Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Are You Ready to Grow Smaller?

[This piece, originally posted earlier this evening on Facebook, is inspired by Matthew, chapter 18.]

When God came into the world to save us from ourselves, He didn't overpower us. He didn't make war. He didn't go into politics. He didn't establish a financial empire. Those, He knows, are all the ways of death, the ways of people who wrongly believe that this world can offer us freedom or salvation or meaning.

In Jesus of Nazareth, God became a sinless servant who died on a cross at the hands of every human being. That was His plan...and because of our darkened minds, we played right into His nail-pierced hands.

The God we know in Jesus always chooses what the world sees as weak, insignificant, and small to accomplish His purposes.

He doesn't do it through military conquest.

Nor through political power.

Nor with big bucks.

And He absolutely doesn't do it through preachers who promise unrepentant people success and prosperity.

Instead, God uses every believer in Christ who, convicted of their own need of Christ, call others to repentance and the faith in Jesus that alone can save us from sin, death, and darkness.

A dying world still tells us the lie that we can conquer all if we get bigger and stronger.

But freedom from all that kills and destroys us only comes to those who to the small, disdained way of trusting in Jesus to do for us all that we clearly cannot do for ourselves.

The vulnerable and weak are better able to understand this; they know that they're not "all that," that they're not gods.

Our call from the God revealed in Jesus isn't to grow up to be big and strong, or independent and self-sufficient, but to become little children who trust in Christ alone.

The phenomenal song linked below, written by the late Mark Heard, and performed by the late Rich Mullins, is a reminder of the stupid futility of pushing ourselves to the top when real life is found in surrender to God's grace, His charity.

It's time for us grow down, to descend to true greatness, becoming children at the feet of the One Who has torn eternity open for all His little children. Are you ready to get small?

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study of the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 18

Monday, June 29, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study of the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 16

June 29: Of Saint Peter, My 2010 Heart Attack, Malcolm Guite's Poem, and Following Jesus

On the calendar of the Lutheran movement, today is the Day of Saints Peter and Paul. 

We remember saints, people the Bible shows to be sinners saved by grace through faith in Christ, to remember how deep God's love is for human beings. 

Through the saints, we also remember how much God can do through sinners who turn to Jesus for forgiveness and new life.

I have experienced these undeserved gifts many times in the forty-four years since I began--imperfectly, often rebelliously--to follow Jesus. 

He called me to Himself even as I tried to dig in, a recalcitrant atheist who wanted my own way.

He called me to ordained ministry, I dug in resistantly to that, and He kept calling. 

And He has continued to call me, despite my sin, through my nearly thirty-six years of ordained ministry.

He called me and remained faithful to me even when I have been faithless or, by turns, heedless of His will or willfully intent on pursuing my own course. 

The God I know in Jesus has been gracious to me.

He has also stood by me. Moses said of Him to God's people, the Israelites, "he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6). And Jesus, God in human flesh, tells all who believe in Him: "I am with you always." (Matthew 28:20)

I have found those promises of God to be true in my walk with Jesus Christ. 

Facebook Memories reminds me that it was ten years ago today that I returned from the hospital after receiving a stent in the left anterior descending artery leading from my heart. 

Two weeks earlier, I had the "widowmaker," a heart attack with a 100% blockage in that artery. 

I probably should have died. A year later, my heart significantly damaged, likely because a local hospital ER had failed to detect what was happening at the outset, I received a pacemaker/defibrillator. (I lost 40% of my heart muscle, something that medicine can't yet restore.) 

But I remember well what the cardiac care nurse told me the day I received the stent. "We don't see too many people who survive the heart attack you had. Almost never. God must have a reason for you to still be here."

Whether the nurse said that because she knew she was speaking with a pastor or she really meant it, I have always regarded it as a true statement...although I have not always lived as though it was true. 

Like Saint Peter, even after Jesus' resurrection, there have been days when I've talked big and lived small, jumped to conclusions, followed the crowd. But I pray that, like Saint Peter, I've known to return to Jesus each day in what Martin Luther called "daily repentance and renewal." 

What I have learned, especially over the past decade, is what I suppose Saint Peter learned. Peter is the one, of course, who tells us that "baptism saves you" and that through Christ, we are born again. But Peter also found that he could still get things wrong, still had to be corrected by others in the Church, even as he lived out his life as a faithful disciple and apostle. And he learned, as I am learning, that Christ is so patient that as I turn to Him, I am born again each day.

I identify with Peter. 

That's why I asked that the Roman Catholic priest who preached at my ordination in 1984, to focus on John's account of the risen Jesus meeting the disciples on the lakeshore. There, Jesus asked Peter three times if Peter loved Him, three painful and restorative questions that allowed Peter to repent and know God's forgiveness. 

It can be painful to follow Jesus. 

It's painful for us as proud human beings to own up to our sin and to our mortality, to confess our need of Savior and our need of God. At least it is for me. 

"Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other," God tells His ancient people in Isaiah 45:22. 

And at the first Christian Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus' disciples to proclaim all of God's mighty deeds, including raising the dead Jesus to life, Peter cited words from the Old Testament to call people to turn to God in the flesh, Jesus, with the words, "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Acts 2:21) 

As Peter himself would say to Jesus, after the Lord had asked the disciples if they wanted to abandon Him as others were doing, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

All of this comes to mind because, on this day of Saints Peter and Paul and the anniversary of my coming home from the hospital ten years ago knowing that Jesus had, for His mysterious purposes, delivered me from death, the poet Malcolm Guite has reposted a poem about Saint Peter. 

As Guite reminds us, Peter shows us that while life with God is a gift freely given in Jesus, following Jesus on this side of our own death and resurrection isn't easy. 

For me always, as I suspect was the case for Peter, the greatest impediment to my following Jesus faithfully is me...always me: my sin, my preferences, my ambitions, my insecurities, my faulty judgments, my big mouth, my little faith. I always seem to be getting in the way of Jesus working in my life. 

And then there's the constant opposition Christians face as we seek to follow Jesus: the sin of a fallen world and the evil one, the devil, always on the prowl, as Peter well knew.

Yet, for all the impediments and struggles involved in following Jesus, there is no other way I want to follow. So, each day, when Jesus calls, I ask the Holy Spirit's power to do what I cannot do on my own, follow Jesus.

At my ordination nearly thirty-six years ago, we sang the haunting ahymn, They Cast Their Nets. I love the melody by Herbert G. Draesel, Jr. But the lyrics penetrate to the core of what it means to be one of Jesus' disciples, a sinner made a saint by His grace, a needy human being who keeps following Jesus even when it brings suffering or rejection or disappointment. It recalls the disciples Jesus called by the Sea of Galilee: Andrew, Peter, John, and James. In their experience of following Jesus, we see what it must be like for all who put their trust in Him:
They cast their nets in Galilee,
Just off the hills of brown;
Such happy, simple fisherfolk,
Before the Lord came down,
Before the Lord came down.

Contented, peaceful fishermen,
Before they ever knew
The peace of God that filled their hearts
Brimful, and broke them too,
Brimful, and broke them too.

Young John, who trimmed the flapping sail,
Homeless in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
Head-down was crucified,
Head-down was crucified.

The peace of God, it is no peace.
But strife closed within the sod.
Yet, let us pray for but one thing:
The marv'lous peace of God,
The marv'lous peace of God.
© William A. Percy, 1885-1942

Peter reminds me to embrace an enduring faith. Jesus says, "The one who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Matthew 24:13) Thank God!

Here is Malcolm Guite's beautiful poem for Saint Peter.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study of the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 12

Unavailable Until

That's what I call this doodle from a recent meeting. I think the block on the right was inspired by a friend's Facebook Live home studio set. But the whole thing isn't meant to be a picture of anything, really. It's just a doodle.

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Monday, June 22, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study of the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 11

Some Good News for Monday

"[Jesus declared] Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (John 11:29-30)

The world, religion, society, our families, and even our own internal expectations place all sorts of demands on us. We're told to "Do this to be worthy, successful, happy, accepted." All these demands weigh us down like the yokes used on pack animals.

Jesus says, "Turn from all that weighs you down and be set free forever as you follow Me." Through Jesus, God gives us His righteousness. Jesus has met all the legitimate demands of God's moral law and covers all who believe in Him with His righteousness. In Him, we're accepted by God with nothing to prove and set free to be all that God made us to be. "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1)

That's what the Bible calls "gospel," good news! Turn to Jesus as He calls and it's yours...every single day.

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Sunday, June 21, 2020

Claiming Our Savior

Today is the Third Sunday after Pentecost on the Church calendar and it's also Father's Day. Join us here for worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio. Below the video, you'll find the complete text of the morning's message. Have a good week!

Matthew 10:5a, 21-33
As many of you know, I came to faith in Christ in my twenties. Ann and I were married when this happened and in those early days, we spent a lot of time with a couple we’ve known since we were all in junior high school. The guy and I also hung out together, playing in rec sports leagues and endless games of ping pong. John and Beth--not the real names--are still two of my favorite people.

But over time, I became concerned about our friends’ marriage. They seemed to be drifting apart. As I prayed for them, I became convinced that if they could begin to know and follow Jesus, He could help them to forgive and love each other in ways that might save their marriage. Besides that, I just wanted them to come to trust in Jesus so that they could have eternal life with God.

I became impressed by the words Jesus addressed to His disciples of every time in Matthew 5: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15) “Lord,” I prayed, “help me to shine the light of new life through Jesus with our friends.”

John and I planned to watch a game on TV together one Saturday afternoon. I thought that might be a good time to share my faith in Jesus with him. We watched the game. The whole time, concealed under my left leg on John's and Beth’s couch, was a Christian paperback book I wanted to talk about and share with them. But no matter how much I prayed, I never worked up the courage to have the conversation with John I wanted to have. I was afraid of failure and rejection. I tried to compromise with God: I wouldn’t say anything; but I’d leave the book on the couch for John to find after I'd gone. A day or so later, John and I spoke on the phone. “Thanks for the book,” he said. But I’m sure that neither he nor Beth ever read it because, even in sharing it with them, I’d hid the light of Jesus under a bowl of fear. I have always regretted my inaction on that day! 

At the conclusion of today’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 10: 5a, 21-33, Jesus says, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)

These words likely had a deep impact on those to whom He first addressed them. He was talking to the twelve people He had called out from His fledgling Church to be His apostles, His sent ones. Jesus was sending these twelve with the authority to replicate His ministry among the people of Israel who had wandered away from God and lacking faith in God, faced an eternity of condemnation. Going throughout the villages and hamlets of their Jewish homeland, the apostles were to preach the gospel--the good news--of new and everlasting life for all who turn from sin and believe in God the Son, Jesus; teach this message in synagogues; and demonstrate the power of Jesus to deliver on the promise of the Gospel by healing the sick and casting demons from the afflicted. Just before speaking these words, Jesus tells the apostles that, when they show the light of Jesus’ loving gospel to the world, they will face opposition. Disciples of Jesus always face the possibility of rejection, marginalization, persecution, and even death because of their belief in Jesus.

But are the words Jesus speaks at the end of our lesson Law, the demand of a righteous God on unrighteous people, or Gospel, the promise of God to give righteousness and new life to all who believe in Jesus? The answer to that question is, I think, YES! There are both Law and Gospel in Jesus’ words.

Take a look at them again. Jesus says: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” Jesus does proclaim law here. The forgiveness of our sins, the restoration of our broken relationship with God, and eternal life with God are a possibility for every person who believes in Jesus. He says elsewhere, of course, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) But Jesus doesn’t force God’s forgiveness and new and everlasting life on anyone. These are gifts appropriated by faith. If we refuse to be connected with Jesus in this world, Jesus won’t force us to be connected with Him in this world...or the next. As Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.” (John 3:18)

But Jesus also makes a gospel promise in the last lines of our lesson from Matthew. If, in our everyday lives in this world, among our family members, co-workers, friends, and those we encounter each day, we own our faith in Jesus, Jesus will be willing to own that we are forever His. That's because who we are in the world, who we are publicly is really who we are privately. If our faith is authentically seen in how we live our lives, in the God we praise, in the hope we share, it all reflects what we believe deep down in our souls. The apostle Paul says in Romans 10:9: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Belief--faith, trust--in Jesus is more than mere intellectual assent to the propositions that Jesus is God in the flesh, that He rose from the dead, and that He saves those who repent and believe in Him. “You believe that there is one God,” the New Testament book of James says, “Even the demons believe that--and shudder.” (James 2:19) Faith in Jesus is a gift from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3) which, if it’s real, is seen in how we live, in our willingness to confess publicly what we believe privately. Jesus gives life as a free gift to those who believe in Him and believers learn to do what I had not yet learned that Saturday I spent with my friend John, a lesson I am still learning: Jesus enables us to get over ourselves so that we can share the best and most important relationship we have in our lives, our relationship with the God known only through Jesus Christ. Faith left unshared dies. Faith shared may encounter opposition, persecution, even death. But the One in Whom we place our faith has conquered death. And faith that is shared despite rejection and fear is never killed off, any more than the person with faith in Jesus dies off. Jesus gives life that never ends to all who believe in Him. As Jesus told His grieving friend Martha, "“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die." (John 11:25-26)

Folks, the more we dare to confess our faith in Jesus, the more we learn to trust Jesus and the more we understand how worthy He is to be trusted. He’s our Savior, God, and King. This week, ask God to help you live your faith in Jesus openly and lovingly and watch your faith grow. Amen

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study of the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 8

Scratch Pad Self-Portrait

In case you can't tell, I'm wearing a ballcap and a mask. A doodle done while talking on the telephone.

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Remembering Versus Memorializing

History is important to me. My parents made a point of teaching history to me from the time I was a little boy. From them, I learned the meaning and the privilege of being an American.

At Ohio State, I graduated with a degree in Social Studies, which was composed mostly of the study of history. I’ve always felt that anyone who votes needs to study history in order to exercise the privilege responsibly. And I love visiting historical sites.

All of this means that I am following the current debate over whether confederate monuments and symbols should come down with deep interest.

Here’s the deal.

There’s a difference between remembering history and memorializing it. 

To remember is to be equipped for good citizenship. 

To memorialize is to honor people and movements from the past.

There are people and movements it’s important to remember. But you would never take up public space to honor their memory.

Two years ago, my wife and I were in Germany. In Berlin, across the street from the US Embassy, close to the Brandenburg Gate, is a deeply moving Holocaust Memorial. It honors those victimized by Hitler’s Nazi movement. Germany also has Holocaust museums, as we do in America, and young people there are taught about the horrors of Germany’s fascist past. All of this is wise because, as President Kennedy said, “A knowledge of the past prepares us for the crisis of the present and the challenge of the future.” 

The Germans believe that by remembering the worst of their nation’s past, they can work to avoid a repetition of its horrors.

But I’ve noticed something. In Germany, there is no Fort Adolf Hitler. There’s no Goebbels Air Base, no Himmlerstrasse, no memorials to Joseph Mengele or Albert Speer. And, with the exception of marginal kook groups in that country, the Nazi flag is only seen in museums.

Why? The Germans remember their past. But they do not honor the people who made hatred and murder into public policies. They don’t memorialize those who by their warped philosophy, brought death and suffering to millions, along with destruction and shame to their land. They don’t have monuments to those who denied that Jews, descendants of Abraham and Sarah, were made in the image of God.

There’s a lesson in this for we Americans. 

The confederacy was the most grievous and consequential act of treason in American history. A group of US States initiated a war to break up the union and destroy constitutional government in defense of their desire to extend the evil of slavery into new American territory. 

The confederacy was predicated on the belief that Blacks were inferior beings not made in the image of God.

In all of this, the confederacy denied the Christian faith it professed as well as the principles of America’s founding.

Even many in America’s founding generation, which had wrestled to form a union despite differences on slavery, recognized that slavery’s days were and ought to be numbered. (Thomas Jefferson was a notable exception.)

Franklin advocated for abolition. 

Washington recognized the unsustainability of slavery and its inconsistency with our founding principles. His will provided for the emancipation of his slaves on his wife’s death.

But the confederacy insisted that slavery, their “peculiar institution” with its plantations, more aptly described by someone as “slave labor camps,” needed to be extended into more of the United States. 

That’s why the embryonic confederacy attacked United States soldiers at Fort Sumter, then unleashed the horrors of the Civil War on the country.

We need to remember the demented ideology of the confederacy in the same way that Germany remembers the demented ideology of Hitler and Nazism. 

Remembering the confederacy should call us to a deeper patriotism, a deeper commitment to the twin principles of our founding: (a) liberty (b) guaranteed by our mutual commitment and accountability. It should call us to affirm our belief in the sanctity and value of every human life and the equality of all people.

We should remember Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the other confederate traitors the way Germans remember Hitler, his sick ideology, and the horrors he unleashed on the world. But the confederacy and its battle flag deserve no honor. Traitors and haters don’t deserve to be memorialized.

[New Orleans removed a large stature of Robert E. Lee from Lee Circle back in 2017. The photo, taken by the AP, is from NPR's story on the event.]

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Monday, June 15, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Study of the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6

Even When I'm Not Feeling It

These are reflections from my morning quiet time with God today.

And the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.’” (1 Kings 17:24)

In this passage, a widow from Zarephath speaks to Elijah the prophet. Sometime before, he had come to her at God’s direction, because the brook from which he’d been drinking water during the drought dried up. God had told Elijah that this widow would prepare a meal for him.

When Elijah approached her, the widow had only a small amount of flour and oil. Elijah assured her that this supply would never run out and that if she prepared cakes for him, she, her son, and Elijah himself would live.

That’s what happened for a long time. Then, one day, the widow’s son died. She was certain that, despite God’s provision, God had sent Elijah to remind her of her sin and to kill her son (1 Kings 17:18). Elijah then appealed to God and God brought the boy back to life. It’s at this moment that the widow affirmed her belief that Elijah was a man of God who spoke the Word of God.

It seems strange that only here does the widow make this affirmation. For three years, she acted on Elijah’s assurance that, because he was God’s prophet, “the handful of flour and..little oil in a jug” (1 Kings 17:12) would sustain the three of them. She’d acted as though she believed.

When there was just enough for her and her son to fix one final paltry meal, then die, she could have told Elijah to go packing. But she hadn’t done that. She fixed a cake for the prophet and found enough flour and oil to make one for her son and herself, too.

This had gone on for maybe three years (1 Kings 18:1). Everyday, the widow went to the same nearly empty bag of flour and nearly empty jug of oil and found enough to feed the three of them.

It appears that she acted on faith and had done so for some time.

Yet when her son dies, we see her doubts. She doubts Elijah’s office as God’s prophet, doubts her own worthiness of God’s forgiveness, and doubts, it seems, that God has had anything to do with the provision He’s made for her all this time.

It’s only after God answers Elijah’s prayers for her son to be given life again that she tells Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

What I find remarkable and laudable about this woman is that she acts in faith even when she’s not feeling it.

Faith, like love, isn’t something you always feel. It’s something you act on, living out of trust in God, even when you’re not feeling so trusting.

Jesus’ death and resurrection affirm Him to be the same God that Elijah served and that He has power to set all who believe in Him free from sin, death, and futility. Jesus’ death and resurrection vindicate our faith in God.

The changed and changing lives of those we know who dare to follow Jesus also vindicate such faith.

That’s true even when, like the widow, I’m  not feeling it.

My call is to keep following the God I meet in Jesus no matter how I’m feeling. And I’m called to keep sharing Him in times of drought and surfeit, joy and sorrow, hope and despair.

No matter what, the God we meet in Jesus Christ is still God. I can trust in Him.

Father, forgive my despair. Forgive me for taking You for granted or not thinking of You at all. Forgive too, my reliance on my feelings and thoughts rather than on Your truth. Christ is crucified, risen, and ascended even when I’m not feeling it, even when I can’t understand it. Help me today to trust in You. Help me to act on a faith already vindicated by my Savior Jesus. In His name I pray. Amen

[The painting is by Bernardo Strozzi [1581-1644] and is called Prophet Elijah and the Widow of Sarepta.]

Friday, June 12, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study of the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5

1 x 1 x1=1!

Here's last Sunday's online worship service from Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio. The text of my message for the day is below. God bless you!

Matthew 28:16-20
You’ve seen it dozens of times in your life. A person is brought to a font and, while being doused with three splashes of water, is baptized “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Why, exactly, do we do that? Why do we invoke the three names of the three persons Who, Scripture teaches, make up the one true God?

The easy answer, of course, is that Jesus commands us to do it. In words we find in today’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 28:16-20. He says, “...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...” Of course, when we baptize people, our commission of making disciples hasn’t been completed; Jesus also tells us to teach them to observe everything that He has commanded. Still, we may wonder what the big deal is about baptizing people or teaching them to observe Jesus’ commandments in the name of the Father, Son, and  Spirit. What’s so important about that?

I think we need to go back to two places in the Old Testament to help us understand. First, we go to about two-thousand years before the birth of Jesus, some four-thousand years ago from where we sit now, to a couple named Abram and Sarai, whose names God would later change to Abraham and Sarah. Under oak trees in a place called Mamre, these nomads were visited by three mysterious strangers. When these three men spoke, they did so with a single voice. Abram knew that He was in the presence of God, Whose fullness apparently cannot be contained in one Person. “If I have found favor in your eyes, my Lord,” Abraham said, “do not pass your servant by.” (Genesis 18:3) And the Lord--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--did not pass Abram and Sarai by, but blessed them to be blessings to the world.

Some five-hundred years later, God tells Moses to instruct his brother Aaron and the other priests of God to bless Abraham’s and Sarah’s descendants with a benediction. You know it. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26) This Aaronic Benediction, as we call it, bestows blessings from each of the three Persons of the Trinity. You see, this benediction has three parts, each part corresponding to the three Person of the one God. It’s God the Father Who blesses and keeps us. The Father created us and all that exists and provides all that we need to live from day to day. Our call from Him is to take care of this creation and to share our blessings with others. It’s God the Son, Jesus the Christ, Who shines the loving, forgiving face of God on a fallen and mortal human race. He brings us undeserved grace, including forgiveness for our sins and new and everlasting life, for all who repent and believe in Him. It’s God the Holy Spirit, Who turns His face toward us through the Word of God. And through this Word, He empowers us to believe that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, filling us with God’s peace, now and forever!

Not all, probably not most of, God’s ancient people, the Israelites, understood God’s three-in-one nature. Truth is, we find it hard to understand too. But the mystery of the Holy Trinity is central to God’s identity. The New Testament letter of First John says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). On this side of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we can confidently agree. In Christ, God has done His love for us, offering Himself up as the perfect sacrifice for our sins before we even know we need saving. But when he says that “God is love,” I think that John means something deeper than that. He’s saying that it is the very nature of God, always has been, always will be, to love. Love is something that God has been doing within the mystery of the Trinity in eternity before there was time, space, or matter. His very decision to give life to a creation beyond Himself sprang from a love so vast, so total, so overwhelming, so tested and true, that He made a whole universe to which He could give it a way, most especially, to a human race made in His image! People object to the whole idea of the Trinity by appealing to math. “One plus one plus one always equals three,” they say. But in the Trinity, we see a higher form of math: “One times one times one equals one,” a God superabundant in life and in love.

When God the Son, Jesus, came into our world, He did so as a human being. In effect, God cupped His hand over the glory of His deity, although Jesus was always both truly God and truly human. But God came to us as a humble slave because He wanted to woo the human race into receiving His love. He didn’t want to intimidate us, wow us, or bludgeon us with His power and perfection so that we would simply cave into Him. God chose to become our servant, dying on a cross for us, and relying on God the Father, to raise Him from the dead just as God will now do for all who turn in repentance from the ways of this world and turn instead in faith to Jesus. Jesus renounced His power so that He could woo us into the Kingdom of God by His love.

After Jesus rose, the cupped hand of God was removed. And there, on that mountain in Galilee, some of the eleven apostles worshiped Jesus, seeing in Him the very God revealed to Abram, Sarai, Moses, and Aaron long before. Jesus tells them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18) Jesus reclaimed the full authority of His deity, authority over heaven and earth, over Jews and Gentiles, whites and blacks, men and women, even over the demons of hell. Jesus, you’ll remember, had refused the devil’s offer of dominion over the puny earthly kingdoms of this world. (Matthew 4:8-9) Jesus had no interest in replacing people like Xi Jinping in China, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Kim Jong-un in North Korea, or Donald Trump in the United States. Their days, along with all the other power, money, influence, and ease a dying world craves, will pass away. Jesus persevered through cross and tomb to resurrection for one purpose only: that through faith in Him, people otherwise dying in their sin, might experience the fullness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, here and now through a glass dimly as we await our own deaths and resurrections, and in eternity when at last, we will look on the Trinity in all His fullness, power, and love.

We baptize and teach in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, because this is Who God has revealed Himself to be. But we do so also because when God’s Word is spoken--when, as Jesus commands us, the names of the Three Persons of the One God, meet water at the font--a new birth happens. The old self dies and the new self rises. The baptismal water becomes a kind of amniotic fluid and we are born again as the full power, majesty, glory, grace, and love of God claim us from the devil, the world, and our own sinful selves to make us children of God. From that point on, in every trial or temptation or test, in every joy and blessing, in every challenge and triumph, any one of which could cause us to forget God, we have the fullness of God living within us and, in the fellowship of the Church, the Word of God comes to call us to repentance and renewal in order to lead us through each day and to take us, with faith in Jesus, to our ultimate destination, into the loving arms of God. While we walk on this earth, there will remain mystery about God’s trinitarian nature. I’m not even sure we’ll fully understand it in eternity. But in the end, all we need to know is that this vast, eternal, infinite triune God of all creation loves us three times over: one times one times one. Amen