Download or listen to The Feast of the Holy Trinity, “The True Story” (John 8:48-59)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What a great day to have a baptism! The Feast of the Holy Trinity. In the early days of the Church, following the Book of Acts, there were certain days on which most baptisms took place. The most common one, and still—around the world—probably the most common day to have baptisms, is the Vigil of Easter, which is the beginning of the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. In line with the Old Testament counting of days, the festival begins when the sun goes down, so the Church began her celebration of Jesus’ resurrection when the sun went down the night before. Many, many baptisms happened at that time. Pentecost, which we celebrated last week, was another day when many baptisms happened. And the third day when baptisms commonly happened was Epiphany. These were not just good days to have baptisms; these days were part of a story that was being told. So then the baptisms themselves became part of that story. The story that is being told on the Vigil of Easter is the story of God saving His people from slavery in Egypt; how His wrath passed over their houses because they were marked with the blood of the Lamb, and instead struck the firstborn of Egypt; how He led them past their enemies and through the Red Sea on dry ground, and, finally, into the Land of Promise. When there was a baptism on this day, the person being baptized was wrapped up in that story: delivered from slavery, marked with the blood of the Lamb, brought safely through the enemies of sin, death, and the devil into the eternal Land of Promise. Pentecost tells the story of the giving of the Holy Spirit, to create faith in Jesus, and to cause people to speak boldly about Jesus. As Peter preached on Pentecost: “Be baptized, each one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For this promise is for you and for your children” (Acts 2:38-39). When there was a baptism, the person being baptized was wrapped up in that story: given the Holy Spirit, granted faith, and given words to speak boldly. Epiphany tells the story of Jesus as He is revealed as God of all nations, so when a person was baptized, he was wrapped up in that story. This God is your God now.
So [it is for Vivian today, and so] it is for you. Baptism is how God wraps you up in His story, and so today is a good day to have a baptism. Because we often think of the “Holy Trinity” as a sort of abstract doctrine thought up in the dry, dusty halls of academia by theologians who don’t have real lives. But the Trinity was not thought up as much of theology is today, by Ph.D.s who need to sell books. The teaching on the Trinity was proclaimed as the living revelation of God in this world. When Jesus appears, saying and doing things that only God can say or do (forgiving sins, healing the sick, casting out demons), when He says things like, “Before Abraham was, I am He,” people who confess one God have to figure out how this can be. So they simply confess what the Scriptures say: “There is one God, but there is a Father, a Son, and a Spirit in that one God. But there aren’t three Gods, and there aren’t three Fathers, Sons, or Spirits. One God, three Persons, and this is the God who has saved us and whom we worship in Trinity and Unity.” So having a baptism today reminds us that the Holy Trinity is not a doctrine, not a symbol, not a piece of dusty theology, but a personal God who has acted and is acting for the salvation of His creation. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are telling a story of their love for this whole creation, and they are writing into it as many people as possible. Baptism is the signature that the Trinity writes on those whom He has gathered into His story. And it is their entrance into His story, just as being born is the entrance into the story of this creation. Every day, and every week, we tell this story to ourselves when we mark ourselves with Christ’s cross and say, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It is the story God tells us when He says, “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is His story of deliverance for you and for all your children: delivered from slavery to sin, death, and the devil, marked by the blood of the sacrificed Lamb, God’s wrath passing over you and being placed on His only Son. It is a story of death and resurrection, and baptism joins you to Jesus’ death and resurrection, instead of your own eternal death.
But this is not the only story that is out there. This is not the only story you hear, and it’s probably not even the story you hear the most often. There are other stories, and you and I know them well. One of them goes like this: you have to get good grades so that you can get into a good school, so that you can get a good job, so that you can make enough money, so that you can live the life you want and be a success in this world. Or there’s this one: you need to do whatever it is that makes you happy. Until you do that, you’re not really living. If it makes you happy, do it. If it doesn’t, get rid of it, even if you made a promise. Your happiness is what matters. Those are some of the general stories, but there are also the more personal stories. The story that everyone knows about you, how they would sum you up: those actions, those words, those mistakes, those family situations, where you live, how you dress, what you think, how you vote. All of it becomes your story, some good, some bad, some horrible. And often, no matter how hard we try to keep those things from defining us, no matter how hard we try to justify our past, they remain our story. But those stories are not the story God’s telling. And if we remain in those stories, we will misunderstand God, Jesus, the Scriptures, and what we’re doing here on a Sunday morning.
So if the primary story in our lives is one of success or happiness, then we have to figure out how God fits into our stories. If He doesn’t contribute to my success or happiness, or at least make it easier, then all of this looks irrelevant. We have to figure out how to apply the Scriptures to our lives; we have to figure out how Jesus fits into our lives. We come here looking for some help for our lives, a little advice or a few practical steps to make Jesus relevant to us, when we have things exactly backwards. We have, like the Jews in John 8, thought that we must fit Jesus into our stories. They could not figure out how Jesus fit with their story of Abraham and themselves as His faithful descendents. They called Him a Samaritan to say that He was outside the promise and covenant of Abraham. But Jesus said they had it exactly backwards. He was not simply a descendent of Abraham, He was the Author of Abraham’s story. Before Abraham was, I am He. It is not Abraham’s story, but Mine. It is not our story, but Jesus’. And that is why Abraham rejoiced, because He believed God’s promise to him, though he had it only by faith. But to have it by faith is really to have it. So Abraham rejoiced to see the Lord’s Day, even before it came. And so it is for every one who is baptized into the story of God in Jesus Christ: we rejoice[, as Vivian rejoices,] that the Lord’s Day has come to us, that His death and resurrection have come to us, and that we really have them now by faith. All of our stories will end, by necessity, with death. That is the only place where the stories of sinners can end. But there is another story that takes up death into itself and makes it one more event in eternal life. The story of Jesus, written on Vivian and you by His Word means that you will never see or taste death. You have eternal life now, and there is no end to it, because this is the story of Jesus, and death no longer has any hold on Him. And you can be sure that the God who began this story, and who wrote you into it, will continue it into eternity.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/25/13