THE TRIUNE GOD BLESSES US

Week 1 – 6.11.17

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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.

REMOVING DOUBTS IS EASY WITH EASTER

4.23.17 Easter 2A

Easter Season A

John 20

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

CIR HIRI

11 men minus one locked in a room isn’t much of a parade.

As much as I don’t like it, the Cubs won the World Series last fall.  Now, if only ten people showed up in Chicago for the parade, would that be very victorious?  NOT!  Do you know how many fans showed up?  Estimates say 5 million, but I read up on these estimates and there’s just no way.  A closer number is probably 1.5 million.

My point is not to say that media drastically overestimate crowds or that the crowd for the Cubs World Series Championship parade wasn’t that big.   My goodness, that crowd was just about as big as North and South Dakota…combined. My point is that you need tons of people for a parade.  11 men minus one locked in room isn’t much a celebration.

That is exactly the situation on the evening of that first day of the week.  Even though the women had shocked the disciples by saying the tomb was empty and they had personally seen Jesus alive, the disciples couldn’t understand it and doubted.  Peter and John also saw the empty tomb.  Later, as both Luke and Paul record, Peter also saw Jesus alive.  And I’m sure that even though the Jewish religious leaders had paid off the guards to lie about what they experienced early that morning, the news of Jesus’ empty tomb was getting around.

Yet, it was so hard for the disciples to make sense of everything.  They were torn.  On the one side was their faith in Jesus and on the other was the very logical fact that the dead don’t come back.  Doubt and fear was pulling them away from faith in what Jesus says and what God can do.

We are familiar with this tug of war where fear and doubt have a way of ruining a celebration.  It happens in our world.  Do you remember the end of the Boston Marathon a few years ago?  A couple homemade bombs went off near the finish line, killing 3 and injuring hundreds more.  It’s sad that these types of things happen.  Finishing a marathon is one of those really happy times.  I’ve done it twice.  It’s a relief.  It’s joyous.  It’s really – we’re talking really – tiring, but also so exciting to have completed something that is so challenging.

The sad result of terrorist bombings and shootings is the fear and doubt they cause.  There are probably still runners and spectators (along with parents with kids in school, fans a big games, and world travelers) who are on alert and can’t relax, if not worse, because of the damage that fear and doubt causes.

The doubts and fears were bad for Thomas to the point where he wasn’t even with the other 10 that Sunday evening.  He did something that never helps believers going through these tough situations.  He got out of there.  He put distance between himself and his Christian friends.  They may not have been super strong influences because their doubts and fear were getting the best of them, too, but they could at least remind each other of Jesus’ words.

But this happens to us, doesn’t it?  We have fears.  We have doubts.  Sometimes we distance ourselves from the people who can help us with Jesus’ words and promises the most.  Now, it’s not going to happen when things are going great.  Remember how different the disciples felt when Jesus physically appeared to those 10 men that night.  Doubts were gone. Jesus was 100% alive. Shocking? Yes!  Amazing? Yes!  Life-changing? Yes!  Their fears vanished.

When you get into the program that you have been dreaming of, when you get the job you have been working and waiting for, when something awesome happens like winning the lottery, I’m guessing those are not the times when you doubt that God exists.  When you get married to the person you want to love for the rest of your life or when you hold your newborn child, those are not the times when you doubt God’s love for you.

Doubts and fears don’t tug and pull us so seriously when things are going great.  It is easy to have faith in Jesus when everything is sailing along smoothly.  We think God is obviously happy with us and providing for us.  The doubt and fear get to us in times of challenge and change.  When the bills are piling up, when the doctor says, “I’ve got some bad news,” when the spouse you are committed to spend the rest of your life with says “I don’t want to spend another day with you,” when kids start growing up and face the peer pressure to fit in and do what everybody else is doing – these are the times when doubts and fears grab hold and drag us down.

Faith in Jesus and his words is assaulted in times of challenge and change.  Thomas was not with the ones who could help him out.  He was an island buffeted by the waves.  His faith was bombarded from every side.  When anything is allowed to take aim at your faith like that, it doesn’t lead us in a good direction.  Doubts and fears pull us away from God.  Guilt and even our own human reason drag us toward unbelief.

Now, it is important to note that Thomas’s faith is not gone.  It’s just that everything was tipping him toward the unbelief side.  It’s a dangerous path to be on, and he’s going at it all alone, which leads to the next problem: placing an unreasonable burden of proof on God.

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Show of hands: has anyone been to Peru, seen Machu Picchu?  Why would you believe that there is such a country in South America if you have never been there?  You believe it because others have seen it and been there, it’s on a map, all the maps, and maybe you saw the 29 athletes march at opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio.  I can personally attest to the fact that Peru exists.  I went there on a mission trip after my senior year at Luther Prep.

Thomas had all sorts of people telling him that Jesus was alive, but he places a burden of proof on God that he doesn’t place on any others.  That’s how Satan attacks our faith.  When there are doubts, then they have to be answered.  Satan convinces us that they have to be answered our way, which he will gladly help us dream up some crazy demands.

When you say, “For me to know how much God loves me, it is not enough for him to take away my sin, but he has to take away all my problems in life,” you are placing a burden of proof on God that you wouldn’t place on others.  For your kids to show their love to you, they don’t have to make the whole day perfect for you, just cleaning their room without being asked shows that.  When you say, “God has to show his power by giving me everything I have decided I need in life,” you are saying God has to do something you wouldn’t expect others to do for you.

This is the heart of someone who is struggling with doubts and fears.  This is the life of someone who is in the situation those 10 disciples were dealing with before Jesus appeared to them or Thomas even after the disciples were telling him they saw Jesus alive.  The doubt and fears that come during times of challenge or change pull us away from faith in Jesus and start making unreasonable demands.

Do you know what Thomas needed more than God meeting his demands?  The same thing we need when doubts and fears are steering us away from Jesus.   We don’t need God to do something that will appease us.   We need God to do what God does.  We need what only Jesus can give.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” … Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! … A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

We don’t need God to prove his love our way.  We need God to show his love his way, which is much better than anything we could come up with.  Jesus proved God’s love at Christmas, at his Baptism, as he made his way to Jerusalem the last time knowing what was coming, on Good Friday when he endured all the physical pain and also the pain of suffering for the sins of the world as God turned his back on him.  We don’t need God to prove his power our way.  We need his to show his power his way.  Jesus did that on Easter.  A dead Savior does us no good, so he showed us his eternal power over death.

This God who proves his love and power his way, not ours.  He says we have peace now.  Jesus is so compassionate and tender with the runaways.  That’s what the disciples were.  They had deserted him, denied him, doubted him.  Yet, Jesus was so calm and caring for them, bringing God’s peace.  That’s what grace is, my friends.

Peace that Jesus is giving here is not the way English speakers think of peace.  This isn’t freedom from tension or hostility between two groups, like a truce between two fighting brothers. Jesus never had any hostility toward his disciples. That’s not the way Hebrews heard the word, peace (Shalom).  This was wholeness and completeness of body, mind, and spirit.  It means everything in your life is just right.

In order to have that kind of peace, you don’t need the biggest house on the block, the best wardrobe or the most friends.  In order to have this kind of peace in your life, you need a God who says your sins are gone, you need a Savior who says Satan cannot touch you, you need the living One who says death cannot destroy you.

Brothers and sisters, that’s Easter. CIR HIRI  The disciples had a living Savior.  He removed the doubts and fears with his gracious presence and peace.  He proclaimed complete forgiveness.  Only a living Savior can do that.  It meant they were whole.  Everything was just right.

The same was true for Thomas.  Jesus had the same peace for him, which not only got him back from the doubts and fears, but also assured Thomas that his sins were paid for in full and eternal life in heaven was his personal possession.

Where does that leave us?  We weren’t in the room, but Jesus included us when he said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Faith in Jesus doesn’t need to lay a huge burden of proof on God.  Faith in Jesus trusts him because he is the one who conquered death for us.  He is the one who lives now to watch over us and bless us with his word.

If we still have to deal with the doubts and fears – and we do – if we still got hung up on our guilt – and we do – I think there is something we can learn here from Thomas.  He was MIA from the group that Easter evening, but not the next week.  He was with his Christian friends, who wanted to help him with his doubts and fears.  That’s when Jesus brought him close with the joy of Easter.  Thomas had Jesus’ peace and forgiveness.  Jesus strengthened his faith.

That’s where we need to be.  We need to be with God’s people in God’s house listening to our living Savior speak.  Easter means that what we do here in this place is not something kinda, sorta important.  Easter means this Word of God is alive.  It crushes doubts and fears.  It brings us close to Jesus.  Literally, dig in as much as you need, daily and with others if need be, because in the Word Jesus gives you his peace and blessings.

That’s why John ends this section with these beautiful words, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  Easter is all about life, not death.  It’s about victory that is ours through faith in Jesus.  Doubts and fears are crushed when Jesus speaks with peace and love to us.

And so Easter leads us to say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” 

Amen.