The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
There’s an old adage that speaks of “not seeing the forest for the trees.” Basically, this little saying hits at a very real problem that affects all of us from time to time. Whether you want to admit it or not, we all approach certain things in life with a grandiose vision and epic expectation of how things are supposed to be. We build it up to larger-than-life. Unfortunately, when we come face to face with the reality of that certain person, a place, or thing, we look around and wonder if maybe we missed something. We wonder if there’s more to it. “Surely there must be more to it than just this, right? This can’t be it. No…this isn’t it.” Do you know how many people are let-down and disappointed after seeing the Grand Canyon or Mt. Rushmore? “This is it? Surely there must be more.” So many people think they’re missing something because the Grand Canyon doesn’t measure up to what they’ve built up in their minds. “That’s just a big hole in the ground.” Talk about missing the forest for the trees!
As we turn our attention to the Gospel lesson for this morning, we catch a glimpse of the Pharisees missing the “messianic salvation forest” for the lowly and unassuming tree standing right before them. These guys—the religious elite—had their visions and expectations of what the Christ was supposed to look like, sound like, and act like, and this lowly schmuck Galilean, Jesus, matched none of those criteria. These guys were looking for the glory of God, and Jesus wasn’t it. There was nothing glorious (or even exceptional) about this bum. They didn’t see what they were looking for, though it was “hidden” right there in plain sight, standing right in front of their faces the entire time. Think about that! Jesus was standing there—face to face—speaking to them; the very Son of God, in whom the Father was truly revealing His glory; in whom the full glory of the Godhead dwelt bodily (cf. Col 1:19, “For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”). The problem was that God was revealing that almighty glory to them in a very unexpected, loving, meek, and humble way so that His Almighty glory would not consume them, but instead give them life. They couldn’t see the forest for the trees. More specifically, they didn’t want to see the forest for the trees.
And just like it is for the people in our culture and our day and age, “religious” as they might claim to be, the Pharisees’ hearing of the Word of God—the very Word made flesh that came to die for them and forgive them—simply wasn't glorious enough for them. It didn’t measure up. In fact, it was downright offensive to them. “Repent? Turn and believe? Who do you think you are? What about all my good works? Don’t those count for anything? You mean that God-forsaken beggar, that tax collector, that prostitute is going to receive a spot in the kingdom, while good people like me are in danger of missing the cut? You’ve got to be kidding! This can’t be it!” God’s revealed glory and wisdom in Christ didn’t match their expectations. Why? Because the wisdom of God seemed foolish to them. The glory of God was hidden/veiled in the person of the simple man standing before them and simply speaking to them, this Jesus of Nazareth, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead, and buried.
Of course, as I said just a few moments ago, the Pharisees’ unbelieving blindness and deafness to reality is nothing new. In fact, the problem was there long before the Pharisees, and the problem is still alive and well in our day and age. The full glory of God is still hidden and still standing right before you in this holy Christian Church; this communion of saints. As far as we’ve come in the past two thousand years, so many people claiming to be “religious” and “Christian” still continue to reject the glory of God revealed in both Word and Sacrament today. It's still just not glorious enough. It doesn’t measure up, so therefore it simply cannot be.
Like the Pharisees, people today want to experience and feel the full glory of God. They have their expectations of what this is supposed to look like, sound like, and feel like. They expect the heavens to rend. They want to feel that mountaintop high, and if they don’t feel it, then it can’t be real or valid or worth doing. The very notion of “passive salvation,” that is, simply receiving all that God has done for you, just doesn’t fly with some folks. It doesn’t compute. These trees of God’s mercy and peace—Word and Sacrament—wind up getting missing and passed over and pooh-poohed simply because they’re not what some folks are looking for or expecting (or desiring).
Even something as foundational as justification falls prey to this mentality. Old Adam simply can’t get on board with having to do nothing. Old Adam naturally wants to do his part. Old Adam is always trying to win brownie points and “cultivate a better personal relationship with God.” “It is finished? There must be a catch, right? There’s always a catch!” I would say that it’s too much for some people to believe, but the problem doesn’t lie in the “too much” realm. The problem is that this simple “faith alone in God’s grace alone because of Christ alone” approach doesn’t go far enough for some people. It’s too easy. It’s too simple. There’s nothing left for me to do, and if that’s the case, then I get no glory. I get no honor; no accolades or “atta-boys.” No glory…that’s a real problem for a fallen and sinful ego. Always has been and always will be, at least while Old Adam’s flesh dwells on this side of eternity.
Folks: How is salvation ours? How are we justified? Is it by anything we do, or is it because of everything that Jesus has already done for us? Even a child knows the correct answer, right? And that brings up a good point that’s very fitting for us to ponder on this Trinity Sunday. Just listen to that conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees. "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but He sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word…. Whoever is of God hears the words of God (the wisdom of God; the voice of God). The reason why you do not hear is that you are not of God."
I don’t care who you are—that’s brutal! Jesus tells it exactly like it is. “You don’t hear because you are not of God, no matter how much you think you are. The problem is not that I’m not from God, but that you’re not of God.” Folks: This is precisely why we do and say what we do on Trinity Sunday. I know some of you don’t like the Athanasian Creed because it’s so-o-o-o long and redundant. I know some of you think today is a waste of time because you already know about the Trinity. Some of you may be disappointed because, being Trinity Sunday, you expected to hear something new and revealing about the Trinity. Sorry to disappoint you. Today is not about giving you some inside, secret knowledge about the Trinity that no one else knows. Today is about getting back to basics and listening to and following the Truth and Wisdom of God while we walk and dwell in a world that promotes lies and half-truths and condemns God’s Truth.
Just look at what is happening here today in your very midst. Here is the glory and wisdom of our almighty and Triune God present and at work. Our heavenly Father continues to send His only-begotten Son to feed us and nourish us with His life-giving, life-saving Word and Body and Blood. The Father hasn’t ever stopped sending! Our heavenly Father continues to show mercy to us because our resurrected and victorious Christ Jesus continues to show Him His crucifixion wounds, reminding Him that it is indeed finished, once and for all. The voice of God—Wisdom incarnate—still calls out and raises the voice to all who will hear. “Come, all you who are heavy-laden. Come, all you who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Take and eat. Take and drink. This is My body. This is My blood, given and shed for you for the complete forgiveness of all your sin. Depart now in peace.” The Holy Spirit, who proceeds from both the Father and the Son, is actively at work in these means of grace, opening our ears, our eyes, our hearts, and our minds to faithfully behold the glory and wisdom of God to us, for us, and among us. “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, but the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies me (and the Church) in this one, true faith.”
I know these elementary morsels of doctrine probably seem redundant to some of you. After all, you’ve already done confirmation. You’re good. Believe it or not, but getting back to basics isn’t a bad thing. Staying grounded in the basics isn’t a bad thing. Elementary repetition can be very good! This is how “muscle memory” happens. The same goes with faith. Today especially we do revisit and allow God Himself to remind us and re-orient us to who He is and what He’s all about. Today our elementary focus on the Trinity helps us so that we don’t miss anything; so that we don’t miss almighty God at work and in our very presence. We live in a world that is filled with demonic lies and half-truths. The devil lies to us. This fallen and sinful world lies to us. Even the Old Adam flesh in the mirror lies to us all the time. It’s all very seductive and appealing. It’s all very empowering and “liberating.” It’s all so glorifying and makes us feel so good. It’s all so very sad, and none of it is new.
This is why I (with my forefathers in the faith) are constantly pointing you to examine and discern what it is you are hearing, learning, reading, marking, and inwardly-digesting, and clamoring after. Is it of God, or not? Is it the Truth, or not? Is it the Wisdom of God, or not? The Wisdom of God is offensive and folly to men, but…that doesn’t make it wrong. Is the Word and Wisdom of God rightly taught and His Sacraments rightly administered?
Folks: This is how the Almighty and Triune God abides with us and continues to work our salvation; through His humble and hidden-in-plain-sight means of grace. I don’t want you to miss any of it, and neither (and especially) does your almighty and Triune God, who desires the death of no one, but desires that all may hear and turn and have the abundance of life that’s found only in Him.
I’ll close by simply asking you: Given all this merciful goodness of God, can you ever get enough, let alone “too much” of this “hidden” glory of God? I suppose that does depend on whether or not you behold these gifts of life and forgiveness through the worldly eyes and ears of fallen and sinful reason, or through the opened eyes and ears of simple, child-like saving faith that our almighty and Triune God desires to give to you and to all who will hear His Wisdom. As Christ said, that does depend on whether or not you are of God.
Those who have ears to hear, let them hear! As children by faith who do hear and keep His Word, may the Almighty and Triune God continue to bless you with this absolutely free gift of saving faith so that you will never miss the heavenly forest for the gracious abundance of holy trees already firmly planted in your midst. As you prepare to disperse into this great big world of ours, may He grant you the open mouth that naturally comes with this saving faith—the open mouth that can’t help but bear faithful fruit by proclaiming the Good News of Christ Jesus crucified and resurrected for all mankind.
To Christ alone be all the glory!
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