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Sermon for June 4, 2023 – Trinity Sunday

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5028 | Trinity Sunday
Greg Williams

Today marks the midpoint in our annual Christian worship calendar, all of which points to Jesus. The first half of the calendar is made of several seasons of celebration starting with Advent and ending on Pentecost. The second half of the worship calendar falls under one continuous theme called Ordinary Time. Essentially, the first half of the calendar focuses on the significance of the life and ministry of Jesus and the revelation it gives us. And the second half focuses on living out the implications of what was revealed in the first half. A deep understanding of who Jesus is – his nature, his salvific acts, his manner of interaction with others … this all informs and empowers us to better participate with him in the world today.

Appropriately, the first Sunday that serves as the transition between the first and second half of the liturgical calendar is given a special name—Trinity Sunday. As a recap, we begin the year celebrating the coming of Jesus with Advent and Christmas. Then we celebrate the Father’s love for the world revealed in Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection during the Easter season. Finally, we conclude the first half of the year by celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on Pentecost. It’s a good lead to Trinity Sunday, where we are reminded that the God we worship is not the Father, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit in isolation from each other. Rather, the God we worship is the triune God who exists in the perfect communion of all three, Father, Son, and Spirit. So, on this special day, we do more than celebrate a doctrine. We celebrate the beauty and mystery of the God we come to know in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.

There will be much to unpack in the second half of the Christian calendar. But for now, we can conclude the first half of the calendar with the same words Paul used to conclude his second letter to the Corinthians.

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
2 Corinthians 13:11-14 (ESV)

This, my friends, is a good way to conclude the first half of the Christian calendar – rejoicing and aiming to live out the grace, love, and fellowship of the triune God revealed and given to us in Jesus Christ.

Happy Trinity Sunday, and may the next few months of Ordinary Time be extraordinary!

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 8:1-9 • Genesis 1:1-2:4a • 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 • Matthew 28:16-20

This week’s theme is beginning and ending with the Trinity. The call to worship Psalm points to the majesty of the Triune God’s glory declared in creation along with the exalted status of humans within it. The Old Testament reading revisits the classic creation account where God speaks into existence a cosmos of orderly and fruitful relationships. The epistolary text from 2 Corinthians is Paul’s farewell pronouncement in the Triune name of God. The Gospel reading from Matthew is also the conclusion of the book where Jesus commissions his disciples to make disciples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In The Name of The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)

Today is Trinity Sunday and for our text we have the classic conclusion to Matthew’s Gospel where we are given the Great Commission by Jesus. So, we may want to ask ourselves today, what does the doctrine of the Trinity have to do with mission? To be sure, it’s not really the doctrine of the Trinity that we are concerned with. It is the very being of God who has revealed himself as Father, Son, Spirit, that is of upmost importance, not only for our understanding of mission, but to everything else in our lives. The text for today may be a great opportunity to explore the significance that comes with worshiping a God who has revealed himself to be triune.

Our entire text makes up the conclusion to Matthew’s Gospel. Let’s begin with verse 16.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. (Matthew 28:16 ESV)

Before we get started, it may be good to note that each writer of the Gospels chose a different way to end their account. Mark chose to focus on the empty tomb along with the fearful first witnesses. Luke concludes with the account of Jesus’ ascension, serving as a transition to his part-two book of Acts. John chooses to focus primarily on Jesus’ appearances to his disciples. And Matthew chooses to conclude his account with Jesus commissioning his disciples to make disciples. Matthew’s ending does draw on many of the themes and claims he has been using in his book, so it is a fitting end to all that has gone before. But, his ending also signals a new beginning, namely by noting the disciples return to Galilee, the very place that Jesus’ ministry began. Jesus’ ministry is not coming to an end, rather, he will set out again from Galilee, by sending his disciples into all nations.

Also note that these disciples were directed by Jesus to meet him on a mountain. The mountain is not named but a good Jewish reader would not miss the implications of Jesus calling his disciples to meet him up on a mountain. Mountains were a place of divine revelation (e.g. the Transfiguration in Matthew 17). We should not miss the importance of first knowing who God is as he has revealed himself to us before we launch out on any kind of mission or ministry in his name. Jesus is still directing his disciples today, you and me, to meet him on “the mountain.” We must come to know who he is, and who we are as his followers. And that is one great benefit of having the Great Commission text for the celebration of Trinity Sunday. We must never separate the revelation of God as triune from our efforts and engagement of mission. If we pursue missions apart from knowing who God is as revealed in Jesus Christ, our missional efforts will risk being reduced to some humanitarian project or social change program. We also run the risk of doing mission on our own power, apart from the God who calls us to himself to be on mission with him. Mission must always move down from the mountain of God’s revelation.

If you were reading the entire book of Matthew, there is one detail included in the conclusion that is a bit unnerving. Does it not leap off the page for us? There are only eleven disciples. Up to this point every part of Matthew’s story includes twelve disciples. Matthew doesn’t give us any indication that this deficiency will be rectified before the disciples set out on their mission. Matthew’s conclusion does not resolve the tension. Imagine concluding the story of Snow White with only six dwarves. Wouldn’t that need to be resolved before moving on? Not only that but having only eleven disciples painfully reminds us of the troubling and heartbreaking story of betrayal and desertion that must still be fresh in the minds of the remaining eleven. But now they are being called to go on mission. Perhaps we can make a couple observations regarding mission given the unavoidable and awkward number eleven stubbornly sitting in the passage.

First, Jesus does not send us on mission when everything is perfect. We don’t have to have a certain number of people before we can respond to his call. Life is never that tidy. Let’s face it, we all have deficiencies in our lives that we may believe disqualify us from ministry and mission. Surely, we need to get our act together, tie up some loose ends, and fill in some gaps before we can be considered qualified or legitimate as God’s representatives to the nations. But Matthew chose to begin his conclusion with the uncomfortable detail of the disciples’ diminished roster. Perhaps he wants us to see what he has learned. Jesus does not call us to himself once we are qualified. Remember, Jesus called Matthew while he was a tax collector. If any disciple felt illegitimate, it would have been Matthew. Jesus can handle all our deficiencies. After all, as we will see, it is Jesus’ mission, and he goes with us. He is not sending us out on our own or on our own merits and power. We may need to see the number eleven, as uncomfortable as it may be, to remind us that Jesus’ mission does not rest on our shoulders. We are always a person short.

Second, Jesus takes our baggage. The eleven disciples have barely processed their hurt and dismay that came from Judas’ betrayal. Yet, Jesus is calling them to go on mission together. They may not have a problem going on mission with Jesus, but their experience may make them a bit timid to trust their fellow brothers again. Can we relate? How often are we hesitant to engage in mission or ministry after we have been betrayed or hurt? That’s to be expected. But Jesus is our reconciliation, and he is the mediator of all our relationships, even the ones we cannot revisit or set right in this life. These eleven disciples will have to trust Jesus with their baggage involving their brother Judas. We will need to hand over our baggage as well.

Matthew has another deficiency he draws our attention to in the next verse:

And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. (Matthew 28:17 ESV)

It seems Matthew recalls that doubts do not disqualify us from being on mission. One man is missing, and some are doubting. But Jesus still calls them up the mountain and commissions them as his representatives. We should focus on the one thing they all have in common – they all saw Jesus and they responded in worship. This seems to be the fuel of mission. Seeing Jesus. From there, worship and witness go together. And this worship and witness is initiated by Jesus himself. The disciples did not work up their worship by some self-generated effort. They were simply responding to seeing Jesus. It is in seeing Jesus and the revelation he gives us of the Father, that worship is called out of us. Like seeing a beautiful mountain overlook that draws out our praises, Jesus is the catalyst for worship and witness. When we see how beautiful he is, we will not be able to contain our worship of him, and we will want to share what we have seen with others. So, Jesus has set the stage for commissioning the disciples by revealing himself to them on the mountain. However, this does not mean all doubt is removed this side of heaven. But Jesus is coming to us from the other side of heaven. He has passed from death to resurrection life, and he has no doubt of who his Father is. Our doubts do not cancel his faith in the Father. It’s his mission, and it is his faithfulness that will see us through.

And Matthew will make that abundantly clear in the next verse.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18 ESV)

Notice that Jesus takes the initiative and comes to his disciples. He does not stand far off and tell them to come to him. We should take note of how he deals with us when we go on mission to others. Not only does Jesus come to the disciples, but he comes with something to say. And what he says is exactly what the disciples need to hear in light of their noted deficiencies and doubt. Jesus makes it clear who will be in charge of the mission they are to go on. He has been given all authority. And Jesus was sure to say this first before he gave them the commission. He knows that we will need to be reminded of whose mission it is and by whose authority it will be carried out before we receive our marching orders.

Also note that his authority is an authority given. Just as he receives his authority from the Father, we receive our commission from the Son. God is a God of grace. He is a giver. And we can trust that his gifts are good, for us and for others. Jesus’ authority is not like the tyrants in Matthew’s age or like the ones in ours. Jesus uses the authority given him for our good, and not to dominate and coerce us into obedience. The more we walk with the Lord, the more we come to celebrate and rejoice in the fact that it is Jesus who has all authority. Thank you, God! The world, and our own hearts, has proven time and time again that too much authority and power in our hands often ends with disastrous results.

Now Matthew records the mission Jesus gives his disciples, the eleven on the mountain, and all those that will follow, like you and 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 28:19-20 ESV)

This passage begins with “Go therefore.” The word “therefore” is a reference to what Jesus just said about being given all authority on heaven and earth. It is on the basis of Jesus having all authority that we can go on mission. Our deficiencies and doubts do not disqualify us or determine the outcome. Because of that truth, we can boldly proclaim the gospel to the nations, even when that proclamation gets resisted. We are assured that Jesus gets the final say.

And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus sandwiches the commission between the truth of his authority and the promise that he will be with the disciples to the end. We must not see mission as something we do apart from Jesus. That will be claiming an illegitimate authority and attempting to achieve something for ourselves, apart from the will of the Father.

Before we close, we must make mention of the obvious reason this text has been chosen for Trinity Sunday. The commission to make disciples of all nations has everything to do with being “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This phrase implies belonging. And this is a new belonging, not to the father of this world but to Jesus’ Father. And this belonging is in the Spirit, not the spirit of this age, but of the Holy Spirit. To become a disciple of Jesus is to belong to his Father in the Spirit. Jesus is giving us a real part in sharing this extraordinarily good news of who God is and what he has done in Jesus Christ. He didn’t have to commission us, but that would undermine what it means to be a disciple. Disciples are those who are in union with Christ. Disciples are those who share in all the Father, Son, Spirit share in their life together. To be in union with Christ, sharing in his life with the Father in the Spirit, means we are not left out of the triune God’s mission in the world. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God is a sharing God. And the Great Commission is the Lord giving us a share in the triune life of sharing. And that is some good news to share.

The Way of the Triune God w/ Myk Habets W1

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June 4 – Trinity Sunday
Matthew 28:16-20, “The Way of the Triune God”

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Program Transcript

The Way of the Triune God w/ Myk Habets W1

Anthony: Let me read the first pericope of the month. It’s Matthew 28:16-20. It’s from the New Revised Standard Version, and it’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Trinity Sunday, which falls on June 4.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Myk, this passage is going to fall on Trinity Sunday in the Lectionary cycle. And as sometimes our understanding of the Trinity is askew, it’s reduced often to unhelpful metaphors or seen, even worse, as a mathematical conundrum. So, let’s flip the script.

How is the Trinity so much more, and what would you have us to know about the way of the triune God revealed in this pericope?

Myk: Thanks, Anthony. Yeah. Where do we start and where do we finish? Contemporary Christians have to be reminded (or probably now instructed, I think) that the church did not invent the doctrine of the Trinity around the year 300 AD or something like that, which some people have purported.

The early Christians, the first Christians right from the disciples, at least midway through Jesus’ ministry, were invited by Jesus to worship Yahweh as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And as they watch Jesus, as they live with Jesus, as they walk and talk with Jesus, they start to see him do things, say things, act in particular ways, which resembles Yahweh.

And I love that text halfway through his ministry, they see him praying—Jesus praying. He did it often. And they nudge each other. I think we read in between the texts, they nudge each other. You ask him; I don’t want to ask him. You ask him, I’ll feel silly. So, someone asks him. Lord, teach us how to pray.

And it’s ridiculous really, that a Jew, a faithful Jew, would be asking someone how to pray because they’ve had several thousand years of being taught how to pray. They know how to pray. So, it’s not really a technique question; it’s not a “how” question that they’re asking. It’s really a “who to” question.

We pray to God; we pray to Yahweh. Behold, the Lord your God. The Lord is one. We do that every day and often, but you look like God. You talk like God. You act like God. Are you Yahweh? And Jesus answered them, I think, in the first two words of that Lord’s prayer, our Father.

And I’m sure they had a theological conference because I’m a theologian. Of course, they did. And they withdrew, said he wants us to pray, “our Father,” but he’s not our Father. He’s the father of the Lord Jesus Christ. And Jesus is the exclusive son of the Father. And so, what’s he asking us to do? And I think in the “our Father,” they get the gospel of the triune God. He is only the Father of the Son.

Unless we are the son, he’s not our Father. And that would be blasphemy that we are the son of God. Or the next best thing, unless we are united to the Son, unless we are in the Son. And therein is the gospel, as Christ sends the Spirit who unites us to Christ. And Christ brings us before the Father. We acknowledge and we worship that Yahweh is indeed the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And here in this text, Matthew 28, the famous commission, the Great Commission, go make disciples. Don’t just make converts, whatever that might translate to. Don’t just get notches in your belt. Don’t just share a brief message and walk on, but make disciples, make people who will follow the living God.

And as you do baptize them, that sacramental, that means of grace, that ceremony, baptize them into “the name” (singular) Father, Son, Holy Spirit, the one God who is three persons. And from there, I think the Trinity becomes the ground and grammar of our theology, of our Christian lives, of all that we do.

And surprisingly, I think, for some today, the Trinity is one of the most practical doctrines, if not the most practical doctrine we have. It’s not a set of esoteric teachings that are reserved for theologians or students who want to pay lots of money to go to a classroom. It’s actually incredibly practical.

The fact that God is personal, that God defines what it means to be a person. Those three persons, one being in mutual relationship with one another in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son who is of the same substance as the Father, who becomes human without ceasing to be. God shows us that the image of God is actually the image of Christ—one who is rightly related to God, to the world, to creation, and to himself.

And the Trinity teaches us that God is personal, that God is absolute, that God is relational, that God is love. And we could unpack each of those four things and many others. We worship a God who is not static. We worship a God who is not removed.

We worship a God who was dynamic in his very being, who was love, who before the creation of the world was already involved in loving relationship. He didn’t need the world to love, he didn’t need creatures to love. He’s not that kind of a being. In some ways, he is not a being at all really. He is a completely different thing. He is God. He is the self-existing triune one.

And I think in that dynamic trinitarianism and that utterly relational triunity, that again becomes the ground, the grammar of all that we do, all that we say, all that we are. And then we start reading scripture, like this passage but so many others, in that Trinitarian key: if there is one God who is Father, Son, Spirit, then was God in the creation narrative the triune God?

And again, we see the Father, and I think we’re supposed to read that as the Father speaks; the Word, the dabar, the logos, the Son goes forth; the Spirit hovers over the waters of chaos. As St. Basil said in the early church, there seems to be a pattern, the Father, if you like, purposing or directing; the Son achieving, accomplishing; the Spirit perfecting.

And we see that pattern throughout almost every story and scripture, either explicitly or implicitly. We come into the New Testament, and it just becomes so clear. How creation came into existence is how our spiritual rebirth comes into existence. As the Father sends the Son, as the Son sends the Spirit, as the Spirit draws, convicts, convinces, unites us to Christ, as Christ brings us back into the presence of the Father.

So, we can now pray “our Father,” and then we go back out into the world in this work of participating in Christ’s mission to do Matthew 20, to teach others to make disciples, to start the birth of the church communities of the body of Christ that are worshiping in spirit and in truth.

And so I think this is one of these fantastic texts, one of these great texts—not just about evangelism (although it is about that), not just about the church and building it (it is about that), but it’s about those things because it’s first about who God is: the God of love, the God of grace, the God of glory, who is Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

And that gives us a message that gives us an impetus, a compulsion to share that love with others. And we call that mission. So, we could go on and on, but those are some of my opening thoughts about that text.

Anthony: In other words, the way that we often view the Trinity is just a reductionist view. You’re saying, ultimately the ground and grammar of theology are a way of understanding not only God, but the entirety of the world, is fantastical because of who he is and what he’s accomplished in his Son.

You talked about the rest of this passage, about how he tells us to go and make disciples. But before he does that, because of the beauty, the dynamic nature of this triune God, he gives us indicatives of grace first and surrounds all the imperatives he gives us, in his grace.

So, what would you want us to know about the imperative here that’s often referred to as the Great Commission?

Myk: Yeah, I’ve been reflecting on that. I don’t have anything unique to say other than the fact that I am struck always when I attend a baptism today, as to how unusual this is, whether it’s as infants or as adults.

I’m a Baptist, so it’s mostly adult believers’ baptisms, I attend. But’s an enacted parable. It’s a sacramental act and means of grace whereby we are cleansed of our sin. We are united to Christ. We testify to the reality of faith in our lives. We rise from the baptismal grave into Christ’s new life in anticipation of the resurrection.

As the end of days comes closer, let us not be found lacking in evangelism. So, I’m just struck by the unusualness in our world of this deeply Christian act, and it just reminds me that physically, when we baptize people or are baptized, we are physically entering into the strange new world of the Bible.

As Barth said a long time ago, this alternate universe. This everywhere—what is it? Everywhere, always, all at once! What is the movie? You could almost be describing the Christian worldview really: the already, the not yet; the king is close, the kingdom is near, all this type of teaching.

And I think baptism is a microcosm of that. So, the imperatives here and the indicatives, we must go. Why do we go? Not because we have to, not because it’s some external law. We must. In the sense that, how can we not share the euangelion, the good news? How can we not want to baptize? How can we not want to replicate and reproduce?

This is what Christians have been doing since day one. This is what Jesus does. He could have stayed, as we read in the New Testament, Colossians and Philippians, without considering deity a thing to be exploited. He offered himself, he humbled himself. He humiliated himself. He became a servant for us and for our salvation to the point of death, even death on a cross.

And then God exalts him. He didn’t have to do that. We don’t have to do anything, I guess, but again, we default back to, but who is the God who loves and saves? It’s the triune Lord of grace and glory. Who are we as Christians? We are those who are becoming like the one we worship. And so, the indicatives and the imperatives here are connected.

I am told to go because I really do want to, and I want to go because I’m told. And there’s a circularity about faith and works. I think that Christians somehow get we are rewarded for doing what Christ does in us and through us, like children where we reward them with their own gifts in order to gift them back to us.

And it just seems to make sense.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • What special days or seasons can you name that fall on the Christian calendar?
  • According to the video, how would you describe the difference in focus between the first half of the Christian calendar and the second half called Ordinary Time?
  • Can you think of reasons why the Trinity would be an appropriate focus to transition from the first half to the second half of the Christian calendar?

From the Sermon

  • When it comes to mission, do you ever feel like the eleven disciples, deficient for the job with too much baggage to carry?
  • Have you ever thought that your doubts hinder God’s mission?
  • The sermon referenced the “mountain” as being a place of divine revelation. In what way does mission flow from revelation, seeing who God is in Jesus Christ?
  • Jesus sandwiches the commission to the disciples with a truth and a promise. What was the truth or reality he stated? What was the promise?
  • What difference does it make to go into mission remembering Jesus words of truth and promise?
  • Reflect on the sermon’s reference to the statement “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” as essentially meaning belonging and sharing in the relationship of the Triune God. How does this inform mission?

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