Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday – May 30, 2021
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit – God in three persons, blessed Trinity.
The great jazz musician Louis Armstrong was once asked to define jazz, to which he replied: “Man, if you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” Now, I have no doubt that Mr. Armstrong could indeed have defined jazz. He could have got into music theory and talked about scales and structure and time signatures. But I think what Mr. Armstrong was getting as was that as important as all of that is, it can’t really help you experience jazz. I think he was saying that, ultimately, to “get” jazz, you just need to let it sing to you.
Nicodemus came to Jesus with some questions. He knew Jesus was a teacher who had come from God, but he was probing for more. Who are you really? What are you up to? Define yourself, Jesus! But rather than giving Nicodemus a straightforward answer, rather than getting into the details of who he was and what he was up to, Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” In order to perceive who Jesus is and what he is up to, Jesus was saying, you need to think differently — and that can only come from a new birth, a birth from above.
Nicodemus was still trying to comprehend things in the realm of theory and logic, and so he was flabbergasted by what Jesus said. “A new birth? You mean I have to crawl back up by mother’s leg and start over?” he said. “How can this be? This is absurd! This doesn’t make any sense!”
But Jesus wouldn’t be dragged into the realm of theory and logic. Instead, Jesus doubled down on this language of being born anew, being born from above. He said to Nicodemus, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” And this Spirit, Jesus said, is like the wind. It is mysterious. “It blows where it chooses. You hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”
Jesus could have responded to Nicodemus’ questions by saying, “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.” Because, you see, you cannot ultimately experience Christ and his kingdom through theory and logic. It is not something to be explained so much as it is something you receive, something you experience. You just need to let that wind blow. You just need to let it sing to you.
Today is Holy Trinity Sunday. While the name and nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is all over the place in the Bible, it wasn’t clarified as a doctrine of the church until the Council of Nicaea in the year 325. The church was pushed to clarify this doctrine because, like Nicodemus, people were asking questions about the nature of Jesus. Like Nicodemus, many were willing to grant that Jesus was a teacher who had come from God, but they couldn’t agree that Jesus is God. And so the Council of Nicaea established some points of doctrine about the nature of Jesus drawn from scripture – especially what Jesus said about himself in the gospel of John. Thus we have the Nicene Creed, which we still confess today, clearly stating: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”
There were further questions. If Jesus is God, and the Father is God, and the Spirit is God, does that mean that Christians worship three Gods? Have Christians abandoned Jewish monotheism for a more Greek understanding of multiple gods? No! Eventually the Athanasian Creed sought to clear this up, stating: “For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another. But the deity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.” We worship one God in three persons, the blessed Trinity!
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, then, is about establishing the divinity of Jesus while preserving the oneness of God.
All of this is important. Christianity has a body of doctrine that can stand up to the intellectual questions posed to it. The creeds of the church are important in that they set up the structures and the safeguards that preserve us in biblical faith. But theory and logic can only take us so far. Christianity can handle our questions and we shouldn’t be afraid to ask them, but at some point we need to stop trying to make all the pieces fit and simply let the Spirit sing to us.
Our gospel reading for today not only has Nicodemus asking some of the same questions that prompted the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It also has all three members of the Trinity represented. It describes how the three persons of the Trinity work together to save us.
In this gospel reading we hear how God the Father so loved the world that he sent his only Son. This Son, Jesus explained, would be lifted up just like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to save people from their sin. God the Father sent Jesus the Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
This can be explained with theory and logic until one is blue in the face, but nobody can “get” any of this, Jesus says, without the Spirit. “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” Jesus told Nicodemus. “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” The Spirit gives us a new birth into a new perspective, so that we can see this kingdom. The Spirit is that wind that blows, as though through a trumpet, forming the notes of the gospel, mysteriously serenading us into faith, into trust, so that we come to believe in what God the Father has done for us in Christ the Son.
This Spirit sings to you today. The Spirit sings to you of your Father in heaven who loves you and longs for you. This Spirit sings of the Son that has saved you by being lifted up on the cross, so that you would have forgiveness and eternal life. This Spirit serenades you once again today into faith, so that you can see and enter the kingdom of God, today and forever.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church