Sunday, those doubts are eased through the hearing of the Word and the receiving of the Sacrament, and that you feel Jesus’ love for you in this place.
Besides being sustained by our worship, our faith, and our doubts, Trinitarian congregations who are in mission do not live on the mountain but pursue their calling primarily down in the valley. No matter how wonderful worship is—there have been several times in my life where I have felt God so close to me in worship that I have not wanted to leave the church building—God calls us away to be at work, at mission, in the world. Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Now again, while the English translation gets the idea of Jesus’ words, it loses something from the original Greek. The verbs here are all participles—that is, words that in English end in “-ing”, which means that these are all action verbs. So perhaps a better translation would be, “As you are going, therefore, continue making disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them.” Such a translation gives the impression that Jesus’ Great Commission to us is not just something that missionaries do, and it’s not even something we do at special times in our lives. Rather, it is something we as Jesus’ disciples are to be doing each and every day of our lives: actively witnessing to our faith both using words and using our actions. Each one of us is a witness to Christ each and every day, in each action that we do and each word that we say.
When we think about it, this is an awesome responsibility that we are given. From the moment we were baptized, even if we were baptized as infants, the Holy Spirit has come into us, urging us to witness to Christ. And just as the first disciples stood around Jesus, wondering how they were supposed to go about doing this, we wonder, too, how we can best witness to Christ in our daily lives. This is why we continue to teach in the church: so that we may better understand Christ’s directions for us, and so that we may be better equipped to carry out his commission to us. This is why I will often be gone for continuing education events: so that I may come back better equipped in order to help better equip you. Teaching and learning go hand in hand: we are called to continually be in the word, remembering all that Jesus has taught us, so that we may be better equipped to disciple others in the way of following Jesus. So, please take advantage of adult education opportunities, and I encourage you to continue sending your children and grandchildren to Sunday school during the school year and Vacation Bible School this week. Participating in these opportunities are just some of the ways all of us can be better equipped to continue making disciples as we go about our daily lives.
Besides being sustained by worship, faith, and doubt; besides being called to leave the mountaintops and work in the valleys as we continue making disciples, Trinitarian churches are characterized by finding their authority, hope, and consolation in both Jesus’ commission and the promise of his presence. When I was serving as a missionary in Taiwan, I was quickly confronted with the fact that, although Christian missionaries had been in Taiwan for about 50 years, still only 2% of the population identified as Christian. So, we were told that we would be extremely lucky if we saw any of the people that we came into contact with become a baptized Christian. It could be that we were there to plant seeds or to water them and watch them grow, and that in the future, someone else would reap the harvest and see the person be baptized. And that, if the people we taught went to a Christian church other than ours, we should be happy that they were hearing the word. So it is with us here in Powell, Wyoming. Our end goal is not to see all of these lovely pews filled to bursting each week, although that would be very nice. Our end goal is not to have all of the classrooms filled to bursting with children in Sunday school each week, although again, that would be really awesome. Instead, our end goal is that as many of God’s children as possible hear the good news that God loves them and values them. Everything we do as a congregation: coming up with a new mission statement, as we did a year ago; developing a vision of where we’d like to go as a congregation, which I hope to begin working on with all of you and with the new Director of Evangelical Mission in another couple of months; developing a Master Facilities Plan of how best to use our building and keep it in good repair; all of this and more: All of what we do must have the end goal of helping all people to hear the good news that God loves us so much that he gave his only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for us and to be raised again to new life, so that we too can walk in new life with him. That is what we must keep in mind as we continue to move forward in our life together as a congregation.
The calling and the commission that the Lord Jesus has given us may be scary at first. It may require us to give up some things we hold dear, things that we discover are not as important to us as we first thought they were. God may be calling us to do things that we never thought we’d do, all in order to share his love with all of his children. In short, God may be calling us to change, and we all know how scary change is for Lutherans. But I know that we here at Hope are up to the challenge that God has given us. And with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will live into the commission that Jesus has given us, continuing to make disciples as we go about the work of our daily lives. And we do this with the confidence in Jesus’ promise that he is Emmanuel, God with us, always, to the end of the age. Amen.