Pentecost 1a -- Holy Trinity

Preached: June 19, 2011

Blessed with Grace, Love, and Fellowship
2 Corinthians 13:14

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which Jesus brings his blessings to us is 2 Corinthians 13.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

A. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

Two young men traveled out to the Rockies for a little adventure. So when they heard about Devil's Gulch, they figured they were up for the challenge. The locals warned them that rock-climbing there was strictly prohibited. The cliff was unstable, making rescue attempts very dangerous. Three years earlier an attempt had failed, fatally injuring one of the rescuers. Unpredictable gusts and updrafts made evacuation by helicopter even more dangerous.

But these two figured they knew better. They had made it through three years of college. They could certainly tackle this cliff. So out to Devil's Gulch they went, ignoring the posted warnings and climbing over the fence. A little over an hour into their adventure, the rocks gave way and both half slid, half fell fifty yards or so. When they came to a stop, one was pinned under a boulder; the other had a compound fracture in his leg. Did they deserve to be rescued?

Grace shows kindness and favor to those who do not deserve it. And the grace Jesus showed you and me came at such great personal cost to him. Grace freely gives God's Riches At Christ's Expense - G R A C E. The blessing at the end of 2 Corinthians begins with the words: "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ." Such simple words! Such profound depth! Grace comes undeserved, unmerited, unearned, unasked for. That's why it's free, but it's not cheap.

We were not just some twenty-something know-it-alls whose arrogance and self-assurance got us into trouble. We were criminals. We were rebels. We were traitors. We were empty, hopeless, wicked. We were loveless and unlovable. We begin to truly appreciate the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ only when we realize what we were and still would be without his grace.

Sometimes to illustrate grace the story is told of how a mother praises the coloring scribbles of her three-year old as if it were a masterpiece, proudly displaying them on her refrigerator. Such artwork doesn't deserve that praise. But is this really grace? Do you see the fatal flaw in that illustration? True, the artwork itself doesn't merit or deserve such praise. But isn't the mother actually praising the effort and good intentions of her child? That's not grace. It may be love and good parenting. But it's not grace, for there is something in that little child the praise depends on.

Even our natural, sinful self will admit that our works are no masterpieces. Even our best may be just childish scribblings. Doesn't that sound humble to admit? "But at least I had good intentions. I made an effort," our old self claims. But dear friends, do you see how that claim destroys grace? If grace in any way at all depended on our desire, our intentions, our effort, our asking or anything else in us, it's no longer grace. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is completely independent from anything in us. It's totally unconditional.

In fact, before we knew the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, none of our intentions were good in God's sight. At the time we may well have thought our intentions good, and others may have even praised them. That's how much sin blinded us. Likewise all our efforts and desires were bent away from God and ran contrary to his will, even when we thought we were striving for the spiritual or the divine. That's the way we were before we knew the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. And even now with faith alive in your heart, your holy desires, your good intentions, and your god-pleasing efforts are worked in you by the Holy Spirit. So how could we claim any merit for any of it? All the credit goes to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ -- grace, undeserved, unearned, unmerited, unasked for.

Wonder in amazement at such grace. While we were still godless sinners, while we were still his rebellious enemies, he died for you. He died for you not because of anything in you or anything you might do or because of any sort of intention or effort you might make some day. If that were so, it wouldn't be grace, would it?

Wonder in amazement. He died for you because he is the Lord, the God of free and faithful grace. He died for you to redeem you to be his people, so that he is your Lord, who has ransomed you with his blood to be his own. He died not just any death, but your punishment, your hell, your death. He is Jesus, who came in flesh and blood to be your Substitute, your Sacrifice, your Savior. He is the Christ, the Anointed One. For he carried out the mission his Father had appointed and sent him to do. He completed his mission to pay the penalty for all the sins of the world, including all of yours, and win eternal life for you who believe. See he has risen from the dead! He has ascended in glory! He reigns over all at the Father's right hand! Mission accomplished! What grace! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!

B. The love of God

The blessing continues: "and the love of God." How great the Father's love is! Yet it is only through the Son, Jesus Christ and his grace that we come to know the Father and his love. So we began the sermon today focusing on that grace.

As we now contemplate God's love, no doubt, you first of all think of the greatest gift of his love. God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son (John 3:16). That same love chose you in Christ from before the creation of the world. What grace! We cannot separate the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ from the love of God the Father toward us. But rather than repeating the first part, let's consider God's love toward you after you've been reborn into his family in baptism and through faith know the grace of Christ.

To think about what love does, recall O. Henry's short story, "The Gift of the Magi." A young couple, Della and Jim, were too poor to buy Christmas gifts for each other. So unknown to one another, Della has her long, beautiful hair, which she so treasured, cut and sold to buy a chain for Jim's prized pocket watch, passed down from his grandfather. Jim, meanwhile, has sold the watch to buy beautiful, jeweled combs to decorate Della's long hair with. Love gives. No matter what the cost, love gives.

What gifts has the Father's love lavished on you? So great is his love, that some gifts, like the sun shining and the rain watering the crops, he gives not only to his children but even to the wicked. How richly his love has blessed us with earthly gifts, including our time, talents, and treasures!

But he lavishes even greater gifts than those on you who are his children through faith in Jesus Christ. Imagine a good, wealthy, powerful king. All the inhabitants of his land, even the nay-sayers, enjoy the gifts of peace and prosperity his rule brings. But he reserves his greatest gifts for his children.

Through faith in Jesus you, dear Christians, are children of the heavenly Father, reborn into his family through the water and word of Baptism. What gifts the Father has lavished on you! Shall we name a few: Faith, so that you are called sons of God for that is what you are in Christ Jesus. Peace, for you know that your sins are forgiven and you are reconciled to God through Christ's death. The Scriptures, so that you may believe in his Son and know his great love. The Sacraments, to offer, give, and seal to you his promise of love and forgiveness. Prayer, so that you can speak to the Almighty God as a dear child going to your dear Father, casting all your cares on him, anytime, anywhere, for any reason. Fruit, since he enables you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices of glad obedience, since what you do out of faith in Christ in line with God's law is pleasing and acceptable to him. Fulfillment, for in Jesus your life has true meaning and purpose. Perseverance, so that no matter how severe the trials of life, in him you have the strength and courage to go on. Joy, which finds true contentment and happiness in his loving promises. And hope, because an inheritance awaits you that can never perish, spoil, or fade, kept in heaven for you who believe. Cherish these and all the gifts the Father's love has lavished on you, who are his dear children through faith in Jesus.

Now these spiritual gifts come because his love pours out the Holy Spirit on you through his Word and Sacraments. The same love that gave you his Son gives you his Holy Spirit. So just as we cannot separate the love of God the Father from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, so we can separate neither of them from the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

C. The fellowship of the Holy Spirit

So now as we consider the third part of the blessing, think of the camaraderie and closeness that can bind soldiers. Under the bombardment of the enemy, cut off from home, relying on each other for their very lives, they become a band of brothers. How close that fellowship can be! Even though World War II ended over sixty-five years ago, those still with us have not forgotten their brothers in arms, just as the many who have served since then also remember theirs.

But the Holy Spirit has worked an even closer fellowship among you, God's people -- a fellowship that lasts not only a life-time, but for eternity. You are true brothers and sisters in Christ. For the Holy Spirit has given you rebirth into God's family through the washing with water and the word in Baptism. We are one family in Christ. And we are united together as fellow soldiers in the holy Christian church, the communion of saints. Satan bombards us with his lies and temptations. Absent from our true home, we feel the tugs of doubt, fear, and despair. How cold and dank the trenches of this earth are compared to the glory of heaven!

But you, dear Christian, are not alone. Look to your right and to your left, fellow soldiers of the cross. Rely on your brothers and sisters in Christ, carry each others burdens. Treat each other as fellow soldiers, for that is what you are. Build each other up in love. Don't use your tongue to tear down but rather bring Christ and his word to one another. Every time we stand together at the Lord's table for Holy Communion, we confess that fellowship the Holy Spirit has united us together in. Don't let your life outside these walls deny it. This fellowship is built on the truth of God's Word and bond together with the brotherly love the Holy Spirit has kindled in our hearts. Don't let false doctrine undermine the fellowship or loveless words and actions drive it apart. Rather let the Holy Spirit dwell in you richly through God's word and sacraments, drawing us ever closer together in fellowship.

And finally we share this fellowship with one another because of the greater fellowship the Holy Spirit has brought you into. You have fellowship with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He in you, and you in him. For the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ has taken away your sin that separated you from God. The love of God the Father has brought you into his family to lavish his gifts on you. And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit keeps you in the one true faith that unites us to one another in the holy Christian church and most of all unites us with the Triune God. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313