Pastor Kyle Bitter - Trinity Sunday - Sunday, June 7, 2020

Text: 2 Corinthians 13:11-14

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So, whose side are you on? Doesn’t it seem like that’s become the question of the day in all kinds of aspects of society? Whose side are you on in response to a pandemic – people have all kinds of different ideas! Whose side are you on when it comes to racial and social issues – again, the lines seem to have been drawn! Whose side are you on when it comes to political ideology? If you haven’t noticed, it’s an election year! Sometimes it almost seems like everyone is expected to choose a side and then go to war against those on the other side until they’re forced to admit they were wrong with every single detail of their position! We’ve all seen the strive and turmoil that creates. Whose side are you on? It becomes the all-important question, and answering it causes nothing but trouble.

I’m guessing that many of us try and address the tension by trying to avoid taking a side at all – hoping to try and acknowledge the concerns of both sides without going one way or the other, but sometimes that sensible sounding approach seems like it just ends with everyone mad at you. I’m guessing there are others of us who try and address the tension by just putting our heads down and going about our regular lives and trying to tune out the arguing and divisiveness and just be kind to those we are in contact with, but there are times when the divisive issues have a direct and personal effect on your life or on the life of someone you care about…and then it’s a bit harder. 

In describing these things, the word unprecedented has become perhaps the most abused word in the English language. But, the strife and turmoil we see really isn’t unprecedented at all. One doesn’t have to look very hard to find all sorts of divisions and strife on the pages of history, and the same thing is true of Bible history. Couple of examples. Standing behind many of the conflicts of the New Testament, there is an ongoing conflict between the those of Jewish heritage – the Old Testament people of God – and everyone else. You can find tension between rich and the poor. You can find conflict between church leaders – Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t usually get along very well! The problem didn’t go away after Jesus came either. Today’s second lesson includes the final recorded words the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in the ancient city of Corinth, and in that congregation we see people divided into camps about which of their pastors they liked the best. We see them divided over the spiritual gifts that had been given to different members of the church. We even see fighting about applications of different biblical teachings!

And with that historic track record, it’s not hard to see the universal truth that extends down into our lives today. People are prone to divisiveness and strife – and we can see it in ourselves too! Every single one of us is born with natural propensity for selfishness – it’s what we know as our sinful nature – and the sinful nature can’t help but create turmoil and strife. The sinful nature says: my problems are the ones that matter most! My opinions are the ones that are the most correct, and what I want is what should happen, no matter what the cost! Such attitudes can do nothing but cause conflict! With that background, it shouldn’t be surprising that we see so much divisiveness in our world. It shouldn’t be surprising that our nation has been trying without success to solve divisive issues for decades, for generations! It shouldn’t be surprising that strife and division aren’t cured by laws, by wars, by political victories, by social policy, or anything else we might try. Our attempted solutions might mitigate the damage and make the problem a little more bearable, but it’s never completely gone, no matter how hard we try and no matter how clever we might be! And the worst part is this: as bad as partisan bickering and racism and social unrest and warfare and terrorism and all the rest of the divisiveness and strife we see around us can be, those things are only a harbinger of what’s to come in eternity. Sin creates division and strife between you and me and the almighty God, and unless that separation is repaired, there’s no hope for change. The worst of what we see here doesn’t even scratch the surface of an eternity separated from God in hell would be like, and if left to our own devices, that’s the direction we would all go!

But the good news is, God wasn’t about to allow that to happen. In today’s second lesson, Paul closes his letter to the Christians in Corinth by reminding God’s people of every age that God did intervene and pull his people out of that strife and divisiveness. Because of what God did, You’re on God’s Side, and that does make all the difference!

Re-United with God

You can see that in the way Paul deals with the issues that divided the Corinthian Christians from each other. As the letter closes, he encourages them to move past the things that divided them. Here are his words: “Finally brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace.” (2 Corinthians 13:11a – NIV84). That all is certainly good encouragement, but if that’s all there is you know how it would go! Even if we want to be of one mind, even if we want to live in peace, there are far too many times when our own sinful shortcomings make that impossible! So what’s the secret here? Paul doesn’t stop with just pointing out what the correct course of action is – he continues: “And the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11b – NIV84).

That’s a phrase that’s easy to say, but packed with significance in the light of what we’ve been talking about. As we celebrate Trinity Sunday today, we marvel at the fact that God is three distinct persons united together as one God – and if you ever want to see a picture of perfect harmony, perfect peace, perfect teamwork, perfect love, and a perfectly unified approach to everything, just look at God and what he does!  Look at how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all have their own distinct role in carrying out God’s objectives, working together in perfect harmony and mutual love all the way through! And when you look at God in that way, you realize why the divisiveness and strife of sin is so offensive to him. It defies everything he stands for and everything he is. And yet, what did Paul tell the Corinthians? “The God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11b – NIV84). In other words, You’re On God’s Side! And you don’t have to look far to see why that is.

The work that the Triune God is so perfectly unified in accomplishing, the job that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been pursuing with perfect planning, flawless teamwork, and absolute harmony is this: rescuing you from your natural imprisonment to sin and strife and divisiveness moving you over to God’s side of the battle. The plan to save you is the plan the Father made from eternity, the plan the Son carried out with his perfect life and innocent death, and the plan the Holy Spirit brought to you when he called you by the gospel, a plan summarized in the Apostle’s Creed that we have the chance to walk through this summer in our summer sermon series. Because of what Jesus did in keeping with God’s plan, Paul’s words are true of you and me too: The God of love and peace will be with you. And he is with you, because You're On God’s Side now – you’ve been Re-United with God!

Re-United with Each Other

And that’s the foundation for being Re-United with Each Other. It doesn’t come across super obviously in most English translations, but some of these verbs are passive voice. Paul doesn’t tell the Corinthians that they need to do anything – instead, he invites them to see what God already did and enjoy the outcome! He tells the Corinthians to “Be equipped!” – and it’s God who equipped them with the good news about Jesus! He tells them “Be called over to the other side!” and it was God who did that! And the outcome of what God did is that the Corinthians to move past the divisiveness and strife. They were united together on God’s side, living under the same Savior, and walking toward the same goal of heaven. That meant that despite their differences, they could live in peace and behave in the ways that were civil and cordial in their day and age. Paul said: “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints send their greetings.” (2 Corinthians 13:12-13a – NIV84). And once again, all of this would only happen under the blessing and provision of the Triune God, who had worked together so perfectly so that sinful people could be brought together with their sins forgiven by grace into perfect love and enjoy fellowship with one another.  Paul closed his letter with these words: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14 – NIV84).

That same blessing is on you and me today as well, because You’re on God’s Side too, and that means you have the one tool that can be used to fight against the divisiveness and strife that so naturally fills our world. Like the Corinthians, you have been called over to God’s side to be reunited with him in the same forgiveness he gives to everyone else, forgiveness offered through the same word and the same sacraments, so that God can complete his goal of taking you to be with him in the same place – his kingdom of heaven. That timeless truth re-unites you and me with everyone else we come into contact with, no matter what their race, no matter what their income level, no matter what their political affiliation, no matter what else it might be that seems to separate us – We are On God’s Side now, and that means we can strive to be of one mind and can live in peace. That doesn’t mean we always have the same perspectives and ideas, but it does mean that we approach our differences with the same mindset: a spirit of love and a willingness to listen – not to win an argument, but to learn and live in peace with those whom we share this world with and serve them as we have the opportunity, remembering all the while that these are the very same people we hope to share eternity with in Jesus. And as he sends us out, Jesus gives us the place to turn when our sinful nature rears its ugly head and tries to revive old divisions and fights. Jesus sends us with a reminder of what he’s done for us – the blessing that he has placed on generation after generation of his people, so we will close with that blessing today. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.