By Paul Koch –
For those of you who forgot, today is Father’s Day. Now look we all know that you haven’t put much time into your Father’s day celebration, at least compared with Mother’s Day. Which is alright, because I don’t think many fathers really mind. Everyone is aware that Father’s Day is pretty low on the totem pole of important dates throughout the year. In fact just last month we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Mother’s Day while today marks only the 48th year since President Lyndon B. Johnson designated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. Not bad, only 52 years behind Mother’s Day.
So it is quite fitting that Father’s Day falls on another obscure and underappreciated celebration. A celebration left off the nation’s calendars but always observed here in the church, since the 14th century the Sunday after Pentecost is designated as Trinity Sunday or the Festival of the Holy Trinity. Now it is a strange celebration to be sure if not somewhat confusing. All of the other celebrations in the church year feature an event. Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, the Baptism of our Lord, these are all things that happened, moments that we remember but the Holy Trinity – that’s something altogether different. It isn’t an event at all but a teaching of the church, its doctrine.
The Trinity gives shape to our confession. The great creeds of the church, the Apostles Creed, the Nicene and yes even that delightful and beautiful Athanasian Creed highlight and focus us on the great confession of one God in three persons. So we say, “The Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshipped.” But there is a danger when we focus our attention on a teaching of the church; there is an inherent problem that comes with the festival of the Holy Trinity. It can be summed up with one simple question, “Who cares?” That is, we run a great risk when we begin to say things like, “The Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.” What we risk is losing touch with the realities of life. Church becomes a theoretical exercise instead of an actual giving of the gifts of God. Perhaps we would be better off just focusing on Father’s Day.
But then we are hit by the words of Paul in his letter to the Romans. St. Paul certainly isn’t some detached academic thoughtfully pondering all things divine and spiritual. He was a man who knew the brutality and trials that can come from living this life of faith. He knew full well of heartache and struggle and yet we find him singing the praises of God in words of true poetic beauty.
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgment and how inscrutable his ways! 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” (Rom. 11:33-36).
Now I must confess that struggled to understand what it is like to sit in a pew on a Sunday morning. I’ve been a preacher for so long now I run the risk of becoming somewhat detached from your situation. From the few times a year I am not preaching on a Sunday I know that it is a bit unnerving to be subjected to a sermon. And one of the worst types of sermons can be those that seem to have nothing at all to do with you. So what does a word from St. Paul praising God for his unsearchable wisdom have to do with you?
What does it have to do with the overwhelmed parents that are just trying to get their kids to sit still for a while in church? What does it have to do with those whose thoughts are a million miles from this place because they sit here filled with guilt and shame over some dark sin they won’t dare speak of? What does this praise of God have to do with those who face Father’s Day with regrets? For that matter how can the doctrine of the Holy Trinity be of much use to those who fear about their future because they not only live from paycheck to paycheck but they cannot seem to make ends meet with what they have? What does any of this have to do with those families that full of broken relationships, or those individuals in our midst that have been wounded so badly they can’t seem to find healing?
St. Paul praises God, the church celebrates the Holy Trinity, our nation pauses for Father’s Day, but so what – who cares?
Yet those words of Paul linger. In fact as we take up Paul’s words in the context of his letter to the church in Rome we begin to learn that this praise found on his lips has everything to do with us, with our broken and tattered lives. Earlier in the letter Paul cried out with a broken heart seeing that his beloved people, his church had rejected the Word of Christ. In fact he says, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” He goes on to say that he wishes he was cut off from God if it would mean that his brothers and sisters might be saved. His family, his own household is turned upside down; Gentiles are entering the kingdom while those who held the ancient teachings of Moses are turning away. Life isn’t turning out the way he had ever imagined it. The church doesn’t look at all like he desires it to look.
All the wisdom of the world, all the strength of mankind is set aside by God. It isn’t even given a second thought it is pushed out of the way as if it was of no account. And God simply does his great work. A work that you could not do, a work that we could never accomplish on our own, in fact it is a work we don’t even desire to do yet it is the very work of our salvation.
God’s work is that of a Father who creates us and gives us life. He made you, your eyes and ears; the very breath in your lungs is formed by his hands. He is the model of all fatherhood, creating and sustaining life and inviting us to call upon him as his own dear children. He created you to live with him for all eternity but such a life was torn by disobedience. Sin destroyed our relationship, sending us running from our Father, hiding in our own wisdom and strength. But our Loving Father would not abandon you. He sent his Son. God the Son lived that perfect life he bore the sins of the world, he who knew no sin became sin for you. He died to destroy the power of death itself and set you free. So God the Father and God the Son have loved, lived, died and risen for you. But still you could not believe, you could not trust such good news. So proceeding out from Father and Son comes the Holy Spirit of God. Here our God enters our very hearts and claims us as his own again. No longer does sin and corruption get the final say. The Spirit softens your hearts, the Spirit gives you faith, the Spirit causes you to trust the Word of the Son upon the cross and through the Empty tomb, and the Son delivers to you the promises of the Father.
The confession of the Holy Trinity is a confession of what it looks like when God is for us, it is what we find when God comes for you, for you salvation, for your hope and eternal life. The teaching of the Holy Trinity is not abstract, it is not academic. it is a description of your own salvation. It is a word about a God that is for you right now, he is for you in your distraction and guilt and worry about the future, he is for you in your heartache and dismay, he is for you right now. And when God is at work for you, when he finds, forgives and holds you as his own – he does it as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
You then are saved, redeemed, forgiven by God. What more can we say than, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgment and how inscrutable his ways! 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.”