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the sermon for

The Holy Trinity

11 June 2017

Matthew 28:16-20
The Great Commission begins not with our love for god and for others,
but with god's love for us all!

04302017Matthew. Chapter 28. Verses 16-20. Better known as "The Great Commission". You, probably, aren't aware. But these six verses I just read have been, for the last decade and a half, for us, among the most important of scripture! Not so much for us as a congregation, as they've been for us as a synod. You see, this passage has served as a kind of mission statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church across Northern Texas and Northern Louisiana. Making Disciples! That's what we've been about! Making disciples of all nations! Baptizing! Teaching! And this book has been our guide! Reclaiming the Great Commission: a practical model for transforming denominations and congregation. It was written nearly twenty years ago, now, by an Episcopal bishop from down around Houston. And for a while, it was mandatory reading.

And I have to admit, I tried! In fact, I started this book three or four times! But after a dozen or so pages, I get bogged down and hit a wall and, finally, give up! But I really tried! But I read enough to get the gist. The church is dying. It's going extinct. (the book's words, not mine) We're graying. Shrinking. Getting smaller. And the end is in sight. All we have to do is look around. The signs are everywhere. Gloom! Despair! Agony! Deep, dark depression! Excessive misery! That's the reality of being church at the end of the Twentieth Century, at the beginning of the Twenty-First!

And as the writer sees it, we have three options. First, simply ignore it! Pretend it doesn't exist! In which case, we die... Second, we can worry about it! Wring our hands! Pace the floor! Knowing, all the time, there's nothing much we can do! In which case, we, also, die... Or we can change! We can adapt! We can do things we've never done, before! Or at least, do things we haven't done – things we haven't had to do – for a long, long time! The answer? As you might guess, Matthew 28 . 16-20! Reclaiming the Great Commission!

Book of Faith. Remember that? Get back to the bible? Reading the New Testament in a year? That was a part of reclaiming the Great Commission.

God's Work, Our Hands Sunday? That one day of ministry in September, each year? That's a part of it, as well!

PowerPoint! Projection Screens! Praise Bands! Love Songs to Jesus! It's all a part of the program to connect with unchurched and seekers! Getting out of the rut! Stepping out of our comfort zone. Miracles! Transformations! Only a few of the concepts and principles and strategies of implementing the vision! Making disciples of all nations! Baptizing! Teaching! And it all starts by looking beyond these windows, beyond these walls, through these doors and entering – in the name of Jesus – into the world around us! Making disciples! Baptizing! Preaching! It sounds so good! So simple!

Today, we're supposed to be celebrating, we're supposed to be commemorating, God! The Holy Trinity! Father, Son, Spirit! Three-in-one! One-in-three! Unfortunately, after the last fifteen years, all I see is the commission. And so, I pulled this book from the shelf, wiped away the spider webs, blew off the dust, and, one more time, I started reading! And good news! This time, I got to page eighty-three before I hit the wall! One-third of the way through! But this time around, I understood! Understood why I gave up! Understood why I quit reading!

You see, ever since 9/11, we've been experiencing a transformation of our own! Thinking outside! Getting out! Stepping beyond! Here are two hundred forty pages of how-tos not once... not once in the eighty-or-so pages that I've read... is the cross ever mentioned! Think about that! Not one time! And only a handful is Jesus even alluded to! When he is, he's nothing more than a guru dispensing wisdom on some distant mountaintop. More footnote, annotation, than anything.

Love God, they say! Love others! Change the world! That's the mantra used throughout the book! Just like the slogans and jingles on marquees all over the city! But nothing about Jesus or about the cross! Nothing about how god feels, about what god thinks, about us! I agree that the church falls short! I agree that the church misses the mark! Things need to be changed! Things need to be different! But we aren't the ones to do it! We aren't the ones to do it, no matter how good our intentions! That is why there's god! It's god's prerogative, god's responsibility! After all, we're what got us into this mess, to begin with! And god's the one who must get us out! Love god? Love others? It seems to me, that's the very thing we confess, most Sunday mornings! We haven't loved god without whole heart! We haven't loved our neighbors as ourselves!

That's why God! Father! Son! Spirit! Like Luther reminds us, we believe god has created us! We believe god has given and still preserves! God daily and abundantly provides and protects! We believe god has redeemed us, purchased us, set us free! We believe god calls us through the gospel! Enlightens with the sacraments! Sets us apart! Keeps us! It's all god! From start to finish! From beginning to end! And nothing – NOTHING – is ever left to us!

We believe god loves us! All of us! Loves us with all god's heart! Loves us with all god's strength! Loves us with all god's being! Loves us in sorrow and in joy! Loves us in plenty and in want! Loves us in sickness and in health! Loves us to the cross, to the grave, and beyond! God, for us, isn't a god of Sinai! Commanding us to do better! Exhorting us to try harder! For us, god is a god of calvary, a god of the cross! God is a sacrifice! An offering! Broken and bleeding for each and every! For one and for all! It's not what WE think! It's not what WE say! It's not what WE do! It's god! Always! Forever! And that commandment? That commission? There's not two! Not baptize or teach... Not love god or others... The commandment is to love! Just love! Love just like Jesus loves! Pressed down! Shaken together! Running over!

So, my friends, it's not so much reclaiming the great commandment as it is being reclaimed by the good news of god's unearned, undeserved, unconditional love! God loves you! Without reason! Without excuse! Loves you without regret! God is with you! Here beside you! Here behind you! And no matter where you go, god is already there! Waiting! Arms wide open! God loves you! Now, go! Go and, simply, live your life!

 
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the sermon for

The Day of Pentecost

04 June 2017

John 20:19-23
As the Father gives the Son, so the Son gives the Spirit!

04302017Cecil B. deMille was one of America's first great film makers. He, once, said, "Give me any two pages of the Bible and I'll give you a picture!" And he did just that! In 1922, his first biblical epic – a silent film – was The Ten Commandments. Four years later, he directed another silent film, The King of Kings. Then, in 1932, he released his first "talkie" – The Sign of the Cross. After that came a movie about Samson and Delilah and, in 1956, a remake of "The Ten Commandments" Each one more spectacular, more extravagant, than the last! CinemaScope! Technicolor! SurroundSound! Larger than life!

And, of course, there were other moviemakers that followed his lead. Producing other films based on the bible. Noah. David and Goliath. David and Bathsheba. Jesus. Even the end times. Some glorious and grand. Others not so much. But it's funny, looking back over it all, this morning, I don't remember any movie ever based on the second chapter of Acts! I can't recall any film retelling the story of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Somehow, this handful of verses has been overlooked, forgotten. They never caught anyone's attention. Never captured anyone's imagination. And of any two pages of the Bible that you'd think would be perfect for the silver screen, it would be these! Acts 2 . 1-21! Spectacular! Dramatic! The rush of a violent wind! Divided tongues, as of fire! Speaking in other languages! Just imagine what Hollywood could do with all of it! The special effects! The computer-generated graphics! And that's not to mention all the things that came later! Snake-handling! Healings! Slain in the spirit! It would be a blockbuster! But so far as I recollect, it's never happened! No one's ever gone there!

And if no one's ever produced Luke's version of the Spirit's coming, well, you can be sure John wouldn't stand a chance. So ordinary, plain. Blasé, really. Nothing that stands out. It all blends into the background. In fact, I don't know if you remember. . . we read this exact, same passage six Sunday's ago, the week after Easter! And I would bet most of us – if any – thought about Pentecost! But today's gospel is John's version of Pentecost!

It's evening, that first Easter day. The ten are gathered together behind locked doors. Afraid. All day, there have been rumors. About Jesus' body being stolen. About Jesus coming back to life. Then, Jesus is there! Among them! "Peace to you," he says! He shows them his hands,! His side! The wounds! The scar! And the disciples rejoice! Again, Jesus says, "Peace!" "As the Father has sent me," he continues, "so I send y'all!" (and here is the Pentecost part) When he said this, he breathed on them! He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit!" "Receive the Holy Spirit!

Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit."

According to John, there is no pause, no delay! No waiting, no hesitation! Not fifty days! Not fifty hours! The Spirit comes when Jesus comes! In fact, the Spirit – in John – is the very breath of the risen Christ, himself! But, for some reason, we're drawn to Luke's account! Maybe because it's what we expect! Maybe it's what we want! So spiritual! So other-worldly! Magical! Mysterious! As any self-respecting god should be!

We Lutherans – over the centuries – have been criticized for not being all that. . . well, all that spiritual. They say we talk a lot about Jesus, about the cross. And they're right about that. They say we, even, talk some about god as creator. But we hardly talk about the Spirit, at all! But I don't think that's a fair assessment. You see, it assumes the Second Chapter of Acts as the litmus test! Acts 2 , not John 20 ! According to today's gospel, we are very spiritual, indeed!

Maybe part of the problem is the way King James translated the Greek work 'pneuma'. Holy Ghost, they named 'it'. It makes the Spirit sound more like Casper, the friendly than it does like Jesus! Paranormal. Ethereal. Something that goes bump in the night. But according to John, that's not what – who – the Spirit is! The Spirit is the breath of Jesus! The Spirit is the breath of Jesus that inspires us! The Spirit is the breath of Jesus that raises us up and makes us alive! The Spirit is the breath of Jesus that loves us and forgives us and, then, through us, loves and forgives the people around us!

"As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
When he had said this, he breathed on them!

That's why the Small Catechism – when it explains the third article of the creed – doesn't say anything about fifty days or violent winds or tongues of fire. It's not that we're not spiritual. It's that we're more like John than we are Luke! "We believe that by our own understanding or strength we cannot believe in or come to Jesus Christ our Lord, but instead" Jesus comes to us and stands among us and breathes on us! And that breath, that spirit, raises us up and makes us alive! That breath changes us! Makes us different! New! It's not the outlandish and the strange that saves! It's Jesus! Jesus dying! Jesus rising! Jesus giving us his very breath!

For us, here, in this place, it's not Father, Son, and. . . SQUIRREL! The Spirit doesn't distract us! The Spirit doesn't divert our attention. They're all one! They're all the same! One in three! Three in one! Love that creates! Love that saves! And love that lifts up and makes new! The Lord and Giver of Life! That's what we call the Spirit in the Nicene Creed. But don't let those words fool you. They are just a humble, just as unassuming as any other in scripture. Defined not by the glorious and grand, by the high and the mighty. But by the lowly and the meek. Lord and Giver of Life are reflections of the manger and cross. Echoes of bread and wine. Those are the times, the places, when the Spirit is seen most clearly! Not in the remarkable or the extraördinary, but in the passages just like this one from John! Everyday! Run-of-the-mill!

Jesus comes and stands among them. And Jesus comes and stands among us! No fanfare! No flourish! He shows us hands, side, and he says, "Peace!" When he has our attention, he continues. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you! So I send all of you!" And then he says, "Receive! Receive the Holy Spirit!" And he breathes on us! He breathes on us! And for the first time – for the first time since Eden – we become living, breathing creations! Created! Recreated! In god's own image!

So, my friends, according to Luke's account. . . according to the second chapter of Acts. . . today is Pentecost. It's fifty days after. And many are celebrating this day as the day the church was born. But for John – for John and for John's community – that happened weeks, ago! That moment came on day one! It came in that house where the disciples had gathered! It came behind the locked doors! It came in the midst of the fear! Came when Jesus stood among them! Came when Jesus breathed on them and gave them his very own breath!

"Peace," he said! "As the Father has sent me, so I send you!" Then, he breathed on them! He breathed on them! And he said, "Receive! Receive the Holy Spirit!"

 
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