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Holy Trinity Sunday C Sermon
Romans 5: 1-5

May 22, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

One of the things that Martin Luther believed and taught was that it is not the Bible that is to be worshiped, but the one who is proclaimed by the Bible who is to be worshiped. It is for that reason that it is okay if our Bibles look a little ragged and worn. This library of Holy books is valuable and sacred to us, but only in as much as it reveals the promise and the presence of God to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Martin Luther also believed that some books of this library are more valuable than others. He rather thought that Revelation should not even be in the Bible because of the fear and dread that it causes for many Christians who read it without understanding its context and message, and he once called the Letter of James, “a gospel made of straw” for its focus on works and its downplay of faith. But if there is one book of the Bible which Luther lifts up as very important for us Christians, it is Paul’s letter to the Romans. It is rich with passages which proclaim the good news of God’s love for each of us in ways that all of us can understand. Paul has a firm grounding in grace – he is a person who has experienced the amazing Grace of Jesus in a most concrete way. He was a privileged Jew, a Pharisee who was appointed to persecute and get rid of people who believed and proclaimed Jesus as the messiah. While he was one on of his missions, he was knocked off his horse and blinded, called by Jesus to stop these persecutions, and healed. Since that miraculous gift was given to him, he was telling people about Jesus’ love for them and organizing Christian communities all over the Middle East, Asia and Europe. Much of our New Testament is attributed to him, and his letter to the Romans is considered his magnum opus, his defining work of gospel truth.

Among the words of this letter are certain passages that we all know by heart when we hear them. And in our second lesson today we have one of these passages. It is a passage which is very appropriate to hear on this Holy Trinity Sunday, since it mentions all three persons of the trinity. “Therefore SINCE we have been justified by faith, we have peace … with God … through our Lord … Jesus Christ … through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.” We also hear about how God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. And in between these sentences, there is the powerful reminder of just what Christian hope is all about.

According to these 5 short but very important verses, Hope – that vital aspect of every Christian’s life – stems from justification. As I shared with the young people, justification is the free gift of being forgiven by God, being pronounced “not guilty” by the judge of all, and being in a good and right relationship with God. Our destiny in heaven is secured already by the one who is our creator, redeemer and sustainer – the triune God – and now we can live lives in the confidence that this hope instills.

One common misunderstanding that people have of life as justified Christians is that it is free from any sin or suffering on our parts. This is not the promise of our triune God, and Paul encourages us to see this. Instead, the promise is that the realities of sin, suffering and even death have been transformed into opportunities for new life to emerge. When he speaks of boasting here, he is not talking about bragging about past achievements; he is anticipating the end result that justification produces in us. And that end result is hope – hope that does not disappoint – or in some translations it reads “does not put to shame”. But before we get to that hope, there are some experiences. He describes them like this: “Suffering produces endurance; endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Through the Holy Spirit, God transforms even the worst moments in our lives into opportunities for us to grow in character and in hope. That is what faith in the triune God is all about. That is the wonderful message that Paul is sharing with the Christians in Rome, with those of Martin Luther’s time, and which endures today and into the future until we all experience the complete justification that is promised to us by God through Jesus.

To me, the true essence of God which flows through all three persons of the Holy Trinity is love. A love which creates all that exists, which forgives us while we are still in our sins, and which calls the church together and guides us into the future. Jack Jezreel of JustFaith Ministries describes the model that Jesus’ original disciples give us for living in relationship with our Triune God of Love. He says, "[The original disciples] grow into an understanding of this God of love, this God of compassion, this God who loves justice, this God who makes all things new, by participating as active observers and agents of compassion, justice, and newness." It is good and right that we have a healthy prayer and worship life to contemplate and honor our God; and as we share love, we are made complete in our relationship with God because God is love.

This passage about suffering, endurance, character and hope reminds of the saying which has been attributed to a number of people from Eleanor Roosevelt to the father of Taoism, Lao Tzu. It goes like this, “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” I am sure that this is meant more as a warning than anything – that what you are remembered for all begins with the thoughts or ideas that come to your head. But I think we as Christians can also think about this saying in a way that is more than a warning, but is a promise and a gift. If we believe that God through the Holy Spirit inspires our thoughts, then this Triune God is the root of our words, actions, habits, character and indeed, our destiny in heaven. For us, then, the encouragement to “watch” our thoughts, words, actions, habits and character is an invitation to contemplate or meditate on that which God creates in us, so that as we participate as active observers and agents of compassion, justice and newness, we are more fully connected with this mystery that is our Triune God.

I guess what I am saying today is that Paul and others along the way are encouraging us to understand that through contemplation and action, we grow in our understanding of all three parts of the Trinity as a God of love, and we are deepened in our relationship with this God of love. And the result of that understanding and relationship is hope, which does not disappoint. I have not tried to explain the Trinity to you today – to do so would only confuse and deny the mystery of God’s presence. But I have tried to encourage you in your prayer, worship and actions to remember that our destiny is already decided by this God of love. Now we are able to live into that destiny with hope instead of fear. This is something to boast about! Amen.