Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sermon -- Holy Trinity (June 15, 2014)

JOHN 3:1-15

In the name + of Jesus.

     Although atheists have become much more vocal in recent years, very few people are actually atheists.  The fastest growing religious group in America today are known as the “nones.”  They pledge allegiance to no religion.  But that does not mean they have no gods.  Many people craft their own gods today, worshiping a god who is as they would like God to be.  But these gods are nothing more than imaginary friends.  They can be blamed for problems.  They may even be credited for one’s good fortune.  But such gods are lies.  They can’t really do anything, good or bad.  They are not real.  And if your god is not real, then all the promises he supposedly makes are not real either.
     Today, Isabelle Ann Fecho was baptized into the name of God.  We did not baptize her with wishes of days of sun, laughter, friends, and wealth.  That may be what you want her to have, but that is not was baptism is for.  Baptism is not about what we wish for.  Baptism is about what God actually promises and gives.  It is about the forgiveness of sins.  It is about being adopted into the family of God the Father.  It is about being wrapped in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  It is about receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is what God tells us he gives in baptism.  And so Isabelle, like all of us before her, was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit to receive this new life under God’s love—both of which endure forever. 
     Now, if we hope to actually have the blessings we have mentioned in baptism, then the God who gives them had better be real as well.  Imaginary gods can only give imaginary gifts.  True gifts come only from a true God.  So who is God?  We believe in one God.  And yet we believe God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  You can do the math, but the math does not add up.  Our senses tell us that a Triune God makes no sense. 
      When God revealed himself to us, he did not take a poll to see how he would be received by us.  The prophet Isaiah was not consulted about God’s appearance before he stood at God’s throne.  Besides, we would never invent a god like the God who is triune.  We do not want a God who is omniscient.  We want to keep our deep, dark secrets a secret.  We do not want a God who is omnipresent.  We want to have someplace that is off limits to God.  We only want a God who is omnipotent if we can somehow harness that power for our own personal gain.  If God is holy and just, that means the standard of right and wrong is firm.  And it is unobtainable for us.  Each of us has his own standard of right and wrong, and even we do not live up to them.  In other words, we want to be gods.  We are idolaters who believe we are owed something from whatever god is out there, real or imagined.
     God is no imaginary friend, and you are no mere figment in God’s imagination.  You are a true creation of a true and loving God.  And your true gifts come from a true God.  This real God takes a real interest in you.  He wants to save you from the deadly thoughts that you are gods and that you think you could take your stand against him.  He longs to cleanse you from the dirty little secrets which you think are harmless as long as they remain secrets.  He shows you that sin is not something you try to get away with, but to repent of. 
     Nicodemus came to Jesus to discuss these things.  He was not only religious, he was a pastor.  He came to Jesus as a colleague, but Jesus would have none of it.  They were not colleagues.  In fact, Nicodemus was not even the same camp.  After Nicodemus politely complimented Jesus, Jesus rebuked him.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  (John 3:3)  Nicodemus had come to Jesus on his terms.  He saw Jesus as someone interesting, popular, and powerful.  He confessed that God was with Jesus, but he did not confess that Jesus is God.  Though Nicodemus had interest in God, he did not know him.
     Jesus continued: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6)  Nicodemus may have been polite, noble, and moral, but he was still flesh.  Though outwardly pious, Nicodemus had his dirty, little secrets, too.  He had not obeyed the Law he studied.  He could not escape his sin.  He would not escape death.  Only God could provide the escape.  Only a true God would give true gifts of forgiveness and hope.  Since Nicodemus was still hanging on to his own ideas about God, he could not see how it could happen.
     For a third time in the conversation, Jesus said, Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.” (John 3:11)  God’s truth, God’s kingdom, and God’s love must be revealed.  Just as you do not get to craft god as you want him to be, so also you do not to speak for God or establish his thoughts for him.  For all of his years of study and instruction, Nicodemus had not unraveled the mysteries of God.  You could not either.  God must make himself known to you.
     Jesus said, “We speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen….” (John 3:11)  The Holy Trinity has revealed his divine truth.  This true God imparts his true gifts.  Jesus declared that it is the Spirit who gives you new birth into a true and living hope.  That hope is made sure by the Father who loves you.  The Father demonstrates his love not by giving you stuff, but by giving you his Son.  The Father sent his Son to deliver you from your sin and death.  God the Son became flesh.  You know him as Jesus.  It is Jesus who suffered and died for all of your sins, everything cruel or petty, every one known or secret.  The Son is your escape from sin; for he brings forgiveness.  The Son is your deliverance from death; for he is your resurrection from the grave.  The Son, then, sends his Holy Spirit who works in you so that you bear the status and live the life as God’s children.  The Holy Spirit gives you new birth and new life in the kingdom of God which is ruled with mercy, love, and life.  The Holy Spirit then, points you to a gracious Son, who reveals a loving Father. 
     You have been baptized into the name of this God.  One God, and so one name.  He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  You believe it for no other reason than God has granted it.  You have been born again to a life where sin has been put to death so that it neither condemns you nor controls you.  You have been born into a living hope which is not even threatened by death; for, death has been overcome.  You are children of the resurrection now.  It isn’t this way because you have wanted it to be this way or have chosen it to be this way.  It is this way because this is who God is, and he has told you so.  Nevertheless, you rejoice that this is the way it is, because this means that you know the true God.  And if you know the true God, then you truly have his gifts. 
     Truly, truly, he says to you that your sins are forgiven, that you are children of the heavenly Father, that you now bear the righteousness of Jesus, and that you are temples of the Holy Spirit.  Your salvation is not theory.  God’s gifts are not wishful thinking.  The kingdom of God is no mirage.  You have a triune God who loves the creation he has made.  You have a triune God who has redeemed the creation which has sinned against him.  You have a triune God who reveals a true and firm salvation.  These true gifts come only from a true God.  He is always true to you, and so salvation is truly yours.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.