Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lamentations.3.22-33; Fifth Sunday after Pentecost; July 1, 2012;


The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust— there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” (Lamentations 3:22–33, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Lamentations. Now here's a book I feel connected to this summer. The prophet Jeremiah wrote this text. It is a series of complaints to God about how he is dealing with his people. They've not listened to God's commands, he's punishing them and the book is their (but especially Jeremiah's) verbal complaints. He explains why God's anger has turned against them but he also gives God's people assurance of God's love. He reminds them (and us) that God's love is unlike any other love. Jeremiah points this out very strongly with the Hebrew word hessed (translated into English as steadfast love). This word hessed is used most often in the Old Testament of God's love toward his people. His unfailing love. His everlasting love. His not-idly-standing-by-whilst-His-people-die-in-their-sins love. His Jesus-on-the-cross love. His Father-forgive-them love. His my-God-my-God-why-have-you-forsaken-me love. That's what's going on with God's people and the prophet Jeremiah. They've done wrong. They are suffering under God's anger over their sin. But God, through Jeremiah promises them that his anger doesn't last forever, and his forgiveness lasts for eternity.

The passages directly before our text are a powerful verbal lament, a cry of anguish, over the loss of the sacred city, Jerusalem, at the hands of the Babylonian army. God sent the army in response to his peoples' sin. They cry out to God because he is the only one who can answer and change the situation. He is the only one who can change their suffering. Just listen to some of the complaint. (Note: Jeremiah speaks in the first person, standing in for all God's people).

3 I am the man who has seen affliction

under the rod of his wrath;

2 he has driven and brought me

into darkness without any light;

3 surely against me he turns his hand

again and again the whole day long.

4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;

he has broken my bones;

5 he has besieged and enveloped me

with bitterness and tribulation;

6 he has made me dwell in darkness

like the dead of long ago.

7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;

he has made my chains heavy;

8 though I call and cry for help,

he shuts out my prayer;

9 he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;

he has made my paths crooked.

10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,

a lion in hiding;

11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces;

he has made me desolate;

12 he bent his bow and set me

as a target for his arrow.

13 He drove into my kidneys

the arrows of his quiver;

14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,

the object of their taunts all day long.

15 He has filled me with bitterness;

he has sated me with wormwood.

16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,

and made me cower in ashes;

17 my soul is bereft of peace;

I have forgotten what happiness is;

18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;

so has my hope from the Lord.”

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,

the wormwood and the gall!

20 My soul continually remembers it

and is bowed down within me.

21 But this I call to mind,

and therefore I have hope:


All that is described here is real suffering, but it is temporal, earthly suffering. After all of this, Jeremiah sets a strong contrast right at the beginning of our text.

The steadfast love (hessed) of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (3:22)

God's hessed, his steadfast love, is never ending. His compassion never ends.

It is important to remember here that, in this case, God's people are suffering because of their "grievous sin" against God. They rebelled against his word. God's just response is punishment. He gave them over to the Babylonians. But even in this punishment he did not forsake them, or leave them. They bear a yoke, a symbol of a burden and trials, placed on them. But through these difficult times they are helped to endure future sufferings. And learn to wait for God's salvation.

Proverbs says:

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:11–12, ESV)

Jeremiah says the same thing in a different way.

It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (3:26)

This also, is what our sins do to us. We pay the earthly consequences when we sin. Lies destroy friendships. Ignoring the truth of God's word leads to a culture of death. Our selfishness leads to poverty. Our addictions lead to sickness and death. Our sinful desires lead to broken marriages, and fatherless children. These are temporal, worldly consequences of our sin. And God allows us to live in them. He does it so we can clearly see our need for him to save us. We think that we are immune to the effects of our own sin. But they are the same. We think we can avoid the consequences of the "little" ones. But in our hearts we know they are the same, because we strive not to be found out in them. Ultimately all sin has consequences, temporal, worldly and eternal. This is the yoke we bear as we live and breath in God's created order. Sin is our lot because we reject God and his holy and perfect will for our lives. Doing that has consequences that directly lead to death.

I've been to a few funerals lately. And the object lesson is very clear. Much of our speaking at times like these tries to cover up the fact that people die because they deserve to die. If there were no sin, there would be not death. A coffin is a reminder that we are aimed at returning to the dust from which we came. And it is our sin the pushes us there. Every time we pay the consequences of "the little ones" we are getting a foretaste of the ultimate consequence.

So what hope is there? God's hessed! God himself is our hope. He is the very object of our hope. He is faithful and merciful. He is just. He is good. The suffering he sends is good for his people, and never unjust. His punishment is his alien work, it is not a part of his nature. What comes from God's heart is hessed, steadfast, unending love. That's what we find in Scripture. It is the written history of God's hessed.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (hessed). He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.” (Psalm 103:8–9, ESV)

This text on Jeremiah's lips, describes God's ultimate salvation, his ultimate hessed. Jesus bears the eternal yoke of our sin. It is God who put it on him, just as the Romans put the cross on Jesus. Jesus bears our sin, in humiliation he puts his mouth to the dust. He gave his cheek to be struck and his beard to be pulled out. He was scorned and insulted. Shame, our shame, was heaped on him. He shouts

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1, ESV)

That would be our cry, if it were not suffered by God's own Son. He not only suffers temporally, that is worldly, but eternally. He suffers hell there on the cross. The abandonment of God. God turns away and allows death and hell to fall upon Jesus. And all this he does out of hessed, steadfast love, for us. But God doesn't forsake Jesus forever. He raises him on the third day. When Jesus sighs "It is finished" all our sin, all our punishment, all our pain and suffering, all our just punishment for our sin are done away with forever. There is no greater definition of hessed than that. It is a shame that we don't have that image before us here in our sanctuary. Not an empty cross but a cross with a dead Jesus, a punished Jesus, an forsaken Jesus. After all we preach God's hessed, Christ crucified for sinners. It is all proven in the Easter cry, "Christ is risen! Alleluia! The God who does this thing for us, the God who sent his Son to suffer our punishment, the God who raised him from the dead, the God who accomplishes our eternal salvation in this way, is the God who will never let any temporal pain or suffering into our life that is not for our good. God, in Jesus Christ, is our hope. He is faithful he will do it.

God's anger is short lived. But his hessed, his steadfast love, that never ends. God's hessed is aimed at the heart of our suffering. It triumphs over bitterness, despair and hopelessness. God's anger has a conclusion. His steadfast love, hessed lasts forever. They are new every day. They are as sure as the rising of the sun, the Resurrection of God's one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Mark 3:20-35; Third Sunday after Pentecost; June 10, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “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. “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”” (Mark 3:20–35, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In one of the translations of this text it says that Jesus' family thought that Jesus was “beside himself.” It is kind of a strange expression, isn’t it. But it means to be so greatly excited by something that we don’t know what’s going on. To be so totally effected by what’s happening that we are out of control, or out of our own mind. A person who is beside himself needs help, they need someone to come and take charge of them. Someone has to step in and help.

That’s just what the family of Jesus does. Just like we would do if we saw a member of our own family “beside himself.” ..they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” But how can we take charge of Jesus. How can anyone control his action, his words, or his Spirit?

There are lots of attempts to do just that. Ways to reduce Jesus to understandable categories, and a controllable size. Way that people try to make Jesus fit into what seem to make sense and what’s logical. Here in this text Jesus’ family tries it and so do the scribes. And later on even his disciples even give it a try telling Jesus that he must not go to Jerusalem to suffer, die and rise again. But, all attempts to “take charge” of Jesus fail. Weather we call Jesus words into question because we think they are crazy, or by trying to discount his miracles, as the work of the devil or even non-existent.

But the truth is that no one ever takes charge of Jesus. Jesus, through the work of the Holy Sprit, takes charge of us.

As I said in this text we see that two groups of people are trying to take charge of Jesus, but to set the stage we should remember what’s going on in the Gospel up to this point. Remember, the Gospel of Mark is the shortest of all. Jesus moves quickly from one event to another. In Chapter 1 Jesus is baptized, tempted, calls his first disciples, drive out and evil spirit, and heals a myriad of people. In Chapter 2 he heals some more calls more disciples and teaches about fasting and the Sabbath. And here in Chapter 3 he commissions his disciples as Apostles. It all happens at a blinding pace, with Jesus clearly in charge of everything that’s happening.

Up until this time, everyone seems to be going along with Jesus in charge. No one really makes a fuss; no one tries to set a different agenda. It’s here in our text, for the first time in the book of mark, that people begin to react to what Jesus is doing. Here we have two separate groups of people trying to “take charge of Jesus.”

So far with Jesus in charge, he’s causing quite a stir. Everywhere he goes there are crowds that follow him. And they’ve grown so large and pressing that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. They’ve pressed in and around the house that they’ve come to. When his family heard about it they were concerned about his health so they start out to the rescue. “He’s out of his mind!” they say. If we would translate it literally they were saying “He’s beside himself.” They go out to take charge of him. “If he doesn’t eat he’s going to get sick! He’s working way too hard!” Someone has to do something for him. They must be thinking. In everything that’s happening around Jesus they don’t understand what’s really going on. They don’t know who Jesus really is, and why he’s come. They want to be in charge instead of him.

The second group that tries to take charge of Jesus is the scribes. They arrive brewing for a fight. They don’t like what he’s been saying. He’s disrupting their “congregations.” “He’s demon possessed!” they shout trying to discredit Jesus. But Jesus handles their claim by showing the illogic in what they say. A kingdom divided against itself can’t stand. Maybe today he’d say something like “no batter would pick up the ball to throw himself out at first base.”

But, people trying to “take charge” of Jesus isn’t limited to these examples in our text. As a matter of course we see it every day. Every few years you’ll find Jesus on the cover of Time magazine. It’s usually to report the work of the “Jesus Seminar.” This is a group of biblical scholars who say that Jesus didn’t say or do most of the things the bible tells us. What they are really saying is that they don’t like what Jesus says so they have to “take charge” and show that he didn’t say them. It’s a classic strategy, remember the scribes? Jesus is possessed by demons! Well, these scribes of the day like the Jesus who turned the other cheek but hate the Jesus who raises the dead and claims to be God.

And Jesus “family” is still trying to take charge of Jesus, too. Guess what, I’m talking about us! We are no better than the folks who went out to “take charge” of Jesus in the crowed house. They were worried about his health. We are just worried. It’s easy to worry about anything, and everything. We worry about the economy, the corn, the weather, or children, school, church… on and on the list goes. What worry really does is gets Jesus down to our size, where we can handle him, where we can be in charge. But what we forget is that Jesus “tied up the strongman.” Satan may cause us trouble but Jesus has already done him in. He doesn’t have any power over us, unless we give it to him. When we worry we do just that.

Another way we try to “take charge” of Jesus is to reduce what he did to understandable categories. That is to avoid the cross of Jesus. To call point to him as an example for living instead of the Savior of the world. There’s a song that says “it’s a strange way to save the world.” And really it’s not possible for us to understand it. “The cross is foolishness!” St. Paul tells us. “God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” Really God is beside himself in Jesus hanging on the cross dying for us. Ours isn’t to understand it, only to believe.

Jesus family couldn’t take charge of Jesus, the scribes couldn’t take charge of Jesus and neither can we. We don’t have the ability or the authority. But Jesus does have the power and authority to take charge of us! In spite of what the Scribes said, Jesus doesn’t work through the power of Satan, he works through the power of God. That’s the power of the same one who created everything. God’s house isn’t divided against itself, but working to save us by giving us forgiveness of sins. Jesus has actually opened God’s house up to people who believe in him. He’s open to forgive all sins and reclaim lost sinners.

Jesus took charge of our sin. He was the one who came and “tied up the strong man” to reclaim what was his. Jesus life, death and resurrection take charge of the sins that would make us beside ourselves. No one says it better than Isaiah. Isaiah 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Jesus says to us, “Charge your sins to me.” I’ve taken them to the cross, and to the grave and they don’t have to bother you any more. “I’m in charge here, not them, and not you.”

Do you want proof that Jesus is in charge? But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Being beside oneself must be an awful feeling. If we could only rely on some person beside us, some friend, then we wouldn’t have to be afraid or in despair. We do have someone to be beside us. Jesus Christ is there, and he is more powerful than anything that faces us. He has taken hold of us. He has taken charge of us. Jesus is beside us always. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Apostles' Creed; Festival of the Holy Trinity; June 6, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

It’s Trinity Sunday and that means we’re talking about this great mystery that is difficult for us to understand. It is tradition that on Trinity Sunday we read the Athanasian Creed. It seems difficult, but it lays out what the bible says about the Trinity very clearly. The real problem is we are trying to explain God in human language. We really can’t understand what it means that God is one in three, and three in one. It’s a mystery beyond our understanding. That's because God is, in his completeness, beyond our understanding. We only know about God what he has revealed to us in the Scriptures and also by becoming a human being in Jesus Christ. We just don’t have anything we can compare God to. You may have heard of the apple analogy where God is like an apple, core, skin and flesh, the things but one apple. Well, that is helpful but that's not God. He's kind of like an apple, but he isn't exactly like an apple. God isn’t like anything we know. He’s the most unique thing in the whole universe. He’s totally outside of it all, and yet he’s everywhere in it all. How do you explain something like that so that we can understand?

Well, I’ve found, when trying to understand the things of God, it’s best to remember and talk about what we’ve been told already. That’s what it means to confess our faith. To 'same say' back to God what he has told us about himself. One good place to find what God tells us about himself is in the Apostles’ Creed. Turn to page 322 in your hymnal. There you’ll find the Apostle’s creed and Martin Luther’s explanation of each article. This creed (or confession) is an important document for Christians. It’s how we’ve been confessing what we believe about the Trinity for centuries. It gathers together in one place what God tells us about himself in his Word in a form that’s easy to remember and easy to speak. So today, on Trinity Sunday, let’s do just that. It’s a good time to review. Let’s read the first article together.

The First Article - Creation

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

What does this mean?

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

First, we should notice that we confess together, and call God our Father. Father’s day is coming. The Creed reminds us that God is our Father. It’s the first way we have to get a handle on what the Trinity is. We may not understand exactly what it means that God is a Trinity, but we can understand what it means that God is our Father. Just as our earthly fathers are supposed to provide for us, we confess that we believe that our Heavenly Father provides us with everything we need: Body, soul, eyes, ears all my members, reason and senses… etc. clothing shoes, food drink… I really don’t think Luther left anything out. God has provided all these things to us, everything necessary for us to live, and work and play. I think the really important phrase here though is “and still take care of them.” God is not the kind of Father that gives and forgets. He’s the Father that gives and keeps on giving! In fact, God is the kind of Father that never stops giving. He gives everything, and then He gives more. One of my seminary professors said you can’t understand God unless you begin to speak in mathematical impossibility. God is three in one. That’s a mathematical impossibility. God gives us everything, and then He gives us more. Just think, the bed you slept in last night, the food you ate for breakfast, the pew you are sitting in right now, all gifts from a loving Father. He gives you all that and there is still more to give. It’s impossible but that’s what He does. He gives us complete forgiveness through the all that Jesus did. We have full and complete salvation right now, and yet there is more to come as we look forward to the end of time, when God will give us even more. We have the complete forgiveness of sins, and yet God gives us even more through the Word of forgiveness spoken through the lips of your Pastor, and even more when we open our mouths and he puts forgiveness into us through the Body and Blood of Christ. We also confess that He protects us from harm and danger. God does what our earthly fathers are supposed to do and more. It is a picture we can come close to understanding. So maybe this Trinity isn’t completely beyond our understanding after all.

What about the second article? Let’s read it.

The Second Article - Redemption

[I believe] in Jesus Christ, His-only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

What does this mean?

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

This article is at the center of the creed and it’s also the center of our faith. It’s at the center of our faith. It’s about the second person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ. We are Christians. Christian means “Little Christ.” We are believers in Jesus, the Christ, followers of Jesus Christ. Our faith is in the life death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. That’s the big gift given to us from God, the Trinity. And right here in the creed we have the whole story about what He did for us: He was born, lived, suffered, died, raised again to life, ascended into heaven, and coming again. And Luther doesn’t waste any time when he tells us. Thru Jesus Christ, God has redeemed me a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and the power of the devil; Think of John 3:16 the most famous passage in the whole bible and part of what Jesus said to Nicodemus in the Gospel lesson for today. We could all even say it together even if we’ve never memorized a single verse of the bible I’ll be we know this one “for God so loved the world…” This is the heart of everything we confess here in this church.

Notice how it doesn’t talk about what we do, but only about what God gives to us through faith. And because of all that He did He is my Lord. Jesus is born of the Virgin. Jesus redeemed me. Jesus purchased and won me from sin that lives in my heart, death that is my just reward for that sin, and Satan who uses that sin to drive me away from God. And he didn’t do it with gold or silver, as we would try to do it. It wasn’t bribery; the gift that God gives was earned. It was purchased with His holy and precious blood. He let out his blood on the cross where nails pinned him as a payment for your sin. His willingness to die for you and me was the price that He paid. That I may be his own and live under him… The gift that he gives through his life and death is real life: a life or righteousness, innocence and blessedness.

And there’s one more thing to talk about here. It’s the resurrection of Jesus. All of the gifts God gives through Jesus are secured through His resurrection. As the creed says just as he has risen from the dead so these things are also true for us. The resurrection is the proof of Jesus perfect life and death. The resurrection is the promise of God’s gifting us more in the future. Life here can be good with God’s gifts, but if there was nothing after death it would all come to an end. But that’s God’s addition again. He gives all there is to give, all that we need to support this body and life, and then He gives more yet; eternal life, life that goes on and on forever; a perfect life with Him every day. All that He has to give is beyond our thinking. Just as the Trinity is beyond our thinking, just as the forgiveness of sins is beyond our thinking, just as Jesus resurrection as a promise of our resurrection is beyond our thinking, so God’s giving is beyond our thinking.

That’s what the Christian faith is all about. That’s what we confess when we talk about the second person of the Trinity.

But there is still one part left. You see, after all that God has done He still does more!

Let’s look at the third article and read it:

The Third Article - Sanctification

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

Finally, we talk about the Holy Spirit, the third person in God’s Trinity, but we also about more that the Holy Spirit, too. We talk about ourselves. Look at how Luther begins his description talking about whom we are. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; You see, in spite of what many Christians believe (even some Lutherans!) our faith isn’t due to anything we do. It isn’t something that we have to figure out. It’s not something we have to accept by asking Jesus into our hearts. In fact, it has nothing to do with anything we do at all. I cannot by my own reason or strength. Luther says. That just goes against all our American pride. We want to be self sufficient. We don’t want to be dependant on anyone. That’s what makes Christianity so difficult to swallow here in the US these days. It goes against our grain. But God makes it very clear in his word, and Luther simply confesses what God has said. Faith is totally and completely a gift of God, worked out in us completely by the Holy Spirit, through Word and Sacrament. It’s God’s math again. He gives and gives and keeps on giving. We don’t deserve what He gives. We can’t earn what He gives. God is a gracious giver.

Some Christians insist that we must “accept” Jesus or “decide” to follow Him. “He has done his part and we do our part.” But we confess here in Luther’s explanation to this part of the creed that we are totally reliant on God for our salvation. When we say these words of the Creed, when we say these words that echo what Scripture tells us, we confess that we don’t meet God part way… the Holy Spirit gently calls us to faith.

These days, too, many people are focused on the Holy Spirit. They look for churches where they think they can “feel” the Spirit working. It’s a part of that idea that we’ve got to have a part to play… at least we have to feel the Spirit working. But unfortunately what they find may not be the Holy Spirit at all. You see, He’s a background player. He works behind the scenes. Just look at the list of things he does: He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. He keeps the church with Jesus Christ. If a church focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit they are really missing the point. His purpose is to point to Jesus. Often we think of the Spirit in the form of a dove, but I think another picture would be a hand pointing to the cross. When the Spirit is working people are looking at, and thinking about Jesus. Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… That’s a picture of the Spirit working right there. We get the work of the Spirit mixed up when we equate it with feelings. God, The Holy Spirit, works in our hearts through His Word, and Sacraments weather we feel him working our not. God, the Holy Spirit, works through the miracle of Holy Baptism even if we don’t feel clean afterward. The biggest testimony of that is when we bring infants here to the font. They don’t even know what’s happening and often cry with the water. Yet, we believe God, the Holy Spirit, gives them faith just as he promised. God, the Holy Spirit works when we hear His Word preached, when those words tell us of our sin and God’s gracious gift of forgiveness in Jesus, even if we don’t feel moved by the words that are spoken. God, the Holy Spirit, is at work strengthening our faith through the really present Body and Blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, even if we don’t feel any different walking away from the altar than we did when we walked toward it. If our faith was dependant on our feelings, then we’d all be in trouble, because our feelings are so fickle. If our faith was based on feelings we’d never be able to say, this is most certainly true, because the only thing we can know about our feelings is that we can’t depend on them.

So if you can’t depend on your feelings to show you that the Spirit is at work, how do you know he’s at work? We look to what we can know for sure, God’s Word, God’s promises. That’s what the creed is all about confessing God’s promises that are given through His Word. You want to see the Spirit at work? You don’t have to go very far. He is working right now, right here! All you have to do is look and listen, and taste and feel where God promises to be. Right here in God’s word, right here in Holy Communion, right here in Baptism. Anytime your attention is focused on Jesus Christ crucified for your sins, any time find yourself dependant on Jesus alone, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is at work in you. Any time you find God giving it all, and giving some more you can be sure the Holy Spirit is at work, daily and richly supplying…

So that’s the Trinity. Do I understand what it means that God is three-in-one and one-in-three? Not really. If you get it figured out let me know. It’s God’s math. The truth is that it isn’t surprising that we don’t understand it, because we are tying to describe the God who was powerful enough to create this whole universe, that we struggle to understand, and God is bigger than that. It’s OK not to understand the Trinity. What’s important for us to know is just what’s been given for us to know. What’s important is for us to confess what we’ve been given to confess about God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is how God works in our lives. The Father – Creator, preserver, provider, protector; the Son, Jesus – Savior, the Holy Spirit – Faith giver. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.