Blessed Be the Holy Trinity

Text: Creed

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways…from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”[1] St. Paul wrote this to the Romans after considering the mystery of salvation. God the Father sent forth His only-begotten Son into the flesh to suffer and die for the sins of the world. By this work, He accomplished salvation for His people. Those who are saved, He foreknew and elected to salvation by granting them the gift of faith – which itself is worked in human hearts through the Holy Spirit. This great grace and love of God is hard for us humans to understand, so St. Paul simply ends with a doxology – a hymn of praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today we celebrate the Festival of the Holy Trinity. This is a Sunday set aside for centuries to give praise to our glorious and awesome God by speaking specifically about this wonderful doctrine. The Christian faith is wrapped up into this doctrine: we worship one God who exists eternally in three persons. None is before or after another, none is greater or lesser than the other. Yet, there are not three Gods, but one God. Though human reason cannot understand, yet faith confesses that God has revealed Himself to us as a Trinity. Our salvation rests in Him alone.

I.

In our time together today, we want to confess both what we believe about the Trinity and why this doctrine is important. We’re going to do it backwards, though, and start with why faith in the Trinity is important. We’ve been spending a lot of time in the Easter season and Pentecost hearing from Jesus’ final words before His passion. Shortly before He was betrayed, in St. John’s Gospel there’s what is called the “High Priestly Prayer.” Right at the start of the prayer, our Lord prayed this, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”[2] Jesus breaks down for us what eternal life is. In addition to rescue from sin and death and living in eternal joy, eternal life is to know God and to be in fellowship with Him. To be in communion with God is to receive eternal life. Apart from knowledge of God, there is no life.

Therefore, God revealed Himself to mankind. He revealed Himself generally through nature and the conscience. But, so that man might know Him fully and thus receive salvation, God revealed Himself through the Scriptures. Through the Scriptures He has revealed Himself to be a plurality of persons, yet unity of substance. Trinity is the word we use to describe this. Trinity means, “three-in-one.” The Trinity is revealed to us throughout Scripture, but there are two passages which you probably already know. The first, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[3] The second is from St. Paul, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”[4] Our Lord tells us to Baptize in the name of the Triune God, yet is also clear to confess that He and the Father are one God. You might’ve noticed last week in the Tower of Babel, how the one God spoke in the plural, as He also did at Creation.

II.

The first question to answer today is why we believe in the Trinity, and why are compelled to confess our faith. The answer to that is because to know God is to know eternal life. To not know Him is death. So that we might have life, the Lord revealed Himself to us in Scripture as one God in three persons. Scripture teaches us that we are saved by faith. But, faith saves not because it is a good work which merits righteousness. Faith saves because of its object. We are saved not because we have faith, but because of what our faith is in – namely, in God the Father who sent His Son and, who by the Holy Spirit has called us to faith.

Since we’re doing this backwards, the next question is what do we believe? We believe, as we’ve already said, “the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance…the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three God, but one God.”[5] This is the Christian faith. We believe in one eternal God, who exists in three persons. All three are God, all three are Lord. None are before or after another, none is lesser or greater than another. They differ in relation to each other in that the Father begat the Son, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. They differ in their work in that the Father primarily is the Creator, the Son the Redeemer, and the Spirit the Sanctifier. Yet, they are all active in each work as one God. You’re probably thinking that this is impossible for us to understand, and you’re right. Human reason cannot understand the Trinity. It can only and must be believed.

We believe in one God, three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. None are more God than the other, and none are less. There are some common misunderstandings when it comes to the Trinity. The first is what non-Christians sometimes charge us with, namely, that we are really polytheists – that we worship three gods. That is not true. We hold to the Scripture which says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”[6]

On the other side are misunderstandings that were created within the Church, which the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds were written against. In order to preserve the oneness of God, some taught that the Son was, indeed, God – but was created by the Father. They said that there was a time when the Son did not exist. Others, taught that the three persons of the Trinity were just different masks that the one God put on. In other words, you could not have all persons of the Trinity in the same place at the same time. And still, others, which are today known as Unitarians, taught that the one God acts in three different ways, sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son, and sometimes as the Spirit.

Against these teachings we believe the Scripture, such as at our Lord’s Baptism. Our Lord was in the water, the Father spoke from heaven, and the Spirit descended in the form of a dove. We believe the words of our Lord, who taught us to baptize in the one name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And, we receive the words of angelic praise, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.”[7] We worship the God of our salvation, who has and always will exist in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

III.

As we’re nearing the close of this sermon, since we’ve answered why we should confess the Trinity and what we believe, we might ask, also, what comfort this doctrine brings. I would venture that the comfort that this doctrine brings is this: we have divinely transcendent God who far above all creation, whose ways are unsearchable, unknowable, and inscrutable – but who yet is also near and ever present in our lives and at work for our salvation. God the Father is the author and source of all life, He created all things and knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. He provides for us our daily bread and protects us from all evil. He sent forth His Son.

The second person of the Trinity became man. He did not change from God to man but brought humanity up into Himself. He suffered and died for the sins of the world. By His ascension, He is preparing our own ascension to His side and He continues to dwell among us by His Word and Sacrament. From Him and the Father, the Spirit proceeds. The Spirit works through the Word of the Son to call all people to faith. He creates faith in the hearts of those who hear the Word and works through the Sacraments to sustain them. The Spirit dwells even within our hearts and intercedes for us with the Son to the Father. He comforts us in our weaknesses and helps us to pray.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not something we’ll understand this side of eternity, but it is true, and our salvation depends on it. Jesus said eternal life is knowing God and knowing Him as He has been revealed by the Son through the Holy Spirit. We who have received that life, therefore, give all glory to the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.”


 

[1] Romans 11:33, 36, English Standard Version.

[2] Jn. 17:1-3.

[3] Mt. 28:19.

[4] 2 Cor. 13:14.

[5] Athanasian Creed, 3-4; 15-16.

[6] Deut. 6:4.

[7] Is. 6:3.

Thrice-Holy Forgiver of Sins

Text: Isaiah 6:1-7

 

“Blessèd be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.” This Sunday is one of the few, if not the only, Sundays, where we focus not on an event in our Lord’s ministry or life, but a doctrine. In Scripture, the God of all creation reveals Himself to us as a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three are co-eternal and co-equal, none existing apart from or without another. We worship one God in three Persons. This is how God has revealed Himself to us.

Unfortunately, over time different and competing understandings of God began to spread. The Jews, for example, believed in the Trinity in the Old Testament, but rejected it when the Son of God became flesh. The Gnostics also rejected the divinity of Jesus. Both of these are addressed in Scripture, in St. Paul’s letters and St. John’s. But, then, in the fourth century, a pastor named Arius began teaching that there was a time when the Son of God didn’t exist. He was a very popular pastor, and his teaching in part led to the Nicene Creed being written, and also the Athanasian Creed.

Today, the Church sets aside time to both praise our eternal, Triune God and to firm up and make clear our confession of faith in the Trinity. We asked in the Collect of the Day that God would keep us steadfast in this faith and preserve us against all adversity. In Sacred Scripture, the one true God reveals Himself to us as a Trinity, who alone takes away our guilt and pardons our iniquity.

I.

I said that today we want to firm up and make clear our confession of faith in the Triune God. The first step in that, though, is acknowledging that we aren’t going to understand everything. There will never be a time in this sinful flesh, when we will perfectly understand the Trinity. I am confident that we will in the new creation; But, for now, we see as in a mirror dimly, St. Paul said. St. Paul also said in our Epistle text, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!”[1] This passage comes at the end of St. Paul’s discussion of another difficult doctrine, predestination. I’ve always pictured him, at this point, as just throwing up his hands, confessing his faith in the Trinity, and being done for the day. And, that’s actually how it ends. He says, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”[2]

That text is good, because St. Paul’s brings out this idea: that we aren’t called to understand everything, but believe. Consider the doctrine of the Trinity. We aren’t called to understand every little bit and piece of it, but we are called to believe it and confess it as truth. Why? Because the Triune God is the true God, who takes away the guilt of our sins and pardons our iniquity. That is plain what the Scripture says. We like to tell ourselves we live an age of science and reason, and we must therefore have a logical backing, first, before we can believe anything. You aren’t going to prove the Trinity from human reasoning nor from science. Don’t even try. Instead, believe; because that’s what Scripture says. It is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”[3] Our Lord also said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”[4] The Triune God has hidden Himself from human reason, but reveals Himself even to little children through Scripture.

II.

Okay, so we aren’t going to understand the Trinity this side of Eden. That’s alright. We aren’t called to totally understand what has been revealed to us, but to believe it. St. Peter says it this way,

Our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him…there are some things…that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist…as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore…take care that you are not carried away…but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior.[5]

We aren’t called to understand, but believe. And, in order for us to believe in the Trinity, it must first be revealed to us. In Scripture. Where, in Scripture, is the Trinity – one God in three persons – revealed to us?

We’ll start with the words straight from our Lord’s mouth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (notice, singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[6] We remember also the revelation of the Trinity at Jesus’ Baptism. Remember how the Father spoke from heaven, the Spirit descended as a dove, the Son in the water? Just last week, in the Gospel lesson, Jesus said this: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name…will teach you all things.”[7] Jesus even proved the Trinity, along with His own being God, from the Old Testament. One time the Pharisees came to Him, and Jesus asked them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls [the Christ] Lord, saying ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’”[8] Jesus linked the Holy Spirit, the Father, and the Son together from the Old Testament and pointed out that David believed in the Trinity.

Time doesn’t permit us to list all the other proofs of the Trinity in the New Testament, how Sts. Paul, John, and Peter, James, and Jude all make mention, as do the Gospels and the letter to the Hebrews. But, what about the Old Testament? Is the Trinity just a New Testament thing? Nope. Where can we go to prove the Trinity from the Old Testament, and show that Old Testament believers knew this doctrine?

The simplest place to go, and the one you already know, is Creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Later it says, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” Then it says, “God created man in His own image.” Even in English, you can hear the one God saying, “Let us.” In Hebrew, the word for God here is Elohim, which is plural. And yet, all the actions are singular. And, of course, it also says in Genesis 1, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

The easiest place to go to prove the Trinity from the Old Testament is Genesis 1. But, how can we prove Old Testament Christians believed this, and that we aren’t just making it up after the fact? Fast forward to Moses. In his final days, he spoke to the people of Israel, “Is not [God] your Father, who created you?[9] Moses mentioned the Father specifically. Move forward to King David. In Psalm 33, he linked all three persons together when he said, in addition to the Father, “By the Word of the Lord (Jesus) the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth (the Holy Spirit) all their host.”[10] You could go backwards to Job, which some believe is the oldest book, and hear, “By His Spirit the heavens were made.”[11] You could jump to Isaiah, two hundred years after David, or to Ezra – some three hundred years after that – both of whom speak of the Father, the Spirit, and the promised Messiah. Suffice it to say, not only is the Triune God revealed to us also in the Old Testament, but the Old Testament Church believed in and confessed its faith in the Trinity.

III.

So now, why talk about all this? Why take a Sunday and cram this all in? Or, why even talk about the Trinity? After all, a large chunk of the world believes in “God,” whatever that means. Couldn’t we just, for the sake of unity, jettison the talk of the Trinity and hope that it’ll all sort out in the end? That doesn’t really jive with the Creed we just confessed, which all Christian church bodies believe, “Whoever desires to be saved, must above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally. And that catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity.”

Why talk about the Trinity? Because this is how the true God has revealed Himself to us. He alone, is the true God who has acted in and throughout history. And, not only has He acted, but He’s acted for us. See, when Isaiah saw God in our text, he feared for his very life. The seraphim were crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” and Isaiah knew God’s holiness and our unholiness cannot coexist. Then, one of the angels flew to him and touched his lips with a hot coal from the altar of sacrifice. He said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sins atoned for.”[12]

We talk about the Trinity because it’s how God has revealed Himself, and it’s how He has revealed Himself for us. God the Father created us, He takes care of us and provides for us. He guards and defends against all evil. For us men and for our salvation, the Son of God took on flesh. He shed His blood for us so that we might live. When His blood touches our lips in the Sacrament, our guilt is taken away and our sins atoned for. God the Holy Spirit, reveals this truth to us through the Scripture. He calls us to faith, and preserves us in the same until we die. We confess our faith in the triune God, not fully understanding, but believing that He is true and has taken away our sin. “Blessèd be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.”


[1] Rom. 11:33.

[2] Rom. 11:36.

[3] 1 Cor. 1:19.

[4] Matt. 11:25.

[5] 2 Pet. 3:15-18.

[6] Matt. 28:19.

[7] Jn. 14:26.

[8] Matt. 22:43-44.

[9] Duet. 32:6.

[10] Ps. 33:6.

[11] Job. 26:13.

[12] Is. 6:7.

Where Christ Is Found

Text: Matthew 24:15-28

Today our attention turns toward the end times and the return of Christ. This week and next we’ll be focusing primarily on the return of our Lord and for what purpose He comes. His first coming was to preach the Word of God and to secure for us the forgiveness of sins by His death on the cross. His second coming will be to raise all the dead, gather all the faithful to His side, and stand in judgment over those who rejected His salvation. The big word for all this kind of talk is eschatology, or, the study of the last things. In the early centuries of the Church, as we heard in our Epistle text, the return of Christ was looked forward to with fervent anticipation. Though, now it seems to have left the mind of many, or else the joy of Christ’s return is replaced with fear.

It’s easy for our minds to sway that way. The Gospel reading for today, taken by itself, without context, can be frightening. It can be mystifying. But, we should understand, the reason why Jesus is saying these things is not to scare us, but to prepare and comfort us. Jesus said, “I have told you beforehand.” In St. Luke’s account Jesus also said, “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” So, if it is correct – that Jesus teaches us these things to comfort us – what is one thing we can be comforted by today? In our text, when Jesus teaches not to be swayed by those saying He is out in the wilderness or in the inner rooms, He’s teaching that because soon He Himself will promise to be with His people always. Just after our text, He institutes the Sacraments and promises to be with us always and never be apart from us. Therefore, in our text Jesus teaches us the signs of His Coming so that we are not deceived, and learn to look for Him where He already is and will always be until His return.

I.

Our text takes place around Tuesday of Holy Week. Sunday is the Triumphal Entry and the cleansing of the temple. The next few days see Jesus teaching in the temple a final time. As He and the disciples are leaving in chapter 24, He caught them marveling over the great buildings. Jesus said to them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Jesus was indicating that the temple, the place of God’s holy abode, would be destroyed as a judgment against unbelief. This had happened earlier, 500 years before Christ, but this prediction of Jesus came true some 40 years after His ascension, when the Romans destroyed both the temple and the city.

Jesus is a clever and skilled teacher, so He’s able to teach two things at once. In our text He’s teaching about the destruction of Jerusalem as both the temporal judgment of God against His people’s infidelity and as a sign of the impending eternal judgment of God against sin and unbelief. This means that we should understand the destruction of the temple and the holy city not just as God’s specific judgment against them, but as a point from which we should be always prepared for Christ’s return. We should see the destruction of the temple as an indicator that we are in the end times. Or, to be more precise – the temple is destroyed because God’s chosen people rejected the Messiah. In Christ, the fullness of the deity became flesh. In Jesus the mystery of God’s salvation was made plain for all to see. We should see in His incarnation, death, and resurrection, the surest sign that we are near the end. But, like the disciples, we can be kind of dense. In His compassion, Jesus doesn’t rebuke us. He is patient and teaches us further about the end times.

Jesus has already taught about the wars and rumors of war that are to come when He says,

So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place…then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back…

Remember that Jesus is teaching about two things at once. These verses are attached to the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. The abomination mentioned could be a reference to a few things. First, we read in the book of Maccabees that king Antiochus Epiphanes set up a pagan altar on top of the altar that was already in the temple. Or, it could be reference to Roman interference with temple worship. Long story short – the temple’s going to be destroyed and Jerusalem with it. When these things happens, to condense Jesus’ words: Get out.

II.

There’s a subtle shift in verse 23. Remember that Jesus is really good at teaching and can do two things at once. He’s talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple as both the temporal judgment of God and as a sign of the end times. We’ve all heard the passages about wars and rumors of wars and pestilences and famines; but there’s one aspect I want us to latch onto today. Jesus says,

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

One of things that Jesus says is going to happen before He returns is a continual spread of false teachers and false doctrine. Jesus says that, first of all, there will be false christs. History has shown us some examples of this. Scripture itself contains accounts of those who came claiming to be someone. (Acts 5, for example.) I think Luther’s interpretation of this passage is helpful, especially since we don’t so much see people claiming explicitly to be Jesus. Luther says this also applies to those who teach in Christ’s name what He has not said. So this applies to pastors. Jesus says that in the end times many false pastors will come and teach what is not right – and claim that it is true Christian teaching. This fits well with Jesus saying there will also be false prophets.

What sort of things will these men of falsehood say? Jesus gives examples. They will try and draw people to go find Christ in places where He hasn’t promised to be. What does that mean? They will teach people to search for Jesus out in the wilderness, that is nature, or in the inner rooms, that is the mystical warm feeling of Jesus that you can only experience by yourself. It is true, that by the power of being God, Jesus is everywhere, but He hasn’t told us to look for Him there. Instead, He has told us two places to look for Him and find Him. His Word and His Sacraments. In these trying times, the devil tries to lead many astray by convincing them to look for Jesus in places He hasn’t promised to be.

But, Jesus is telling us all these things so that we would be prepared and comforted by His coming. Against all the world and the devil, there are two places where Jesus remembers and is faithful to His promise to be with us always. First, He has promised to be with us through His Word. Jesus says that where two or three are gathered in His name, He also is there. Scripture itself is living and active. It is the instrument through the Spirit of Christ creates and maintains faith within us. Christ is always with us in His Word. Second, Christ promised to be and is with us in the Sacraments. In Baptism, He joins us to Himself, taking our shame and clothing us with His righteousness. Through Baptism we have access to our Father in heaven. In Absolution, Christ works through His Word spoken through the mouth of pastors to forgive sins and mend broken hearts. In His Supper, Christ is with us in a tangible way – a way we can see, feel, taste – for the forgiveness of sins. So, when men come to lead God’s people astray from the Word and the Sacraments – where Christ has promised to be found – we repeat Jesus’ words, don’t believe them and don’t go out.

My dear friends in Christ – taken by itself, this text can be kind of distressing. But, for those who are found in Christ, it is a comfort. It is a comfort that we are now in the end times, for the end is when our Savior comes. Then will the redemption He won for us on the cross be made complete when we are forever separated from sin, death, and the devil. But until then, things are going to be bad. Jesus says so. He also encourages today to look for Him not where people say He is – in the wilderness, in inner rooms – but where He promises to be. He has promised to be with us always and to always be found in His Holy Word and Sacraments. Then, when the end comes, Christ Himself will appear like lightening and gather us with all the faithful to enter His everlasting joy and peace.

The Dishonest Manager and the Merciful Master

Text: Luke 16:1-9 (10-13)

I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Jesus says one of the most vexing sentences in all the Gospels in our text today. It seems to follow the parable of the Dishonest Manager as Jesus’ interpretation of the story. Make friends, Jesus says, by means of unrighteous wealth (you may have heard that phrase by another title, mammon), so that when it fails, you may be received into eternal dwellings. What is Jesus telling us to do, and why does the master in the story commend the dishonest manager? To use the familiar Lutheran question: Was ist Das?

When I was a student at our seminary in Fort Wayne, students took three homiletics classes. In these classes they learned what a sermon is, how to write one, and got some practice in delivering them. The first class covered sermon theory, the third class covered wedding and funeral sermons. It’s the second class that covered parables. In my experience, we were offered the choice of any parable to preach on. If you chose the parable we have today, and preached it well, you would get an automatic A in the course. No one picked it.

There are two ways that we’re going to look at the text today. First, we are going to look at it doxologically. That means that we’re going to look at it in a way that gives all glory and praise to God. We’ll do that by focusing not on the manager in the parable, but the master. Second, we’ll receive the parable as a teaching on the proper use of mammon, wealth. For, Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and money.” In the parable of the Dishonest Manager, Christ teaches us the proper use of wealth and about our merciful Master who forgives.

I.

Let us start with the text. Luke 16 begins, “[Jesus] also said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’” On a surface level, the first chunk of the parable needs no explanation. The story is about a wealthy landowner who has hired another man to be the manager of his property. The system was such that the landowner rented his land to tenant farmers. The farmers would pay their rent as a set portion of their crop, usually either in oil or wheat. The manager was in charge of collecting that rent. After a time, charges were brought to the master that his steward was squandering the landowner’s property.

One of the keys of interpreting a parable is to look for things that don’t match up to reality. Our text today is part of an ongoing section in Luke filled with parables, all of which we’ve actually looked at over the last couple months. The one that comes right before our text today is one you all probably know, the parable of the Prodigal Son. We’ll use that as an example. What is it in that parable that doesn’t match up to reality? Well, it’s not the younger son wasting his inheritance. We’ve all heard stories like that in our lives; and, who of us hasn’t wasted our possessions on immoral living? Or, how about the older son, the one who holds himself high and looks down on his brother who has fallen into sin, the one that we would describe as “self-righteous,”? No, both of those are quite common in reality. What doesn’t match is the father. The wealthy father sees his younger son from afar, he hikes up his robe and runs to greet his son. He embraces him, clothes him, and kills the fatted calf – for his son was dead and now is alive.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps better called the parable of the Merciful Father, because it’s not about the son but the father. From it we learn about our merciful God who forgives our sins by the blood of the Lamb. Same thing with the parable of the Dishonest Manager. It could probably be called the parable of the Merciful Master. That is the thing in this parable that doesn’t match up to reality. We would expect that, when the master hears his steward is cheating him, he would immediately throw him in jail. That would be his right. But instead, the master has mercy. And, not just on the manager. Remember what the manager did when he figured he was gonna get fired – he went and lowered the debts of all the master’s debtors. In response to that, the master honored the lowered debts. Again, that doesn’t line up with reality. If you fire your bookkeeper, and he in the meantime fudges the ledger, you wouldn’t be expected to honor those changes.

I said a few minutes ago that the first way we are going to look at this text is doxologically. That is, we’re going to look at it in a way that gives all glory and praise to God. We do that focusing not on the manager, but on the master. But first, the manager: what were his goals? Comfort and self-preservation at all costs. That involved squandering his master’s possessions, and lying to cover it up. I wish we could say that is what doesn’t match up with reality in the parable but, sadly, it does. Even among us Christians. The word for what the manager does is the same for what the prodigal son does in that parable: He takes what is his master’s and he wastes it on sinful living.

And so do we. We are each placed in various vocations by God, and given various resources to glorify Him and contribute to the work of His kingdom. We confess in the Small Catechism that God gives us everything that we need to support this body and life; everything we have and own belongs to God and is given for the support of our lives and for service to our neighbor. But instead, we put own spin on it. We dedicate our time, our money, and our talents, to our own comfort. And then we lie about it.

II.

The dishonest manager squanders his master’s possessions. He takes what isn’t his and uses it in service of his belly, then he lies to cover it up. When the master finds out that his manager, for perhaps a long time, has been cheating, he doesn’t immediately take to punishment. That would have been his legal right: to punish, to throw in jail, to take back everything, perhaps even to kill. Instead, he has mercy. And, so does our God. In His infinite wisdom, God knows every sin we have ever committed. Every single little indiscretion, and every lie we’ve told to cover it up and comfort ourselves, He knows. He knows every time we’ve used our money and possessions in service to iniquity, and when we’ve made idols out of them. He knows these things, and He forgives.

The central point of our parable today is not the manager, but the master. We are all dishonest managers of what God has given us, and yet our master has had mercy on us. He sent His only-begotten Son into our flesh to bear our sin and be our savior. He has taken our iniquity into Himself, and has died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. He gives this forgiveness to us freely, not because we are perfect managers, but because He is a merciful Lord.

Now, that leaves us with the last verse of the text, the verse that I read at the beginning of the sermon. I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” What’s that all about? The master commended the dishonest manager for being so clever, and then Jesus clobbers us with this verse of interpretation. The simplest way to understand it is this: Jesus uses the word, “mammon.” Mammon is a Hebrew word that means wealth and possessions that are above and beyond what you need to directly support your life. The world says that anything you can make over what you need to eat and have a home, that you can use for play. But, here Jesus says that proper use of everything that doesn’t go directly to the support of the body is for God’s glory and for service to our neighbor.

Everything. That’s why Jesus couches this in the parable of the Dishonest Manager, or rather, the Merciful Master. We are the dishonest manager. We misuse the things that God gives us and we lie to cover it up. But, God has had mercy on us and given His only Son to die for us. Through His Word and Sacrament, God daily conforms us to the image of His Son and leads us to use our time and possessions in ways that are pleasing to Him.

Our text today is hard passage. We can’t claim to have plumbed the depths of its meaning today; it’s good that it’ll come up again this time next year. However, when viewed in the context of the surrounding passages, particularly the Prodigal Son, we can see that it isn’t primarily about the manager who squanders and lies, but the Master who is merciful. Such is our God, who forgives us poor wretched managers.

Compassionate Lightning

Text: Mark 8:1-9

“Lightning never strikes the same place twice,” or so the saying goes. It’s a silly idiom that we use (an idiom is a phrase that makes sense in one language, but not another) to comfort someone who’s fallen on rough times. What we mean by, “lightning never strikes the same place twice,” is that, whatever bad thing that happened to you – it’s probably not going to happen again. It was a one-time bad occurrence that shouldn’t defray your hopes for the future. Unfortunately, science has shown us that lightning can, and often does, strike the same place twice. For example, lightning strikes the Empire State Building an average of 23 times a year; the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center even more than that. Plus, many of us can probably attest from our own lives that bad things do often repeat themselves.

Maybe if we tweak the meaning a little bit, it’ll still work. Maybe “lightening doesn’t strike twice,” means that something really good won’t happen to you again. I’m kind of a cynical person, so I’m fond of that. If something really good happens to you – don’t count on it happening again any time soon. But, there, again, we can find some cracks. For example, Texas native Joan Ginther has won the lottery 4 times: $5.4 million in ‘93, $2 million in ‘06, $3 million in ‘08, and $10 million in 2010. And, if you will, there’s another exception to the rule in our Gospel text. In our text Jesus feeds a multitude of people a second time. In Mark 6 He fed the 5,000 and then our text He feeds a multitude of people again. Jesus had compassion on the people and fed them, lest they grow weak on the way home. Luckily for us, like lightning, Jesus strikes the same place more than once. Out of His compassion for us, our Lord provides for all our needs of body and soul.

  1.  

Our text this week follows hot on the heels of the events of Mark 7. After Jesus fed the 5,000 in chapter 6, He sent the Disciples on ahead of Him in a boat. They were making headway across the Sea of Galilee painfully until Jesus came up to them, walking on the water, and got into the boat with them. When the Lord of wind and wave stepped into the boat, all things became peaceful. They got to the other side and after a little bit some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem to pick a fight. Their contention was that Jesus’ Disciples were (and therefore He was) in violation of the Law for not washing before they ate. Jesus put them in their place by demonstrating that it isn’t what goes into the mouth that makes one unclean, but what comes out of the heart. St. Mark gives us a little aside in the text that Jesus was thereby declaring all foods clean; and, by extension, all people.

In Mark 7 we see Christ demonstrating His love for all people by breaking down the distinction between Jew and Gentile. Immediately after that conversation with the Pharisees, He went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon, a pagan area, and there healed a Gentile woman’s daughter. Then, He continued on through Gentile areas healing, teaching, preaching. St. Mark writes, “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered,” a crowd of Gentiles, “[having] nothing to eat, He called His disciples to Him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.’” As Jesus was traveling through the Gentile areas preaching and teaching the Gospel, He found the great crowd gathered around Him had nothing to eat. Fearing that they would faint along the way to their homes, for some had come from afar ways away, Jesus had compassion on them and desired to feed them.

His Hiscompassion was met with disbelief by the Disciples. They answered Him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Something is lost in the translation here. In English if you move a word around in a sentence, it can drastically change its entire meaning. In Greek, you can put words anywhere you want and the meaning will stay the same. However, you can express emphasis by putting words in certain places. In the Disciples’ response to Jesus’ desire, not only are they doubting Jesus’ ability to provide but, if He should manifest some miracle, it would be wasted on these people. I.e., Gentiles, not descendents of Abraham, us.

Not deterred, Jesus asked the Disciples how many loaves they had, 7. He had the crowds sit down, took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and fed the people. And then they must’ve’ve found some fish, because this meal had two courses. Jesus fed 4,000 people to the full with 7 loaves of bread and then topped them off with a second round of fish. Jesus is a most gracious host. St. Mark writes that the 4,000 people, “ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.” Those baskets were the typical Roman bread basket, each holding 50 loaves. In total there were about 350 loaves’ worth of bread left over. Our compassionate and gracious Lord provided for the Gentile crowd.

  1.  

We can learn a wonderful lesson from this text. Which is, that our Lord Jesus Christ is gracious and compassionate. By becoming flesh, He humbled Himself by becoming subject to the needs of our bodies and knows, personally, what we need. He know that, because we are in the body, we need things like shelter, clothing, friends, food and water. In our text Jesus provided one of the most basic and important needs: daily bread. In the Small Catechism we get to confess some things that might shed light on our lesson today. I invite you to open up to page 324 and find the Fourth Petition. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, right in the middle of it we ask our Heavenly Father for our daily bread. Luther writes what this petition means. He says,

God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

What is meant by daily bread?

Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

God provides daily bread for everyone, but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to recognize that everything that we have comes from Him, and know by it how He feels about us. God loves you and gives you all things because He desires you to be well-fed and kept. True, it seems that we often consider ourselves on the famine side rather than the feast side, but God has never failed to provide what we need to live. To teach us this, Christ said to those who sought Him after the feeding of the 5,000, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”

In this life God provides for all we need. He gives us food and drink, house and home, land, animals, and all that we have. Why? Because He loves us. Christ demonstrates His power, and desire, to do so by feeding the 4,000 in our text. These people were not of the chosen people of Israel, but those who were born outside the covenant, who held to Christ in faith. Such are we. On us Christ has had compassion. He gives us all we need to support this body and life because He is gracious. And, He has given His own body and blood into death for the forgiveness of sins, so that we may eat of it and live forever. In our text Jesus shows that He is able to provide for our bodies, and He does so because He loves us. Soon, He will also provide for our souls. God grant that we receive His supper for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith, and in the confidence that our gracious and compassionate Lord provides for all our needs of body and soul.

The Fulfillment of What Was Spoken

Text: Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation. Technically it fell yesterday, July 2nd, but it’s within bounds to celebrate today. And, it’s fitting to do so, because it’s not a holiday we always get to talk about. In fact, our Gospel reading today doesn’t come up anywhere else in Lectionary. So, it’s possible that we might not remember it very well. Another reason why we don’t talk about the Visitation very much is because it does involve talking about Mary. I think the typical Lutheran response to hearing the name of Mary to shrivel back with a tendency to reject all things that smell Roman Catholic. But, historically, this has not always been the case for Lutherans. Our own Book of Concord says that Mary is worthy of the most plentiful honors. But, in no way is she to be made equal to Christ. We give thanks to God for His grace to her and see in her an example of the faith to follow.

That brings us to the Visitation. What is it all about? It’s not about Mary; It’s about Christ – hence the white paraments. The Visitation is about how God remembers and fulfills His promises. Throughout the Old Testament God promised to send a Savior who would die and rise for the forgiveness of sins. Now this promise is being fulfilled in Christ, before He was even born. Christ, in the womb – in His very conception by the Holy Spirit – is at work to fulfill His promises. The presence of God’s Savior caused John the Baptist to leap in his mother’s womb, Elizabeth to prophesy, and Mary to sing the Magnificat. In all these awesome images, there remains a central truth. The Visitation shows us that God makes good on His promises: to Elizabeth, to Mary, to all His people, and to us.

I.

You might’ve noticed that our hymns today pull us back into Christmas. The things we remember and celebrate today are part of that context; they’re connected to the incarnation and birth of our Savior. Our text comes from St. Luke’s Gospel. Both he and St. Matthew give us the infancy narrative of Jesus, but in Luke’s Gospel the Holy Spirit gives us a little more of a backstory. And really, that’s how St. Luke does things. He says in his introduction that he has set out to write, “an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” St. Luke wants to sit down and write an orderly account of things so that we can have a firm record and be confident in the hope that we have. So, the idea we’re operating with today is that Jesus doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Jesus has a context. The context of the Visitation is that Jesus comes as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Today we’ve got two big ones.

The first promise St. Luke covers is the birth of John the Baptist. We do get to talk about John on a few occasions, and his birth was promised as well. In fact, some 400 years earlier God promised through the prophet Malachi that He would send his messenger to serve in the office of Elijah and prepare the way of the Lord. At the time of our text there was an elderly couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth. Even in their advanced age they longed for a child, but Elizabeth was barren. Gabriel appeared to Zechariah while he was serving in the temple and told him that God had heard their prayers – Elizabeth will bear a son. The name of their son will be John. John, Gabriel said, will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb and will go before the Lord in the power of Elijah to prepare His way. By giving this promise to Zechariah and Elizabeth, God is fulfilling His promise from before. This is the first promise we need to remember going into the Visitation.

The second promise is the one God made to Mary. When Elizabeth had been pregnant with John for sixth months, Gabriel was again sent by God – this time to Mary. Mary lived in Nazareth and was betrothed to Joseph. Gabriel appeared to her to tell her that she will conceive and bear a son, Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High…and of His kingdom there will be no end.” When Mary asked how this will be, since she was a virgin, Gabriel said that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the power of God will overshadow her, so that the child she is to bear will be the Son of God. As a sign to her that this will happen, Gabriel told Mary that her relative Elizabeth has also conceived, in her old age. For, nothing is impossible with God. Having heard the Word of God, Mary responded in faith. “Let it be to me according to your word.” This is how the Lutheran Confessions speak about Mary – that, as she responded to God’s Word in faith, so we should pray that we do the same.

II.

Now we get to the Visitation itself, Mary meeting Elizabeth and John meeting Jesus. Remember, the Visitation is about God fulfilling His promises: to Elizabeth, to Mary, to His people, and to us. St. Luke writes, “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” So, as soon as Mary heard that Elizabeth was pregnant, she got up and went to Judah to see. If you had heard that the Lord had done some awesome thing, you’d probably go see, too. When she arrived in the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth she greeted them. This greeting was probably the typical Hebrew greeting, which would involve invoking the Lord’s blessing on the house and those who dwell in it.

Upon hearing Mary’s greeting, John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb. Though he had not yet been born, he heard the Lord’s Word spoken by Mary and leaped for joy at the presence of the incarnate Christ. This is one reason that we believe children are able to have faith. The Greek word means infant, but it also includes the unborn. At this point, Mary had just conceived, but even then, Christ was at work fulfilling His promises. Recognizing this fact, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed, literally “chanted,” “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” And, she’s right. Mary is blessed to carry for nine months the holy Son of God and redeemer of the world. But, the word here for blessed is in the passive voice. Mary is not blessed because she is actively holy, but because God is holy and has been gracious to her, forgiving her sins, and blessing her to bear Jesus. In a similar way, we are also blessed when we “bear” Jesus and carry in Him in us as we receive His body and blood in the Sacrament.

Remember, the Visitation is not about Mary. It’s not about Elizabeth or John the Baptist; it’s about Jesus. It’s about how God is fulfilling His Word by becoming incarnate to fulfill the Law and die on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. And that work is happening here, even before Christ has left the womb. But that brings us to the question of the proper place of Mary. As the Lutheran Confessions say, we honor Mary and give thanks to God that He choose her to bear the Christ, but then we leave it there. Mary is in heaven, as are all the saints, but we neither pray to them nor invoke them. Instead, we commend them into God’s care, giving thanks for their steadfast faith and work, and pray that God would stir us on to follow their example.

III.

But, like we’ve said a few times: we’re celebrating the Visitation today as an event in Christ’s life and moment where we see God fulfilling His promises. He promised in Malachi to send a messenger before the Lord, and that is fulfilled in His promise to Elizabeth. He promised in Genesis that He would send a Messiah to crush the devil, to David that a descendent of his would sit on the throne forever, in Isaiah that a virgin will conceive and bear the Son of God, and now that promise has been fulfilled. That’s why Elizabeth exclaims that, in Mary’s womb, her Lord has come to visit her. It’s why John the Baptist leaps in the womb and why Mary is led by the Holy Spirit to sing words that have been repeated by the Church for the last two millennia. These words tells us what today means for us.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

And his mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

and exalted those of humble estate;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

as he spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
In the Visitation, we celebrate God’s faithfulness to His promise. We magnify the Lord and rejoice in Him, for He has looked on us in our low estate. We have all sinned and deserve to lie in dust and ashes. Yet, the Lord has had mercy and remembered His promise to our fathers. He promised to show mercy to those who fear him, to scatter the proud and bring down the mighty, but fill the hungry with good things and help His servant, Israel. And so He has.

The feast we celebrate today isn’t about Mary; it’s not about John the Baptist or Elizabeth, but about Jesus. In the Visitation we see that God keeps His promises. He remembers His people and has mercy on them. He raises those of low estate, and sets our feet upon the rock of salvation in Christ. To Him be all glory. Amen.

The Wisdom of the Cross

Audio: Trinity V

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

We did not follow cleverly devised myths,” St. Peter writes, “when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Peter said this to assure his audience, his beloved fellow Christians, about the message they received from him. There had been people coming to them charging that the Word of the Lord they received through St. Peter and the other Apostles was nothing but a myth: a sham, a tall-tale delivered by charlatans to deceive the simple-minded. No, St. Peter said, the things they heard, the things about Jesus – that He is God in the flesh, that He suffered, died, and rose from the dead for the forgiveness of sins, and that salvation is totally by His work alone – these things are not made up. And, by this message of the cross, they have been saved.

Perhaps you’ve heard the same argument. Maybe not personally, but definitely in some way, you’ve encountered opposition to your faith, and especially the BIble. There are all sorts of complaints out there: it’s poorly-written, hard to understand, culturally-bound to its period, unethical, unloving, full of lies and myths, a purely man-made document – and a shoddy one at that. And, there’s more out there. Some of these things are advocated by those who would call themselves Christians or have the responsibility of teaching in Christian colleges and seminaries. St. Paul explains today why God’s Word encounters such hostility from the world. He says, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The Word of God receives such hostility from the world because it runs against everything the devil and the Old Adam preach. The Bible says that all human beings are sinful – sinful not just in actions, but in word and thought as well. Moreover, humankind is so depraved by nature that there is not one single thing or thought that we can contribute to our salvation. Not one single thing. But, out of His great love for us, God sent His only-begotten Son to die on the cross for the sins of the whole world. He gives forgiveness of sins as a free gift through faith, apart from any and all works. Faith itself is also a work of God the Holy Spirit who, through the preaching of sinful men (pastors) and through the administration of the sacraments by those same men, creates a holy people for Himself and gathers them into the Holy Christian Church. All of this runs contrary to the wisdom of the world. The preaching of Christ’s cross is foolishness to the world, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

I.

The text begins, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Have you ever wondered why there aren’t more Christians in the world? Have you ever had long, heart-felt conversations with someone about the Christian faith, where you were sure that the seed of God’s Word had been planted and was very likely to sprout, only to see the person totally reject that seed the very next day? Why is that many people become Christians after seemingly chance and random encounters, while many others, who had been raised Christians, fall away and become vehement enemies of Christ? These are the questions that St. Paul is answering in out text.

He sets the record straight for us on why there aren’t more Christians, why so many never come to faith, and why so many others fall away once they leave home. It’s because, St. Paul says, the word of the cross is folly to the world. The word that Paul uses is μωρία (moria), where the word “moron,” comes from. To the sinful nature, the BIble does not make sense. Jesus doesn’t make sense. Think about the Trinity for a second. The Bible says that there is one God, an omnipresent, all-power being. It stresses the oneness of the deity, and yet there are three persons. Or, how about that this divine being that transcends the physical world, became flesh and died? That is one major reason why Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. They do not believe that God could possibly become flesh, or interact with creation in any intimate way, like how Christ unites Himself to us through the supper of His flesh and blood.

To us, these things do make sense. We might not understand the Trinity totally, but we believe it because it’s what the Bible says. We don’t understand how the Incarnation works beyond the words of the Creed, “He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary,” but we believe it because we know it’s what the Bible says. In Genesis it prophesied that an Offspring of Adam and Eve would defeat the Devil. In Isaiah it says that a virgin will conceive and give birth to the Son of God. We don’t totally understand how the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, but we believe it because the Bible says so. Because the Holy Spirit has come to us through the preaching of the Word and in Baptism to create in us the gift of faith, we believe God’s Word and so are saved.

But to the world, this is all moronic and we are all morons. St. Paul lists two reasons why the world believes this. “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom.” These two groups are specific groups for Paul and the Corinthians. Throughout Jesus’ ministry the Jews demanded signs of Him, to demonstrate His power. They were seeking an earthly king who would throw off the Romans, and by mighty powers and wonders restore the glory of Israel. Some expect that still today. Others scoff at our faith and say that they would readily and happily believe in God if He would first put an immediate end to all evil. He will, of course, but not according to our timeline.

Others are like Greeks, who in Paul’s day were obsessed with wisdom. They would occupy themselves with long conversations about philosophy and rhetoric. They were opposed to Christianity not because of the miracles, for the Greeks were a religious people, but because of its perceived simplicity. As St. Paul said, “When I came to you, brothers, [I] did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

II.

Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.” The sinful nature demands signs, wonders, and wisdom. But, we preach Christ crucified. That is, we preach that Jesus Christ, the Son of God from all eternity – equal to the Father and the Spirit in glory, power, and majesty – humbled Himself, by taking on frail human flesh. He fulfilled the Law of God by His perfect obedience, and He died as the payment for our transgressions. Heaven is real, but our attempts to get there ourselves will condemn us to hell. Instead, Christ bring us into His kingdom and gives us forgiveness totally by His own initiative and action, without any merit or worthiness within us.

All of that is folly to the world, but, St. Paul says, “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” Meaning – this is the God-approved method of salvation: Jesus died on the cross for our sins, then the Holy Spirit works through the preaching of Christ’s cross to create create faith and save people through it. That’s it. There are no works to contribute to our salvation, no good intentions, no lofty words of wisdom, just Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That is how God saves us. God says in our text that He will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning. How? By using the weak to shame the strong. It pleased God to grant us salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross. In the ancient world the cross was scandalous, a criminal’s death, not worthy to be spoken about in polite society. But, this shameful death, is how God saves – contrary to all the glorious ways we could think of.

St. Paul wrote, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” Literally, the word of Christ’s cross is moronic to the world. But to us, it is the power of God for salvation. For it has pleased God to save the world and us through the preaching of that moronic word. Therefore, if the world considers the cross foolishness and those who believe in it to be morons, then let us be morons. Let us listen to the still, small voice of God in His Word. And, when Christ calls, let us cast our nets, for He provides a miraculous catch. Above all, let us pray to the Holy Spirit that He lead us to know nothing except Christ, and Him crucified. Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

The Lord is My Shepherd

Audio: Trinity III Sermon

Text: Luke 15:1-10

St. Peter wrote in his first epistle, “[Cast] all your anxieties on [the Lord], for He cares for you.” Likewise, St. Paul wrote in our epistle text, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. This past week at St. John we have hosted our annual Vacation Bible School. The title this year was “Barnyard Roundup: Jesus Gathers Us Together.” It was based on the verses of Psalm 23, and our readings this week perfectly capture that theme. Particularly, this morning we will be looking at our Gospel text, which contains some of the most beloved and comforting words in all Scripture.

In our Gospel Jesus pictures Himself to us as a shepherd. Though He’s in charge of a multitude of sheep, He does not hesitate to drop everything to seek and save the one sheep gone astray. When He finds it, rejoicing, He places it on His shoulders and gathers it back into the fold. Jesus also commends Himself to us in the parable of the Lost Coin. There a woman who has ten coins loses one. She drops everything, lights a lamp, and searches till she finds it. And, like the shepherd, she rejoices. So, we see, the Lord is our shepherd who seeks us out, who saves us, and gathers us through His Word.

I.

Our Gospel reading is building on a theme in Luke’s Gospel. One of my commentaries calls this section of Luke the Table Fellowship section. In this whole chunk of Luke, Jesus is reclining at table in the house of one of the head Pharisees. One of the key themes of this discussion is shared between Jesus and John the Baptist – a theme we usually take up in Advent – the importance of repentance in the life of a Christian. You know the words of John the Baptist’s ministry, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It was the midst of that meal that Jesus spoke our text last week about the Great Banquet.

He told a parable about a man who gave a great banquet and invited many to come and feast. When the time was ready he sent his servant to gather those who had been invited. The way things worked back then, you would send out an initial invitation saying there’s a feast coming up. Then, when the feast had come, you would go and gather everyone up. But, when the servant went to do that, everyone turned him down. One claimed he bought a field and couldn’t come; another, oxen; another, newly married. The master then sent his servant to call people who had not been invited, first those in the city: the lame and crippled. These represent the tax collectors and “sinners” in our reading. Then, even those outside the city were compelled to come to the feast. These are those, like us, who were born outside God’s covenant people.

Here’s where we get to Luke 15. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him.” Jesus was teaching about repentance and faith. The tax collectors and sinners were hearing Jesus’ words in faith, confessing their sins and being forgiven. The Holy Spirit was working through the Word to create repentance and faith in them. They had learned to recognize their sin and believe in Jesus for their salvation. Meanwhile, the Pharisees were doing as they usually were. They were grumbling, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So, Jesus told them this parable.

II.    

He said,

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders rejoicing…When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees and us to show us just how much He cares about us and what He does for us.

First, Jesus seeks us out. In the parable Jesus is the shepherd and we are the sheep. And like sheep, we are prone to wander. Not content to live within the fold of God, Adam and Eve began to wander, thinking grass would be greener in the field yonder. Ever since, we who have been born of flesh and blood also go astray. But, what does the shepherd do? He leaves the other ninety-nine in the care of faithful undershepherds, and drops everything to go and find the one lost sheep. This is what Christ did by emptying Himself of His eternal glory, which He shared with the Father and Spirit before all time, and taking on Himself our human flesh.

I read somewhere that when sheep get lost, once they realize they’re in an unfamiliar place, they will lay down and not move. Then, when the shepherd finds it, he has to physically pick it up and carry it, because otherwise it ain’t going anywhere. I wonder if that isn’t a good description of us, the sheep. As we walk through this valley of shadow, we do wander. We wander into all sorts of sins, physical, mental, and spiritual. And, sometimes we hunker down. We get lost in our sins and we forget that we’re sinning. Or, rather, we choose to persist in our sin. That is, until Christ finds us.

How does He search for us and find us? He seeks us out through the preaching of the Word. He works through the preaching of the Law to show us our sin and then He calls to us through the Gospel saying, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He sends pastors to share His saving Word and to administer the sacraments, so that the Gospel may have free course to create and sustain faith throughout the world. Then through Holy Baptism He puts us on His shoulders. In Baptism we are united to His death for our sins and the forgiveness that He won on the cross is given to us through that sacred washing. Just like the lost sheep may kick and fight at first when the shepherd picks it up, so the Old Adam in us kicks and screams within us as it is drowned in the water and the Word.

Through the preaching of the Word and in Holy Baptism, Christ seeks us out and saves us. He finds us and, rejoicing, puts us on His shoulders. Then, on His shoulders, He gathers us back to His flock – the Church. And, actually, that was theme of VBS this week – Jesus, our Good Shepherd, gathers us together. As Scripture says, all we like sheep had gone astray, yet He, in love, sought us. He took on flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. He died on the cross and rose from the dead so that we might live with Him (our shepherd) in His kingdom (the Church).

III.

The second parable in our Gospel is the parable of the Lost Coin, and has much in common with the first parable. In it a woman loses a coin. The number is lowered from one hundred sheep to ten coins, to two sons later. Jesus lowers the number to show us how important each individual lost sheep, coin, and son is to Him. After losing the coin, the woman lights a lamp and searches diligently until she finds it. When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors to rejoice with her, since she had found the coin that she had lost.

If we keep in mind that the parable goes with the parable of the Lost Sheep and is about how Christ seeks out, saves, and gather each individual lost sheep, then we might also be able to talk about what it means to be found, saved, and gathered by Christ into the Church. King David sings in the psalms that the Word of God is a lamp to his feet and a light to his path. Christ Himself is the light that shines in the darkness and He has given the lamp of His Word to His bride, the Church. Like the woman in the parable, we are called to shine the lamp of God’s Word into the dark places of the world to find the lost coin.

Our temptation is always to be like the Pharisees and scribes. The Old Adam in us wants us to point and scoff at tax collectors and “sinners;” but then we would be blind to the fact that we are all chief of sinners. We all like sheep have gone astray and need to found by Christ. And so we are. We confess in the Creed that we have been called by the Gospel. Through the preaching of the Word, Christ has sought us out. He sends His Word into all the earth to find each lost sheep. Then, through Baptism He places His lost sheep on His shoulders and gathers them into His fold. Having been gathered into His fold, we also seek to save the lost, sharing with them the hope and comfort that the Lord is our Shepherd and we shall not want.

The Mysterious Comfort of the Holy Trinity

** To listen to the sermon, please click here The Feast of the Holy Trinity **

Bulletin: 2016-05-22 The Feast of the Holy Trinity

Text: Is. 6:1-8; Jn. 3:1-17; The Creed

“Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally. And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity – a day set aside to focus not on an event in Christ’s life, but a teaching. Most of the other Church holidays celebrate a part of Christ’s life (such as Christmas, Epiphany, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost), but today we focus on a dogma of the Church, a doctrine that has been held by all Christians since Adam.

Just a few moments ago we recited the Athanasian Creed. It’s probably most well known for being the longest of the three creeds. But, it’s also one of the best and most clear opportunities we get to confess our faith in the Triune God, the Living God of the Bible. In our time, because of its length, this creed usually gets confined to Trinity Sunday, but in times gone by it was the regular creed to be confessed on Sundays. In fact, that’s how Trinity Sunday came to be. It’s not celebrated because a bunch of pastors got together and decided to hammer people with one of the hardest teachings there is, but because the lay people wanted to talk and hear about the Trinity. At first, the pastors resisted, but I’m glad the day took root.

The Trinity is not something that we’re going to fully understand this side of heaven. It’s just not going to happen. In the new creation our minds will be restored to what they were created to be in Eden and we will know God fully even as we are fully known, like St. Paul says. Nevertheless, we can still believe and confess the doctrine of the Triune God from Scripture, which is vitally important. It’s important, because as the Creed said, you cannot be saved without believing in the Triune God. It doesn’t say you must totally understand it, but we must believe it, for the Triune God is who is revealed to us in the Scriptures. But, I think there’s another reason why the doctrine of the Trinity is important, and it’s what I’d like for us to take away today. The mystery of the Holy Trinity is the foundation of our faith and it comforts us in every distress.

I.

It is true, however; you will not find the word “trinity,” in the Bible. Not because the doctrine isn’t there, but because the word “trinity,” simply didn’t exist. There were no false teachings floating around that called the Triune God into question, so the Church never had to say anything other than, “We believe in one God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” But, after Christ, many false teachers popped up – just like He said would happen – and they began to call our belief in God into question, particularly how Jesus was God, and then also the Holy Spirit. This is when the language of trinity started to appear; the word simply means “three.” Or, in the context of the Creed, “three-in-one.” We believe in one God, who exists eternally in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – The Triune God. We get this from Jesus when He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The First Person of the Trinity is the Father. Though all three persons are to be prayed to, we most often pray to the Father. We call Him Father because that is the language that Jesus gives us. For a number of weeks we were in John 15 and 16, where Jesus repeatedly taught that He was going to the Father. Jesus also says after the resurrection, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.” There are many other places we could go, but for the sake of time we will leave that ‘till later. As I said in the beginning, the mystery of the Trinity is the foundation of our faith and it comforts us in every distress; so how does our understanding of God the Father comfort us?

As we confess in the Small Catechism, we ascribe to the Father the work of creation and preserving creation. That isn’t to say that the Son and Holy Spirit aren’t involved in those, just that when we talk about the Creator we are often talking about the Father. We confess that it is God our Father who forms us in our mother’s womb. Psalm 139 says that God knits together our inward parts. The Father is the one who provides us with food and drink, house and home, land and animals, and all that we need to support this body and life. Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount that we don’t need to be anxious about these things, for our Father in heaven knows what we need and will provide. Why does God the Father provide these things for us? Because He loves us. That is the comfort of believing in God the Father – we have a God that we can call, and truly is our Father, who loves us and takes care of us.

II.

We also believe in God the Son. The Son is Jesus, our Lord and Savior. In our Gospel today we have one of the verses that teaches us about the Second person of the Trinity. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” We have a clear picture of Christ and His work in the New Testament. Repeatedly, He calls God His Father, and teaches that He and the Father are together one God with the Holy Spirit. In John’s Gospel Jesus even shows that He was the one who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. King David speaks the Father’s words to Jesus in the psalms when he wrote, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool,’” and again,  “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’” Those words we know from Jesus’ Baptism.

How does the doctrine of God the Son comfort us? Hopefully you answered that question before it finished. We believe that God created all that there is, both visible and invisible. He created everything perfect, but creation rejected Him and fell into sin through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. As a result of the Fall, each and every human being is born corrupted by sin, with the desire to sin and despise the things of God. Since God is holy and righteous and cannot tolerate sin, He has vowed to judge sin and pour out His wrath against all sinners at Christ’s Return. But if God is a God of righteousness, then He is also a God of love and mercy. That is why He sent His Son.

We recognize the Son of God as our redeemer. The Second Person of the Trinity took our human nature upon Himself – not by turning from God into man, but by bringing humanity up into Himself. By becoming man Jesus took upon Himself our frailties and weaknesses, our sinfulness and the wrath and displeasure of God against our sin, and He died on the cross for us. This is our comfort, for because of Christ, we are at peace with God. Our sins are forgiven, and through His blood we will enter eternal life. The doctrine of the Second Person of the Trinity also comforts us because it teaches us that when we suffer in this life, we don’t suffer alone. Our God suffers with us. He is with us in every affliction and trial, every distress and tribulation. And, rather than sit off in the heavens doing nothing about human pain and suffering, our God does something about it. He took on flesh to be one with us in our suffering, so that we can be one with Him in His life.

III.

We also believe in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not just a power, energy, or force, but is fully God and Lord with the Father and the Son. One God in Three Persons. The Spirit should be fresh in our minds. Last week we celebrated the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles to preach in many different languages and to the ends of the earth. Before that, we spent half the Sundays in Easter in the chapters of John where Jesus speaks most clearly about the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. The Holy Spirit is spoken of in the Old Testament as being present at Creation, “hovering over the face of the waters,” and speaking through the prophets. King David said on his deathbed, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; His word is on my tongue.” St. Peter says that all of the prophets spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And, what did the prophets prophesy about? Jesus.

That’s what the Holy Spirit’s job is, to point us to Christ and God our Father. The Holy Spirit is the one poured out on the Apostles’ to preach the Gospel and on every Christian through the preaching of the Word and in the Holy Sacraments. It’s His job to continually direct us to the Son of God who died for our salvation, and to help us by pointing us to the same. St. Paul wrote these familiar words to the Romans, “The Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us…the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity, an opportunity to confess and praise the name of our Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This mystery is the foundation of our faith and a great source of comfort. For, we do not have a God who is distant or uninvolved or uncaring. We have a God and Father who creates all things and provides for us in every need. We also have His only Son, our Lord, who has redeemed us from our sins and is with us in all trial. We also have God the Holy Spirit who speaks to us and points us to Jesus in the Word, and who comforts us through the Word and the Sacraments. So, as we sang, we have one God in three persons, the blessed Trinity. Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity: Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us. Amen.

Born from Above

Text: John 3:1-17

This Sunday brings to a close what is called the “Festival” half of the Church Year. This means that in the first half of the Church year, we have all the sweet festivals like Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, and Holy Trinity. After today we don’t really have anything super special until we, as Lutherans, celebrate the Reformation in October. During the first half of the Church year we generally follow a chronological series of events in Christ’s life. But during the second half, the non-festival half, our Sundays are organized by theme.

Today is Trinity Sunday, a Sunday where the Church has historically set aside time to specifically treat the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Traditionally, congregations recite the Athanasian Creed this one Sunday of the year. But of course, for us, every Sunday is a Trinity Sunday. We begin each service in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our hymns and prayers address all three persons of the Trinity. Just last week, the sermon mentioned the Holy Spirit over thirty times. This thinking is what led German Christians to be stubborn when Pope John XXII declared this Sunday Trinity Sunday in 1332 and keep the original Gospel reading, instead of switching to Matthew 28.

The original Gospel reading for this Sunday, the first after Pentecost, is from John 3. This gives us an opportunity to speak about another area of Christian doctrine that remains a mystery to many people. In the Gospel reading Jesus teaches Nicodemus about the necessity of rebirth. Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”1 But what is this being, “born again?” Why is it necessary, what is it, and how does it happen?

I.

You must be born again,” is really a slight mistranslation. I know that there is a footnote in my Bible that says the word, νωθεν, is ambiguous and could also mean “from above.” Given the context, we would wager that that is the correct translation; Jesus said, “Unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.”2 But Nicodemus didn’t understand. He thought that Jesus meant that one must be physically born again. And so Nicodemus scoffed at the idea of an old man returning to his mother’s womb to be born a second time.

Though Jesus is not saying that one must be physically born out of their mother’s womb again, He is saying that rebirth is necessary. In fact He makes it a fourfold oath. He uses the word, “truly,” four times. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Then clarifies what He means, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”3

Jesus is dreadfully serious. Unless one is born from above, not only can he not enter the kingdom of heaven, but He can’t even see it. How true that is. Unless one is born again of water and the Spirit, they can neither enter nor see the kingdom of God. And so the world misunderstands the Gospel. Instead of looking to Christ for forgiveness and renewal, many claim from Christ affirmation for behavior they are already dead-set in. The necessity of rebirth is underscored by Jesus’ words, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”4

All things that are born in the natural way are tainted by the corruption of sin. Even the inmost desires of our hearts and minds are devoid of righteousness. Like Nicodemus, our natural inclination is to come to Jesus in the dark, clinging to our own good works and morality as proof of our goodness. But minds set on works and our own worthiness are minds set on the flesh, which St. Paul, says are “hostile to God.” For minds set on the flesh cannot please God.5 Therefore Jesus knocks Nicodemus and us on our butts: “You must be born again.”

II.

But what does that mean, “You must be born from above?” Jesus explains in verses 14-15 of our text, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”6 To be born again, from above, means to have faith. But lest we rest on our laurels and say, “I have faith, therefore I am reborn,” and stop there, we must say that to be reborn is to have a living and active faith. When you are physically born, you have a will, an understanding, and a desire to act. Thus it is also with the spiritual rebirth. We are given a new understanding, a new will, and new desires to act according to God’s Word.

Before rebirth, we were all by nature children of wrath. Our thoughts were evil, our actions were evil. Even our good works were a stench to God. But the rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit, being again, is having faith. By faith we are made children of grace. Jesus says this faith, this rebirth is necessary for salvation. He says, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” So far we’ve seen the necessity of rebirth, and that to be born again means to have faith in the Son of Man who was lifted up for our trespasses; But how are we born again?

III.

We are not born again by our own actions. It’s not your decision or prayer that makes you reborn, but it is solely the work of the Triune God. Thus Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”7 This also what James says when he writes, “Of [God’s] own will He brought us forth by the word of truth.”8

Article V of the Augsburg Confession, one of the documents that makes us Lutheran Christians, paints exactly where rebirth, where faith, comes from. It says, “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news…This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.”9

To be reborn, to be born from above, means to receive the gift of faith. Without a living faith, one can neither see the kingdom of God nor enter it. So that we may receive this faith, Christ instituted the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these things the Holy Spirit is given. The Holy Spirit works faith in us to believe in God the Father who created all things and still takes care of them. The Holy Spirit works faith in us through preaching and the Sacraments to believe that Jesus is the Son of God who suffered and died as payment for our sins. And, the Holy Spirit calls us through the Word to believe that He is the divine Comforter who is with us in all afflictions and assures us of the grace that we have in Christ.

Jesus said with utmost seriousness, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. These are serious words, and like Nicodemus, we can be left in bewilderment by them. The biggest question that comes away from these words is, what if I don’t feel reborn? The answer: believe. Believe in Jesus Christ, who was lifted up on the cross as payment for your sins, and you will be saved. Pray that the Lord would continue to beat back the old sinful nature in you. Continue to hear God’s Word preached and receive Jesus’ precious Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. By these things, Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit works in faith in you and causes you to be born from above, so that you already live in the Kingdom of God here in time and will always live there, in heaven.


1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 3:3.

2 Jn. 3:3.

3 Jn. 3:6.

4 Jn. 3:6.

5 Rom. 8:7-8.

6 Jn. 3:14–15.

7 Jn. 3:8.

8 James 1:18.

9 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 33.