6/17/2019 9:52:38 AM
A Blessed People
Pastor Joel Leyrer - Trinity Sunday - Sunday, June 16, 2019
Dear Friends in Christ, The story is told of how, at the Fountain Abbey in the north of England, medieval monks heard a sermon from their spiritual leader on every Sunday of the year except one. On Trinity Sunday there was no sermon delivered “owing to the difficulty of the subject.”
In one sense, he was right. Rationally, the doctrine of the Trinity is a difficult subject. It is difficult because it transcends our understanding. The concept of three persons yet one God and one God yet three persons doesn’t make mathematical sense to our way of thinking. It is beyond our comprehension. So how do we deal with it?
We take it on faith. If this is what Almighty God tells us about himself in the Word that He has given us, that’s all we as believers need. Period. That’s the wonderful thing about the faith that God has given us. It frees us from trying to figure out the unfathomable and allows us to simply believe and accept all the comforting and beautiful truths the Bible has to offer us. And that is what we’d like to do today.
Today’s text is how the Apostle Paul closes out his second letter to the Corinthians. They are familiar words, although we usually hear them at the end of our service. We call it the “Pauline blessing,” and it is one of the two great Trinitarian blessings the Christian church traditionally uses to close its worship. (The other is today’s Old Testament lesson. It was spoken by the first High Priest and Moses’ brother Aaron, and is therefore called the “Aaronic” blessing: “The Lord… The Lord… The Lord…”)
The doctrine of the Trinity is not just some dusty theological truth that has no bearing on our lives. Rather, it is a teaching of great comfort and strength for us today. Using key words from the Pauline blessing to outline our thoughts, on this Trinity Sunday let us joyfully consider how we truly are
A BLESSED PEOPLE
- The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
- The love of God, and
- The fellowship of the Holy Spirit
We are a blessed people because we know “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The definition many of us have learned equates grace with “undeserved love.” Taking it a little farther, we could say that grace is the free conferral of kindness on one who has no right to it, and one who could never adequately compensate for it.
A Bible illustration that comes to mind is the story Jesus told about the servant who had racked up an incredible amount of debt to his king, far more than he could ever hope to repay. When he appeared before the king, the king had mercy on him and forgave his entire debt.
Was the servant deserving of this? No. The debts were legitimate. Would the servant ever have been able to make restitution? No, even if he lived several lifetimes, he could never have repaid what he owed. What the king did for this servant was an act of pure and unadulterated grace. Undeserved love. Free and full forgiveness.
That is what God does for us through Jesus Christ.
Here’s another insight. In the original Greek language in which the New Testament was written, the word for “grace” is also the word for a gift. Put these concepts together and what we come up with is this: The “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is the freely conferred, undeserved gift of the full forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation that he gives to all who trust in him as Savior.
Or to move it from a concept to a person: Jesus Christ is the living, breathing embodiment of grace. Jesus Christ is grace in visible form.
Think about it. What led Jesus, the Son of God, to give up the riches of heaven and live on our planet for 33 years? What led him to set aside the grand garb of glory in order to wear the earth-tone hues of humiliation? What led the Sinless One to suffer and die on the cross so that we, the sinful ones who rightfully deserve such punishment, are spared the same fate?
The answer is a word. Grace. And here’s the best news yet: we are the ones who are on the receiving end of it. Listen to what Paul says earlier in the letter from which our text is taken: “For you (we!) know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your (our!) sakes he became poor, so that you (we!) through his poverty might become rich.”
Why are we a blessed people? Because we know “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” and what it means for us now and eternally.
Secondly, we are blessed because we understand “the love of God.” The Greek language has four different words for our one English term “love,” each with its own shade of meaning. The word used here is the one generally used to denote the love God has for us (agape). Behind it is the idea of a selfless, self-sacrificing type of love that expects nothing in return and gives simply because that is the nature of the giver.
The English Christian and author C.S. Lewis once wrote a book about the four different kinds of love talked about in the Bible. He made an interesting distinction between what he called “Need-love” and “Gift-love.” “Need-love” is confined to the world of man. Man has a basic emotional need both to love and be loved. When one person says of another, “I can’t live without him (or her),” that would be an expression of “Need-love.”
On the other hand, “Gift-love” resides in the domain of God. Lewis puts it this way: “In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give…” That’s agape-love. And we know just how far that “plenteousness that desires to give” went.
“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just how deep is God’s love for us? “This is love: Not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.” (1 John 4:10).
To be honest, we run out of modifiers in trying to capture all the nuances of this type of love. Here’s a few more. Selfless. Sacrificial. Extensive. Tireless. All-encompassing. Preserving. Protecting. Such is agape love. Such is the “love of God.”
And he directs it all toward us. We are a blessed people.
Finally, ours is also the “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” Once again, the original is instructive. The word for “fellowship” is koinonia, and among its meanings are: association, communion, and close relationship. Let’s zero in on that last one. It is God the Holy Spirit, working through Word and Sacrament, who brings us into a variety of close relationships. What are they? Two in particular come to mind…
First, there is the close relationship and the fellowship we have with God. I remember a conversation I once had with a man who was suffering from a slowly debilitating disease. Now he is in heaven, but at the time I spoke with him he was in a wheelchair and was becoming more and more reliant on others to do things for him.
This man had always taken his spiritual life seriously, and what I remember about the tone of the conversation was that there was not an ounce of self-pity or anger or resentment in him. In fact, just the opposite. He admitted that his life had not turned out the way he expected, but then he went on to make this short, but powerful statement: “God is my friend.”
That is the essential fellowship the Holy Spirit brokers between God and us. We know God to be our friend.
Does this mean things will always go our way? No. Does this mean God will always act in a way that makes sense to us, or that we always understand? No. Does this mean God places an invisible protective force field around us that completely shields us from any kind of physical or emotional pain that comes as the result of living in a fallen and sinful world? No.
But when we know God as our friend we know that the things he allows in our life that we do not understand or would not choose or would prefer not to deal with occur not because he’s mad at us or punishing us or forgetful of us or dismissive of us or just tired of us. God doesn’t have bad days, and we never cease to be his beloved children.
Rather, we know, in the words of Paul to the Romans, that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” And we know that regardless of what may or may not be happening in our lives, God has met our greatest need – the forgiveness of our sins – through the life, death and resurrection of his Son. And that certainly fosters a close fellowship with our Heavenly Father.
That fellowship then extends to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Take our own congregation, for example. St. John’s Lutheran Church is more than an organization of like-minded individuals. We’re a family of faith. Doesn’t mean we all think the same, because we don’t. Doesn’t mean we all have the same ideas, because we don’t. But when all is said and done, we’re still a family. Another way of putting it, St. John’s Lutheran Church is a community of believers.
Who made us a family? Who brought us into this community? God the Holy Spirit did. Working in our hearts he has brought us to understand the truths of God’s Word. We share the common bond of a common faith. And now we have not only a relationship with God, but with each other.
We have and love God. We have and love Christ. We have and love each other. This is the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” in our lives. We are a blessed people.
In fact, we are blessed three times over. On this Trinity Sunday let us simply rejoice in the status of who we are what we have… namely: “The grace of our Lord Jesus… and the love of God… and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.