Sorry if you’ve been waiting for sermons. Life has been… busy lately. I felt like things might slow down after Easter and Lent, but they never really did. In fact, they sped up. Lots going on.
At any rate, the Feast of the Holy Trinity was this past Sunday. For over a thousand years the Christian Church has taken the First Sunday after Pentecost to focus specifically on the Holy Trinity — not that every Sunday does not celebrate the Triune God, but for the sake of those who need to be reminded & still learn this precious doctrine all over again (which is pretty much everybody.) Talking about the Trinity can tie us in knots, and you can feel like if you attempted to preach everything you could say about the Trinity you’d never stop, but at some point you have to acknowledge your limits and give the people what you have. Thus here. May this sermon edify you as you worship and adore the only true God, the Triune God, the three-in-one I Am.
“Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints send their greetings. 14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (ii cor 13.11-14 niv84)
Postscripts on letters or emails can be fun things. Another little story, a joke, or one last thought often gets tacked on at the end. Sometimes they’re even more memorable than the main part of the letter. When you see those little letters “P.S.”, you know you’re probably going to get something good. The apostle Paul does something similar in our second lesson for today. The verses of our second lesson for today are Paul’s P.S. to the Corinthian congregation. Along with the other encouragements in these verses, Paul is going to give us a radiant benediction, in the form of a blessing from the Triune God. On this Holy Trinity Sunday, not only are we going to hear Paul’s closing thoughts in 2 Corinthians – which still apply very much to us – but we’re also going to learn about The God of Love and Peace.
If you read through 2 Corinthians, you’d see that prior to this point the Apostle Paul spent the entire letter prodding the Corinthian Christians, pushing them, encouraging them, even chewing them out and speaking severely at times. Paul and the Corinthians had been through a lot together. The Corinthian congregation has been called the apostle Paul’s problem child congregation, just because they gave him such a hard time. Read 1 Corinthians, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The Corinthian congregation had a lot of pretty serious problems. Paul had to expend a lot of time and effort to keep them from tearing each other apart, and from tearing their church apart. And yet, Paul gets to the end of this second letter to the Corinthians, and he doesn’t just close abruptly or gruffly say good-bye, as if he doesn’t love them or care about them. No, Paul gives them an upbeat, joyous clutch of last thoughts to take with them.
First, Paul calls them brothers. Earlier in the letter he was tearing his hair out over what the Corinthians were doing, he was grieving at their waywardness, he even had to threaten them to keep them in line – but here at the end, he calls them brothers and sisters again. This shows the common faith they had, and how Paul saw them in the Lord. Paul doesn’t let the straying and bickering of his sheep keep him from loving them, because it didn’t keep the Lord from loving them. All true pastors feel that way about their congregations.
Next, he tells them to aim for perfection. He encourages them to pay attention and notice where they could do better in their life together as Christians and as a body of believers. This requires that every individual believer consider his or her own ways and make a serious effort to change for the better, but the results are worth it for the whole group.
“Listen to my appeal,” he says. Paul wanted them to allow themselves to be admonished, to listen to his guidance in the Lord and to take it seriously. This is one of the hallmarks of a wise person in Scripture – they listen to those who are giving them godly advice or direction and they take it to heart. The book of Proverbs is full of passages that encourage us to listen when someone sets us straight or admonishes us – and it also describes what happens to those who don’t listen to correction. This is also a good quality for us to have, that we take God’s Word seriously even when it rebukes us or points out that what we’re doing is wrong. We wouldn’t be Christians for very long if we didn’t have this quality. Paul urged them to put aside their pride and submit to what he said, and we are also blessed when we put our pride aside and submit to God’s Word.
Then Paul tells them to be of one mind. Paul doesn’t say act the same way, or even talk the same way – he urges them to think the same way. That’s the highest degree of unity. When you’re that united with your fellow Christians, your words and your actions will naturally follow. That unity of mind and heart can only come when it’s based on God’s Word. Nothing else unites people like God’s Word and a common confession of God’s Word. Along with being one in mind and heart, Paul urges them to live at peace. That takes work. It takes an appreciation for Christian unity as one of God’s precious gifts. You have to want to work for it, to be willing to put your pride aside. Sometimes it requires marching into an awkward situation that you’d rather not get into, but sometimes that’s what it takes to live in peace. It’s not always easy or fun, but it’s always worth the effort.
Among spiritual blessings, unity is perhaps the most underrated – and the most necessary. The church would not long endure if its members were constantly fighting and bickering to the point that nobody wanted to gather or work together at all. Refusal to forgive, a proud spirit, holding grudges – these things are traps of Satan that he uses to wreck havoc on the church. But we are not unaware of his schemes. That makes us harder to pick off.
If you do these things, Paul says, the God of love and peace will be with you. That’s a bold promise, but it’s absolutely true. Holy Trinity Sunday is about the God of love and peace – the God who is love and peace. That’s what the true God is like, what He gives and what He brings – love and peace. A lot of people talk about God in ways that don’t line up with who He is, but He is, nonetheless, the God of love and peace. The triune God is not a monster who unjustly or arbitrarily sends people to hell for no good reason. He’s not a cheerless ogre who can’t stand anybody having fun or being unafraid of Him. He’s not a frowning cop or a censor who’s trying to hold people back and take away their freedom. That’s how the world paints God, but that’s not who He is. He’s the God of love and peace.
Who exactly is this God of love and peace? Paul describes who He is in v.14. This beautiful verse is often used in worship. It’s the New Testament counterpart to the Aaronic benediction from Numbers chapter 6. We hear it so often that it’s good to take a closer look at it, to make sure we understand what it says.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace is the quality of God’s love for those who don’t deserve it. He knows what we’re like, He knows that our nature is sinful from birth, He knows what we’ve done, and still He loves us and takes care of us. That is God’s grace, that He does everything for us even though we have neither earned nor deserved it. Notice that the grace of Christ comes before the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit here. That’s how it is in our lives too. God has to have mercy on us and show us grace through Jesus before we can know God or enjoy a close relationship with Him.
“The love of God.” “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us…God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him…We love because He first loved us.”
“The fellowship of the Holy Spirit” is in two directions: between us and God, and between each other. The Spirit gives us the faith that brings us to God. He makes us the children of God by bringing us into a close relationship with God through the faith He gives. “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” The Holy Spirit brings us to God and keeps us close to God through His Word and the Sacraments. Through the faith that brings us close to God, the Spirit draws us closer together with each other. The fellowship of the Spirit only comes through the Word and the Sacraments, because that’s the only way you get the Holy Spirit. When we believe and confess the same things about God’s Word, that’s uniting. It welds us together with a strong bond. The Spirit working through the Word and the Sacraments is how you get into God’s family and stay in God’s family.
The fellowship of the Holy Spirit lasts forever, if we remain in the faith. It lasts through your whole life on earth and it will last for all eternity in heaven. There we will finally know and see our triune God as He really is, know Him without any masks or anything clouding our vision. There we will be perfectly united with all believers, past, present, and future. The scattered people of God will all be gathered in. Our fellowship will forever be with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, along with all who have longed for His appearing. We look forward to that day every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper. That’s when we’ll all be together perfectly with our triune God.
Holy Trinity Sunday is the only festival in the Christian calendar that celebrates a doctrine and not an event. All other festivals are events from the life of Christ or the life of the church, except for this one. That’s so we can be reminded of this vital and eminently practical doctrine. Everything that Paul tells us to do and to be earlier – aim for perfection, listen to correction, be of one mind, live at peace – all those things flow from a living and healthy faith in the triune God. When you believe in the triune God, that’s what our lives will look like.
The triune God is not an abstraction or a riddle we can’t solve. He’s the God that we worship, the God that takes care of us; the God that forgives our sins and feeds us, that gives us shelter now and promises us a home in heaven with Him. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are one God, our God; the God of love and peace. Amen.