May 22, 2016 Trinity Equals Mercy
Yesterday being Armed Forces day I thought this would be a fitting story. Right after the Civil War, Senator Henderson of Missouri is said to have asked President Abraham Lincoln to pardon some men from here who were in prison for various military offenses. He admitted that these men did not deserve a pardon.
They deserved to remain in prison. But he appealed for mercy anyway. Lincoln replied: “I have often been charged with making too many mistakes on the side of mercy, but I’ll do it just the same.” And he wrote “pardon” by each name. With that stroke of the president’s pen, they were all set free.
God has done the same and so much more for us in Jesus Christ. In the story from the civil war, it was after the war that the pardons came. So also for us. We were at war with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and have been since we rebelled in the Garden of Eden. All of mankind cannot truly understand the Trinity, and so we, all of us, rail against it.
But God in His mercy after the war, after Christ’s defeat of all that is unholy – through His cross – after that battle was won, God now grants pardon to all who call on Jesus name. God’s word of pardon has been written on our indictments of sin. Just as Lincoln’s pen granted those pardons that were underserved by those men from Missouri, so God grants pardon, peace and reconciliation with us.
We each deserve death for calling God into question and for trying to make Him answer to us; that is what condemns us. We’re no different than others in that we also have questioned God and tried to put Him to our test. Think of the many disasters, earthquakes and inhumane acts we’ve seen in recent weeks in the news. We humans have wanted God to explain Himself to us to our satisfaction for allowing such things to take place. We’ve questioned if Jesus work alone is sufficient.
In the epistle lesson today Peter makes clear that God has attested to Jesus as His Son through the works that Jesus did. Through Jesus’ works, God is revealed. And in the ultimate work of Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection, we see that the Trinity has revealed Himself to us by His mercy. His declaration of pardon for our rebellion is full and complete in Jesus and His words and works.
Some of you’ve heard me tell the story of the man who attended a Trinity Sunday service where the pastor carefully explained the Triune nature of God – that there are three distinct Persons, but only one God. After the service the man came to the pastor and said: “I enjoyed the service, but I’m having trouble with this concept of the Trinity. I can’t understand it and I just can’t accept it!” The pastor asked the man, “What size hat do you wear?”
The man replied: “Oh, I guess about a seven. Why?” The pastor said: “I was just wondering how you expected to put the omnipresent, almighty, eternal, Triune God into a size 7 head.” This man was not unlike the Jews in the gospel lesson today. They thought that God must fit inside their image of Him. That image did not look like the iterant preacher standing before them. And so they also wanted Jesus to justify Himself to them.
Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.
For us to try and make God fit into our definition of Him comes from our own human pride and not from an understanding of His mercy shown in the glory of Jesus Christ.
According to a 2009 survey in the Seattle Times, “the number of Americans who call themselves Christians had dropped dramatically over the past two decades to 76 percent of the population, down from 86 percent in 1990. The survey substantiated the growing number of people who say they have “no” religion. The report further said that the country has a ‘growing nonreligious or irreligious minority.’”
And this week in US News and World Report I read this. Recent events in the U.S. are destroying Americans’ ability to connect to God, according to Cardinal Robert Sarah, a native of the West African nation of Guinea. In a keynote address at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, Cardinal Sarah said that in the United States, “God is being eroded, eclipsed, liquidated,” the Catholic News Agency reports.
I bring up these reports in the news to show that in our human pride we feel we need no God… other than ourselves. If there is no God ‘out there’ to believe in then we gladly put ourselves in the center of the universe and so we become our own god. That sounds like what Adam did when he choose to ignore God’s direction. Instead Adam put his judgment over Gods and took the knowledge of good and evil for himself when, on his own, he acted on what Eve gave to him and he ate the fruit of the forbidden tree.
The action we need, rather than our pride, is what Trinity, in His mercy, has done for us in Jesus Christ. Now, having received His mercy, now all our actions rest on what He has first done for us. Through repentance the Holy Spirit brings us to Jesus and we acknowledge our need for His pardon and forgiveness. As we receive God’s peace and pardon, by His mercy then we are free to act based on His grace and not on our pride. This is what His Holy Spirit empowers us to do.
It’s not as easy to live free as you might at first think, because you now choose how to live. And what then do you choose? Yes, you’re free from divine judgment by the power of the blood of Jesus when you make a mistake, though you may still have to live with the consequences in the here and now. More so, you are free to choose the ‘wrong’ but what does that profit you? What do you get from that but regret and sorrow. Yes, you are free, yet now you’re free to choose to show love for God and for each other. That was Christ’s new command on Maundy Thursday. “As I have loved you so you must love one another.” So, how will you do that?
What will you choose to do to show Christ’s love to each other? This isn’t about warm feelings; it’s about showing love. We’re free in our daily, and hourly lives to choose to show the love of God to one another as it was first shown to us, by the mercy of God, through the actions of Jesus Christ.
We are free – each day, each moment – to live in the grace God gives us. That means we’re free of old habits, free of personal rituals that lead us astray. We’re free in ways the Jews that Jesus spoke with in the gospel lesson today, did not understand.
Listen again, Jesus said, Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am! Jesus is before Abraham was born. When Jesus said those words, I Am, those Jews knew and understood that Jesus was claiming to be God. Only God is I Am, as was made known through the burning bush to Moses. Again this is the mystery of the trinity we confessed in the Athanasian Creed. So as Jesus, the great I Am, grants us His righteousness to live before the holy God of heaven, we have His mercy to live in now!
We’re no longer bound to repeat our mistakes. By Jesus’ blood and righteousness, we’re free of the guilt of our mistakes, free to put the past, all of it, behind us. Will you recognize this from God, that we are free to live / now! Here and now.
We come as a congregation to the holy triune God with our hands open to Hearing, Sharing and Living the Gospel with one another. So also in our personal, daily, moment-by-moment lives we come to God and with open hands receive His divine guidance to live out His mercy in us to others.
The Holy Trinity that is God is not something we need to have explained to our satisfaction, to fit into our ‘hat size’, in order to receive His grace, pardon and freedom. Rather we live under the knowledge that the Holy Triune God has come and made Himself known to us as – the Father, the God of heaven and earth; the Son, the redeemer and emancipator of all mankind, and as the Holy Spirit, the One who gives us power and faith to live under the freedom He bestows.
Again as St Peter said in Acts today Exalted to the right hand of God, he (Jesus) has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
Remember, that this mercy is ours only by grace through faith in the holy God who has revealed Himself as Trinity. He has poured out this knowledge on us, not that we might take pride in some ‘secret’ that others don’t have. But rather that we have the Holy Spirit poured out on us in our baptism so that we might live life now and forever by Jesus name.
And having that life as our own, to then humbly share that and give that away. We now live free of our past – free of our fears and our accomplishments. We are now bound by neither of those things. By grace we are set free to speak of the triune God of heaven. And we do so, so that others too might share in the repentance and life that is ours through Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is what is revealed to us in the mercy of the holy Trinity, in Whose name we pray, Amen.
Sermon #828 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 8 Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? 2 At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; 3 beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud: 4 “To you, O people, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind…
22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; 23 I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. 24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; 25 before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, 26 before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. 27 I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, 28 when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, 29 when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. 30 Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, 31 rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.
Second Reading Acts 2:14a, 22-36 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:… 22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, 27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ 29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ 36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
Holy Gospel John 8:48-59
48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”
49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”
52 At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”
54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”
58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.