Archive for June, 2011
The following homily was preached this Tuesday after the Feast of the Holy Trinity in the LCMS International Center Chapel by Rev. Larry Vogel, Associate Executive Director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:16–20, ESV]
These are familiar words, heavily emphasized in recent years in our church body and many others. The emphasis—appropriately so—has been on the command to make disciples. As such, the “Great Commission” rightly demands that we give attention to the church’s mission and the call to share the Gospel with the world. This text has served that purpose again and again.
It has also led us to reflect on the sacrament of Holy Baptism and on the Church’s ministry of teaching. Again, these are appropriate emphases from these verses that demand our attention.
Far less recent attention, however, has been given to the Name in which all this is done. Our attention has been so captured by the missionary mandate, Baptism, and teaching that we have in recent decades, it seems to me, neglected the Name that is at the heart of this text.
What a good thing that this is the week we have celebrated the Feast of the Holy Trinity. In many churches we confessed our faith this past Sunday using the little-known and sometimes-feared Athanasian Creed with meticulous assertions like, “Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit,” each uncreated, infinite, eternal, almighty, but not so that there are three eternals or uncreateds or infinites or almighties. The third of the ecumenical creeds often raises eyebrows and provokes perplexity, yet we ought to give thanks for its careful words that prevent so many false understandings of the Triune God and Christ’s person as the God-Man. It is a rich gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church precisely because of the devout care with which it guides our confession of the catholic faith.
Yet, for all its careful speaking and precise formulations, there is also a kind of simplicity about that creed. Having curbed so many false views, it expresses the faith we believe in such ways as: “there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.”
With such simplicity, we’re right back to where we started today, at Jesus’ command to baptize “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Stick with Jesus and the most challenging things are often made simple. So it is with God’s Name.
Perhaps you saw this morning’s Wall Street Journal, page one, below the fold: “Dr. Chopp, Meet Congressman Weiner.” It’s a clever article about names, toying with the suggestion that a name might somehow determine one’s life or character, telling us first about the headline’s surgeon, Dr. Chopp, and the former congressman who has been too much in the news. It also identifies a lawyer named Patricia Boguslawski and another named Sue Yoo. It tells of a realtor named Anita House—yes, really; a sex therapist named Jacqueline Rose Hott; a cardiologist, Dr. Douglas Hart; and a politician who is confidently named Will Wynn (and he did). The article’s requisite expert about names, however, says he doesn’t believe in “nominal determinism.” [Rachel Emma Silverman and Joe Light, WSJ, Tuesday, June 21, 2011, pages A1, A12.]
I guess that means he doesn’t think your name determines anything about who you will be or what you will do.
But what about this Name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Would God by any other name smell as sweet—or, rather, be who He is? Could we join those voices who suggest alternatives that are, perhaps, less “sexist,” and call Him…errr, well, call God something like Source, Savior, Sanctifier? Is it enough just to use three words to describe the one God? Is that all the Trinity is?
Such views are wrong in many ways, but perhaps most especially because they view the Name of God as an intellectual challenge—kind of an interesting conundrum. The doctrine of the Trinity becomes a sort of—Let’s see if you can figure out God.
Actually, if we approach it intellectually, you would have to say that the doctrine of the Trinity tells us to stop trying such foolishness. I once asked a Bible class what it means that we confess faith in the Trinity? One of the first answers was, “It just means that you can never figure out God.” Three in one just doesn’t compute according to man’s math, so the Bible class answer is true and there is real value in always remembering it.
But we shouldn’t stop there. Indeed, it would be wrong to understand the Trinity as some kind of purposeful obfuscation of God. Instead, this doctrine celebrates how God has revealed Himself to us in Christ.
Stick with Christ, and He will tell us what we need to know of God. And here He names Him, very simply.
It isn’t that nothing of God had been known before. From the beginning God has shown His eternal unity and magnitude and power and wisdom in the world He has created: as Psalm 19 reminded us again today, heaven and earth declare His glorious greatness. The voice of Creation compels our acknowledgement of the One God who rightly can declare a perfect Law. Creation also compels the fear of the Lord, which warns us, shows us our errors, and compels us to pray, as we did, that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts would be acceptable to God (see vv. 1, 7, 9, 11, 14). But if that is all we knew of God, we are left with nothing but fear and trembling in the face of such majesty.
Is there more to know? Even in the revelations of the OT, there are only hints of his Trinitarian nature—a God who speaks in plural at Creation; a God who comes calling on Abraham in three men with one voice; a God praised by a threefold “Holy, Holy, Holy” as we sing so often. But Israel was not—and we are not—good with only subtleties about God.
We need something more really and truly to know God. So the same God who revealed His might in creation and His right at Sinai did not want us to take flight from His awesome majesty. Instead He gave prophets to speak promises of redemption and then—yes, then—He sent His Son into the world.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the gracious truth of God. The Word identified Himself as the very Son of God and so revealed the God who is the Person of the Father. Then, with the Father, the Son gave us the Spirit who alone works that faith which sees this astounding revelation as true. God really is one, yet He is also three—the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
That is His three-fold Name because that is who He really is! This name is no metaphor, it is who God is—who He is for us and for the world.
Is anything lovelier than to know this God? Is anything more important? All the world struggles to know the great mystery of life. It wonders whether there is anything or anyone to hold things together and bring meaning. The world’s religions are proof of this struggle. Buddhism would have us seek ultimate truth in our contemplations. Hinduism will declare three gods, or three million, and end with moral counsel. Islam commands that we just submit to God’s might. We could join the Animist search for our own god. Or perhaps we should just give up the entire quest with all the secularists.
But there is another way and it has been given to you. God has granted you to know Him, truly, really. He is Father and Son and Holy Spirit. He is the tender strong mighty God who uses His power to give life, to nurture, and to protect—yes, He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and He is our Father.
God is the Son, one with the Father, in very nature God, but refusing to use His divinity against our humanity. Instead He is made the very image of the invisible God—the invisible God made visible in the one who humbled Himself to be born of the virgin Mary, to live for us, to die for us, and to rise for us.
And God is the Holy Spirit, God’s own good and Holy Ghost who possesses you and me in our Baptism, breathing the breath of faith into us, teaching us to pray “Abba” in Jesus’ name.
Yes, think of it! God has revealed Himself to us as one in the threefold Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He has made Himself known so beautifully, so simply. So of course He will not have us be silent about it. Rather, we have this name to sing and to share with all the nations.
He is God for all the nations—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but, today, remember that He is your God and you are His, baptized in His name. With Luther, take it each day for your own.
In the Name of the Father and of the ╬ Son and of the Holy Spirit.
–Rev. Larry Vogel
Martin Luther wrote in 1533:
It is quite true that wherever the preacher administers only bread and wine for the Sacrament, he is not very concerned about to whom he gives it, what they know or believe, or what they receive. There one sow feeds with the others, and such preachers simply see themselves above such caring. They would rather have uninstructed, ecstatic saints than have the care of nurturing Christians. Rather, they want to do things in such a way that after three years every thing would be laid waste, and neither God nor Christ nor Sacrament nor Christians would remain anymore. However, because we are concerned about nurturing Christians who will still be here after we are gone, and because it is Christ’s body and blood that are given out in the Sacrament, we will not and cannot give such a Sacrament to anyone unless he is first examined regarding what he has learned from the Catechism and whether he intends to forsake the sins which he has again committed. For we do not want to make Christ’s church into a pig pen [Matthew 7:6], letting each one come unexamined to the Sacrament as a pig to its trough. Such a church we leave to the Enthusiasts!
And all of this we have received from the beginning of Christendom. For there we see and grasp the way in which the Creed, the Our Father, and the Ten Commandments were put together as a short summary and doctrine for the young and for those in need of instruction. From early on this was what was called a “catechism.” For “catechism” (say the Greeks) is a way of teaching with questions and answers, just as a schoolmaster has his pupils recite their lesson to see if they know it or not. In this way, those in need of instruction are to be examined and by their answers show that they know the parts of the Catechism, that they recognize the sin they again have done, and are willing to learn more and desire to do better. If they will not do this, they may not come to the Sacrament. The pastor is there as Christ’s faithful servant, and as far as it is possible for him, he may never cast the Sacrament to swine or dogs [Matthew 7:6]. He is to hear the people out and how it is with them. If they deceive him and do not speak honestly, then he is exonerated. They have done the deceit upon themselves.
WA 30/111:558-571. Translated by Jon D. Vieker, “An Open Letter to Those in Frankfurt on the Main, 1533,” Concordia Journal 16 (October 1990): 333–351.
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