Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 10

16 August 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 19:41-48 (Jer 8:4-12, Rom 9:30-10:4)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The prophet Jeremiah complains that things are not always as they seem. Everyone,” from “the least to the greatest” – including prophets and priests who have a reputation for integrity – are “greedy for unjust gain” and dealing “falsely.” They declare “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”

For this kind of “peace” is contrived. It is an illusion, a lie.

To the casual observer, the Peninsula of Korea seems peaceful. While there are armies there, no shots have been fired and no battle has raged in half a century. Indeed, it does seem like the soldiers, called “peacekeepers” are doing just that. But the reality is that the two Koreas are still under a declaration of war.

Similarly, the former nation of Yugoslavia seemed to be at peace under the heavy-handed Communist government of Tito. But once Communism fell, so did the façade, as what appeared to be peace broke out into open and brutal war.

Our church’s name: “Salem” means peace. It sounds like the Hebrew “Shalom” and the Arabic “Salaam.” It is the last half of the word “Jerusalem,” whose name ironically means “city of peace” – a city that is, in reality, often racked with violence or the threat of violence.

When our Lord Jesus “drew near and saw the city” of peace. “He wept over it.” He was distressed that they had rejected “the things that make for peace.” For the true peace, the peace of reconciliation with God and the putting away of sins was “hidden from [their] eyes.” Like the Pharaoh of old that enslaved their ancestors, the people of Jerusalem rejected the “peace that passes all understanding,” the peace of the one true Passover Lamb who has come into the city to make a sacrificial (not a superficial) peace by dying on the cross.

And in rejecting this heavenly peace, the children of Israel chose war in the fallen world. The city of peace was to be leveled precisely 40 years after our Lord brought the peace of God to the City of Peace by His passion and death. It is no coincidence that at His resurrection, the first words He would greet His beloved people would be: “Peace be with you!”

For as in Jeremiah’s day, our Lord observes that things are not as they seem, nor as they ought to be.

The Temple is supposed to be a “house of prayer” but it had been converted into a “den of robbers.” Instead of a place of atonement, a place where the grace and mercy of God are poured out for free like the holy blood of the sacrifice, the temple had become a place where favor could be bought with coins bearing the idolatrous and unholy image of the false god Caesar.

And while Jerusalem seemed to be at peace, it was really under occupation. While the Jewish leaders seemed to be at peace with the Romans, they had really chosen this peace by making war against the God of their ancestors. “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”

As a result of our Lord’s preaching, they considered him a scandal, a “stumbling stone.” For they had turned the temple from a place of sacrifice, a place of grace, to a place of merchandise, where one could purport to buy God’s favor. As St. Paul teaches, “Israel who pursued a law of righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because it did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.”

In departing the grace of the sacrifice for the merit of works, we leave the “peace of God” for what only appears to be “peace.” There is no peace with God apart from the cross, apart from the Crucified One, apart from the blood of the Lamb, apart from the Stumbling Stone of Israel.

And it is easy to lose the focus of the cross, dear brothers and sisters, to seek a counterfeit peace based on our own merits rather than “hanging on His words” as our Blessed Lord’s followers did. It is easy to be busied by all the things we must do that we turn the Church into something other than a house of prayer, a place of worship.

There are many who have been baptized in this font, who have not set foot in this or any church in years, who have convinced themselves that they remain in the faith and have “peace, peace” when all they have is the lack of outward violence. For true peace is when the Lord’s Body and Blood are held before your eyes in this House of Prayer, as the Lord speaks through His unworthy servant: “The peace of the Lord be with you always!” The Church responds by singing her great confession: “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world!” seeking His mercy, and beseeching Him the third time to “grant us Thy peace.” And then, that peace is given to you in the body and blood, for the forgiveness of sins, unto everlasting life.

We also fall into the trap of seeing Salem as primarily a school, a bustling place of a quality education, the largest in our district, an impressive campus, and a respected institution within our community – instead of seeing ourselves primarily as a Church, a local manifestation of the fullness of the Body of Christ in this place, that happens to run a school for the good of the Lord’s Kingdom.

It is easy for the work of the Church to also be seen in terms of the necessary details that need to be attended to: budgets, upkeep, writing sermons, changing light bulbs, sending letters, attending meetings, voting for officers, and the like – rather than seeing all of these things in subordination to our mission: to be the Church in this place.

But the easiest thing of all to forget is this: we creatures have been created to worship our Creator. Preaching, teaching, telling people about Jesus, doing good works, serving the neighbor are all good things that we do according to our vocation. But all of these things are of secondary importance to doing what we were made to do: to prayerfully worship the Holy Trinity.

In fact, when Martha complained that she was doing all the work while her sister Mary was sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to Him, our Lord reminded her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

While various things need to be done for the church, and while our school is an important and outstanding use of our church’s resources, the “one thing necessary” is to hear the Lord’s Word, the Word that forgives us and holds us in communion with Him. The “one thing necessary” is to worship our Creator. Everything else is secondary. That is the source of true and lasting peace.

In fact, the Christian faith is not simply believing in Jesus and holding the right doctrine. The Christian faith is not self-help pop psychology or even the very good and noble work of running a school. In our Athanasian Creed, we confess the following: “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith…. And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.”

For “worship” of the Triune God is the “one thing necessary,” the very essence of the Christian faith: the faith through which we have salvation as a free gift by the sacrifice of Jesus. That is the “one thing necessary” for this congregation, to which all other things are subordinate. That is the source of peace – not a false peace that only exists on the surface, a peace that is limited to a lack of fighting, but rather true peace, the peace of God, the peace the Lord declares after winning the war against sin, death, and the devil, the peace that is given to us in joyful and loving communion with the Trinity and with one another.

That peace is no illusion, nor is it simply the lack of violence held in check by soldiers or dictators. It is the peace won for us by our Lord, the “one thing necessary,” the “righteousness that is by faith,” the Shalom, Salaam, and Salem, the house of prayer, the true Jerusalem, the city of the Lord’s Peace, the heavenly kingdom ruled by the Prince of Peace, unto eternity. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.


Adam Pastor said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

Thank you for encouraging comments on your weekly sermons. I found your sermon of Trinity 10 eloquent and meaningful to me.

As you know, I have a concern, as a “Follower of the Way” (Acts 24:10-16), for the CONTENT of the good news that Jesus preached and taught, for Jesus message clearly brought new life and wholeness to people.

Have you ever noticed that institutional Christianity’s three creeds completely overlook Jesus’ ministry of preaching and teaching? This is a striking omission in view of the fact that Jesus called his ministry of preaching and teaching good news his primary mission. (Matthew 4:23,
9:35; Mark 1:38-39, 1:14; Luke 4:43-44, 8:1; John 18:37) The creeds all jump from the divine incarnation to the divine atonement.

As a result, institutional preachers also overlook the CONTENT OF Jesus’ proclamation and always seem to focus on the divine atonement as the essence of the gospel. It is the CONTENT of Jesus’ proclamation that renews broken lives and makes them whole.

Here is the CONTENT in a briefly summarized form:

A. Our heavenly Father is by name and character faithful and forgiving. He forgives us for the sake of his name. (Psalm 25:11, 79:9)

B. We have been named the “beloved sons" (children) of our heavenly Father and thereby given honor, dignity, and worth.

C. We have been called to follow Jesus in his way of righteous relationships, counting the cost.

D. God’s gracious promises will sustain us throughout our earthly wilderness journey until we reach the land of our inheritance. “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

In your sermon you rightly stated, “As a result of our Lord’s preaching, [the temple] considered him a scandal.” You also rightly stated, “Mary was sitting at the Lord’s feet LISTENING to him.” And then you quoted Jesus in saying, “Mary has chosen the good portion.” Right on!

Jesus died for the sake of his good news message of peace, the message which was vindicated in his resurrection. Had Jesus turned away from the cross, his gospel message would have been totally discredited. Thank God that Jesus remained faithful to his message and lived it out all the way to death by crucifixion. Vindicated in his resurrection, his message now goes forth into all the world. It behooves preachers to know and proclaim the CONTENT of his message. And it behooves the people of God to LISTEN to him. (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35; John 18:37, 10:3, 16, 27)

Again, I thank you for the courage it takes to invite our comments.

Blessings! TBR

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

Thanks for your thoughtful and well-articulated comments.

The reason the creeds don't mention "preaching and teaching" is because these points were never disputed or called into question.

The creeds were hammered out and confessed in response to very specific attacks on the faith, such as the Satanic denial of the Holy Trinity (hence the creeds' threefold structure).

The Nicene Creed goes into great detail about the person of Christ - His full humanity and His full divinity - since this is what was under attack at the time (from Arians and Gnostics). The 3rd Article, about the Holy Spirit, was fleshed out a few years later at the Council of Constantinople as controversies regarding the Holy Spirit (such as Montanism) began to make their way through the church.

The creeds do not address points that everyone agreed on, and even today, nobody has introduced a heresy along the lines of "We deny preaching and teaching" or "We deny that Jesus was, and is, a preacher and teacher." But there are still plenty of people who deny our Lord's divinity and God's self-revelation as Trinity.

The creeds also do not address topics like: female pastors, homosexual marriage, and the role of the government in health care - as these were not controverted points in the third century.

We Lutherans continued this creedal tradition by writing down specific confessions of the faith based on Holy Scripture in response to the great controversies and upheavals of the 16th century, and they were published as a whole in 1580 as the Book of Concord.

The reason the Lord's preaching is effective is not merely the content (even the demons "believe" the "Gospel message"), but rather the fact that the Word of the Lord is beyond a message, and is, in fact, a reality: His powerful Word proclaimed by His ministers under His authority.

God creates by His Word ("Let there be light..."). The reality of forgiveness comes from His Word ("Father, forgive them..."). A message can simply be "talk about" something. I prefer the biblical term "proclamation" rather than "message" - a much stronger way to describe what happens in the miracle of preaching, which is beyond the mere giving of information (which is implied in the word "message").

Thanks again for your comments, and the peace of our risen Lord be with you!

Theophilus said...

Dear Father Hollywood:

I am not commenting further on your Trinity 10 sermon. I am responding to your response to my comments on Trinity 10. Thank you for your patience with me.

You stated that the purpose of the creeds was to convince people that the doctrines of the trinity and the deity of Jesus were true. You indicated that the creeds are still important today, because there are people today who reject these two doctrines.

This is problematic for me. For I too find it impossible to believe that Jesus was a deity walking around on this earth. Also I find it impossible to believe that there are three Gods in Christianity. Neither of those two doctrines make sense to me.

Are you aware that Muhammad was rebuffed by a Christian Bishop who told him that he could not have fellowship with Christians unless he believed in the three Gods of Christianity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Just think of the violence that resulted over this unnecessary rejection of Muhammad. The law of unintended consequences prevailed.

Are you aware that many Jews today reject Christianity, because their own creed states: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.”

Are you aware that there are many people today who are tripping over the doctrine of Jesus’
deity? They hear their friends say, “Jesus was God, I am only human; Jesus was perfect, I am a sinner; Jesus could see into the future, I have to walk by faith. I CANNOT BE LIKE JESUS!”

These two doctrines remind me of the “triads” of many of the ancient religions. The people named their king a son of a named god. And they named the mother of the king the mother of god. So there were the three gods – the named god, the son of this god, and the mother of their god-king. The triad sounds just like the trinity to me.

There is a much more fruitful way to understand the name, “Son of God” – as covenant language. “Son of God” in the scriptures is never deity language, always covenant language. Our heavenly Father formed a father-son covenant relationship with Israel (Exodus 4:22-23), with Jesus (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22), and with us (Galatians 3:26), saying: “I will be your God, and you will be my people.”

This Jesus I can follow, walking along his way of righteousness.

Blessings! TBR

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

No problem.

I do want to clarify something that you have wrong: "You stated that the purpose of the creeds was to convince people that the doctrines of the trinity and the deity of Jesus were true."

No, the creeds are not there to convince anyone. They are simple statements of faith. The word "creed" is from the Latin "credo" - "I believe." This is what I believe and this is what the Church believes. Other people do not believe, just as some people do not even believe that Jesus was a real historical figure. You can't make anyone believe. You can only say "Credo - I believe" and state your creed.

Yes, it is hard to believe God could condescend and take human flesh - but that's what Scripture confesses. It's also hard to believe a man could walk out of His own grave, turn water into wine, make the deaf hear, and command a dead 12-year old to walk out of her own tomb. God can, and does, these things.

We do not believe in three gods. And this is why we have creeds - because some people tell falsehoods about what we believe, or, some are genuinely confused. This is why we confess in the Athanasian Creed:

"So the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three gods but one God."

Father Hollywood said...


You may disagree with that, you may question the ability for it to be true. But if you are going to fairly explain what I believe, and what Trinitarian Christians believe, you need to state it accurately and honestly. That's why we have creeds. Trinitarians do not believe in three gods. It is a lie to say we do. We believe in one God, just as we continue to confess the Old Testament "Shema."

The Trinity is even supported by Genesis 1:1: "Bereshith bara elohim..." the word "elohim" (God) is actually plural, while the verb (bara) is actually singular.

So, from the very first verse of revealed Scriptural truth, God claims to be both singular and plural at the same time. He is One God, but is "Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity."

You may disagree with us, but please state what we believe accurately.

Islam is a radically different religion than Christianity. The two cannot be reconciled. Allah is a different God than YHWH. I worship YHWH, and not Allah.

In a sense, it is true that I cannot be like Jesus. I'm a lousy carpenter, I don't converse in Aramaic, I have never rode a donkey, and I am not the Son of God offered on the cross as the "Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." So, no, I cannot be like Jesus in that sense. But the eternal Word (God) took on flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1, 14). God became a Man, so that Man might become God (as St. Athanasius put it).

As Paul says in Romans 9:5: "the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen." Or as the author of Hebrews confesses, God commands the angels to worship the Son (1:6) and He (God the Father) addresses the Son (1:8): "But of the Son He says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever..."

God is "the first and the last" (Isa 44:6 and 48:12) and so is the Lord Jesus (Rev 1:17). See also Isa 45:23 and Phil 2:10, in which the latter paraphrases the former, with "Jesus" being used in place of God (not to mention a couple verses earlier, in 2:6, in which Jesus has "equality with God."

In Paul's letter to Titus, he refers to "Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (2:13).

I mean, it hardly gets more clear than that, unless you want to cut the Pauline epistles out of the Bible. See also Col 1:15-20 for an explicit confession by Paul of our Lord's divinity.

In Acts 7:59, St. Stephen prays to Jesus: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Jesus is "God with us" (Matt 1:23). He is omnipresent (Matt 28:20, Eph 1:22-23). He is omniscient (Rev. 2 & 3). Thomas addressed Him explicitly as "my Lord and my God" (John 20:28). Instead of "correcting" Thomas, Jesus says those of us who have not seen what he has seen, yet who believe as he did, are "blessed."

Jesus angered his captors by uttering the unspeakable "I am" (John 8:58, Ex 3:14). It is not a coincidence that the Jews used the word "Adonai" (Lord) as a euphemism for the name of God, and the Scriptures routinely speak of Jesus as "Lord." "Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil 2:11) is one of the oldest Christological creeds affirming our Lord's divinity.

Just because false religions ape aspects of the One True Faith doesn't make the True Faith a false faith. Satan is a deceiver. But we have the Word of God that confesses, loud and clear, the divinity of Jesus.

If Jesus were not God, you could visit Him in His tomb - just like every other "holy" man and "great" teacher in history: worm food the lot of them. Jesus is incorruptible and immortal because He is God, along with His Father and the Holy Spirit.

Like I said, Theophilus, you are free to disagree, but please state our beliefs accurately.

Theophilus said...

Reverend Father Hollywood:

Please bear with me and have patience with me one more time as I respond to your last comment with an ongoing concern.

Whenever I listen to a preacher try to explain the “mystery” of the one God with three heads and the mystery of Jesus walking around upon earth as a deity performing magic-like miracles, I become utterly bewildered. Such ETHEReal , religious talk does nothing for me other than put me to sleep.

On the other hand, when I hear the content of Jesus’ preaching and teaching as the Bible is being read, my heart is encouraged, and I gain strength to continue to be a “Follower of the Way” (Acts 24:10-16), the way of Jesus’ righteousness.

To be fair about it, I hear both on Sunday mornings – the good news content of Jesus gospel message and ETHEReal talk about mysteries.

ETHEReal, up-in-the-clouds talk may have its place in a seminary classroom, but not in the pulpit. We people of the pew want to be strengthened for our daily life, not weakened by drowsiness.

Finally, you requested that I state your beliefs accurately. I am sure you understand that this is not possible, for I do not comprehend those “mysteries.” I can only reflect back to you beliefs as I perceive them. It is not my intent to offend you, but to point out my utter bewilderment with those “mysteries.” Unfortunately, elaborate and extensive explanations do not help me.
What does help me is the simple, clear “proclamation” of Jesus’ good news message.

Thank you for being patient with me.

Blessings! TBR

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theophilus:

Once again, you are putting words into my mouth. Are you doing this to try to mock what I believe? I do not believe in a "God with three heads." No Trinitarian Christian uses that kind of terminology. The term we use is "persons" - which doesn't mean "people" in this case, but is an Anglicized version of the Latin "persona." We have been using this terminology since the 2nd century.

"Magic-like miracles?" I don't get that. You had earlier alluded to the resurrection of Jesus. What greater miracle could there be than for a lifeless corpse to walk out of His own grave? I mean, if you can do that, giving sight to the blind, feeding 5,000 people with a few pieces of bread and fish, or making bread His body and wine His blood should not pose a problem.

If you reject miracles on the basis of reason (as Jefferson did), then you can't believe in the resurrection. If you *do* believe in the resurrection, how can you mock belief in miracles? If that's the case, you are believing something as contrary to reason as the doctrine of the Trinity! Is Christianity strictly logical, or is it supernatural?

Our Lord Jesus's ability to do such wonders (what St. John calls "signs") cries out in support of His Divinity.

I am also perplexed by your use of the word "ethereal." The god of most religions is ethereal - unseen, spiritual, not of this world. God the Father could be described by this word in the sense that He has no fleshly body (even though He does manifest Himself visibly at times in the Old Testament). But Jesus is the very opposite of ethereal! He is flesh-and-blood. He is "corporeal."

There is nothing ethereal about a Man rising from the dead, and afterward eating a piece of fish in the presence of the disciples (Luke 24:36-43) to prove that He is flesh-and-blood, and not an ethereal ghost.

Thomas Jefferson believed the resurrection was only a myth, that Jesus did not actually and physically rise from the dead.

Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead? Do you believe Jesus is alive today? Do you believe Jesus performed (and continues to perform) miracles today?

At this point, I'm not sure what you believe. You scoff at miracles, but believe in the resurrection. You think it is possible for a corpse to be reanimated, but consider it crazy for God to take on human flesh and blood. You cite the Bible, but ignore the myriad of passages from Scripture in which Jesus is specifically called "God."

Until I know just exactly what you believe, it makes dialogue very hard. You know exactly what I believe - it's laid out in the Nicene Creed.

Thanks again for writing!

Theophilus said...

The Reverend Father Hollywood:

I had intended to end our conversation on Trinity 10. But you asked me, I think, to clarify what I believe regarding the issues under discussion. I will attempt to do so briefly.

The three “persons” of the trinity would seem to have “heads.” The Father speaks his word through his mouth. His spirit blows his breath of life through his mouth. Jesus speaks through his mouth. Your language is very puzzling – three “persons” but not three “heads?” Three mouths but not three heads? Three “persons” but not three Gods? How in the world can that be explained in any comprehensible way?

I do not believe in the resurrection of the physical body. I believe in the resurrection described in I Corinthians 15:42-44. “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” That was true of Jesus as it will be true for us.

I do not believe in magic-like physical miracles either then or now. I believe in the “signs” Jesus performed through his gospel message – spiritual signs. The spiritually deaf heard the good news of the kingdom of God. The spiritually blind saw the presence and goodness of their heavenly Father. The spiritually mute praised God for his good gifts. The spiritually lame walked in righteousness, followers of the way. The spiritually demon possessed were given God’s spirit. The spiritually diseased were made whole. The spiritually dead were raised up to new life. The only sign that Jesus performed was the sign of repentance and new spiritual life through his gospel message. (Matthew 12:39; Luke 11:29) In other words, the miracle stories make sense to me only as parables.

I have never found clear statements in the Bible that talk about a trinity. Those you cited are not convincing to me. I cannot imagine those being used to prove a trinity.

I believe that the name, “Son of God,” in the Bible is consistently covenant language and not deity language – for Israel, for Jesus, and for us.

In my search for what makes sense, I, like Thomas Jefferson, have read the Bible many times. There is no doubt that we have come up with different understandings. Yet, we are in agreement about this: “To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his teachings, in preference to all others.”

Thanks for giving this searching soul the opportunity to press you on institutional Christianity’s belief system, which I have been told, had its beginning in the early part of the fourth century, AD, many years after Jesus’ apostles went forth “proclaiming” Jesus’ good news message which made lives new and whole. It seems to me that when the church moved out from “Jerusalem” to “Athens,” there occurred a significant paradigm shift from right living (way of life) to right believing (the “truths”). Many ideas like the triads and divine kings crept into the church and later became legitimized at councils.

If I have offended you by my bewilderment, please forgive. If I have challenged you to focus in the pulpit on Jesus’ life-giving message, please comply. This has been an interesting exchange from my perspective. Thanks for your patience with me.

Blessings! TBR