2 Corinthians 13:11-14
11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
There is this idea that goes around in our subjective world that I get to decide what I like about God and you get to decide what you like about him. And if those two things are different, that’s OK. We don’t have to get so dogmatic about it. We can just get along with our differing ideas of God as long as we both believe in whatever it is we believe. What’s important is that we all agree that no one is absolutely right and no one is absolutely wrong. After all, God just wants us to believe.
People say lots of things like that. And do you know what? They are wrong, completely wrong. All those different views that come from people in this very subjective, self-oriented world, can’t work together. Differing views don’t work to describe the divine God. It’s impossible for the perfect God to put up with partial truths and platitudes. You either have the real God or you don’t.
And so today is a good day for God to remind us who he is. The reason this festival of the church takes place at this time of year is that we are in a new season, the Pentecost season. It’s the portion of the Church Year where God’s people grow in the teachings of Christ through his words. To shift the focus, we are starting our new series, Lutheran Legacy. Just what exactly does it mean to be a Lutheran? We are starting today with God, the one true God.
That’s a good place to start, but it is also most confusing because he tells us that he is triune, three persons in one God. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. But there are not three Gods; there is just one God. I’m not good at math, so this is perfect for me: 1+1+1=1. It’s bad math, but perfect theology. This is the God Lutherans confess, because this is the only God there is.
This is confusing, and I like it that way. What kind of God would he be if I could easily grasp him? I don’t want a God to be like me. My son? Sure, in some ways, I want him to be a chip off the old block. My God? I need him to be bigger and better than me. And I don’t need him to be just bigger and better than me. I need him to be bigger and better than every person, ever. And so, I’m glad my God reveals himself as three persons in one God, Triune. I don’t understand it. I can’t. But here’s some good news: you don’t have to understand it to believe it.
You probably are familiar with this without even realizing it. The internet…do you understand how it works? I remember a time when there was no such thing as internet or Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Siri, no smartphones. I have no clue how the internet came about or how it works. But I believe it. I use the internet every day. I don’t understand how it works, but I trust it and use it. Just one other example. I saw a clip this past week from America’s Got Talent of a woman who plays guitar and sings even though she is deaf. I have no clue how that works, but I believe it.
That’s the same thing as the Holy Trinity. You may be surrounded by a holy, eternal Triune God that you cannot grasp or understand, and that’s ok. We can believe in things that are too profound and complicated for us to grasp. We do it all the time. This Triune God, the God of the Bible, told us exactly what he is like. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The problem is not with him and how great and mind-blowing he is. The problem is me.
I was struck by that fact as I read this closing encouragement from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians. Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.
Do you know why Paul wrote these encouragements? It seems obvious that this is exactly how Christians would live, but we don’t. I was struck by the fact that I don’t always rejoice in all circumstances. This week was pretty busy. I had the privilege to preach the gospel of God’s peace and comfort for the funeral of Maurine Striegel on Friday. I had the privilege of seeing what water can do when it is connected to the life-giving Word of God in Baptism as I baptized Hadley on Saturday. Those are reasons to rejoice. But I was not rejoicing about needing to get my whole basement ready for the painting that we are doing this weekend. I was not rejoicing about trying to keep my garden alive because we haven’t had rain in too long. I was not rejoicing that I had office work and other preparations that kept me from enjoying the warmer days outside with my kids.
Paul says, “Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.” Those things should be easy for children of God, but they aren’t. We strive for self-restoration instead of working with others. We gossip about one another, ignore one another, or covet what others have instead of encouraging one another. You each have your own way of thinking about life, relationships, priorities, and our ministries, so being of one mind with another person, even another Christian, can be a tall task.
And finally, Paul says, “live in peace.” This is a common principle in Scripture, because peace is so hard for us to keep. How do you live in peace when there is chaos almost constantly? It comes from all angles. There’s another terrorist attack. There’s another political upheaval. There’s another comment from a coworker. There’s another bully at school. Live at peace with people? Yeah, right!! How’s that possible in this day and age.
Do you notice who has the problem? If I can’t grasp the Triune God it’s not his fault, it’s mine. I’m the one who isn’t smart enough. I’m the one who isn’t peaceful enough. I’m the one who isn’t selfless enough, loving enough, strong enough, positive enough… I’m the one who isn’t perfect enough.
And so this Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – this holy, eternal God that is far too great for me to understand, he decided he would bless me. He decided he wouldn’t curse me. He decided he wouldn’t demand more works of service to make up for what’s wrong in my life. He wouldn’t punish me for my ineptitude. He would bless me. That’s how the God who defies the human mind deals with me. He doesn’t use conventional wisdom because he is far too great for that. He uses divine grace, divine love, and divine fellowship.
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Paul concludes his letter with this familiar blessing, and it couldn’t be more powerful for us. It shows us the way the Holy Trinity deals with sinners.
First, it’s the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace is the only word for it. We didn’t work for it. We didn’t luck into it. We weren’t born into it. We didn’t earn it. We are weak, selfish, sinful, dirty and dying. We are so sinful and opposed to God by nature. Like a beached whale, we swim ourselves into places that kill us. But God’s grace can’t stand to see us in harm’s way. Grace gets to work to help people who don’t deserve it. In fact, grace is so good that Jesus took on our weaknesses, our selfishness, our sins, our dirty and dying lives. He put it all on his shoulders and died for it because he knew we would die separated from God for eternity if he didn’t.
That’s a blessing!
Second, we have the love of God (the Father). Generally speaking, other religions have a god that loves people who first show love to him. That’s a very human trait. Our Father in heaven is the opposite of that. He loves first. Without prompting, he makes a world and people to fill it. When those people blew it and ruined it with sin, he put a plan into action that would cost him so that he could restore our broken relationship with him. He carried it out to perfection, by his grace, and gives it to us free of charge. When we are not even able to make comprehensible sentences, his love takes something like water and drowns our sinful nature in baptism. As we grow he feeds us with his life-giving Word and with the forgiveness of Christ’s body and blood. He loves us like only a perfect Father could. He gives us everything he has, everything he is, and everything that Christ has provided for our salvation. He even promises that nothing can change his loving mind. He will always want you. He will always be willing to have you. Nothing can separate you from your Father’s love that is in Christ Jesus.
That’s a blessing!
Third, we have the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Sin and Satan have done a number on this world and in our hearts, always trying to destroy the unity that our Triune God has established with his redeemed people. Peace is hard to come by. And so the Holy Spirit blows with the power of Pentecost (remember that from last week?). He breaks down walls, not with a humanistic universalism and not with a message of: “we can just get along with our differing ideas of God as long as we both believe in whatever it is we believe. What’s important is that we all agree that no one is absolutely right and no one is absolutely wrong.” He breaks down walls with the law and gospel, with the power of Scripture, with a message that could never originate in the hearts and minds of man, but only in the heart of the Triune God. There is unity and fellowship by the power of the Spirit. It is built on the Word of God and nothing more.
That is a blessing!
This three-fold blessing is what changes life for us. It makes us live in a new way. We live with the name of the Triune God on us. We live with the things Paul encourages: peace, single-mindedness, encouragement, restoration. We live in the glory of the God we can’t understand but firmly believe.
That’s being Lutheran. That’s the legacy we hold to. Over the next couple months we are going to study this legacy, and do you know what you are going to find? We don’t have our own interpretation of the Bible. We don’t have our own rules. We don’t have Luther’s interpretation. We don’t have Luther’s rules. We have the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And that is with you all. Amen.