Sunday, June 24, 2012

Just Add Water

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
The Nativity of John the Baptist
June 24, 2012
There’s a question that keeps coming up that could be described as a nagging question. Not that that it’s necessarily annoying or even negative. Simply a question that keeps coming up, or hangs around there in the back of the mind. I’ve heard many people ask it over the years and have myself asked the question often over the years. It can be asked in various way but it’s along these lines: how do you grow the Church?

At the risk of being flippant, I would like to offer an equally simple answer: just add water. This answer may not be flippant at all. Oftentimes, the question that is asked is just as important as the reason for asking the question. When we want to know how to grow the church we so often look to things we can do. We look for ways we can change things in the church or add things or take away things. We look at what other churches are doing and wonder if we should imitate them. We think about how wonderful it would be to have more people and naturally we think about what we can do to make that happen.

We ask the question with good intent, but too often, out of context. When we’re asking how the Church grows we need to ask within the context of what the Church is and how it actually grows. The Gospel reading today is at the end of chapter 4 in Mark. The entire rest of the chapter is Jesus proclaiming parables of the Kingdom of God and the growth of the Kingdom, the Christian Church. Jesus is showing us that God grows His Church. It’s not what we need to do in order for the Church to grow. That’s a pretty big difference between the question of, how does God grow His Church, and the nagging question we so often ask of, how do we grow the Church?

God grows the Church. The point is not that we don’t do anything, though. The point is that when it comes to the Church growing, God grows His Church, it doesn’t grow by us changing things or adding things or removing things. Jesus’ parables of how the Church grows proclaim to us that there is a power that provides growth. There are no programs or activities we can do to make the Church grow. The power that provides growth in the Church is the Gospel. The Holy Spirit brings growth about in people through the Gospel.

When the Holy Spirit does this, guess what happens? The people of God serve and accomplish good works. While people do not become Christians through how nice we are to them, or by the amazing programs our congregation offers, or how friendly we are to them, or how much we help them in their needs, or any number of good and wonderful and godly things we do, these things certainly make an impact on people and are used by God in service of the proclamation of the Gospel. All of these things are wonderful and we should be doing them. When we think of how the Church grows, we think of things like this where we can make an impact on people. That’s why God has given us the ability to think and use reason and use common sense. People will more likely be open to us if we are considerate and kind to them.

As we do these things we shouldn’t do them to the exclusion of relying on the Gospel. Without the Gospel they are just a bunch of wonderful things we do that will serve to make people feel good without ever receiving what they ultimately need, which is forgiveness and life and salvation. We are truly loving others and truly helping them when we give them the Gospel. This is why Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, because He loves everyone. The way He truly loves us is by saving us from our sin. His salvation of the world has been accomplished, it is available to everyone. Before Jesus accomplished that salvation on the cross He spoke words of what being in that salvation is made of. When one has salvation he has life in which he grows.

When Jesus told all His parables of the Kingdom of God and the growth it has He then continued on with His ministry. On this particular occasion He got with His disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee. Perhaps in a way similar to the man He had told about in the parable of scattering the seed and then getting a good night of sleep each night while the seed did its work of growing in the earth, Jesus Himself had sown the seed of His Gospel by preaching and then Himself laid down in the boat and slept away. The Gospel was doing its work, growing in the hearts and minds of the people He had taught, even as He slept away, even as a storm was brewing out on the lake. The winds blew so heavily the water began crashing onto the boat, filling it up.

The response of the disciples may be a good picture of how we are when we wonder if we should do things differently in order to grow the Church. They woke Jesus up and said to Him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He must have been a heavy sleeper to sleep through the fierce storm. Or perhaps He was practicing what He had been preaching: getting the Gospel out and then relying on it to do its work. To them it just looked like He didn’t care whether they all drowned or not. In their question to Him there was a plea for help but it was couched in an accusation. Jesus, You have the power to save us from this, so why aren’t You? When it appears to us that the Church is not growing we have our own plea to God that He would help us grow, but with our question of how we grow the Church it’s couched in an accusation that it’s God’s fault that we’re not growing.

Jesus got up and spoke to the wind and the sea. He called out for peace. He commanded the wind and the sea to be still. On the one hand you have Jesus perfectly content sleeping through a storm that is about to take them all down. On the other hand you have Jesus standing before the forces of nature and speaking to them as if they are His children. In each case His word has done its work. Where He had proclaimed the Gospel through teaching parables He knew He could safely take a nap because that Gospel would do its work and cause growth in those who heard it. Now, where there were forces in nature that had no ears or minds or capacity for reason and ethics, He spoke His word again. There is immediate result, the wind and the waves stop. It is just as God spoke of it in the Old Testament reading for today: “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its  waddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?”

What does this tell us about God? It tells us He is the Creator. He brought into existence the wind and the sea. How He did it was by speaking these things into existence. His word is that powerful. It brings into being things that are not in existence. When God creates He also sustains. What He has created He has caused to grow. Even as He brought into existence things like the wind and the sea, He commands them at will, simply by speaking His word to them. They are His creation, they submit to Him and His word. So if they rise up in a furious storm that will overtake a boat carrying even Jesus Himself, they do so with the perfect knowledge of God Himself and by His allowing them to do so.

And maybe that was the point the disciples needed to get. They were in the boat, with Jesus. When the wind rose up and the waves rolled into the boat, instead of seeking deliverance from them, they simply should have realized they were in the boat with Jesus. If we think the Church isn’t growing, maybe instead we would realize that we’re in the boat with Jesus. Everything is going to be all right. Things are not nearly as bad as they seem. Whatever we think may be wrong with the Church, God is in perfect oversight over His creation and over His Kingdom., the Christian Church.

Perhaps the disciples even needed this Baptism of this furious storm. It served a similar purpose to a Baptism of fire. Just as fire purifies, water cleanses. If the disciples thought they were going to perish from the water overtaking them and that Jesus was going to be idly by sleeping, maybe they were right. That’s what happens in Baptism, after all. You perish. Your sinful flesh is drowned. If you don’t want that to happen, well, it’s pretty natural, isn’t it? It’s just as we confess our sins: we are by nature sinful and unclean. Kind of like the disciples in the boat about to drown, they were deathly afraid of that; in the same way your sinful flesh doesn’t want to be drowned in those waters of Baptism. They going to overtake you just as the waters flooding into that boat.

Jesus’ words struck home: Do you still have no faith? It’s true, we’re just like the disciples. Without Christ, without those cleansing waters of Baptism, of our own will and power, our sinful flesh, we have not faith. And we perish eternally because of it. That’s what we need to be saved from. And that’s why Jesus just adds water. He brings that torrent of water upon you so that your sinful flesh doesn’t stand a chance. Your sinful flesh will fight against it but Christ’s word is the last word. If He can tell the waters to be still, He can tell them to flood into your life through Baptism and cleanse you from your sin. It’s His Word that’s operative here. Just as He had been preaching in those parables of the Kingdom. If the disciples had been taking it to heart, they would have gone to Jesus in humility and trust rather than questioning and accusation.

Will we take the Gospel to heart? Will we trust that God is going to grow His Church according to His word and according to His ways? How much more of a blessing to rejoice in being in the boat. Let the waters come, when Christ’s word is behind it, there is only blessing, only growth. Amen.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why You Don’t Need to Know

Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 17, 2012
There’s a difference between not knowing and uncertainty. You can have quite a bit of knowledge about something and still be uncertain. In a similar way, there are things you don’t understand and yet are very certain of them. God doesn’t reveal everything to you but what He gives you you can be certain of it. There are some things you know of God but you don’t know everything. Why is it that we long to look into those things we don’t know and don’t understand rather than simply being certain of those things He gives us?

There’s a reason He does it this way; we know it to be true on a fundamental level. We operate this way in so many areas of life. The way Paul states it in the Epistle reading is that we walk by faith and not sight. One area of life it works this way that we know well is in the home. Since today is Father’s Day, consider how it is a father raises his children in a godly way. One thing he does is teach them the Word of God. Does he dump all the theology there is to know on them off the bat? Of course not. Children aren’t ready for that off the bat but they’re most certainly ready for the Word. So he teaches them in the same way a baby is fed. It starts with milk, moves to baby food, and then slowly and methodically goes to substantive food.

The father knows that his children don’t know and understand all of it yet, but he teaches them the basics of God’s love for them in Jesus. He knows a lot more than they do but when he is teaching them a particular thing he doesn’t tell them everything he knows about it. He keeps it simple. He explains things in a simple way they can understand.

When he does this it’s plain that he’s withholding information, and he does this in many other areas of raising his children. He’s revealing some knowledge but not all. But the reason he’s doing it this way is because this is what is best for his children. Children don’t often see it that way. They want to know why. They don’t want simply to go on the word of their father. They want more information. They don’t realize it but this isn’t beneficial for them. What is beneficial is the way their father, who loves them, is teaching them and guiding them. He gives them what they need to know. As they grow he reveals more and more to them.

One of the most important things children need to hear from their father is the simple statement: “Because I said so.” That’s not going to work every time a child asks a question but one thing children need to learn is that they simply don’t know as much as their father knows. Even more importantly, they need to learn trust. They need to walk by faith and not by sight, so to speak. Where their father is guiding them is where they need to go, whether they understand it or not. And when he says something is a certain way they need to come to the point of trusting him and taking him at his word.

Ultimately, all analogies break down at some point, and with this one it breaks down with godly fathers themselves being sinners and people who themselves make mistakes and who themselves don’t know everything. Even so, haven’t we all experienced moments when we have looked back on something our dad said and the way he told us it was and we realized that it was exactly that way and it’s only now that we have gained in knowledge and wisdom that we see that there was a reason he didn’t tell us everything we wanted to know?

As much as we want to know, there’s a certain point where it’s good not to know. Not meaning not knowing anything. We obviously know some things; even a lot of things. The Bible is a pretty big book and there’s a lot in there for us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. But the Bible itself tells us there are things God has not revealed to us. There are always questions we have, things we’d like to understand. To these things  we can always look forward to the day we’ll be in heaven where we’ll have a perfect understanding of them. Until then, we walk by faith, not by sight.

That’s why Jesus’ analogy is so great. It gets to the heart of why we don’t need to know certain things. It drives home the point that we rather should simply hold on to and trust in those things we are given to know. What the man does in Jesus’ analogy is scatter seed. He tosses it out there onto the ground. Then what does he do? He goes to bed. He takes a nice snooze, not worrying one bit about that seed. He did his work, he tossed the seed on out there on the ground and now he’s ready for a good night’s sleep.

A good night of sleep of course is followed by waking up to a new day. And what does the new day bring? It doesn’t bring anything new where that seed and ground are concerned. The seed is still there, right where the guy threw it on the ground. And yet, there’s something he knows that tells him differently. As he looks at the ground and the seed he sees nothing different from the day before. But he knows there’s something new. He knows there’s a natural process going on. He knows the seed is germinating. Notice what kind of knowing this is. It’s not an understanding of how the process works but simply that it works. A botanist would know how the process works but this guy’s a farmer. He’s not interested in how it works, just that it does.

And so he goes to bed again that night, not worrying that things don’t look any different but confident in knowing that they are. This pattern goes on for a time. He doesn’t keep adding more seed just because he doesn’t see any progress. He lets nature take its course. That’s why he can go to sleep each night knowing that he did what he needed to do. And over the course of time he is rewarded. The seed sprouts. It grows. He knew this would happen but never once worried about the fact that he didn’t know how it would happen.

Jesus isn’t giving a farming lesson and obviously there’s more to it than the few details He gives us. Jesus is teaching us to live by faith, not by sight. That’s what the guy in Jesus’ story did. He scattered the seed and then took things on faith. In time he saw results. As Jesus says, “The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” When it’s finally ripe, the man gets to work again, this time with a sickle, and he harvests the crop.

This is the way it is in the Kingdom of God. It grows. But it doesn’t grow according to things we can understand. It grows according to the seed being scattered and God producing growth despite what we see. The seed is the Gospel. You may think of all kinds of ways to get the Church to grow, but there’s one thing Jesus gives you here to actually do: scatter that seed. Get the Gospel out there. Let Him take care of the natural process of His Kingdom growing. There is no question in Jesus’ analogy of whether or not growth is going to occur. It most definitely occurs. But it’s most definitely not by what the guy does and most certainly by what God does.

Even as the man doesn’t know how the growth process takes place the people of God, the Church, doesn’t know how the Church grows, only that it does and that it is because God is the one providing the growth. The Church scatters the seed; it gets the Gospel out there and lets God do the work. We don’t worry that we don’t understand. We come to the knowledge that it’s good not to know.

But doesn’t there have to be more to it? Don’t we have to do something? Don’t we have to understand about how to reach out to people? Doesn’t it seem that it’s not working if we don’t see the growth taking place? These are not questions of faith. They are questions of our Old Adam, questions of wanting to get a handle on things, of wanting to control this process. They are questions of those who walk by sight, not by faith. It’s clear that we do things. We share the Gospel with others, we do good works, we serve others, we give our offerings to God. Do we do these things in order for God’s Kingdom to grow? No, God is the one who grows His Kingdom. We who are in the Kingdom do these things because we are in the Kingdom. God doesn’t grow His Kingdom with our good works and our offerings. Our good works and offerings are the fruit that are produced from the natural process of God growing His Kingdom.

Everything we do is by grace, just as the salvation accomplished for us was by grace. Everything we do is in response to the grace given in Jesus Christ. Salvation has been accomplished by the humblest of actions in Jesus becoming a man and Jesus suffering on the cross for sin of the world. We are brought into the Kingdom of God because God brought His Kingdom to us in His Son. His Kingdom is not as we would expect, even as we wouldn’t expect Him to come to us in the way He did.

He shows us how we should view His Kingdom in another parable for us: the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Now I don’t know about you, but if I were God I would want to compare my kingdom to something spectacular. But that’s because I see things very differently than God does. I want the Christian Church to look spectacular. I want it to be something people can look at and readily see that this is of God. But God likes to operate in subtle ways. He didn’t make things so that when a farmer wants a crop that he tosses into the ground some seed and immediately pops up the most spectacular plants you’ve ever seen. It’s a long, very boring process.

And for His Kingdom He doesn’t take the biggest and the greatest. He takes the smallest. The mustard seed is something you wouldn’t expect much from. And yet its growth is greater than we could imagine, as it grows into the largest of the garden plants. Jesus’ description goes on from there with these words: the tree “puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” This is reminiscent of what God says in the Old Testament reading today: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”

That’s really the upshot of it all. He is the Lord. He has spoken. He will do it. He does it by the very speaking of His word. He brings low the high tree and makes high the low tree; He dries up the green tree and makes the dry tree flourish. If you attempt to understand it or seek what He hasn’t revealed to you you won’t know what He has given you to know. When it comes to what He hasn’t given you to know it’s good not to know and you don’t need to know. You don’t know how it works that God grows His Kingdom, but you know it does. You can be certain of that, because He has said it and He has also said that His Word goes forth and accomplishes the purpose for which He sent it. Amen.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

On Pentecost, Patience, and Plundering

Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 10, 2012
We have entered into the Pentecost season. Christmas and Lent and Easter and even Epiphany are pretty familiar to us. But the Pentecost season can seem a long drawn out season, especially as it takes up half the year. The festival of Pentecost itself is familiar to us. We know what that’s all about, with the Holy Spirit coming in a sound as of rushing wind, appearing as of tongues of fire over the apostles’ heads; the apostles speaking in languages they did not know but that were clearly understood by the hearers of those languages.

But now we’re in the Pentecost season. What is it all about? During the Pentecost season we don’t keep talking about the Day of Pentecost. So do we just talk about stuff? Are the things of the Pentecost season on a lesser scale than those of Christmas and Easter? While certain times and festivals of the Church Year do stand out, the Church Year is an organic whole. There really is nothing in the Church Year that does not do what every other part of the Church Year does and that is bring Christ to us. Whether it is the incarnation at Bethlehem or the glory of the Transfiguration or the riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday or the suffering at Calvary or the leaving behind of the burial cloths and death itself in the tomb that is now empty, the Church Year brings to us Christ and what He has accomplished for us.

Even the event of Pentecost is an event in the life of Christ and of what He has done for us. He had promised to send His Holy Spirit and so on Pentecost He did. If the first half of the Church Year follows the life of Christ, in the second half of the Church Year we follow the life of the Church. But one who pays attention to the Church Year sees that every day of the Church Year receives its focus from the Gospel reading. Even though we’re now in the Pentecost season and following the life of the Church it’s really just more of who Christ is and what He accomplishes for us.

That brings us to the second point and that is patience. Today is the Second Sunday after Pentecost. Pentecost is still fresh in our minds. We’re still eager for this new season of the Church Year to unfold. We’re not quite ready to begin all over again with Advent and Christmas. And yet, by the calendar months we’ll still be in this season of Pentecost we’ve just begun six months from now. It’s June now and when we hit October and even go into November we will still be in the same season of the Church Year we’re in now. During the summer and into the fall when we come to church we will be celebrating festivals with such dynamic names as the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost and the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost. Celebrating who Christ is and what He has done for us or no, it can seem a little anti-climactic when you’re just adding Sunday upon Sunday to the days of the Pentecost season.

And it may not be a bad thing simply to admit this. It can seem old. It can feel that it’s not all that exciting. It can even feel that way about the entire Church Year itself, being as we repeat it each year. But this is one of the blessings of the Church Year. It teaches us patience. Children are often impatient. They can’t wait for what they want. They fail to see how waiting can be a good thing. But adults can be impatient also. When we’re at the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost and there are still several more to go we can become weary of the seemingly endless observance of the season of Pentecost.

One of the things Pentecost teaches us is patience. During this season of the Church Year we see that the Christian life is not one of spectacle but often of ordinary day to day living as servants of God. This takes patience. When the disciples waited for Jesus’ promise of sending the Holy Spirit they had to have patience. In the grand scheme of things they didn’t have to wait long. But once the Holy Spirit came in spectacular display, what happened then? There were no further tongues of fire and sounds of rushing wind. There was the almost ordinary day to day and week after week proclaiming of God’s Word and the Breaking of the Bread and prayer.

The Book of Acts makes it seem exciting how the apostles went around preaching and healing and the Church growing at a fast rate. And in a sense that is exciting. But the Book of Acts records only the beginning. The apostles continued on. The Church continued on after the apostles. We know from the Scriptures that the apostles and the first Christians were people like you and me. They had the same struggles, the same feelings, the same sins. We are no more prone to impatience than they were. In the Book of Acts we have recorded some instances where the Gospel was proclaimed by the apostles and thousands of people were converted. Do you think that happened every time they proclaimed the Gospel? Do you wonder what the apostles thought when they continued to proclaim the Gospel and not every time was followed by a mass conversion?

I believe the Book of Acts gives us this answer. They continued on in patience and faithfulness, as the Book of Acts deliberately doesn’t give us the details of the thoughts and feeling of the apostles as they continued on in making known the Gospel. This is to show that they continued to do what the Lord had called them to do even as it would continue to be done after the apostles were gone. In the rest of the New Testament we have the Holy Spirit-inspired writings of the apostles and those writings show us what kind of people they were writing to. They were people like you and me. They were sinners. They were people who had feelings and who were impatient and who had problems. All those mass conversions were wonderful, but the Church would continue on with sinners who need constantly to hear the Gospel and receive the Sacraments.

This takes patience. It teaches us humility. It shows us what faith really is about. It shows us that, just as in the Book of Acts, the blessings that come about in the Church are blessings from God. They come about through the Lord doing the work, and He does the work through the Gospel being proclaimed and the Sacraments administered. We may become impatient but our Lord is at work and He is accomplishing what He has promised to accomplish. He forgives sins and strengthens faith.

This brings us to the third point, which is plundering. For those who are faint of heart or those who want a Christianity that is all peace and love and a God who is only gentle and never harsh, the words of Jesus and the work He carries out will seem out of character and out of place. But for those who see what Pentecost is truly about and who are willing to be patient and let God do His work, Jesus’ work of plundering will be a refreshing surprise.

The first surprise comes when it seems that Jesus is doing some sort of aiding and abetting the enemy in His mini-parable on the kingdom of Satan. It almost seems as if He’s giving instructions on how the Prince of Darkness can further his kingdom: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.”

In the Gospel reading Jesus was confronted on several fronts. His family thought He was out of His mind, the religious leaders thought He was demon-possessed, and of course Satan assaulted Him by possessing many people. Jesus has come to do His work and while many people believed in Him there were many who did not. Those who rejected Him thought He wasn’t in His right mind or that He was demon-possessed so He showed that it’s impossible for Him to be of the devil if what He is doing is casting out demons. If He were doing what He was doing in the service of Satan then Satan would be working against himself and his kingdom would fall.

As it was, Satan’s kingdom was in full force and so Jesus was attacking him right back, head on. This is what Jesus means when He says that “no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” Jesus acknowledged that Satan was a strong man of sorts. Satan was on the prowl, like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. He was grabbing hold of people with demon possession. He was wreaking his havoc as he does. But as strong as Satan was, there was one who was stronger. That’s why Jesus came. He came to plunder Satan’s house. In order to do that, He said, He first must bind the strong man. Jesus came with the Gospel flowing freely from His lips, the touch of His hands bringing forth healing, and the power of His word casting out demons. Jesus was binding the strong man. Having bound him He would plunder his house.

That’s what Jesus still does, we being a Pentecost Church and all. That’s what He continues to do, though some still think He’s out of His mind for thinking that He is truly God. It’s what He does even as we need to be patient as He was with His family. His work of plundering doesn’t sound all that proper of work, but it’s very proper when You’re God and Satan is seeking to steal the people you created away from You. God created us to be in relationship with Him and Satan seeks to destroy that relationship. He does so by attacking us. God attacks right back and He does so in the proclamation of the Gospel and the Sacraments being delivered to us.

Though some thought He was out of His mind, though some thought He was demon possessed, though many thought many things of Him, none of this deterred Jesus from coming straight into Satan’s kingdom and binding him. It may have seemed a pathetic end to a ministry of such spectacle of teaching thousands, healing many, delivering people from demons, when Jesus ended up hanging on a cross only to end up hanging there lifelessly. But this was how Jesus bound the strong man. Though Satan bruised Jesus’ heal, Jesus crushed Satan’s head. Satan can attempt to overcome people with power. Jesus overcomes Satan with love. In humility He was bound to the cross and God the Father laid upon Him the iniquity of us all so that we are no longer bound by them or Satan’s lies or attacks. Jesus is the stronger one. He binds the strong man, Satan.

In patience we see this plundering work of Jesus. He continues to comes right in our midst, in this very world where Satan continues to attack people and try to overtake them. People may think we’re out of our minds believing that Jesus actually comes to us in water connected with His word and in bread and wine that are connected with His word, but we will take Him at His word. It takes patience, no doubt. It takes faith, most definitely. But Jesus took care of that at Pentecost, when He sent His Holy Spirit. He took care of that in your Baptism, when He sent His Holy Spirit again and imparted to you faith. He takes care of it when He gives you His body and blood in His Holy Supper and strengthens you in your faith. Satan doesn’t stand a chance. Standing in His grace, you do. Amen.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

To Believe in Something

The Holy Trinity
First Sunday after Pentecost
June 3, 2012
Some may scoff at the notion, but people need to believe in something. We need to have hope in something. People search in many ways for something to believe in, for something to give them hope. They turn to religion, of course. They may turn to some new spiritual philosophy or ideology. Some people turn to things they can do, they learn a new hobby or join with a group of people who are passionate about something. Some people may turn their attention to exercise and making themselves feel better. Even atheists will tell you that their insistence that God does not exist gives them hope.

Whether atheists, or those who are devoutly religious, those passionate about something they can devote themselves to, or people in desperate straits, everyone longs for something to believe in. We all want hope, something that can get us beyond our circumstances.

Many people may think the Bible is outdated and not relevant but it’s stunning to see how relevant it is to our day and what people face today. If one is so caught up in the present that he thinks what is in the past has no bearing on his life then he will miss what God has to say to him. Nicodemus was a person like you and me. He needed something to believe in. He needed hope. The Gospel reading today gives us something to believe in as Nicodemus came to Jesus needing hope and receiving it from Jesus.

So many people are confused about believing in something. They want to understand. They want to know for certain that what they believe in is true. What they mean by knowing for certain is that they want it proven. If it can’t be proven then they won’t believe it. This was Nicodemus’ problem. He didn’t understand. He didn’t take Jesus at His word because Jesus was speaking of things that aren’t proven to us but rather given to us simply to believe. Nicodemus wasn’t believing. He was pressing Jesus to explain.

What it all comes down to, Jesus was imploring him to believe, is that God is not some idea, or even religion. God is a being. He is a being who doesn’t reveal Himself in terms we can understand but rather in a way in which we can have a relationship with Him.

That brings us to what today is, Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday is one of those days in the Church Year that’s very tempting to use for what Lutherans love to do and that is expound on doctrine. But we are going to resist that temptation because Trinity Sunday isn’t about doctrine. That is because God isn’t about doctrine. He’s about loving us, the people He created. It’s true that the doctrine of the Trinity is doctrine. It has to be. God can’t reveal Himself in a way in which there’s nothing to grab hold of. When He shows us who He is there is something there that can be rationally understood in terms of talking about it. For example, if you don’t know what a bridge is and I tell you you have to cross the bridge to get over to Coronado then I need to explain what a bridge is and then you will understand how you get over to Coronado. That’s how it is with doctrine, teaching of what the Bible gives us to believe.

But where this analogy ends is that you don’t believe in the bridge in order to cross it. With God, you may understand the concept of the Trinity, but you don’t believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. You believe in God Himself. That He has revealed Himself as Triune isn’t so that we can expound on doctrine. The Athanasian Creed we confessed moments ago is admittedly tough to understand. But at the heart of this Confession of faith is what is at the heart of the Apostles and Nicene Creed as well: who God is and what He has done. We don’t confess our faith in God we because we understand it or even who He is as the Holy Trinity. We confess it because we believe it. Specifically, we believe in Him.

That’s what we need. We need to believe in something. We need hope. That’s why the Christian Church confesses the Creed, whether it’s the Apostles, Nicene, or Athanasian. Christianity isn’t just motivation. We don’t believe in Christianity, an idea, or a philosophy. We believe in God. On this day we marvel at the mystery of God as Triune. But we don’t believe in a doctrine. We believe in God. The greatest mystery of all is not how God is one God and yet revealed in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; even as there are not three Gods or three parts to the one God. The greatest mystery of all—something we will never comprehend—is His love for us. That’s what we believe in.

Imagine if it took your parents to prove to you their love for you. Imagine if it were a condition that you have a rational understanding of their love for you in order for you to know that they love you. That would pretty much reduce their relationship with you to some sort of scientific method type of affiliation. How awesome is it to simply know that they love you. What an amazing blessing it is to know that when they say they love you, when they show you that they love you, when they simply love you, that you simply know.

This is why Jesus didn’t go into some philosophical or even theological discourse on who God is. He simply told Nicodemus who God is. What He has done for him. He simply showed him that God is the one who loves Nicodemus with all His heart. And to make that abundantly clear, God did the one thing that goes beyond all rational thought and proof and comprehension: He sent His only Son to die for Nicodemus, for you, for me, for every single person. Jesus didn’t go on to say, “Do you understand this?” It’s simply belief. Whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

We need something to believe in but we don’t just believe in something. We believe in God. The God who gave His Son. The God who sent His Son to die for all of our sins. The God who gives His Son to us in bread and wine so that we may believe, so that we may know, that He gives Himself to us. To forgive us, to strengthen us, to give us eternal life, and sustain us in that life. That’s something to believe in. Amen.