Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost (A-Proper 6)
June 18, 2017
Text: Matt. 9:35-10:8
Guest Preacher: The Rev. Timothy Rossow - Lutherans in Africa

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity (A)
June 11, 2017
Text: Matt. 28:16-20

            “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity.  Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us” (Liturgical Text for Holy Trinity).  Our God, in His essence, is a glorious and profound mystery, not for us to comprehend, but to worship and adore in reverence and awe.  One God, who is three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Three Persons, who are one God, of one divine essence.  In our confession of this God, we dare neither confuse the Persons, nor divide the Substance.  We can only say what God has said of Himself.  Beyond that, we must put a finger to our lips, neither adding nor subtracting from His self-revelation.  And we dare never think we have it all figured out, the Tri-Unity of God.  It doesn’t work mathematically, at least not to our fallen understanding.  Three is One, and One is Three.  It doesn’t even work grammatically.  We speak of Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We speak of Them as one God.  That’s the point.  He is beyond our reason and comprehension.  Dr. Luther says, “It is not the function of reason to inquire in what manner the Person differs from the Deity itself; not even the angels understand this mystery.”[1]  No, we cannot figure Him out.  No, we cannot master Him.  He is God, and we are not.  He tells us what we need to know of Him, and no more.  Our speculation is useless.  He is who He is.  “I AM WHO I AM,” is His Name (Ex. 3:14; ESV).  And no other is who He is.  We fall on our knees before the glory of His majesty.  “Holy, Holy, Holy,” we sing, as we bow before Him with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
            But He does not leave Himself inaccessible and unknown to us.  He comes to us in the flesh of His Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, our Savior.  If you want to know God, you look upon Jesus.  Apart from Jesus, you cannot know God.  Jesus is the self-revelation and the self-giving of God.  God the Son, the Second Person of the incomprehensible Trinity, became a man, took on our flesh, made Himself one with us.  “For in him the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9).  And what does our God reveal of Himself in the Person of Jesus?  He reveals His profound love to save us.  He reveals His compassion, His determination to rescue us from death and the devil, to forgive our sins.  He will do Himself to death to make this our reality, to reconcile us to Himself.  If you want to know God, and particularly how He is toward you, look at Jesus on the cross.  That is who God is.  That is God for you.
            But this God for you doesn’t do you any good unless you know about Him.  Therefore our Lord Jesus Christ, after His victorious resurrection from the dead and prior to His ascension into heaven, provided His Church with the means of making disciples, those who walk in the discipline, the teaching, of Christ.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” He says in our text, and He bids us make disciples in a very specific way: “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” (Matt. 28:19-20).  He does not give the Church a slick new program for growth.  He does not command the Church to be innovative or winsome to the world.  Here’s what you do, Church of God, to make disciples.  Holy Baptism: water joined to God’s Word and Name for the forgiveness of sins.  You place the Triune Name of God on the disciple: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And then you teach.  You teach the Word of Jesus.  And you don’t just teach the stuff you like.  You don’t get to avoid teaching the stuff that isn’t politically correct.  And you don’t get to avoid topics that are incomprehensible, like the teaching on the Holy Trinity.  No, what does Jesus say?  Teach them “to observe all that I have commanded you,” the whole counsel of God. 
            Now, baptizing and teaching, these always go together.  You dare not separate the two.  For infants and young children, we baptize them first because they cannot intellectually understand the teaching.  As sinners, they need Jesus, and Baptism gives them Jesus, and gives them faith to believe in Him.  But then the rest of their lives we teach them.  That is why Sunday School and Catechism class are absolutely imperative for raising your children in the faith, and your own teaching them at home by Scripture readings and devotions and prayers are vital.  And make sure they are here in the Divine Service.  Use the cry room, sure, if you want to.  But I’m telling you now, if you ever decide the children are going to go somewhere else during the Sunday morning service, to a nursery or “children’s church,” or whatever, I will preach against it every Sunday until you run me out.  They need to be here.  And we can put up with a little noise for the sake of teaching our little ones how to sit and listen, and how this is precisely for them.  Jesus has something to say about this when His disciples try to keep the little children away.  He is indignant with them, and what does He say to them?  “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14).  We should always rejoice to hear the children in this congregation, because that means they’re here and they’re listening and learning and being fed by the Savior.  And that’s the future of our Church.
            Then there are those who come to faith as adults by the hearing of the Word.  These we teach and then baptize.  And then we teach them some more for the rest of their life.  The order of it isn’t the important part (although we should never unduly delay Holy Baptism, even for adults), but that the two always go together.  Baptism is the new birth from above, from the Holy Spirit, and the teaching and learning of God’s Word is the life of the baptized, those washed at the font.  They are inseparable.  And by these God-given Means of Grace, Baptism and teaching, the Holy Spirit makes disciples for Himself.  Of all nations.  That means everybody.  Young and old (are infants not part of the “all nations” we are to baptize and teach?), male and female, rich and poor, from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue.  We saw this last week in the Pentecost event.  The Spirit blew through and the apostles were preaching in the languages of all the people in the miraculous gift of tongues.  The Gospel is for all. 
            Which means the Gospel is for you.  You see, this is the glorious truth of this Day, the Feast of the Holy Trinity.  This God, who is incomprehensible, almighty, all seeing, all knowing, immutable, eternal, omnipresent, faithful, holy, good… This God has made Himself known to you in Jesus and His Word.  That’s incredible.  It’s unbelievable, until the Holy Spirit gives you the faith to the believe it.  This God is for you.  This God loves you.  This God gave His Son into death for you, to make you His own.  You don’t know everything about Him, nor does He owe you an explanation of everything about Him.  But you know Him.  You know Him in Jesus, and you know Him intimately.  He is your God.  You are His, and He is yours.  His Name is on you.  His Word is in you, in your ears and in your mind, in your heart and in your soul.  You are Baptized.  You have been taught and you are ever learning more and more of Him.  You are precious to Him and loved.  He made Himself one with you in the Person of Jesus.  He came down to you in the flesh.  He comes down to you, and makes you one with Him, baptizing you into Christ and feeding you with His body and blood.  You cannot know everything about Him, but you can and do know Him
            Now we should say a couple of things about the parts of the Athanasian Creed that always bother everybody.  First of all, the word “catholic” does not mean Roman Catholic.  You’re just going to have to get that out of your mind.  “Catholic” means literally “according to the whole,” as in according to the whole teaching of Christ believed and taught in His whole Church, as He commanded in our Holy Gospel this morning, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  We are good catholics, beloved.  Don’t let our Roman friends have all the good stuff. 
            We also get all hot and bothered about the idea that whoever desires to be saved must hold this catholic faith, namely, what we confess in this Creed about the Trinity and the Person of Christ.  What about all those nice people who say they’re Christians, but don’t teach the Trinity like we do?  There are some strains of Pentecostalism, including some very prominent TV evangelists, like T.D. Jakes just to name and example, who do not confess the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity, One God, Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  They say there is one God, who was the Father, then came as the Son, and now works as the Holy Spirit.  It’s an ancient heresy called modalism.  Beloved, it isn’t nice to say, but these do not worship the same God you do.  They are not Christians.  And what about those nice people who say that Jesus is a god, but not the same god as the father.  He’s a really good man, so good, in fact, that he can be called god, but he’s not really god.  That’s the Jehovah’s witnesses.  They are a newer version of the ancient heresy called Arianism, against which this Creed was written.  The Mormons, likewise, deny that Father, Son, and Spirit are one God.  We say this in love, but what else can you say?  They do not believe in the one true God.  They are not Christians.  And love doesn’t shirk the responsibility to say hard things like that.  If you do not love your neighbor, let them go on in their demonic deception and so perish eternally.  If you love them, confess the one true God to them, the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity, and Jesus Christ who is God and man in one Person, who died for your sins and has been raised from the dead.  Love does the hard things.
            Finally, there is this bit that especially bothers the Lutherans about those who have done good entering into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.  No, this  is not a teaching of works righteousness, beloved.  This is simply Matthew 25 and the sheep and the goats.  Those who are in Christ, you who are baptized and believe in Him, have been forgiven all your sins, all your evil works.  And you’ve been given credit for all Jesus’ good works.  And all your own works have been washed by His blood.  So you enter eternal life.  But those who do not believe in Him have only their own works to rely on, and those works have not been made holy by Jesus’ blood.  They are still in their sins.  They go to eternal fire. 
            If this Creed makes you uncomfortable, good.  Repent of fashioning your own gods and your own religion.  Then rejoice.  God is for you.  He loves you.  He has given Himself to you in Christ.  Your sins are forgiven.  His Name is on you and you know Him.  Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity.  Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

[1] Quoted in Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics Volume I (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950) p. 398.