Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sermon for May 17-18

The Feast of the Holy Trinity
May 17-18, 2008
Text: Matthew 28:16-20

Dear Friends in Christ,
Why do we name things? Why don’t we just point and say that thing or that person? Well, for one thing it would make communication difficult. Think of a telephone conversation where you couldn’t identify anything or anyone by name. You would be talking in circles. One person would be talking about their car, but the other person might think that they were talking about their dog. Thus, already in the Garden of Eden, God had Adam name the animals. That made it possible to distinguish between a dog, a horse, and a cow. But that was not enough. They quickly also named the people, Adam, Eve, Seth, Noah, and so forth. And early on in Scripture, there are names for the true God - I Am or Yahweh, the Ruach-Elohiem, that is the Spirit of God and so forth. Later more names would be added - Ancient of Days or Father, Son of Mankind or Christ, the Comforter or Holy Spirit. There are many others, as well. I should make one point here as an aside. “Trinity” is not a name for God. It is a theological description of God. The word “Trinity” appears nowhere in Scripture.
Names function in two ways. They allow us to greet and identify someone by name. When I see the secretary of the Lion’s Club I can say, “Hi, Barry.” I can identify him by name. I can address him and he knows that I’m talking to him and not someone else. And if I need to get his attention from across the room, I can call out to him. That’s what knowing his name does for me. Names function another way. They identify ownership. Most of us have either gone to summer camp or sent children to summer camp. Or perhaps you had children of the same gender who wore clothes that were the same size. So what do you do so you can identify what belongs to which person? You take a laundry marker and do what? You write their name on the tag. This is my shirt, it has my name on it, or no this is not mine, it say “Mark” on the label.
God’s name is no different. We must know His name to call upon Him. God is a little like a girl in a certain story who was named Jennifer. She would answer to no other name. People would try to call her Jenny and she wouldn’t answer. She would only answer to her proper name. So also with God. He is not simply a generic being. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is what He had revealed Himself to be.
Many times people will make up nicknames. A young English boy named Clive, had nicknames for everyone, including himself. Even as an adult, his friends knew him as Jack. Even one of the biographies of this man was called “Jack”. Most of us know this man simply as C. S. Lewis - the author of the “Chronicles of Narnia.” But with God it is different. We are not to make up names for Him. Part of this is that we are to have a great respect for God. But more importantly, we know nothing of God, beyond what He has revealed to us. We do not address God as “parent”, we address Him as “Father”. He has not revealed Himself as parent. He has revealed Himself as Father. We must trust that God is as God the Holy Spirit has revealed Him. We must not presume to know more than the Holy Spirit.
God also uses His Holy divine name to make us as His property. He has ownership of us in two ways. The first is that He made us in His own image. We read this in our first lesson for today. Because of the fall into sin, we were lost to God. But God the Son, that is Jesus Christ, the Son of Mankind was sent to reclaim us to God. God then writes His name on the forehead of those whom He has reclaimed. You might say, “I don’t see anything.” That’s right, we don’t. But God does. There are even passages in Scripture that speak of this such as Revelation 22:4 “They will see [God’s] face, and His name will be on their foreheads.” In other places, angels are sent out to work God’s judgements upon the earth, but the angels are to spare anyone who has God’s name written upon their forehead. That name is written upon us when we are baptized. We are made God’s personal property. We bear His mark. It is a mark of God’s grace. He has bought us back from sin and death with the Holy, precious, innocent blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Then having regained us to Himself, He lovingly marks us as His own by placing His own name upon us.
The names of God are important. Our very salvation hinges upon it. As Peter stated, speaking to the Sanhedrin: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Our salvation is not just in Christ. It is in His found in His name. Christ Himself ordered that forgiveness be preached in His name. (Luke 24:47) So we are taught in Holy Scripture to regard the names by which God has revealed Himself, as holy and precious. Indeed, the Second Commandment teaches us to not misuse the name of God. None of the names of God is to be regarded as more important or more precious than that of Jesus Christ. For the man Jesus, is the full revelation of God. As Christ states, no one has seen the Father except the Son and if you have seen the Son, you have seen the Father.
Many will claim that these books which we regard as Scripture are no different than other ancient writings. Why do we not regard the so called gnostic gospels as being of equal importance? Why do we reject the Koran? To be Holy Scripture, two things are required. First it must be a genuine writing. That is if it says it was written by Paul, it must have been written by Paul. Scripture will never approach us with a falsehood. Any writings which are fraudulent must be rejected. Thus, in the Middle Ages, there was a letter to the Laodiceans that was circulating. But long before Luther’s day, scholarship had made it clear that this work was a pious fraud that was not written by St. Paul at all. Secondly, a book must have been written by or approved by a prophet or apostle. Lastly, God Himself has closed off further revelation of Himself. He has said that there is no more to be revealed. In Revelation 22:18-19 we read: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” This passage is understood among us to be referring to all of Scripture. By these words God is saying that there will be no writings to be added. The work of writing Scripture is complete. Therefore, there are no new names for God to be revealed.
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity. It is a day where we celebrate that full revelation of God, by His Holy names - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Many want to invent new names or say that we can use any name we choose. But this is not so. We can only call upon God by the names He has revealed to us. We are to use no others. Thus we must say that names like Buddha, Allah, Vishnu, and the like are not names for the true God. They are false gods which are to be rejected. Those who call upon those names will not be saved. We must confess this boldly and without reservation. Instead of these rejected names, we call upon the name of Jesus Christ. The name Father Son and Holy Spirit is written on our foreheads in baptism. These names are saving names. The name of Jesus is life itself. Amen!

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