Sunday, June 25, 2023

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity - Lk 15:1-10


Trinity 3

                                                                                       Lk 15:1-10



          Last month an eight year old boy from Wisconsin went camping with his family at a state park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The boy had gone away from the camp into the woods.  When he went to return, he couldn’t find his way back and became lost.

          Naturally, when the parents realized that he hadn’t returned, they looked for him.  However, the normal efforts to bring back a child playing in the woods produced no results.  One can easily imagine the growing anxiety in the parents as they began to realize that their son was lost.

          The boy truly was lost.  The parents contacted authorities, but a day past and they were not able to find him. A large scale search began as more than 150 law enforcement members took part.  Eventually, after 48 hours being lost in the woods, the search team located the boy.  Thankfully the boy was in good health and was joyfully reunited with his family.

          We can all empathize with the plight of the parents.  How frightening it would be to know that your son was lost.  We can understand the intensity of the search that this event prompted.  A young boy lost in the forest is the cause of great concern, and there is a desire to find him as quickly as possible.

          In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus tells a parable about a sheep that has become lost and the search that takes place to find it.  In this story, our Lord teaches us about how valuable we are to God.  Though we were lost, he has exerted the greatest effort to seek us out and save us.

          Our text takes place at mealtime and involves Jesus and the Pharisees.  We are told, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” 

By this point in Luke’s Gospel, we are not surprised to hear this.  The Pharisees have repeatedly complained about how Jesus associated with those whom they considered to be unacceptable.  In particular they were offended that Jesus ate with such people.

When Jesus called the tax collector Levi – also known as Matthew – to follow him, he hosted a great feast for Jesus.  A large number of tax collectors and others were eating with our Lord.  The Pharisees and the scribes grumbled at his disciples saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Here again in our text, we hear the exact same complaint. The Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus ate with people the Pharisees considered to be sinful, and this drove the Pharisees crazy.  They couldn’t understand it. The Pharisees were a group that had developed in Palestine during the centuries that led up to Jesus’ time.  They were largely a lay group, though they did have individuals who had received specific training, and these were the scribes.

The Pharisees were very concerned with maintaining purity among God’s people.  They had taken aspects of the Torah that applied only to priests, and had extended this to include all people.  They had developed a body of teaching that interpreted how the Torah was to be lived.  This they called the “tradition of the elders.” This tradition was something that they considered to be equal with the Torah itself.

Because the Pharisees were living in the specific way that they considered to be correct, they looked down on others who didn’t follow these rules.  The Pharisees considered themselves to be superior to all who were not Pharisees. In particular they looked down on tax collectors and those whom the Pharisees called “sinners.”

Now no one likes to pay taxes, and those who are involved in collecting taxes are usually not our favorite.  When I say, “Internal Revenue Service,” your first thoughts are probably negative.  This was true as well in first century Palestine.  However, in addition, tax collectors had a reputation for being crooked.  They could assess the value as being higher than it really was, and then keep the extra money collected for themselves.

The term “sinners” is a little more ambiguous.  This probably included people who really were living in ways that broke God’s Law.  But it also included people who weren’t Pharisees, and thus weren’t doing all of things that were part of the tradition of the elders.

The Pharisees were offended that Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners.  Meals were a very important part of life in the ancient world.  They demonstrated the people whom you accepted.  By eating with tax collectors and sinners – by engaging in meal fellowship - Jesus showed that he accepted them.  This was entirely unacceptable to the Pharisees and our Lord’s continuing practice irritated them to no end.

In response, Jesus told a parable about a man who had a hundred sheep.  When he realized that he had lost one, he left the 99 and went to seek the lost sheep.  He searched until he found it.  Then, when it was found, he put it on his shoulders and carried it home.  When he arrived there, he called together his neighbors saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”  Our Lord concluded the parable by saying, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Our text today contains bad news and good news.  The bad news is that we were lost.  We were lost in our sin.  And it’s not just that we were once lost. Instead, we continue to act in ways that can lead to being lost.  We find it easy to break the Third Commandment by despising preaching and God’s Word.  We let other activities take priority on Sunday morning.  We don’t spend time during the week reading God’s Word.  In general, we expend far more time and effort on things that interest us than we do on God and his Word.

Because we were sinners trapped in sin, God sought us out.  He sent his Son into the world in the incarnation as Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus declared that the words of Isaiah chapter 53 were fulfilled in himself: “And he was numbered with the transgressors.”  In that same chapter Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

God laid the iniquity of us all on him as Jesus died on the cross.  He was “wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

And by his resurrection he has given us life.  On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead.  In Christ he has defeated death.  We have life with God now, and the resurrection of Jesus is the assurance that God will raise up our bodies on the Last Day to be like Jesus’ own resurrected body.

Because of this there is joy.  In the parable the man said  at his home, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”  There is joy in the presence of God.  Jesus says, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”  And there is also joy among us, for we know that we have received the gift we could never earn or merit on our own.  It is purely God’s grace that has brought this forgiveness and salvation to us.

Jesus welcomes sinners.  But it is crucial that we recognize what kind of sinners he welcomes.  When Jesus called Levi, and the Pharisees complained he said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”  In the same way, Jesus says in our text that there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. 

Jesus receives repentant sinners.  He does not simply accept people and affirm their choices in the way that world expects.  During this month we have been immersed in this kind of view.  It has almost reached the point where I dread the month of June. The “Pride” theme supporting homosexuality is shoved upon us constantly by the government, the media and big business. The rainbow has been perverted from a sign of God’s promise to a symbol of perversion and sin.

Yet Jesus does not receive those who want to hold onto their sin.  Instead, he calls sinners to repentance.  He calls them to turn away from sin.  He calls us to confess our own sin and to turn away from it as we believe and trust in Christ for forgiveness.

Because we do there is joy in heaven.  In this forgiveness made possible by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, we learn how valuable we are to God.  And if we are, then so are the people around us.  Every person you meet is someone for whom Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead.  You must treat them with the love and respect because they are so valuable on God’s eyes.

We act in ways that reflect the love and forgiveness that God has shown us. When others mistreat you, forgive them because God has forgiven you.  When they show anger towards you, bless and help them. As Jesus states in this Gospel, But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

In our Gospel lesson, we see God’s desire to seek and to save the lost. We were lost, but by the death and resurrection of Jesus God has given us forgiveness.  In Christ there is forgiveness for all who repent. This means that we must continue to repent.  We confess our sin and turn away from it, as we receive the forgiveness won for us by Christ.  We live in the confidence that there is joy in heaven when we do so.























Sunday, June 18, 2023

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity - Eph 2:13-22


Trinity 2

                                                                                       Eph 2:13-22



          Nobody wants to be an outsider.  Nobody wants to be part of the group that doesn’t belong.  In the first century world, the Jews were definitely the outsiders.  Those who did not live in Palestine were always a minority. They stood out because they didn’t offer sacrifices to the many different gods who were found in the cities.  They were different because they circumcised their male babies – an action that Gentiles considered to be repugnant. They were known because they observed the Sabbath.  They were different because they didn’t eat food like pork.

          Of course, the Jews didn’t think of themselves as being lesser than their Gentile neighbors.  Quite the opposite, they viewed themselves as being superior. After all, they worshipped Yahweh, the one true God.  They knew that the gods of the Gentiles were nothing. The Jews had the promise of the Messiah. They had the Scriptures. The Jews had the Torah – God’s law that told them how to live as his covenant people. They were the people of God, and the Gentiles were godless pagans.

          Not surprisingly, there was a tension between Gentiles and Jews. Gentiles could see that the Jews lived a life that rejected key parts of the Greco-Roman world. They were different and stood out.  Gentiles held the Jews in disdain.  Jews felt they were superior to the Gentiles.  They looked down on the pagans.  At times, this led to violence such as in 38 A.D. and again in 40 when riots and open conflict broke out between Jews and Gentiles in Alexandria, Egypt.

          This is the background for our text this morning.  The majority of Christians in Ephesus were Gentiles.  They had experienced a remarkable change in circumstances.  Before becoming Christians, they had viewed Jews as the outsiders and looked down on them.  Yet now they were worshipping the Messiah of the Jews. They found that they were the outsiders – the ones how didn’t belong by right to God’s people.  In the verses just before our text Paul says, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-- remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

          As our Lord said, “Salvation is from the Jews.”  Yet while Christianity had begun in the setting of Judaism, it wasn’t staying Jewish.  The Church was rapidly becoming a Gentile church as more and more Gentiles became Christians, and many Jews rejected Christ.  Jews in places like Ephesus were finding themselves to be the minority – the outsiders - in the faith that was the fulfillment of their own heritage.

          Paul addresses this in our text this morning.  Just before our text, at the beginning of chapter two, he has made the point that in truth – everyone was an outsider.  All – both Jew and Gentile – faced God’s wrath because of sin. The apostle said, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

          This is the reality that describes our lives as well.  Conceived and born by sinful parents, we enter into this world as sinners.  And that sin continues to be present in our lives. We covet the success and wealth of others.  We gossip about our neighbor as we share information that puts them in a bad light.  Sin is constantly bubbling up in our lives in both great and small ways.

          All of us live in the struggle with sin.  Most of us are Gentiles who were not included in God’s covenant with Israel.  But Paul says in our text that God has acted to address both of these.  He begins by saying, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

          The apostle points us to the death of Jesus Christ in which he shed his blood.  In our text Paul says that Christ has reconciled us to God through the cross.  On Good Friday, Jesus took our sins as his own.  He received God’s judgment against them.  Paul told the Corinthians, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

          Through baptism you have shared in this saving death.  But Christ did not remain dead.  On Easter God raised him from the dead.  And because you have been baptized into Christ – because you are in Christ – Paul says that already now you share in this resurrection.  He says earlier in this chapter, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--

and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

          God has done this for you. And God has done this for all people – Jew and Gentile alike.  In our text, Paul emphasizes the unity that God has created in Christ.  As a Gentile, at one time you were far off, but now you have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

          Paul emphasizes the unity God has created in the Church through Christ.  He says, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.”  Because of Christ, there is no longer any barrier between Jew and Gentile. 

          Christ has created one new man in his body.  Baptized into Christ, we have been joined together as the Church – the body of Christ.  Because of Jesus all people now have access to God.  Paul says, “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”  We are not cut off from God because of our sin.  Instead, through the death and resurrection of Jesus for us, we are forgiven and have access to God.

          Paul emphasizes our change in status.  He says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”  Where we were once unforgiven outsiders, now through Christ we are saints and members of the household of God. We belong.

          What is more our lives are now built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.  We have their witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Paul says that as the risen Lord, Christ is the cornerstone.  He tells of how are are joined together into a holy temple in the Lord. We are the dwelling place for God by the Spirit.  God has made us holy and is with us because we are the baptized children of God.

          This new status is purely a matter of God’s grace.  Earlier in this chapter the apostle says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  It is a gift, and it is a gift that causes us to live in new ways. As Paul adds, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

          God has called you out of sin.  He has made you part of his people.  This causes you to live differently than those around us.  Paul says in this letter, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”

          Instead, we have been created in Christ Jesus to live in ways that are true to God’s will.  In repentance we put off the old man with his sinful ways.  Instead, we put on the new man that God made us in baptism. Therefore, speak truthfully with those around you.  Do not let anger rule in your heart.  Let your words build others up, instead of tearing them down.  Always consider whether you would want others to share that piece of information if it was about you.

          God has forgiven you through Jesus Christ. This is a blessing not just for you, but also for your neighbor.  Paul says in this letter, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  The forgiveness you have received cannot stop with you.  It passes on through you to those in your lives.

          These are the blessings that flow from what God has done for us in Christ.  We were trapped in sin. Most of us were Gentiles who had no claim to be God’s people.  But God acted in the death and resurrection of Jesus to change all that.  Through our baptism into Christ we have received reconciliation – we are forgiven before God.  We have been united in the Church – the body of Christ – which knows no divisions due to ethnicity or race. For through Christ, all have access in one Spirit to the Father.  




Sunday, June 11, 2023

Feast of St. Barnabas - Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3


St. Barnabas

                                                                           Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3




          Today is the Feast of St. Barnabas.  I think a strong case can be made that Barnabas is the most overlooked figure of the New Testament. Barnabas was not one of the twelve apostles.  He was not an apostle in the sense that he was directly called by the Lord like Paul.  He didn’t write any of the books of the New Testament.  Yet outside of the apostles, you can’t find a person who was more important in the early Church than Barnabas.  He appears again and again in the Book of Acts carrying out important work on behalf of the Gospel.

          In spite of this, how many Christians do you know who are named Barnabas?  I don’t think I have ever known a person who bears this name.  Likewise, how many churches do you know that are named St. Barnabas?  There are a few, but it’s not particularly common.  Barnabas is largely overlooked in the life of the Church.  And that is a shame because he was a very great blessing to the Church, and he has much to teach us about how to live as Christians.

          Because the day assigned for St. Barnabas falls on a Sunday, today we are observing the Feast of St. Barnabas. The Lutheran church retained the catholic – the universal - practice of observing the feasts of the saints that existed at the time of the Reformation.  They modified the practice in that they limited these observations to biblical figures.  In doing so, they focused the Church back on Scripture.

          As described in the bulletin, Lutherans retained this practice for three reasons.  First, we thank God for giving these faithful servants to the Church.  We recognize the great blessing that they have been and how God has worked through them. Second, we believe that through this remembrance our faith is strengthened as we see the mercy God extended to these saints.  We see that God helped them, and this reminds us that God’s helps us as well. Finally, we believe that these saints are examples in their faith and life that we can imitate. They are models for us of what the Christian faith looks like.

          Today, we will do something a little different. We will use these three reasons as the outline for our sermon.  As we walk through them, we will learn about the blessing that Barnabas was to the church.  We will see the grace and mercy that were shown to Barnabas.  And we will find in Barnabas important traits that we need to emulate as Christians.

          The first thing we need to recognize is that Barnabas was not really the name of this saint.  It was actually a kind of nick name that was given to him by the apostles.  His name was actually Joseph.  He was from tribe of Levi, but had been born on the island of Cyprus.  Barnabas means “Son of Encouragement.”  The fact that Barnaba was given this name tells us a lot about him.  We will see that he was regularly an encourager who brought people together for the sake of the Gospel.

          We first meet Barnabas in Acts chapter 4 when we learn that he sold a piece of land and set the money at the apostles’ feet. This was part of the practice of the early Jerusalem church in caring for the poor Christians.  Barnabas was generous in sharing of his possessions. We will return to this action later in the sermon.

          The next time we hear about Barnabas is in Acts chapter 9.  The risen Lord appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, and called him to be an apostle.  Paul began to preach the Gospel powerfully in Damascus, and this caused opposition.  There was a plot to kill Paul and the Christians got him out of the city by lowering him through the wall in a basket. 

          Paul then came to Jerusalem.  He wanted to join the disciples and be part of the Church there. However, the Christians were afraid of Paul because he had been a persecutor and they did not believe he was truly a disciple.  Luke tells us, “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.”  Eventually, there was a plot to kill Paul, and so the Church sent him away to Tarsus, in what is today southern Turkey.

In our text we learn that when the persecution that started with the martyrdom of Stephen scattered the Church, men of Cyprus and Cyrene came to Antioch and preached the Lord Jesus to Hellenists – to non-Jews.  They preached Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins. The Lord blessed this work and a large number of people believed.  When the church in Jerusalem learned about this, they sent Barnabas to assess the situation. When he saw the grace of God at work, true to his name, he encouraged them to remain faithful.

He also did more than that.  Barnabas saw the opportunity in Antioch, so he went to Tarsus to get Paul.  He brought Paul to Antioch and together they taught for a whole year building up the Church.  During that time the prophet Agabus declared that there would be a famine which took place during the reign of Emperor Claudius. The Antioch Christians took up a collection to help the Christians in Jerusalem, and sent it through Barnabas and Paul.

Finally, in the second part of our text, we learn how the Holy Spirit set apart Barnabas and Paul for a missionary journey.  They went through Cyprus and Asia Minor preaching the death and resurrection of Jesus.  In particular, this work brough many Gentiles into the Church. In this work, Barnabas took back seat to the preaching of Paul. He was content to see the gifts God had given to Paul at work.

When they returned to Antioch, some people came down from Judea and said, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas opposed this vigorously because it was a denial of the Gospel – the free gift of salvation in Christ.  The dispute caused the Church to meet in Jerusalem. There Paul and Barnabas bore witness to what God was doing among the Gentiles, and the final conclusion was that faith in Christ was sufficient.  Gentiles did not have to be circumcised to be part of the Church.

God used Barnabas to carry out much work for the Gospel. We also see God’s grace present in Barnabas’ life, because he called Barnabas to faith.  By all accounts it was the missionary work of the Jerusalem Church that brought the Gospel to him.  In the same way God has graciously called you to faith.  Through the Word and Baptism you have received the Gospel.  Neither Barnabas nor you deserved this.  It was God’s gift.

Barnabas was a forgiven sinner, just like you.  Despite all the great work he carried out, Barnabas was not perfect.  We learn in Galatians that when Peter was in Antioch, at first he ate with Gentiles.  Yet later, when some came who were saying that Gentiles needed to circumcised he separated himself from the Gentiles.  Paul tells us, “And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”  Barnabas failed dramatically in this event.  Yet despite the fact he was a sinner, Barnabas was also someone who continued to receive forgiveness because of Christ.  The same assurance is true for you, because you have been baptized into Christ.

Our text describes Barnabas as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”  His life was particularly characterized by the presence of the Spirit and faith in Christ.  We should pray that the Spirit would be at work in us so that we too may grow in faith.  Forgiven and saved, we should not want to remain stagnate.  Instead, we should always be seeking God’s grace by which he makes us to be a blessing to others. 

Barnabas was generous.  He chose to sell his property and give it to the Church.  His generosity leads us to consider how we are using the material blessings God has given to us.  Do we seek to hold on to them as our own, or do we view them as the means by which God enables us to support the work of the Gospel and help others? 

Barnabas was an encourager.  We see this in our text as he encourages the new Christians at Antioch to remain faithful.  In his interaction with Paul we see that he helped to bring people together.  He brought Paul to the apostles in Jerusalem.  He sought Paul and brought him to Antioch.  He encouraged others and brought Christians into contact with one another for their own good and for the sake of the Gospel.  We need to be people who encourage others.  We seek to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ by what we say and what we do. 

Finally, Barnabas was zealous for the Gospel.  He spoke about Jesus Christ with others.  He shared Christ with them.  His life leads us to consider the opportunities that God has given to us to speak about the Lord Jesus with others.  Who is in your life who does know believe in Christ?  How can you speak about Jesus to them as you share the good news of his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins?

God worked through Barnabas to bring the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins to both Jew and Gentile. His efforts played a key role in the growth of the early Church, and we give thanks to God for this.  At the same time, Baranbas was a sinner saved by God’s grace just like you are.  He lived by the forgiveness received in his baptism.  And in his faith, generosity, encouragement and eagerness for the Gospel he is a model for to follow as we live our lives in Christ. 





Sunday, June 4, 2023

Sermon for the Feast of Holy Trinity - Rom 11:33-36


Holy Trinity

                                                                                      Rom 11:33-36



          Our text this morning is the conclusion of an important discussion that the apostle Paul began in chapter nine.  He has been wresting with a topic that had obviously occupied his thought a great deal and was emotionally challenging for him. Paul had started by saying in chapter nine, “I am speaking the truth in Christ--I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit-- that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

          The apostle is wrestling with a difficult truth.  On the one hand the Gospel was the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel – the promise he had made to Abraham.  But on the other hand it was apparent that the majority of Jews were rejecting faith in Christ.  To be sure, as Paul himself notes, there were Jews who believed.  But the fact of the matter was that most had not and that the Church was rapidly becoming a Gentile Church.

          Paul identified the basic problem at the end of chapter nine. He wrote, “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.”  While not denying God’s grace, the Jews had thought that their works were part of the reason they were saved.

          The result was that they were rejecting Christ and the free gift of salvation present in him.  Paul said, “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”

          Yet as Paul continues, he also indicates that there is more to it than this.  In fact, he calls it a “mystery.”  Yes, the majority of Jews had rejected Christ, while Gentiles were believing.  But this was part of God’s plan to save both Jew and Gentile.  Paul explained, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”

          God’s calling of Israel would not fail.  Just before our text, Paul says, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience,

so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.  For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”

Paul said that Israel’s disobedience had been the occasion of God’s mercy to the Gentiles. Yet mercy shown to the Gentiles would also be the occasion for mercy to be shown to the Jews.

          How exactly was this going to work?  With this question we arrive at our text where Paul shows us that he has pursued the matter as far as human reason can go.  The apostle exclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”  The apostle says that God’s ways can’t be fully understood.  It’s just not possible.

          He explains in our text, “‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’” These statements come from Isaiah and the book of Job.  In both God emphasizes that he is the Creator who defies understanding.  Creatures are not capable of grasping his ways.  As Isaiah says, Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales.”

          Today’s text shows us that we are unable to understand how God does things.  And if we can’t understand how God does things, how can we expect to understand God himself?  It won’t be happen – it’s not possible. 

We can’t understand God.  However, the Feast of the Holy Trinity reminds us that God has revealed himself in a way so that we can describe God. We can know accurately about what God is like, even if we can’t understand how it works.

Now in our sinfulness, we would like to leave God there as unknown.  We would prefer this because then we can be our own god.  We can do things as we want to do them.  As sinners, we don’t really want a God who tells us how things are to work.  We want the freedom to decide how we want to do them. We want to use our time, resources, and sexuality as we wish.

The good news of the Gospel is that God did not leave us there – trapped in the slavery of sin that man calls “freedom.”  Instead, he acted in his Son in order to give us real freedom – he acted to give us forgiveness.  Paul told the Galatians, But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”

          In the Old Testament God had said, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”  God revealed that there was only one God. That was the absolute certain truth.  Now to be sure, there were things that made one wonder if there was more to the story.  Scripture spoke about the Wisdom of God, the Spirit of God, and the Son of Man in terms that suggested something more. Yet they remained nothing more than hints to the true nature of God.

          When God sent forth his Son to save us, he revealed himself in a new way that explained all the earlier hints.  The Father sent forth the Son, as he was incarnate by the work of the Holy Spirit.  The incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, began his public ministry with the triune nature of God placed on display.  He, the Son stood in the water while the Spirit of God descended on him and the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

          God sent his Son to redeem us from the curse of the law.  Deuteronomy said, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”  We are people who certainly fit this description.  Yet Paul explained, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’”  Christ received the curse meant for us.  He was cursed in our place in order to free us from the curse of the law.

          Breaking the law brings a curse.  It also brings death, because the wages of sin is death.  Yet God had sent forth his Son in order to defeat death. Jesus died as he hung on the tree of the cross. He was buried. But on the third day God raised him from the dead.  He vindicated Christ and on Easter began the resurrection of the Last Day.

          It was as the risen Lord that Jesus gave us the clearest statement about God.  On a mountain in Galilee he announced to the apostles, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

          Because of God’s saving revelation in Christ, we have learned that the one God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He is Three in One – the Triune God.  Scripture teaches us that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.  Yet the three are not three Gods. There is only one God.  The three persons of the Trinity are distinct as they relate to one another.  Yet God remains one.

          Reason cannot understand how this works.  That is hardly surprising.  As Paul says in our text, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”  We can no more understand who God is than we can understand how God works.

          However, this does not mean we have no knowledge about God.  Instead, what God has done in the incarnate Son has saved us.  And this saving work has revealed more about the nature of God. We have learned that the one God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He is three in one, the triune God.

          It will always be important to confess the truth about the Holy Trinity. We confess what God has revealed about himself – the description that is true. That is why confess the Nicene Creed.  This is why we say the Gloria Patri – “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and the to the Holy Spirit as it was in beginning, is now and will be forever.”  God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He has always been the triune God, and always will be.  To err knowingly – to choose to believe something different - is to lose salvation.

          Yet on this Feast of the Holy Trinity we return to the reason we know about the Trinity.  The Father sent forth the Son to be incarnate by the work of the Spirit.  God acted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to give us forgiveness. We know God as the triune God because he has saved us.  And so we say with Paul, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”