Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Knowledge, Mystery, Faith

Sermon for the Epiphany of our Lord, Observed, preached on Sunday, January 5, 2020, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

We pray: O God, lead us, who know you by faith, to enjoy in heaven the fullness of your divine presence.  Amen. 
Our culture and society emphasizes knowledge.  Knowing things, having wisdom about the world around us is important.  Everyone goes to school.  From the time a kid turns 5 until they’re in their early 20’s they’re in a classroom.  All sorts of information is at our fingertips.  If you want to know something, you just have to ask Google.   We want to know and understand our world.  But in order for this to happen, we have to learn.  Knowledge must be taught, it must be revealed to us. 
Knowledge and wisdom was the pursuit of the wise men who followed the star.  We call them wise, but Scripture calls them magi, men who were interested in dreams and astrology and magic.  They hoped to find truth in these things.  They hoped to solve the mysteries of the world through these things.  They were learned men who studied all sorts of writings from different places and cultures.  In today’s terms, you could call them worldly. 
We emphasize worldly knowledge.  It’s good to know about and understand different peoples and cultures.  It’s good to share information so that we can all grow and learn.  We live in a big world and there’s lots of people out there who know a lot of things.  Sharing this knowledge can help develop new technologies and different engineering practices.  Working together can bring about more effective medical treatments.  Learning from our collective history can help us live together in the future.  Just like the magi, we hope to solve the world’s mysteries through these things.  We hope to learn truth.  After all, that’s the ultimate pursuit of knowledge, to learn the truth and to live by it; or at least, at one time it was.  
At one time we understood that there was a truth, a truth that was the same for everyone.  But now we live in a post-modern world where truth is relative.  Truth is no longer something that must be revealed and learned.  Instead, we get to decide what’s true for us as individuals.  We get to decide what’s true based on what makes sense to us, based on our feelings, based on what we want to be true.  So as a result, we live in a world that has countless truths.  But this is contrary to the very nature of truth.  Truth is singular.  Truth has to be the same for everyone, otherwise, it’s not truth, it’s opinion. 
But you have the Truth.  You know the Truth by faith, and that Truth is Christ Jesus born on Christmas Day, crucified on Good Friday, and raised on Easter Sunday, for you, a sinner.  Christ said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6).  This Truth is revealed in the Word of God, in the very same Scripture that revealed to the Magi the meaning of that star.  God’s Word, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, gives you true wisdom.  God’s Word gives you the true knowledge that leads to everlasting life.
You have the wisdom of Scripture.  You’ve received the gift of faith.  The Holy Spirit has given this to you, and you grow in this wisdom and knowledge every day.  But that doesn’t mean you’ll learn all the answers. 
We want to know the answers.  We want to be able to fill our heads with information and data so that we can explain everything.  That’s why we go to school.  That’s we continue to learn as adults; to learn the answers to the tests, to learn the answers to life’s questions.  But God doesn’t give us all the answers to life’s questions.  The Bible isn’t an encyclopedia for head knowledge.  There are mysteries of the faith that we won’t know and can’t fully understand. 
We can’t fully understand how the Trinity works; how God is One and at the same time Three.  We can’t fully understand the person of Christ; how He’s 100% God and 100% man.  This is mathematically impossible.  We can’t fully understand how Baptism works, how water with God’s Word can wash away our sins and give us everlasting life.  We can’t fully understand how bread and wine is at the same time Christ’s Flesh and Blood that feeds us unto everlasting life.  These are all mysteries of the faith, and yet, all of these are true. 
Truth doesn’t depend on us being able to understand and explain something.  I don’t fully understand how my phone works, and yet that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  I can’t reasonably explain why God would give His Son up to die for you and me.  It doesn’t make sense.  No one in their right mind would do this, give up their only begotten Son to save a bunch of people who continually reject Him over and over again.  But that’s what God has done for you.  His love for you is a mystery.  His love for you, shown through His Son is unexplainable, but it’s true.  And you know this truth and you trust this truth by faith.
We think of knowledge and wisdom as an exercise of our mind, having the information stored in our head and then living by it.  But the knowledge and wisdom that leads to everlasting life isn’t a matter of knowing the facts.  It’s not a matter of knowing every detail given in Scripture.  It’s not a matter of simply knowing the words of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  The knowledge and wisdom that leads to everlasting life is knowing our Lord by faith.  It’s trusting in His sacrificial death for the payment of your sin.  It’s trusting in His resurrection that defeated your death.  And it’s trusting in His promises made to you, promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Faith in our Savior is true knowledge.  Faith in our Savior is true wisdom.  And this faith is given to you.
All of our other knowledge and wisdom we’ve we had to work for.  It’s the student’s responsibility to learn.  They have to study and do the homework.  If they don’t, they’ll never learn.  But the faith we have, the faith by which we know our Savior, that’s a gift given to us by God.  Does this mean that we don’t need to study Scripture?  Does this mean we don’t need to come to worship to hear His Word proclaimed?  Does this mean Sunday school and Bible Studies are useless?  No.  All of these are good and all of these are necessary, because through them our Lord gives us the knowledge and wisdom of faith. 
On our own, we’re incapable of gaining the knowledge and wisdom of faith.  We can’t make ourselves believe.  We can’t make ourselves trust in Christ our Savior.  We’re incapable of this because of our sin.  Only God can create this saving faith.  Only God can create in us trust in our Lord.  And He does.  By grace our Lord leads you to know your Savior by faith, so that you might receive everlasting life. 
The truth of our Savior is revealed in Scripture.  God’s Word gives us the faithful knowledge of our Lord who died for us.  This doesn’t mean though that Scripture answers all of our questions.  There’s still mysteries of the faith that we can’t fully know and understand...and that’s okay.  But with faith we still know them to be the truth.  And with faith we know what’s needed for our salvation, Christ Jesus our Lord, crucified on the cross and raised from the dead.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

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