Receive the Blessings of Our Triune God
A sermon based on 2 Corinthians 13:11-14
Sunday, June 19, 2011 – Trinity Sunday A
In a small town in Ohio there lived a man named Bob who was the butt of many jokes. He was a slow man, a bit developmentally disabled. Everyone teased him behind his back or to his face. One day as he passed by a young 12-year old girl sitting on the porch, he politely asked how she was. The girl, thinking it funny to tease Bob like everyone else, made up a story.
"Daddy lost his job. We're short of money. And I'm so scared." Seeing her friends arrive behind him and laugh in the background she poured it on thick. "I don't know if we'll have enough to eat," she said. "I'll pray for you," Bob said and continued on his way looking sad for her.
The girl and her friends had a good laugh at slow and gullible Bob. But that evening she heard a knock at the door. When she went to open it, there on the porch was a bag of groceries and Bob, who she knew to be a man of very meager living, unable to hold a job because of his disability, quickly walking away.
How ashamed she felt. Her father, though very much employed and well off, still wouldn't let her return the food since, he said, it would hurt Bob's feelings. So every night for several weeks that young girl ate the food that Bob had given sacrificially for her. She didn't deserve it, but he gave the best he had.
The same is true of God. The Corinthians didn't deserve any blessings from God.
Not long after Paul left Corinth, he heard the report of problems they were having. They challenged his authority as an apostle, they were fighting with each other, they were sleeping with prostitutes. There was even a report of incest—and they were boasting about it! Paul quickly wrote a letter—1 Corinthians—and sent Timothy to check up on the congregation. Timothy brought back a negative report which prompted what he called a "painful visit" from Paul. But right after that visit he received another negative report and sent a "sever letter" with Titus. That letter is lost today. Titus returned with a mixed report. Some repented, but most dismissed it. So Paul wrote a third time.
This time you might expect an extra painful visit and a super severe letter. And yet, pained as he was, Paul's loving letter ends with a warm tone. Though they certainly deserved no gifts from God, for the way they'd been treating him, they had blessings from him anyway—the very best he had. Paul promised that they had grace and love from God, and fellowship with him.
And though we deserve as little from God as the Corinthians, we too receive blessings of the Triune God. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit are ours. Listen now to the conclusion of Paul's last letter to the Corinthians, including that familiar Trinitarian blessing, recorded for us in 2 Corinthians 13:11-14…
11 Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints send their greetings. 14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
I. The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (14a, 11a)
In a minute we're going to read the Athenasian Creed together. But the last lines have been a bit confusing to some: "Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire." Yikes! Do those words perhaps cause a bit of alarm? After all, we haven't always done good. We have done evil. Even as Christians the good that I would I don't do, but the evil I don't want to do I keep on doing. The truth is, I do deserve hell for my sins, for at times receiving the Word of God about as well as those Corinthians did. I deserve eternal fire. And so do you.
But we won't get it. Instead you and I will get the opposite of what we deserve: Eternal life. Why? Not because of what we've done or will do, but because of grace. What is grace? The catechism answer you've all learned is "undeserved love." Someone once made grace an acronym that stands for God's Riches At Christ's Expense. It's sort of like Bob and that little girl. She made fun of him and he gave her the very best he could offer in exchange. But the difference is that Jesus isn't slow. Jesus understands the way you treat him. Jesus knows your every sin. Jesus knows your selfish, sinful attitudes and behaviors, far better than even you do.
And in exchange he gives you his very best—way more than a bag of groceries. He gives you all of God's riches at his expense. He gave you his life. He purchased and won you, from sin, death and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. Why? Simply because he loves you even though you don't deserve it. That's grace.
Now, by that gift, you are sinless and holy. God looks at you and sees no trace of evil. He sees only good works. So the verdict for you when you stand before the judgment seat of God is "Not guilty! This one's perfect and will receive eternal life."
And the only natural response we can have to such a wonderful gift is laid out in verse 11. Now, normally, I think the NIV does a fine job of translating the Greek. But I have to take issue with verse 11. The editors of the NIV did a whole lot of interpretation on top of their translation for that verse. Literally, "Good-by" is "Rejoice." "Aim for perfection" is "be perfected." "Listen to my appeal" is "be encouraged," or "counseled," or "comforted." That last word comes from the same root used to describe the Holy Spirit; the Paraclete, literally the one who's "called to the side." "Be paracleted." "Be called to the side to hear a word of encouragement."
The natural response to having the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is to rejoice in this awesome gift that Jesus gives! To be perfected by that grace, working in us to create new lives! To be encouraged that our sins are forgiven and to be comforted! And to be encouraged and counselled to keep trying to keep the law, not to enter heaven, but to thank him that heaven is yours by grace.
II. The Love of God the Father (14b, 11c)
The next gift of our Triune God that Paul mentions in the closing verse of this letter is "the love of God." And again, a quick Greek lesson is in order to fully understand this verse. Did you know that there are four Greek words all translated simply as "love" in the NIV? The first is eros—the love of opposites. That's the butterflies in the stomach when opposites attract. The second is philos—the love of the same, the friendship you have with those you share a lot in common with. The third is storge. That's the love of a parent for a child. Now all three words are similar in the fact that this love is (to some extent or another) caused by the object of that love. The girlfriend or spouse, the friend or buddy, the child, all have qualities that endear one to them. In other words, they are lovable.
But the fourth word for love is agape. Think of this word as the "there's no reason for it" kind of love. Love for the rebellious teen that tries to physically harm mom or dad. They don't deserve love. They aren't very lovable, but are loved anyway. This is the love that God has for you.
He has loved you so much that when you were his enemy, he sent his Son to the cross in your place. Parents, think about it for a minute. If two kids are about to die in some horrible and excruciating way and you can save only one, which would you choose: your own child, or the one who's bullied and hurt your child and hates you with a passion? God chose the latter. And he sent his child to hell on a cross. Why? Because he loves you, as rebellious and unlovable as you are in your sin. Why does he love you? I don't know. That's agape love.
And as if that weren't enough, God now promises that he won't leave you alone in this life. Paul says, "The God of love and peace will be with you." There's no question about it. This is not some wish, but a stated fact. He will be with you. Immanuel, God With Us, will never leave you or forsake you. He will be with you always to the very end of the age. He created you and gave you all you have and promises to continue to preserve you by daily and richly providing you with things like clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, land (and maybe even) cattle, and all that you own and all that you need to keep your body and life.
The natural response to having the love of God the Father is to rejoice in this awesome gift that God gives! To be at peace every day, confident of God's help, assured of his abiding presence. And to express that confidence as Paul did, "31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:31-32) And, finally, to thank God for this awesome gift by being peaceable and loving toward others—with an agape love—just as God has been toward you.
III. The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit (14c, 12-13, 11b)
The last gift of our Triune God that Paul mentions in the closing verse of this letter is "the fellowship of the Holy Spirit." What a gift this was to the Corinthian congregation, so full of divisions and factions and problems! What a blessing for a church who couldn't get along and had little fellowship with one another. For their sinful pride and the petty arguments they deserved to be sent away from the Holy Spirit, not be brought into fellowship with him.
And friends, that's what we deserve too. We don't always get along with one another do we? We let our sinful pride and arrogance get the best of us in our own homes, let alone at work, or with strangers. We selfishly fight to get our way and seldom even try to get along or live in peace. And we deserve to be sent away from God.
But instead, the Holy Spirit has brought us into a special relationship with God. When we hated him and wanted to run away from God, when we could not by our own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus or come to him, the Holy Spirit called us by the gospel and enlightened us with his gifts. He's made us holy and keeps us in the one true faith, and thus, in fellowship with God. And not only with him, but with one another as well!
Paul encouraged the Corinthians in verse 13, that through this fellowship of the Holy Spirit, "All the saints send their greetings." What joy to know they were a part of something bigger than themselves, bigger than their local congregation, but a part of all the saints! And what a joy we have too since we too have fellowship with God and with each other!
And the natural response to having the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is to rejoice in this awesome gift that he gives! To "be of one mind," and to "live in peace" with one another. To "Greet one another with a holy kiss," not literally in our culture (please), but we do greet one another in a warm and friendly way. We do show concern and love toward each other, offering a phone call for someone who's been missing from worship, not waiting for an elder to do it. We enjoy fellowship with one another at potlucks and church events, in Bible class and worship, and especially around the altar as we kneel side by side and confess our common faith:
That though we deserve nothing but punishment and banishment from God for the sinful and shameful way we've treated him and each other, we receive his forgiveness by grace through what Jesus has done for us. We receive God's love, in spite of our sin. We are brought into fellowship with God through the work of the Holy Spirit.
What undeserved blessings we receive from our Triune God! The next time you hear the invocation in the name of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or the next time you hear that familiar Trinitarian blessing, don't just let it go in one ear and pass right out the other. But take a moment to ponder it, to let it sink in, and to rejoice! For "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit [are] with you all." Amen.