Sermon for the Festival of the Holy Trinity based on Matthew 28:16-20
Dear disciples of Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
There’s an animated movie called “Up” in which the dogs in the movie continually get distracted by the sight of a squirrel. Whatever mission they have going on, whatever discussion they are in the midst of, even if serious and intense, the second the dogs see a squirrel, everything else ceases, they turn and stare at the squirrel, and shout out “squirrel!” It is humorous how easily the focus of these dogs can turn away from what they are doing; how quickly they get distracted from what they are doing every time a squirrel is near.
How easily dogs get distracted in a movie may be funny, but how easily the church gets distracted is not so humorous. The church has a mission, given to her by her Lord, but all too often, the church acts like these dogs, losing focus of the task at hand very easily. The “squirrels” of this world so easily distract the church, whatever those squirrels may be.
First, what is the mission of the church supposed to be? Jesus tells us, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, by 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.” Jesus has given His church on earth the mission of making disciples.
Jesus has also given the church the means to make disciples: baptizing and teaching. There are no other ways to make disciples of Jesus except for baptizing and teaching. Too often the church gets distracted from this truth. Too often the church starts to spend all of its energy doing other things to try to make disciples.
Instead of baptizing and teaching, some churches are tempted to entertain in order to make disciples. But entertainment doesn’t make disciples of Jesus; it makes disciples of entertainment, and the world entertains better than the church ever can. Instead of baptizing and teaching, some churches are tempted to start every imaginable program, camp, and event under the sun. Soccer camp may be fun but it makes disciples of soccer, not disciples of Jesus. Even programs that are good and helpful to the community can be a distraction when those programs replace the only means that Jesus has given to His Church to make disciples – baptizing and teaching. Such programs can become the squirrel that distracts the church from what she is supposed to be doing – baptizing and teaching.
And these two things go together. Baptism goes with teaching and teaching goes with Baptism. Baptizing children without teaching them the faith into which they are baptized will result in the children leaving the faith when they grow up. It is like giving a child a meal to eat when they are young and then never feeding them again. Faith must be nurtured by the Word of God and the Lord’s Supper.
Likewise, teaching without baptizing is like teaching someone about God’s gifts but not actually giving the gifts; teaching about how forgiveness of sins, union with Christ, and adoption as God’s children take place in Baptism, but then not giving those gifts. Thus, these two means of making disciples go together, as Jesus clearly commands.
Baptism in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is indeed a gift. Everything that is received in Baptism is hidden in the water, like a present you receive that is covered in wrapping paper. The wrapping paper covers up the gift so that you cannot see what it is.
If you receive a gift that has a peculiar shape, the shape of the package can give you a hint as to what is inside. Something like a frying pan, tennis racket, or drill that’s in wrapping paper can still give you a clue as to what the gift is. So also the visible appearance of Baptism gives you a hint as to what the gift of Baptism is.
Titus chapter three gives us more than a hint, telling us that Baptism is a washing of rebirth, poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Baptism washes away our sins. It is a drowning of our Old Adam with its sins and evil desires, and the emerging of a new man arising to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. The wrapping paper of Baptism is water, but the gift in the wrapping paper is the washing away of sins and eternal life. The benefit of Jesus fulfilling the Law for you is given to you in Baptism. The forgiveness of sins earned by Jesus’ death on the cross for you is given to you in Baptism.
Baptism does such great things because you are baptized into the name of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are baptized into the name of God the Father, who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth. You are baptized into the name of God the Son, the Word through whom all things were created; the Word who later became flesh and dwelt with us and died for us. You are baptized into the name of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God that hovered over the face of the waters and brought life into being.
Yes, the Trinity is a mystery to us, but a mystery worthy of adoration. We cannot understand the triune God, but we can confess who He is based on His Word that He has given us about Himself. In the Athanasian Creed we get as specific as we can get without inventing something that God has not Himself told us. Attempts to simplify the Trinity so as to be understood by man, or attempts to explain the unexplainable fall into various errors and heresies. Instead, we cling to what God Himself has given us, and confess this to be our faith in the one true God and how He has saved us.
This faith is what the church confesses, and this faith is what the church teaches. This faith is the focus of the church’s existence so that we don’t get side-tracked by all the distractions that can occupy our focus. This faith is the gift of God to His church, the faith into which we are baptized, and the faith by which we are saved. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Let us then confess our faith in the triune God in the words of the Athanasian Creed on page 319.