Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What's in a name?

Sermon for Proper 8A, preached for Holy Trinity, the First Sunday after Pentecost, June 19, 2011.

    What does it matter what you call God as long as you call on Him?  Right?  But it does matter.  Moses had to get the name of God before the people of God would follow Him to freedom and the land of promise.  Jesus had to get the right name at His birth because He was the embodiment of that name Yeshua (He shall save His people).  Now, as we heard in the Gospel for today, Jesus has given us the Name of God, the name of the Holy Trinity.  This name is strong – not because of how it sounds to the ear but because this name has the power to save us, to turn water into the means of salvation that ushers us into the life of God and into His presence forever.  Everything hinges around the right name.
    We say it and we hear it said all the time.  "I believe in God."  But what does this mean?  Are we saying that we believe that God exists – like the way we believe that there is such a thing as air and electricity even though we cannot see it.  Does God care if we believe Him real or not?  I don't think so.
    We say it and hear it said "I believe in God."  Does this mean we believe that God made everything?  The Old Testament lesson records the creation account. Does God really care if we believe that He can make stuff or that He can make really good stuff?  I don't think so.  This kind of faith is impersonal.  It is like believing in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  You cannot prove it and it still just an article of faith that has little meaning or impact on your daily lives.  It matters little to us to say “I believe in a creator being.”
    We say it and hear it said, "I believe in God."  And usually this is hardly more than sentiment or feeling.  I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows. I that somewhere in the darkest night, a candle glows. I believe for everyone who goes astray, someone will come to show the way. I believe above the storm the smallest prayer will still be heard. I believe that someone in the great somewhere hears every word.  Sounds nice and it makes us feel good but it is meaningless.  They have no power – not like the name of the Holy Trinity.
    These stuff is nice but it is fluff – words about God that have as much substance or value to us as cotton candy or marshmallow.  God gives not sentiment but truth, not feelings but the name that has the power to forgive and to save.  We do not simply believe in God; we believe in the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the great mystery of three in one and one in three, – a mystery given to us not to be understood but to be confessed, not to be explained but to be prayed, and not to be comprehended but to be worshiped.
    We confess not some generic deity but the personal God who is the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Just as names are key to earthly relationships, God gives to us His name that we might enter into a relationship with Him.  His name is access – access to this personal God who addresses us personally with the grace that forgives our sins and gives us life stronger than death.
    We confess the Holy Trinity because this God is for me and for my salvation.  He is not primarily the God of the universe but the specific God of the font, of the Word, and of the Table.  He has called me by name.  He has named me as His own in the water of baptism.  When that name Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was spoken over water, that water became like the ark for Noah, the vehicle and means of my very salvation. This God is concrete, accessible,  real, and addressable where He has placed His name, the means of grace.  This is the God whom we speak to the nations by telling what He has done and administering the water of His promise.
    We confess the Holy Trinity because this God is gracious.  He is not the unknown and fearful God of thunder clap or lightening bolt, of the roaring wind or waging sea.  No, He is the God who is gracious and merciful.  This God should damn us all to hell but has chosen to forgive and save us.  He should banish us forever from His presence but instead His name bids us come to the water of life, come into the grace of His presence and promise.  He should be so offended by our sins as to turn completely away from on us but this name tells us of Him whose face shine on us, the smiling countenance of grace, of love, and of favor.
    Many people believe in God.  Polls tell us that 80% of Americans believe in God.  That's nice.  But so is sugar and spice, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings and a host of other things.  God is not nice; He is God.  We would live in terror of Him except He has given us His name.  Yet we confuse Him and make Him into the toothless old lion in the zoo – a quaint curiosity.  There is no roar in this name anymore.  But without a roar, there is no mercy, grace, or salvation.
    The Son always points us to the Father.  The Spirit points us to the Son.  On this day when we honor earthly fathers, we rejoice in the Father whom Jesus points to and whom we know by the Spirit.  Here we find that fatherly love is not passive but active, the fount and source that is strong enough to be sacrificial, forgiving, and redeeming.  If in just a small way, earthly Fathers show us this love from God, then they have done a noble work.
    God is power and life.  His Word can kill and make alive.  Today we confess His name.  Where His name is, He is.  Where He is, is both terror and blessing.  Where He is, He unmasks sin and its death but He does not leave us there.  He comes with forgiveness, life and salvation, hidden in the Word, in the water of baptism, in the bread and wine of the Sacrament.
    Here we find out that His greatest power is not displayed upon the heavens but on the cross... and He is mightiest is not when He condemns the sinner but reaches into the pit of sin and death in Jesus His Son and redeems us through His blood... and that what He wants from us and what He seeks for us is to trust in this saving name, to rejoice in what He has prepared fo us, and to live our lives in delight of the mercy that is new each day.  A people who will call Him by name.... with faith that is personal and confident... with boldness in confession before the world... and with love in the mystery of worship.  This is what it means to say... I believe in God... Anything less is hardly worth our time...  Amen

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