At first glance, the Old Testament text for Trinity Sunday appears obvious and easy, but the more you dig into the text the deeper it goes. This makes it a challenge homiletically to hold the liturgical setting and the preaching of the text together. So, rather than diving deep into the meaning of certain words, a delightful task by itself, we will instead focus on what God is doing in these passages. In light of the liturgical setting for the day, Luther’s comments, through Augustine, on Genesis are instructive here:
“Verse 2 - And the Spirit of the Lord hovered over the waters: But it is more to my liking that we understand Spirit to mean the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it is the great consensus of the Church that the mystery of the Trinity is set forth here. The Father creates heaven and earth out of nothing through the Son, whom Moses calls the Word. Over these the Holy Spirit broods. As a hen broods her eggs, keeping them warm in order to hatch her chicks, and, as it were, to bring them to life through heat, so Scripture says the Holy Spirit brooded, as it were, on the waters to bring to life those substances which were to be quickened and adorned. For it is the office of the Holy Spirit to make alive. Out of nothing God created Heaven and Earth as an unformed mass so that the unformed earth was surrounded by the unformed heaven or mist.”
Here Luther affirms the biblical teaching that God, through the mystery of Trinity, is at work in the act of creation. Every person of the Trinity participated in creation. The work of God in creation will be a focusing lens for this sermon. Though this point seems simplistic, we learn from the Small Catechism this teaching is something we would do well to unpack in our preaching.
“We believe God has created us and all that exists. God has given us and still preserves our body and soul. God daily and abundantly provides all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects us, preserves us. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this we owe it to God to thank and praise, serve, and obey him.”
On Trinity Sunday we confess the truth that in creation we see the work of God. We also confess our certainty in His promises about all He did, and we know it is good. In fact, calling it good is the refrain God affixes to His work. Seven times (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, and 31) He declared it good. Or to put it another way, He declared it a good work which He alone did.
On Trinity Sunday we confess the truth that in creation we see the work of God.
The liturgical setting for Trinity Sunday can be useful to name in the sermon. Typically, on this feast day the Church confesses the Athanasian Creed. I guess you could say the work of the Church on Trinity Sunday is to confess the truth about God and His work. Unfortunately, many churches have fallen out of the habit of confessing the Athanasian Creed during this Sunday on the liturgical calendar. For that reason, it may be novel to re-introduce it now. I suspect the reason most churches ceased this salutary practice is because the Athanasian Creed is cumbersome; an exhausting two pages of confessing the truth in such enigmatic turns of phrase. Perhaps the other reason is there are some parts to the Athanasian Creed which are difficult to explain.
For example, in verse 39 of the Athanasian Creed (yes, it is so long it has verses), it says this: “Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire.” “This is a hard saying! Who can accept it?” (John 6:60) We are not a church that believes in works righteousness! But before you click over to another sermon help on the Epistle or Gospel lesson, let us analyze the discrepancy here. We are not saved by our good works. This is most certainly true. However, we are saved by good works, it is just not our good works. It is the good works of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which save us eternally. Those who confess this are those who are saved. This is the sense in which this Creed is speaking.
That said, back to the text. For purposes of preaching, there is a curious detail about our reading which is often overlooked. For this reason, you could use the Lowry Loop Structure for the sermon. This detail is actually the key to uniting the work of God in creation to the work of God in redemption through Christ. Arthur Just Jr., in his Luke commentary, does a masterful job of explaining this curious detail:
“In the record of the first creation, each of the first six days closed with the notice that “there was evening and there was morning” (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). The sequence of darkness and light signified the completion of each day. But on the seventh day, the day of Sabbath rest, there is no concluding notice of evening and morning (Genesis 2:1–3). That lack of closure leaves the first creation open-ended. God had finished His work, but God did not forever cease all activity. The rest of Genesis, and indeed the entire canon, witnesses to God’s continuing involvement in earthly history and human affairs. In a Sabbath controversy over Jesus’ “work” of healing on a Sabbath, Jesus Himself affirms that God keeps working, even on the Sabbath: “My Father until now is working, and I am working” (John 5:17). The work the Father and the Son continue to do—even on the Sabbath—is the work of re-creation, restoration, and redemption.
In the crucifixion account in the gospel of Luke, it brings up something that was happening which threatened the very existence of creation. Luke reports the sun “failed” (23:45). The darkness is a sign that evil is threatening to destroy God’s creation and revert it to chaos.
In the first creation, “darkness was over the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2). God then created light, which was “good,” and separated the light from the darkness (Genesis 1:3–5). As Jesus, the source of life and light, dies, the sun, the source of natural light, fails to carry out its divine mandate to distinguish between night and day, darkness and light, and to rule over the day (Genesis 1:14–18). Instead, day and night are confused, confounded, and darkness usurps the rule of the sun as evil reigns over good—temporarily. Creation’s bondage to sin and the curse of death, which Jesus had been absorbing into His flesh since His conception and bearing with Him publicly since His baptism, is now completely laid upon Him to do its destructive work. All demon possession, all sickness, all sin, all death is now placed upon Him.
Yet, the Creator, who took on flesh and was born into His creation, is, at this moment of death, bringing in new and eternal life, a new creation. A new and eternal day, a dawn from on high is about to break forth and shine forever on those who dwell in “darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78–79).
Here during Jesus’ crucifixion, the darkness signals the imminent conclusion of God’s work of redemption. In the cosmic history of the first creation, the three hours of darkness provide the closure to the Sabbath of Genesis 2:1–3. The history of the first creation draws to a close. With Jesus’ death the old order succumbs to the curse of death brought on by Adam’s sin. At the same time, Jesus’ work of atonement is completed, and He is about to enter into His own Sabbath rest (Luke 23:54, 56). God’s provision for His new creation is completed. The new order is ready to shine forth, and it will do so with the first morning light of Easter. Together, darkness and light—the three hours of darkness while Jesus is on the cross and the brilliant light of Easter morning—inaugurate the new creation, the eternal Sabbath rest (σαββατισμός) for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9–10). The new day of Sabbath rest has that beginning, but it will have no end; in the eschaton there will be no darkness, only light (Revelation 21:23–25).
It is clear that the work of God in creation is connected to the work of Jesus in redemption. As Reverend Bob Rossow so cleverly put it: “God calls creation into being and God calls re-creation into being.” So, do you believe in Jesus? That is, in essence, what the Creed is stating. Do you believe in God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)?
It is clear that the work of God in creation is connected to the work of Jesus in redemption.
You will notice by any confession of the three Ecumenical Creeds that the most time is spent on the person and work of Jesus. Trinity defines who Jesus is in terms of what we say about God (Christocentric). Creeds are about not messing up Father (Creator), Holy Spirit (Preserver), and how we know God rightly especially through Jesus (Redeemer). The creeds are about God and how we know Him rightly.
So, what is our definition of God? This is kind of a good question on Trinity Sunday. I would suggest the following definition is sufficiently Christocentric: “My God is the God who Jesus calls God!”
So, since we are not saved by our works, what does the Creed mean by works? Here John 6:29 helps us to simplify all of this down into something we can say publicly. Jesus says: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” That is it. That is the work, that you believe in Jesus and what He did to save you. Faith is what the Creed is calling for. It is faith in the God who saves. But how can we believe? Well it certainly is not “by my own understanding or strength that I believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.” Just as Jesus rightly declares in John 14:26: “But when the Helper (Holy Spirit) comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.”
The good work of God is that you believe in Jesus! We are declared “good” by God on account of Christ alone. This declarative righteousness will be a necessary refrain throughout your whole life. You will need to hear it again and again, that you are good with God on account of the work of Christ. What He did on the cross and through the resurrection was the good work of God by which He has redeemed and restored all of creation, including you, back into a right relationship with God. That work is credited to you freely and, at the Judgement, you are declared “just” or even “good.” Therefore, you are good with God who is Unity in Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Since it is Trinity Sunday, perhaps the Definition Structure will make the most sense if you are not in favor of the aforementioned Lowry Loop. My comments are included in italics within the definition below:
“The Definition Structure locates a topic (like the saving work of Jesus) within a general category (the Trinity) and then names particulars about that topic (God is at work in the work of the church, who confesses the work of Jesus).
While numerical identification of the particulars about the topic is common (for example, first, second, and third), a persuasive reasoning for the ordering of particulars is more effective (in this example, the order highlights God’s work as Trinity before focusing upon the role the Church has in confessing the Trinity in the world). In contrast to classification where the sermon would consider the topic in relation to topics outside of it (like the truth that Trinity differs from polytheism), definition considers the topic in and of itself. In contrast to classification where the sermon would expand the vision of the hearers beyond the topic (again, in our case of the Trinity), definition limits the vision of the hearers to specific details about the topic.
Often when working with definition, the preacher will offer a single example for consideration (the Athanasian Creed) and then draw the various points of the definition from that example (so, the biblical text offers an example of God doing the good work of creation and the preacher then works with the text in its context to communicate a larger theological teaching about the role of the Church in doing the work of confessing the saving work of Trinity in the person and good work of Christ in the new creation and to relate that teaching to the lives of God’s people in Christ today).”
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Genesis 1:1-2:4a.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Genesis 1:1-2:4a.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Genesis 1:1-2:4a.
 Augustine, Confessions, XIII, chapter 5.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 1: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 1 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 9–10.
 Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 354–355.
 Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 355–356.