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Sermon for Sunday 16 June 2019

First Reading                        Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

1Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? 2On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; 3beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud: 4“To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man.

22“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. 23Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, 26before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. 27When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth 30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.”

Psalm                                                              Psalm 8

1O Lord our Lord, how exalted is your Name in all the world! 2Out of the mouths of infants and children your majesty is praised above the heavens. 3You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, to quell the enemy and the avenger. 4When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, 5What is man that you should be mindful of him? the son of man that you should seek him out? 6You have made him but little lower than the angels; you adorn him with glory and honor; 7You give him mastery over the works of your hands; you put all things under his feet: 8All sheep and oxen, even the wild beasts of the field, 9The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea. 10O Lord our Lord, how exalted is your name in all the world!

Second Reading                            Acts 2:14a, 22-36

14aPeter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them:

22“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know — 23this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. 28You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ 29Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Gospel                                                        John 8:48-59

48The Jews answered {Jesus}, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.


I heard about a preacher who proudly boasted that he does not preach doctrinal sermons.  To justify his statement, he says they’re boring and people don’t understand or relate to them.  Furthermore, he claimed, I’m a preacher, not a theologian.  I get down to the practical issues and simply preach Christ crucified.  Odd claim.  While I might understand his assertions, his thinking however, is flawed on several points.  First, he’s wrong when he says that he’s not a theologian.

The fact is, everyone, to a certain extent, is a theologian.  Just because we generally reserve the word theologian for those with doctorate degrees and who dedicate themselves to theological education, this doesn’t mean that others aren’t in a way also theologians.  The word theology means study of God.  Therefore, theology is nothing more than what one thinks, believes or understands about God.  One person may forward that they don’t believe in God.  That then is their theology.  I would also take issue with him when he claims that he doesn’t preach theology, but gets down to practical issues.  For me, there is no difference between good theology and good practice.  Good, solid theology gets down to the very core of our existence and our relationship with God.

Finally, I would disagree with him when he says that we should only preach Christ crucified.  I know that’s what the Apostle Paul said, but this preacher doesn’t mean what Paul meant.  He’s saying that he only preaches about the cross and saving the sinner.  I submit to you that the cross is not central in Paul’s theology; rather, it’s Christ Himself.  It always puzzled me why some ministers preach the message of salvation to people who have been sitting in the pews all their life when they need so much more of Jesus’ teaching on life’s other issues.  There are many notes on a piano.  For Diane or Libby to make the beautiful music we hear, all of them must be played, not just one.  

This is why we, in the Lutheran church, honor the lectionary and the seasons of the church year.  This insures a witness to both Law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  How can one go through the season of Advent and not touch upon the doctrine of the incarnation?  How can one go through Lent without touching upon the doctrine of the resurrection?  Likewise, how can we embark upon the season of Pentecost, as we did last week, without mentioning the doctrine of the Holy Trinity?

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday.  This is a day that has been celebrated in the Christian church since the 10th century.  It’s on this occasion that ministers around the world address themselves to the subject of the triune God.  Confession:  I must admit that this isn’t a subject that comes easy.  Trying to explain the unexplainable is more than a bit frustrating.  However, according to Luther, despite the difficulty of the task, it’s necessary for all who believe to wrestle with this doctrine.  So, each year we struggle and teach what we do know, and accept the fact that what we don’t understand we leave to faith.

With that said, let me begin by saying that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity does not attempt to explain God.  It only explains, in a very elemental way, what God has revealed to us about Himself so far.  To describe the tip of the iceberg above the water is not to describe the entire iceberg.  So, we Christians affirm the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not as an explanation of God, but simply as a way of describing what we do understand and teach about Him.

This past Tuesday I, as usual, spent the morning with my fellow pastors and as is usual, we discussed the readings for this Sunday.  Our discussions are generally lively but this week they were livelier than normal.  One pastor forwarded that he was well versed on the subject, claiming that he wrote his master’s thesis on the Trinity.  For him, he refused to use the word mystery since this is usually a copout used by preachers to get out of struggling with the subject.  In that aspect, he’s correct.  I know a lot of pastors who say this and then move on, never even bothering to teach the basics.  However, he’s also a bit arrogant and partially wrong. 

Yes, many pastor’s let go to quickly and go right to the fact that the Triune God is a mystery.  How do we understand that there is one God, one essence, but three distinct persons?  How these three persons are from the beginning, yet the Son is begotten of the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  We know from the Bible that in the beginning the Spirit moved over the waters and that God created.  We read in St. John’s gospel that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, and all things were created through Him (1:1-3).  We have Jesus’ words as He tells us that He and the Father are one (John 10:30).  Of how Jesus answered Philip’s question by saying, “those who have seen me have seen the Father” (John 14:9).  Yet Jesus also says, “no one has seen the Father, accept the One who is from God” (John 6:46).  All these passages, and many more, tell us things and attributes about God.  They tell us about God’s nature, how He acts and interacts with His creation.

We read throughout both Testaments about the work and nature of God, and of the attributes of each person of the Holy Trinity.  Yet, we still struggle with understanding exactly how all this works.  One in three, three in one.  So, what we need to accept is that the Bible reveals God to us through the written word and through Jesus the Word made flesh.  Yet, the idea of the Holy Trinity is not emphatically stated as a doctrine in the Bible.  

However, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is, by implication, stated many times.  The early Christians soon discovered that they simply couldn’t speak of God without speaking of the three ways in which He had revealed Himself to them.  Again, this doesn’t mean that we teach that there are three Gods.  It means that there is one God who has shown Himself in three ways:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  That being said, as Luther instructed, let’s struggle a bit this morning and see what we can learn by reviewing the Bible and the writings of the church.

First, each Sunday we affirm, through one of the Creeds, that we believe in God the Father.  The issue isn’t whether or not there is a God.  Ninety-six percent of all Americans, according to Mr. Gallop, believe in the existence of a God in some form or another.  The real question is what kind of a God?  According to Thomas Jefferson, for example, God was like a big cosmic watchmaker.  He created the universe and wound it up and let it go.  The world is now in the process of simply letting itself run down.  God, according to Mr. Jefferson, has completely detached Himself from His creation.

Others, like the philosopher Nitche, say that there once was a God, but He’s now dead.  They say that the God of the universe so completely poured Himself into the person of Jesus Christ that when Jesus died on the cross God himself died.  These views are, of course, foreign to the Christian way of thinking.  We affirm that the same God who molded the universe, is alive today and cares about what happens in our life.  We firmly teach and believe that He is actively and mysteriously involved in helping to shape the events of our life.  And the fact that we refer to the first person of the Holy Trinity as Father, also says something about what God is like.

In fact, Jesus went so far as to refer to God not only as Father but as Abba, which is the Hebrew word meaning Daddy.  Can you imagine referring to the creator of an endless universe, the creator of countless solar systems as Daddy?  As child I used that word when talking with my father.  Of course, as I got older, I thought I had become more sophisticated and I dropped that word when talking about dad and referred to him as my father.  It didn’t take long for me to go full circle.  Now when I talk about my father, he’s my dad.  In many ways, this is the way we need to think of our heavenly Father; as a loving dad who waits patiently for us while we foolishly wonder off to the far countries in our life and do our own thing.  Then, when we come to ourselves, He’s there to meet us on the road and joyfully take us back in.

Maybe it’s easier for us to think of God as the omnipotent, holy other, righteous, all-powerful, as judge.  These of course are all traits of the Divine and we must indeed bear these in mind anytime we think about God.  But we also, in our Christian understanding of the nature of God, must learn to think of God as our loving, kind, gentle, sympathetic, understanding and compassionate Father.  I realize that there are stern images of God in both the Old and New Testaments, even in the Gospels; yet, these too are portrayals of God.  God is all these things and more.  However, from beginning to end, the love of God is the major emphasis. 

St. John, in his epistle, goes to the very heart of this and says God is love.  There is no message which breaks down the resistance of disobedient hearts like the message of persistent love.  A love bestowed in spite of what we’ve done; a love given that was not earned; a love that came despite our resistance; a love that healed when sickness pervaded our soul; a love that, to this day, restores and restores.  The prophet Jeremiah caught the true message of our religion when he heard God say to him, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”  One final word on this subject.

It’s a misconception among some Christians and scholars who say that when Christ came to earth God somehow changed.  Where He had been stern and judgmental, they would say, He now became loving and compassionate.  In James Mitchern’s book HAWAII, we read the story of a Christian missionary living in the early 1700’s going to the islands to convert the natives.  When he arrives, he’s shocked to see half naked native people, men who have several wives, and the King who is married to his own sister according to native custom.  He brings a message of damnation to these people.

The only thing he succeeded in doing is bringing unhappiness to a people who were once happy and content.  By the end of the movie we see how this missionary has totally changed.  Having lived with the people he now loves them and has compassion for them.  It’s easy for us to say that God changed when Christ came and lived among us.  The fact is, God is unchanging.  His divine purpose has always been one of relationship, redemption and love.  There was nothing wrong with the law that God gave to Moses and the Jews.  What was wrong was our turning it into an end in itself.  The very reason for creation itself is that God is a God of overflowing love.  The result of that love was life itself.  Next, in the Creeds we affirm and teach a belief in the Son, Jesus Christ.

We proclaim that God took on human flesh, came and lived among us, suffered the same trials that we suffered, experienced the same feelings that we experienced.  We profess and teach that Jesus is fully human and fully divine.  Jesus is God and at the same time not God.  Jesus is not the Father nor is He God the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is God, incarnate:  God who took humanity into Himself.  There is a difference.  Jesus never drew attention to Himself, rather, He always pointed people to God.  Danish theologian Soren Kiekegard tells a story of a prince who wanted to find a maiden suitable to be his queen.

One day while running an errand in the local village for his father, he passed through a poor section.  As he glanced out the windows of the carriage his eyes fell upon a beautiful peasant maiden.  During the ensuing days he often passed by the young lady and soon fell in love.  But he had a problem.  How would he seek her hand? 

He could certainly order her to marry him.  But even a prince wants his bride to marry him freely and voluntarily and not through coercion.  He could put on his most splendid uniform and drive up to her front door in a carriage drawn by six horses.  But if he did this, he would never be certain that the maiden loved him or was simply overwhelmed with all the splendor.  So, the prince came up with another solution.  He would give up his robes, move into the village, entering not with a crown but in the garb of a peasant.  He lived among the people, shared their interests and concerns, and talked their language.  In time the maiden grew to love him for who he was and loved him because he had first loved her.

This simple, almost childlike story, written by one of the most brilliant minds of our time explains what we Christians mean by the incarnation.  God came and lived, among us.  And I’m glad that this happened for two reasons:  One, it shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is with us, that He’s on our side, and that He loves us.  Two, it gives us a firsthand view of what the mind of God is really all about.  When people ask what God is like, we as Christians point to the person of Jesus Christ.  God Himself is incomprehensible.  But in Jesus Christ this incomprehensible God makes Himself knowable, approachable.  We get a glimpse of His glory.  In the person of Jesus, we’re told that the mysterious Other, who created the stars, the universe and all that exists, is willing to go all the way, even to a cross, so that a single person may be redeemed.  That’s what God is like.  That’s the God we say we believe in when we say we believe in Jesus Christ.  Finally, we affirm and teach a belief in the Holy Spirit.

Who is the Holy Spirit?  In the Nicene Creed we say, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son and with the Father and Son He is worshiped and glorified.”  In a translated Korean version of the creed, they say, we believe in the Holy Spirit, the God who is present with us for guidance, for comfort and for strength,” and a more modern version words it: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the divine presence in our lives, whereby we are kept in perpetual remembrance of the truth of Christ and find strength and help in time of need.”  To put this another way, the Holy Spirit is the infinite become intimate.  It’s the Beyond that is within.  It’s the realization of the presence of the living God.  Intimacy with God.  That’s just one thing that the Holy Spirit brings to our lives.  But this aspect also brings with it a danger.

We must always be careful lest we identify the work of the Holy Spirit with our own deep feelings and impulses.  Virtually every conceivable error of judgment or breakdown in intelligence within the church can, and has been, attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Whether it’s the capital punishment of heretics as was done in the middle ages or the acceptance of sexual immorality as normative, or the moving of pedophile priest from church to church; church bodies have sanctioned some un-biblical behavior under the guise of “It seems good to us and to the Holy Spirit.”  To conclude, let me close with this thought on the Holy Trinity.

Someone once asked Mrs. Albert Einstein if she understood her husband’s theory of relativity.  No, she said, but I know my husband.  We cannot begin to fathom the incomprehensible mysteries of God, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot know God.  Yes, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is inexplicable.  Yes, trying to understand God as one God, one essence from eternity, yet manifested in three distinct persons is beyond our intellectual capability.  This is why God chose to make Himself known to us in the person of Jesus Christ who says I am your brother, and you can know the Father through Me.  Then let’s accept that this is what God chooses to do.  He reveals Himself through Jesus and with the help of the Holy Spirit we can know God and be in a relationship with Him.


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