Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Feast of The Nativity of St. John the Baptist



Luke 1:57-80; Acts 13:13-26; Isaiah 40:1-5

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

How difficult it is to comfort the comfortable. John the Baptist came preaching salvation. How odd that must have sounded in the ears of first century Jews and Gentiles who had grown comfortable in their benevolent slavery under their Roman occupiers. They had grown content and comfortable with their captivity, and they had grown content and comfortable in their sins and idolatries. How odd the Baptist’s preaching of salvation must have sounded to them. “Salvation from who?” they must have wondered. “Salvation from what?” they must have asked.

John was sent at a time when prophecies were thought to be dead. No one had heard from a prophet for several hundred years. Entire generations of Jews and Gentiles had been born, had lived, and had died neither hearing or believing in prophecy. Those few, but a remnant, who held the old faith, were surely thought to be out of touch, ignorant, unenlightened fools. While they prayed their prayers and made their sacrifices and tried the best they could to live according to God’s Word and will, their neighbors, even their brothers and sisters, at best, ignored them and considered them quaint and ignorant, and at worst, mocked and ridiculed and persecuted them. Additionally, the religious leadership of the Jews, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, interpreted God’s Word in a strict, legalistic manner that made it burdensome and oppressive, that served only to crush weak faith or to harden proud hearts. They did not teach repentance unto forgiveness, for they believed that a person could be right with the Lord by performing works according to the Law.

How would John’s preaching be received today? I believe that it would be, and that, in fact, it is, received in much the same way as it was in first century Israel. The message of salvation is largely rejected. How difficult it is to comfort the comfortable. The message of salvation is an objective message. In order for there to be sin and repentance, there must be an objective reality, truth, or law that is universal and absolute. Today, men reject both truth and absolutes – absolutely, I might add. And, in order for there to be absolution, there must be someone who has the holiness and the authority to decree, judge, and execute justice accordingly. Today, men reject holiness, righteousness, and universal authority, decree, judgment, and justice. For, today, as in John’s day, men reject God, but they supplant Him with a myriad of gods, goddesses, and idols, particularly, the god that is oneself.

How difficult it is to comfort the comfortable. You are to believe that you live in the most advanced culture and society ever to grace the face of the planet. Indeed, our technology is so advanced that families can be scattered all over the globe and still communicate in real time, even with video and audio. Of course, technology has also served to foster the scattering of families all over the globe. And, our medical science and technology is so advanced that people are living much longer and healthier lives. Of course, our medical science and technology is so advanced that 1.21 million babies are aborted each year in the United States (that’s 3,322 per day), and medical care has become so expensive, due to corruption and greed in the medical, pharmaceutical, and insurance industries, as well as in the government, that the families of elderly persons are increasingly forced to assign a monetary value to their loved one’s life in comparison to the cost of their care. And, what remarkable, astounding freedoms we enjoy in our country and throughout the world! You are free to do almost anything you want, so long as it does not directly impinge upon someone else’s freedom, that is, again, unless you happen to have not been born yet, or you are elderly or incapacitated in some way and someone else has reckoned your life less valuable than the cost of your care. But, beyond that, you can do anything, because nothing is immoral, except saying that someone’s behavior is immoral; nothing is wrong, except saying that someone’s actions are wrong; nothing is sinful, except naming a behavior to be sinful. Indeed, all things are to be tolerated, except perceived intolerance. And, because there is no God, all things and all people are gods. And, because all things and all people are gods, there is no god.

Now, if you are comfortable with all this, then you must surely think John the Baptist’s preaching, indeed, you must surely think my preaching, to be quaint, ignorant, and utter foolishness. Perhaps you even think it to be judgmental, bigoted, hate speech. How difficult it is to comfort the comfortable, indeed.

Nevertheless, John the Baptist was sent to comfort God’s people by preaching repentance unto the forgiveness of sins. John proclaimed that man’s warfare with God was ended, and that all man’s iniquities and sins were pardoned and forgiven by our God and LORD in the one who was to come, the one whose sandals John was not worthy to untie, God’s Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. John came preaching in the wilderness of this world to people who had convinced themselves that this life and world, with its sin, suffering, and death, poverty, crime, corruption, and war, is paradise and the fulfillment of what it means to be human and alive. John came to proclaim the truth to a people who no longer believed in truth, but had come to believe the lies of the great liar and deceiver, Satan. Though they considered him mad and a fool, his wisdom and his authority were not in his person, his birthright, or in his material worth, but his wisdom and his authority were in his proclamation of God’s Word before priests and kings, before the poor and the widowed, before Jews and Gentiles, before prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, and all the unclean. To all the world John proclaimed a baptism of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins – the greatest comfort imaginable, the greatest comfort there is.

The world was, and the world is still, perplexed by John and his message. He was prophesied to proclaim comfort, but his message was one of convicting Law unto repentance. Because men have believed the lies of the Liar, they do not know the comfort that comes from repentance and absolution. But, there is comfort in looking outside of yourself. For, the world’s peace and comfort is no peace and comfort at all; it is always fleeting and never satisfying or sufficient to clear your conscience of the stain of guilt. John proclaims true comfort and true peace proceeding from a conscience that has been washed clean of the stain of guilt and sin with the innocent shed blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ blood comes from outside of you, but it is for you, and for the forgiveness of your sins.

Your LORD knew that you were too enmeshed in the lies of the Liar to receive and believe in the gift of His Son, so he sent John to go before Him to prepare the way for His coming. John did this by preaching repentance and by baptizing, symbolizing a rebirth and turning away from the ways of the flesh and the world to the ways of the LORD. John was sent “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” that they might receive “the sunrise from on high,” Jesus, who was soon to “visit [them] from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide their feet into the way of peace.”

In fact, John’s appearance was the result of a long series of strange interventions by God, as the Swedish Lutheran theologian Bo Giertz has observed, “Against all odds, Zechariah and Elizabeth have a son. Against every custom, Elizabeth wanted to name him John. To everyone’s surprise, the mute Zechariah writes the same name on a tablet they give him. Contrary to what is normal, the preacher’s son goes out into the dessert, and when they least expect it, he emerges with the message for Israel that the great day is at hand. God has taken care of His people and now He’s sending the Messiah. The kingdom of God is at hand.” And, all this has happened “because of the tender mercy of our God. All of the abundant wealth and beauty we see in nature and life at its best is nothing, and at last would be just a temporary ray of sunshine over those who ‘sit in darkness and in the shadow of death’, if God hadn’t in His mercy let ‘the sunrise … visit us from on high’ and given us knowledge of redemption so our sins can be forgiven.”

How difficult it is to comfort the comfortable. Thanks be to God, in His tender mercy, He has sought to make you uncomfortable. He has sought to make you uncomfortable with your sin and idolatry. He has sought to make you uncomfortable with injustice and immorality in your community, nation, and world. He has sought to make you uncomfortable with the notion that this life is all that there is – birth, life, and death – and that you are own god, and that pleasing your self is the only good. Your God and LORD so loves you that He will not allow you to remain in darkness and the shadow of death. And so, He has shown the pure, bright, and holy light of His Son upon you so that no one should perish, but that all may repent, receive, and believe, and, believing, have life in His Name.

Jesus said that “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” That one is Jesus Himself, “who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

John understood his role as the forerunner, sent to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus. He confessed Jesus’ holiness and divinity by, initially, refusing to baptize Him, but he relented upon Jesus’ insistence that it was fitting for them to “fulfill all righteousness.” John also confessed Jesus to be the Messiah of God by saying “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.” And, lastly, John humbled himself before his disciples saying, “He must increase; I must decrease.” And so, we celebrate God’s sending of the forerunner of Jesus to prepare His way, St. John the Baptist, on this festival day and every Lord’s Day singing “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” For, He is present amongst you with His Word of Holy Absolution, true comfort and peace, and with His holy body and precious blood to commune with you that you have life in Him and give life to others to the glory of His Holy Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Homily for The Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 2)


Luke 14:15-24; 1 John 3:13-18; Proverbs 9:1-10

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Lady Wisdom has built Her house. It is a palatial dwelling, even a temple, having seven pillars. For, indeed, Lady Wisdom is none other than the glorious presence of God dwelling amongst men, first in the Garden, later in the Tabernacle and in the Temple, and lastly and consummately, in the person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Likewise, the seven pillars are the Holy Spirit of God in His seven-fold gifts – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, holiness, and the fear of the Lord – through which He calls, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps in the true faith those who do not reject Him.

Wisdom has slaughtered Her beasts; She has mixed Her wine; She has also set Her table. And, now, “She has sent out Her young women to call from the highest places in the town, ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ To him who lacks sense She says, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and live, and walk in the way of insight’.” That is to say, “The feast is prepared. Come to the Lord’s Table.” For, everything is accomplished for you. It is finished. There is nothing to do but to come and to receive what Wisdom has prepared for you.

The invitation is offered to all. Let us not get hung up on the order or the ranking of the invitees – first to the A List, then to the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, and then to the highways and the hedges, indeed, to all the world. In the end, there is no one who does not receive the Lord’s gracious invitation to His banquet. All are invited, unconditionally. The only way to miss out on the feast is to reject the Lord’s gracious invitation.

Sadly, many do just that; many reject the Lord’s gracious invitation. Concerns for this world and life cause them to make excuses. But, there is no excuse, for this is the Lord’s banquet, and He is the King of kings and Lord of lords; He is God, the Creator of all that is. You would not reject a personal invitation from your boss, let alone the President of the United States, but will you reject the invitation of the Lord and giver of your life? Nevertheless, you are free to do as you please. The ability to reject Him is God’s gift to you. If you will not come, that’s a real shame, for a place is reserved just for you, and at a premium, the shed blood of God’s Son. The invitation is extended to all. It’s as simple as that. But, those who reject the Lord’s gracious invitation will not taste of the banquet He has prepared for them. It’s as simple as that.

Yet, the Lord’s banquet hall will be filled. It will be filled by all those who do not reject the Lord’s gracious invitation, but who receive it in faith and who come and eat. They are the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame – literally, but also metaphorically – for, they are all those who are not so proud so as to reject an invitation, and they are those who have not so many fleshly and worldly distractions in their lives to get in between them and their Lord. Indeed, when Jesus taught that it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, He was not passing judgment upon wealth and riches, or even upon those who possess them, but He was acknowledging how easy it is for those who have much to become slaves to their possessions, thus making them idols by permitting them to get in between themselves and the Lord. By definition, the poor, including those poor of body, mind, and spirit, have much less in the way of fleshly and worldly possessions to get between themselves and the Lord, and so it is easier for them to receive and to believe than it is for those more deeply enmeshed in worldly trappings.

Indeed, the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame are, in many ways, like children, whom Jesus repeatedly holds up as an example of faith. They are simple – not in the sense of being stupid or foolish – but they are simple in worldly ways, and they are open to instruction and learning, as they are not yet set in their ways. These simple ones are invited to receive insight, even wisdom and life. Jesus taught that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it”. It is not that those who are wise in worldly ways cannot enter the kingdom of God, but rather it is that they will not, for they make excuses, they refuse, or they consider God and His kingdom to be foolishness. They have not the fear of the Lord, which is to say that they are not in awe of God and they do not offer Him worship, they have no personal confidence in God or knowledge of His character, and their sense of morality is not rooted in obedience to His Law. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom because it is a return to a simple and childlike faith that is open and receptive to the Word of the Lord, His ways, and His Truth.

But, the Lord’s Wisdom stands in opposition to the wisdom of the flesh and the world. Thus, those who receive the invitation and do not reject it have passed out of death into life. Therefore, they are hated by the world. You must not be surprised by the world’s hatred of you, for so the world hated Jesus, your Teacher, who came before you. Likewise, He is your model, your guide, and your example that you may love others, even those who hate you, as Jesus loved all and died for all, that all might be forgiven and live. Scoffers will come. Show them love. They may turn in repentance, or they may hate you and persecute you – it matters not – for you have died to the flesh and to the world and you live to God, therefore you must love your brother and your neighbor as God so loved this world of sinners, sin, and death in His Son Jesus Christ. You children of Wisdom, called out of death to glorious and eternal life, give life to your brother and to your neighbor by loving him in deed and truth as God so loved you in Jesus.

For, the invitations are out, to the highways and the hedges, even to the ends of the earth, and the Lord is well past simply asking people to come, He’s now compelling them to come, so that only those who reject His gracious invitation will miss out on the banquet. Therefore, you who have received His gifts must share them, in love, with all, that they too will receive the Lord’s gracious invitation and live. And, to equip you for this mission of love, and to keep you in and to strengthen your faith, the Lord has provided you a foretaste of His heavenly banquet in this feast of the body and blood of His Son Jesus. The feast is prepared. Come to the Lord’s table.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Homily for the Holy Marriage of Dilshan Perera and Carolynn Baker

Matthew 19:4-6; Ephesians 5:1-2, 22-33; Genesis 2:7, 18-24

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

There is something special and sacred about marriage. Marriage is the oldest institution known to humankind. It was instituted by God Himself in the Garden of Eden as He joined the man that He had created from the earth, Adam, to the woman He had created from Adam’s flesh, Eve, and the two became one flesh.
Individually, they were each created in the image of God, having the capacity to love another selflessly and sacrificially. But, that image became clearer still as they then could give to each other and receive from each other that selfless and sacrificial love, and thus know more fully the kind of love that their Creator and God had for them. Their union was so very close, so very intimate, that it made them to be as one flesh. Eve was Adam’s body, and Adam was Eve’s head, bone of bone, flesh of flesh, both having the love and the life of God within them.

God made them to be creators like Him, or, more precisely, pro-creators with Him. They had the ability and the potentiality within them to bear fruit and to bring forth new life. But, this could only happen with love – true selfless and sacrificial love. For, the man must truly die to himself and his selfishness and selfish ways and live for his wife, for her welfare, for her life, and for her salvation. And, likewise, the woman must truly die to herself and her selfishness and selfish ways and live for her husband, for his welfare, for his life, and for his salvation. This manner of sacrificial selflessness happens spiritually. It happens emotionally. And, yes, it happens physically in the sexual union of husband and wife.

In truth we are not so unlike the varied trees of the garden. For, we too bear the seed of our own kind within us. And, when that seed is rightly fertilized, we have the potentiality of producing fruit according to our own kind – children, likewise pro-created in the image of God. The man’s seed, alone, cannot produce this fruit. The woman’s seed, alone, cannot produce this fruit. But, when the seed is brought together, each seed dies to what it was before, and new fruit, new life is brought forth. Indeed, this was the image that Jesus used to describe His selfless and sacrificial death saying, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Because the Son of God selflessly and sacrificially gave Himself up for His Bride, the Church, She lives and She bears much fruit in many sons and daughters of faith to the glory of God. Moreover, God so selflessly and sacrificially loved the world that He gave His Son into death, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have everlasting life.

Today, God’s sacred institution of marriage is under attack. Truly, it has always been under attack, often even amongst those who claim to hold it sacred. Divorce is the absolute opposite of the love of God that you are called to image in your marriage. This Jesus taught saying, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” And, likewise, men can play with words all that they want, but they can never change what marriage is or redefine it. For, marriage is, as God instituted it to be, the lifelong union of a man and woman. And, only in this arrangement and order is the image of God made manifest in the potential for pro-creation in accordance with God’s providence and blessing.

Shan and Carrie, always remember the sacred vows that you make to each other this day before God and these witnesses, and also the blessing that you have asked from God upon your union. He will bless it, richly and abundantly, in accordance with His good and holy will. But, as the institution of marriage suffers attack today, likewise will your own union be subject to many trials, temptations, and tribulations. There will be economic struggles when you will differ about how and when to spend money, and how and where to attain money. There will be philosophical struggles about the roles of men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. There will be disagreements about time and time management. And there may even be temptations from those outside of your marriage that threaten to get in between you two or sever your union. Again, you have asked God’s blessing upon your union. He will bless it, richly and abundantly, in accordance with His good and holy will. But you must remember the third partner in your marriage, Jesus Christ. And, you must not simply remember Him, but you must make Him to be the center of your marriage, the glue that holds your marriage together, the glory of your marriage. For, He is your love. He is your life. He is the forgiveness you have received from God, and He is the forgiveness with which you forgive each other. He is the grace that you give. He is the mercy that you show. He is the compassion that you have. He is the sacrifice that you make. Remember Him, give thanks to Him, and praise Him in the morning when you rise up, and in the evening when you lie down, at mealtimes, and as you contemplate important decisions. Shan, give thanks to Him for Carrie. Carrie, give thanks to Him for Shan. And, He will bless you, and keep you, and make of you a rich blessing to each other, to your family, and to countless others who witness in your one flesh union the selfless, sacrificial love and image of God.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Homily for The First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 1)


Luke 16:19-31; 1 John 4:16-21; Genesis 15:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

It’s easy to stand back and to condemn the rich man. That is, it’s easy to condemn the rich man until you are brought to see that the rich man is you. For, your heavenly Father has clothed you in the royal robe of His Son, so that you are a king or a queen with Him over all things, and He has given you to feast sumptuously of His holiness and righteousness in communion with Him, so that all that properly belongs to Him, belongs to you as well. For, through baptism and faith in Christ Jesus, you lack nothing, but all is yours. You are the richest of the rich, by grace, through faith in Christ Jesus.

Why, then, is it often so very difficult for you to give, to serve, and to sacrifice to, and for, the sake of, others? Contrary to what you might think and what others may tell you, selfishness, stinginess, and greed are much less the result of weak faith, or a lack of faith, than they are the result of a lack of love.

St. Paul has taught you in his great treatise on love in First Corinthians, chapter 13, that love is even greater than faith, hope, and a whole multitude of other great and holy works. Likewise, you must not forget that it is love, and not faith, that is said to be the fulfilling of the Law of God. Thus, St. John reminds you in today’s epistle that God, Himself, is love and, that to love others is to love God and to abide in God and God in you. Indeed, St. John instructs you, “If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” It is true that it is faith that saves. But, St. James is also correct in teaching that faith without works is dead. You can have faith in God and yet not love Him. To be sure, the devil has amazing faith in God, yet he does not love Him, but he hates Him, and he hates you whom God loves.

And so, it is not that the rich man in Jesus’ story was a faithless man, for he was not, but he was an heir of Abraham. Indeed, Abraham even addressed him as “Child”. No doubt, he paid his tithe and gave offerings of his abundance. He was likely even charitable towards, and in the sight of, those who could return to him honor and praise. And yet, he had not love, at least not love in the selfless and sacrificial manner of God. Day after day he passed by the poor beggar Lazarus who was intentionally laid at his gate each day to collect alms and offerings of food. He would not even throw him the crumbs and scraps leftover from his daily feasts, which even his dogs enjoyed. And so, the rich man, richly blessed by God in overflowing abundance with all things needful to the body and life, did not even have a thought towards helping the poor man laid at his gate in any way.

The name Lazarus means “one whom God helps”. One way in which God helped the poor, widows, and orphans was by commanding His faithful to tithe. Farmers of crops, fruit, and livestock were commanded to give ten percent of their harvest to the treasury, out of which the poor, widows, and orphans were cared for and the priests, who had no land or means of providing food, clothing, and shelter for themselves, were provided for. The tithe was ten percent of a family’s increase, gain, or profit. However, also commanded were offerings, which were above and beyond the tithe, and were typically given out of a surplus. Ultimately, the purpose of tithes and of offerings was two-fold: To provide for the poor, widows, orphans, and the priests, and to remind the children of Israel that all things belong to God, and that they were stewards and managers of God’s providence.

Understanding Biblical stewardship can help you to see how it is that failure to love your neighbor and brother is failure to love God. The truth be told, as Martin Luther confessed in his last written words, “We are [all] beggars: this is true.” We are all beggars, like Lazarus, who need, and who receive, help from God. In truth, the rich man was as much a beggar as Lazarus; he was as much in need of God’s daily providence for the things that sustained his body and life, as well as the spiritual things that delivered, sanctified, and kept his eternal life, as was Lazarus, and as are you. Only a man who truly believed that all that he had earned, deserved, and merited by his own works, energies, and efforts, justified him before God, could then justify himself to pass by or refuse a brother or a neighbor who has come to him for help. But, such self righteousness is a delusion and a deception of the enemy. It damages and destroys your love for your brother and your neighbor, because it damages and destroys your love for God.

St. John teaches you, “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” Faith is absolutely necessary for salvation, for it clings to God’s gift of love in Jesus Christ and therein receives His forgiveness, life, and salvation. But, as St. James teaches, faith without works of love, is dead. Indeed, love, true love, the love that God is, is not an emotion, a feeling, or a sentiment, but it is a work, a selfless work of giving and sacrificing. It is because God is love that He is a creator and a giver of life. It is because God is love that there is something instead of nothing – and, what a marvelous and wonderful something it is! It is because God is love that there is forgiveness, life and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. For, God so loved the world in this way, He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.

Thus, there is no moralism in Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus other than the one command to love: Love God, and love your neighbor. Love others as you have been loved. And, this is much less a command than it is the result of communion with God in Jesus Christ. Through baptism and faith in Jesus you abide in Him and He in you – you abide in His love and His love abides in you. And so, you love your brother and neighbor with God’s love. You give to your brother and neighbor of God’s gifts. And you forgive your brother and neighbor with God’s forgiveness in, through, and in communion with, Jesus Christ. This was, is, and has always been the consistent message of Moses and the Prophets. Yet it is rejected by many, even though Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.

What keeps you from doing the right thing? What keeps you from loving your brother and neighbor with selfless, unconditional love. Is it not fear? Fear of losing? Fear of being taken advantage of? Fear of being swindled? Fear of judgment from your peers who might think you a fool? St. John teaches you saying, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Because God has given you all things in Christ Jesus, there is nothing for you to fear, but all is yours. But, before you can appreciate that, and trust that, and cling to Christ in faith, you have to confess that you have nothing to lose, that all that you have truly belongs to God, and that you, on your own, are a beggar, and the recipient of God’s love, grace, and mercy poured out in Jesus. There is no fear in love, because the one who loves knows that he has nothing to lose. And, as fear has to do with punishment, there is no fear in love, for in God’s love there is no punishment because of His love for you in Jesus.

Thus, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment,” confidence that is the fruit of faith in Jesus Christ. In Christ, you may stand boldly before the Lord without fear. In Christ, you may stand boldly before the assaults of the evil one without fear. And, in Christ, you may boldly, recklessly, and selflessly love your brother and your neighbor without fear – without fear of losing; without fear of being taken advantage of; without fear of being swindled – to the glory of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now, your Lord and God invites you, His kings and queens and sons and daughters, robed in the royal righteousness of His Son, to come and to feast sumptuously on the choicest of meats and the finest of wines, in the feast of His Love in the precious body and holy blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

rublev trinity


John 3:1-17; Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 6:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Trinity is the greatest mystery of the Christian faith. And yet, belief in the Holy Trinity is necessary to salvation. Indeed, one cannot be a Christian and deny the Holy Trinity. For, to deny the Holy Trinity is to deny that, along with the Father, the Son and the Spirit are also, and at the same time, God. Thus, to deny the Holy Trinity is to deny that Jesus is God’s Son, and that He is true God and true man, and, thus, to deny the Holy Trinity is to deny that Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind.

And, to say that the Holy Trinity is a mystery, is to say only that it cannot be fully explained or understood, least of all by human reason. Nonetheless, it should not be thus assumed that the Holy Trinity cannot be, or that it is not, but only that it is beyond human reason, perception, knowledge, and understanding, although these do approach and understand the Holy Trinity in part. For, it is the nature of a mystery, not to shut you out, but rather, to invite you in, deeper, ever deeper, so that, as you begin to understand, to comprehend, and to believe, then another layer of the onion is revealed for you to ponder, to meditate upon, and to worship.

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. It is necessary to confess the Holy Trinity, and what is necessary to confess has been revealed by the Holy Trinity. That is to say, you may only say of the Holy Trinity what God has said affirmatively in His Word, and you can only say negatively that which contradicts what God has said affirmatively. For, the Holy Trinity is a mystery and an article of faith. It cannot be comprehended by the human mind, for it is before the human mind and the source and creator of humanity. And yet, your Holy Triune God reveals Himself to you in creation, in spirit, and in Word.

You must receive what God reveals in faith. Thus Jesus taught Nicodemus “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” and “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”. The gift of faith comes in the manner of the gift of life: It is received, not earned. It is given, not apprehended. It is revealed, not reasoned. The Holy Spirit of God calls, gathers, sanctifies, and keeps in faith those He chooses, where and when He pleases. Thus, you are the recipient of His gracious workings, just as you are the recipient of the cooling breeze of the wind, and as you are the recipient of life itself. Jesus asked Nicodemus, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” and He taught Him saying, “we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.” According to his fleshly wisdom and understanding, Nicodemus could see, with his own two eyes, and reason with his fleshly mind, that Jesus was a great Rabbi and teacher blessed by God. But his human flesh, wisdom, and reason could not comprehend that God was not only with Jesus, but that Jesus was God in human flesh, sent by the Father, and that upon Him the Holy Spirit had descended and remains and abides.

Nicodemus was a learned and pious man of faith, yet, he struggled to believe what he could not confirm with human observation and reason. So, like Thomas, like Peter, and like all the Apostles, and like you, he was limited by what he could know and by what he could see, and he demanded, implicitly if not explicitly, a sign or a demonstration of Jesus that would conform to human reason, wisdom, and expectations. But Jesus did not chide Nicodemus, as He did not chide Thomas, Peter, or you, but He invited Nicodemus to stop trying to earn, take, and apprehend, but, instead, to receive the testimony of the Holy Triune God in Word and Spirit and Truth. For, faith and belief in the Holy Trinity is a gift of God’s grace, just as is forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake. Isaiah received the gift of absolution when the seraphim touched his lips with a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. Nicodemus received this gift when he was born again of water and spirit in Holy Baptism. In the same way you too have received this gift. And, in Jesus Christ, the whole world has been given the gift of God’s love for forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

In today’s Collect we acknowledged the gift of grace that God has given to us in revealing Himself in Trinity; we prayed, “Almighty and everlasting God, You have given us grace to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity by the confession of a true faith and to worship the Unity in the power of the Divine Majesty.” And, we also prayed that the Lord would “keep us steadfast in this faith and defend us from all adversities” that we might keep the catholic faith whole and undefiled. For, you are daily buffeted and assaulted by godless doctrines and secular humanism which makes no allowance for what human reason cannot comprehend.

But your Holy Triune God has given you yet another gift of His grace and love. He has raised up for you on the cross His only-begotten Son that all who look to Him will not perish but will have eternal life. Where human reason and wisdom see and comprehend only a dead man upon a pole, just as the Israelites in the wilderness saw only a bronze serpent, you behold God Himself in death, and you receive His life. And, because of Jesus’ death, what human reason and wisdom see in baptism as a mere washing with water, you see and confess as a lavish washing away of sins and the bestowal of faith and eternal life. And, in what human reason and wisdom sees and comprehends merely as a morsel of bread and a sip of wine, you see and confess as Holy Communion with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God in human flesh, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones for the forgiveness of sins, the strengthening of your faith, and for your life today, tomorrow, and forevermore, world without end.

For, the God who is before all things, who made all things, who sustains all things, and who fills all things, the Holy Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is present to bless you with His life and His love and His forgiveness. Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.