Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Message for Trinity Sunday, with reference to John 3:1-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
       We all face challenges and if we examine our situations, we may see that we have several challenges going on at once. Mature people know that challenges can be met and overcome. Doctors heal physical ailments; parents and grandparents guide young folks through their troubles; most adults know  how to cope with the challenge of making their way in the world. We could almost say that grown-up people are mostly concerned with meeting challenges. Sometimes we’re the helpers and sometimes we’re the ones being helped. The point is that mature people trust that challenges and problems can be resolved.
       God is the greater problem solver of all. He is the wonderful healer. He solves the problem of unbelief by bringing us to faith; he restores peace to troubled hearts; he binds up wounded spirits; he solves the problems of sin and death. His ability to solve problems is infinite.
       He does this in a special way. Trinity Sunday is the day the church chooses to examine the way God’s way of problem-solving and to praise him for coming into our lives with his skill and compassion. We don’t understand everything about his methods, but the Bible tells us enough for us to trust his care and his healing power.
       We’ll carry out our exploration in a step-by-step way; you’ve heard many times most of what we’ll say.
Christianity is a revealed religion. We don’t come to our beliefs by what makes sense to us or what feels good or what we think we need. Our religion comes from an external source, the Bible, which the Lord teaches us to trust in faith. The more we know of the Bible, the more we see that all its parts fit together and that its message is consistent. This consistency helps to convince us that the Bible speaks truly when it says that God intends to heal. We’re limited human beings who need a religion that comes to us by revelation.
The Scriptures tell us that God is One. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The prophet Malachi says, “Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us?” Paul refers to one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in us all. The Bible teaching that God is one distinguishes the Christian faith from Hinduism, which has hundreds of Gods, and from the ancient pagans who used to believe in Jupiter and Mars and so on and who deified their emperors. We do not believe in a god of the trees and a god of the lakes and streams. We do not worship saints. God is one.
       Christians further believe that this one essence of God consists of three Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The three Persons of God were present at Jesus’ baptism – the Son, of course, the Spirit in the form of a dove, and the Father who spoke: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” After his resurrection, Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus also said: “I will call upon the Father and he will give you another Comforter, the Spirit of truth.”
       We find the Trinity mentioned in the Old Testament as well, as when God says: “Let us make man in our image. And in Psalm 33: “By the Word of the Lord, the heavens were established; and all the power of the Spirit of his mouth.”
       The church today affirms that the Persons of the Trinity are different, distinct, and separate. But they are all of the same essence. God is one in three. When we think of the works that God does outside creation, within himself, we think of the Persons of the Trinity as distinguished. Each one has its own characteristics. The Father begets, the Son is begotten, and the Spirit precedes from both. But when God outside His essence works something among His creatures, the three Persons are together and they work together, because there is one doer and maker.  “What the Father does, these things also the Son does.” And again: “All things that the Father has are mine...Therefore, the Holy Spirit will receive of mine and will announce it to you.” The three Persons of the Trinity took part in creation and in Christ’s earthly ministry and in his resurrection from the dead. In our own lives, when the Spirit convinces us of our sins and brings us to faith in Christ’s forgiveness, the Father and Son also take part. The three persons of the Trinity work together, too, whenever we experience the meaning of worship or come to believe that the words of the Bible are not only true but also true for us.
       Let’s try to apply this understanding of God in a down-to-earth way, when I was a young fellow, I attended a church with my family that taught that God was remote and distant and that he had no direct contact with humanity, something like the religion of Nicodemus, full of exhortations to do good and to take part in society, except that as a Pharisee, Nicodemus believed in an afterlife, which good people would attain by following God’s laws faithfully so that they could offer him a catalogue of good works. Orthodox Christianity is quite different.
       The Bible and the church affirm that God is active in human life. He preserves his creation; he sustains; he guides. He became like us in every way except for sin, and so he sanctifies human life. He bore our burdens; he shed his blood for the forgiveness of our sins. He gives us himself to hold onto by faith so that we may be sure of meaningful lives now and happiness in eternity later on. The Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, works in the world today through the words of Scripture to bring lost souls to salvation.
The Spirit draws us into a realm or kingdom we couldn’t imagine on our own that’s different from the everyday one that surrounds us. The Spirit brings us into fellowship with the Trinity. The Spirit uses the water of baptism to make us children of God. We are born again, not according to the flesh, but in heart and soul and mind.
       As a result, we live right now in two dimensions at once, the kingdom of earth and God’s kingdom. As members of the kingdom of earth, we experience numerous joys and sorrows. Human flesh cannot avoid the conflict and pain that go along with a universal sinful condition. It may be that some of St. Peter’s people are dealing with life and death issues right now in a dramatic way.
       If we were members of the church I attended as a youngster or if we thought as Nicodemus did before he met the Lord, we wouldn’t have much to say to comfort each other. But since we are Christians, the triune God gives us a great deal to say. When we use the word “God”, we don’t mean a distant Father only, but the Son and the Spirit as well joined together in a wonderful divine unity working to bring about our eternal happiness through salvation from sin. The one God in three Persons enters the world with all his qualities – power, knowledge, love, caring, the willingness to comfort and to make new so that we’ll have something perfect and whole and unchanging to live by and to cling to no just in moments of extreme need, but every day of our lives. The Trinity is always near us with the warmth and friendship, the mercy and forgiveness of our never-failing God. Paul ends one of his letters by referring to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. If we think of God not as a distant figure but as once essence having three Persons all active in the world for goodness, then we are in a position to trust that God is the great healer and solver of problems.
       Paul writes that a time is coming when we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the last trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable. And John writes in Revelation that he saw a new heaven and a new earth and the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God and a loud voice saying from the throne, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them and they shall be his people and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear and death shall be no more, neither shall their be pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”
       This time has not yet come. We still live in a world of trouble, so the church and the Bible encourage us to hope that one day the Father, the Son, and the Spirit will solve our life-and-death problems and that we will be present for the resolution. What a wonderful time that will be – to see God face-to-face and to live rejoicing in his presence forever.
       Meanwhile, the three Persons of the Trinity don’t leave us alone to twiddle our thumbs. We live by our baptismal faith; we receive the Lord’s body and blood in the sacrament when it is offered. The Spirit of the Father and the Son dwells in our hearts, to forgive our sins, guide us, convince us that Christ is Lord and Savior, and to strengthen us to meet the demands of life in the earthly kingdom and also as we confront our gravest challenge – the fear of death. Uncertainty about the end of life influences thoughts and behaviors in many ways. But as our Lord says, God the Father sent him into the world so that believers wouldn’t perish but have eternal life. He is raised up above all fears and doubts and every anxiety so that we may focus on him and gain strength and hope from our faith in the wonderful destiny God has prepared for us.
       There are times when we may fear that our problems are too much for us. God, the Father, the Son and the Spirit, has entered the world to lift us up and to assure us that all things are in his hands and that he will bring good out of everything for all believers. God invites us to trust him with our problems. He knows better than we do what needs to be done. In His name we rejoice. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN

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