Festival of the Holy Trinity
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matt. 28:19; 1 Corinthians 8:4b Sermon
June 11, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
131 "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty"
138 "Most Ancient Of All Mysteries"
129 "Spirit Of God, Descend Upon My Heart"
136 "Come Thou Almighty King"
TEXT: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit….We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.”
Are you a witness for God? As you deal with people in your home, in your neighborhood, at school, at your place of work--indeed, wherever you are with people--do you have a desire that they know the goodness that God has for all of us in His Son Jesus Christ?
For most of you I suspect that the answer is "Yes." It may be true that you don't have a long list of people whom you have introduced to Christ. Don't let that bother you. Even the smallest effort, sharing a tract, offering a prayer, introducing someone to a pastor, are small but significant efforts, and bring a tremendous satisfaction when someone comes to a saving faith in God's Son. So I suspect that you do think of yourself as a witness.
If you're anything like I am, you may think, "Yeah, I'm a witness, but I'm not sure that I'm a very good one." I often feel that way. Sure, I can preach a sermon or teach a Bible class--but when it comes down to one-on-one, I often feel at a loss for words.
What do we say to people who had their homes and livelihoods destroyed by tornadoes and floods? Or think of the tragedies in life that people bring on themselves. There are parents who mourn the death of a child because they left a loaded gun in an unprotected place where their child found it and shot himself. There are tragedies that other people bring upon us. A drunk driver caused an accident in which a loved one died.
Although the explanation doesn't make a tragedy any less painful, there sometimes is an obvious explanation. But other tragedies, like tornadoes and floods, cannot be explained very easily.
It was only last year that hurricane Katrina caused all of the terrible flooding occurred in Mississippi and Louisiana. The people stood helpless as the winds and floods devastated their homes and their livelihood. Despite the media attention and relief efforts, it would take a lot more to put life back together for them again.
So what do we as Christian witnesses say about God to someone whose home and livelihood have been destroyed through no fault of their own?
Witnessing sometimes seems so hard because you and I can't make sense out of it. Sure, I could mouth religious clichés, and those religious clichés are full of meaning for me, so I'm not putting down someone who uses well-worn Bible verses like, "All things work together for good." But the fact is that those good old verses don't explain what has happened. My mind wants to understand; doesn't yours? Our desire is to say, "We can explain what's going on here." But our minds don't understand and you and I often cannot give witness to a rational explanation of what has happened. It simply doesn't add up.
I never was very good at math, at adding things up or dividing them or whatever. I remember my poor teachers trying to teach me math from elementary school all the way through high school. So many times I’d be looking at my textbook trying to do my homework, and I just couldn’t get it. I’d go to the teachers after class and ask for their help. Then they would patiently explain it, and explain it, and explain it. I wasn't sure that I was getting it at all but I must have.
I passed all of my math classes, although some not by very much. However, it is in looking back that I see I was indeed learning some math.
And there's a lesson here for witnessing. We understand so little about the way God deals with us. When something bad happens, we're often unable to give a rational explanation. It does not seem to add up. But it's when you look back, maybe six months, a year, 10 years later--when you look back you often see the good hand of God.
In Exodus chapter 33 Moses asks to see God's glory. God responded to the request in two ways. First, God said in verse 20, "You can't see my face, because no one may see me and live.” Second, in verse 23 God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and said, "You'll see my backside." "You'll see my backside."
It often works that way in our lives. We see God in retrospect. Our brains don't understand what God is doing now, but in six months, a year, 10 years, or at the end of life, we'll see how God was working all things for our good.
I did pass my math classes. I didn't think I understood, but as time passed I saw that I was indeed learning.
You can witness by inviting people to look back. In the creed we confess, "I believe in God the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth." God the Father not only made the world; the Bible teaches that He preserves us. In Psalm 36, 6 we read: "O Lord, You preserve both man and beast."
Looking back at the Bible, we see that is true. God provided for Elijah and the widow woman and her son during a famine in the land of Israel. God also provided for the children of Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness. Speak about a flood, God preserved Noah and his family in the worst flood the world has ever seen.
Hasn't God the Father also preserved you? Look back at the tough times in your life. People in Mississippi and Louisiana and Hallam, Nebraska can tell you how God brought them through the tragedies that hit them. Perhaps you've had medical crises in your life. Perhaps financial. Perhaps problems in relationships.
I don't mean to suggest that these were welcome times; they definitely were not. You wish that God would not have let them happen, but He did. And He brought you through them, didn't He? Look back in your own life and witness by inviting other people to look back. After all God the Father has brought you through, He will not abandon you now. 1 Peter 5, 7 states: "Turn all your anxiety over to God because He cares for you."
You can witness by inviting people to look back at Jesus. He's always been there for you and for others. His arms have always been open for you to come. Jesus says in Matthew 11, 28: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest".
Although since the Ascension we can't see Him with our eyes, we know that those open arms carry the print of the nails in His hands. Those wounds received on Good Friday were part of the price He paid to rescue us from the eternal judgment our sins merit. "I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins," Jesus said in Mark 2:10.
So Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God, offers you forgiveness. Hasn't that comforted you many times in the past? You were feeling lousy because you had sinned against some one. While that sin damaged the relationship, Jesus was there to bring you God's forgiveness.
In the eternal scheme of things, damaged relationships are easier to bear when you know that God has forgiven you. Look back in your life and invite others to look back with you. Jesus has always been there for troubled consciences. In Matthew 28, 20 Jesus promises: "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."
And don't hesitate to come even if you have neglected Jesus in the past. John 6, 37 records another promise Jesus makes: "I will never turn away anyone who comes to me."
In the creed we not only confess our belief in God the Father and God the Son, Jesus, but we also confess our belief in the third person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit. "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life." Here, too, we grow in our understanding and in our witness to others by looking back.
We don't know why God lets some things, like tornadoes and floods, happen. But God tells us in Isaiah 55, 9: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." What I do know and what I suspect you know, too, is that when our life has been turned topsy-turvy, we are forced to reexamine our priorities.
Some years ago, a woman in Ada, Minnesota, following a flood where she lost everything, stated: "We learned that the most important things in life are not things." We grow in our understanding and in our witness by looking back and questioning our priorities before the trouble came.
Have earthly concerns been our priority? Have we made a priority out of making lots of money? Listen to I Tim. 6:7-9, 10: "We didn't bring anything into the world, and we can't take anything out of it. As long as we have food and clothes, we should be satisfied. But people who want to get rich keep falling into temptation....The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people who have set their hearts on getting rich have wandered away from the Christian faith and have caused themselves a lot of grief."
Perhaps wealth hasn't been our goal. Maybe we were just struggling to keep up with the things that needed to be done. Jesus addresses this issue with Martha, a friend and a faithful follower in Luke 10, 40-42: "Martha was upset about all the work she had to do. So she asked, 'Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.' The Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. There's only one thing you need. Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.’"
It's a learning experience to look back at our past priorities. Ken Hemphill, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, suggests three questions that can help you dialogue with someone who needs to make the life of faith the first priority. "What is your religious heritage?" you can ask. Second, "Has your heritage helped you answer the important questions you are asking in life?" Third, "What are the questions you are asking?" Now, whether it's a flood or a tornado or some other trouble, these are great questions to keep in mind as we are speaking with someone who's trying to make sense out of what happened.
The new priority, to seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness, is the work of God the Holy Spirit. Paul writes in Romans 8, 7: "The corrupt nature has a hostile attitude toward God. It refuses to place itself under the authority of God's standards because it can't."
That's a bummer. The Good News is recorded in I Corinthians 6, 11, "You have been washed and made holy, and you have received God's approval in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." The Holy Spirit indeed is "The Lord and Giver of life."
When you saw the title of today's message, "1+1+1=1," you probably thought that I can't add very well. Well, as I told you, I did have trouble with my math classes, but this is an equation that we can use and share in our witness.
There is only one God. I Corinthians 8, 4 states: "No god exists except the one God." The Bible also teaches that there are three distinct persons of the one true God. Jesus says in Matthew 28, 19: "Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
These are three separate and distinct persons, not merely three ways God deals with us, not three forms God takes. Three separate and distinct persons and yet only one God. The math doesn't add up, not for me, not for anyone. Our limited brain power cannot understand God's being. But the equation works when we look back and see how God has dealt with us.
I borrowed the title "1+1+1=1" from Dr. Hans Lutz Poetsch who for many years was a faithful Christian pastor in Germany. In a sermon with this title, Dr. Poetsch said, "This much is very clear, God is completely different than we are. If we could comprehend and grasp Him, He wouldn't be God....Whoever wants to know the Holy Trinity, must at the same time look at God's actions for us."
So, when the experiences of life aren't adding up, when things are making no sense, we need to look back and see what God has done for us. The Father has preserved us in the past. He'll bring us through the present, into the future. The Son has brought us forgiveness. Believe on Jesus and The Holy Spirit puts priorities right when He works faith in our hearts. This math works. And yes, we are witnesses.