Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Happy, Hopeful, Filled with Joy -- Confessing the Trinity

Sermon for the Festival of the Holy Trinity preached on Sunday, June 16, 2019.

    When were the moments in your life when you were the happiest?  When you married?  When you first held your children in your arms?  Or maybe your grandchildren?  Or perhaps it was the dream job.  Whatever it was, that fullest moment of joy is often the thing we long to remember and attempt to recreate the whole of our lives.  Husbands and wives dream of looking at each other with the same joy of that first moment of love pledged before family and friends.  Parents think they will always recall those blessed moments of a child’s first cry, first laugh, first steps and then the memories fade.  Personal accomplishments and the honors that come from others fill us but only too briefly before the glory is gone and the moment lost.  Happiness is a hard thing to hold onto.

    Jesus said “Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”  Immediately the enemies of Jesus jumped on this.  Abraham is dead and you are not yet 50 (actually he was barely 30).  What are you talking about?  And we might wonder what Jesus was talking about as well.  What could it mean that Abraham rejoiced that he would see Jesus’ day and how he did see it with gladness and joy is beyond belief. 

    When Adam and Eve stood before the Lord condemned and ready to be banished from Eden, our Lord gave a promise of a son of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head and restore all that was lost in one brief moment of rebellion.  If you follow Genesis a little further you find a curious statement when Eve gives birth to her first born.  She said, “I have gotten a man from the Lord” (Genesis 4:1).  She was wrong in that her son was not THE man whom the Lord has promised, the fruit of the woman’s womb to kill the devil, atone for sin, and create a heavenly future.  But in that moment, she looked into the face of Cain and she did not see simply a baby.  She saw the promise of the Lord which would be fulfilled through her.  Her joy was not simply a mother’s joy over the birth of a child but the hope and promise of God one generation closer to be fulfilled than it was before.

    Abraham’s most joyful moment came when Sarah delivered the son no one could have predicted.  Filled with the life and promise of God, their old bodies had delivered up a surprise by God’s grace, long after child conceiving and child bearing years had passed.  You could think that Abraham’s best moment of joy was when he looked into the face of the son he never thought he would have and rejoiced.  But Abraham had more than flesh and blood in Isaac.  He had the future God had promised.  This was not a single boy but the first of offspring more than the sands upon the shore or the stars in the sky. 

    Hidden in those generations was the promise so long ago whispered to Adam and Eve, kept alive through the ages, soon to unfold in twelve sons become twelve tribes, through the Law and the covenant relationship through Moses, in the land of promise that was the down payment upon the eternal home, in the prophets who called a wandering people to repentance, and John the Forerunner who would prepare the way of Him who would fulfill all things for Abraham and all His children – even to you and me.

    Abraham saw this by faith.  He could not have seen what Mary, the Virgin Mother, would look like or what features would adorn the face of Jesus but He saw the promise of God in the face of Isaac, a promise one generation closer to fulfillment than it was before.  This is what Jesus refers to.  By faith Abraham, credited as righteous, saw the promise of God in his own day.  On that day, his joy was fullest and his heart happiest.  God was keeping His promise. 

    How can we find such joy?  It will not come in trying to recreate a time or a place or a setting from our past.  It will not even come by trying to keep alive the memory of that moment in time.  But the eternal joy our hearts and minds so desperately seek is not beyond us.  It is ours by faith.  We do not wait for the full revelation of God’s grace and favor, of His mercy and kindness, of His saving promise.  All this is done.  The one all sufficient sacrifice has been made and the payment for our sin rendered in full.  The death that waited for all men has been transformed by God into the gateway to life which death cannot touch, where tears no longer flow and hearts no longer grieve and pain or want no longer torment.  And this we see in Christ, our joy.  He has revealed to us the Father so that we may learn to pray with joy, Our Father, who art in heaven.  He has given us the promise of the Spirit whom the Father has sent in His name to break through the walls of unbelief, fear, pride, and arrogance and bring us to the humility of repentance.  He has saved us in the waters of our baptism, spoken to us in the voice of His Word, and fed and nourished us upon the very Body and Blood of Christ our Savior.
    We are already His children but not yet what we shall be.  When we look into our children and grandchildren, we see like Abraham.  These are not only our sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters.  They are a generation closer to the finish of His new creation, one generation closer to the breaking upon of the heavens, the sound of the trumpet, and the ground coughing up the dead to everlasting life.  They are a reminder to us of the promise that is not only our hope but also our joy, a promise one generation closer to its finish and completion when the saints on earth shall be one with the saints above and sing as one choir the “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Sabaoth” that we now sing from different places.

    To confess the Holy Trinity is not to check off a doctrinal box as if somehow we were explaining the grandest mystery of God’s identity in terms a child could get.  No, we confess Him as He has revealed Himself and not as some stuffy dogma that seems so impractical and too theoretical to do us any real good.  No, we confess the Holy Trinity as a people who know the promise of God’s Triune name, who remember what God has said and what God has done, and who see time unfolding toward His appointed end.  Each and every generation of voices raised up to confess “We believe” bring us a step closer to the finish of all that Christ began and the completion of all that God has promised to do through His Son.

    We confess this Holy Trinity not to safeguard God – who does not need our help – but to safeguard the promise, so faithfully and carefully delivered to us down through the ages and generations and now given to us that we might faithfully place in the hands of the children the promise given to the fathers.  We confess this Holy Trinity not as some philosophical or linguistic exercise in trying to imagine the unimaginable in human words.  No, we confess this Holy Trinity the way Eve looked into the eyes of Cain her son and saw God’s promise, the way Abraham looked into the eyes of Isaac his son and saw God’s promise, the way blessed Mary looked into the eyes of Jesus her son and saw God’s promise.  The past is fulfilled but the future is still unfolding.  We confess what God has done and said because it is our hope and joy of all that is yet to come.

    Abraham and Sarah desired not just the promised land, or a son, but a better country, that is, a heavenly one – where sin did not convict, where death did not reign, and where tears did not flow. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God. He prepared for them a city by grace and they received it by faith. They rejoiced in what God gave. 

Now it has come to you.  Will you join their faith?  Will you join in their joy?  Will you see with eyes of faith the unfolding future that God has prepared for you and me and for all who love Him?  Will you speak this hope before the world by confessing what God has said of Himself and done for His people, to redeem them from their sins, die to kill the reign of death, and rise to bestow life without end?  Will you teach these words to your children and grandchildren so that their joy may be so full?  Will you confess the creeds as a people of hope who know the promise and who believe it?  Will you speak of the Holy Trinity not as some dusty doctrinal confusion but as the most relevant and profound cause for joy?  For this is what we say when we confess the Creed and why we confess it here within  the household of God’s people and before the world.  And this is our cause for joy – today, for our lifetimes, and forever.  Amen.

HT With ideas from several sources used in this sermon.

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