Search This Blog

Monday, June 26, 2017

Instructions for the Journey

Matthew 10:24-39
Late last summer, I saw the movie “Hacksaw Ridge” for the first time. The movie tells the story of a young man, Desmond T. Doss, who served as an army medic during World War II, and specifically during the Battle of Okinawa. Before the war broke out, Doss was for the most part a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. Raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist, his faith was very important to him, and that, together with some early life experiences, led him to make a decision to live his life as a pacifist. He didn’t have a great deal of education – his family was too poor for that, but Doss did have an interest in medicine.
Then World War II broke out and Doss felt called to serve his country. As a pacifist, you can imagine the dilemma this created for the young man. Added to the tension, was his relationship with his father, who himself had served during World War I, and today would likely be diagnosed as having PTSD – his action during World War I left him scarred for the rest of his life, and his family bore the brunt of his war-induced mental illness.
The elder Doss was vehemently opposed to his sons serving in the war. Going against his father’s will created huge conflict and ultimately a schism between them. But the young Doss made up his mind. He had it all figured out. He liked medicine; he would serve his country as a medic. He couldn’t bear arms, but he could still serve, and he seemed to have an understanding with his recruiter that that would be exactly as things would go. But of course, they didn’t.
No sooner had Doss arrived as boot camp than he ran into problems with his drill sergeant and his fellow soldiers over his decision and refusal not to bear arms. He excelled physically but became an outcast in his unit for his refusal to handle a rifle or drill on Saturdays – his Sabbath. He was assigned physically grueling labor. An attempt on the part of his superiors to have him discharged for psychiatric reasons failed, and one night he is pretty badly beaten up by some of his fellow soldiers.  Still, he resists going against what his faith – and the Scriptures – had taught him.
He ultimately completed basic training but was then arrested and court martialed for insubordination. He refused to relent. He would not bear arms, could not go against biblical teachings nor his conscience. All he wanted was to serve as a medic, come what may. Finally, his father barged into the military tribunal bearing a letter from a former commanding officer of his, pointing out that pacifism is protected by an Act of Congress.
The charges were dropped, and Doss was assigned to the 77th Infantry Division, deployed to the Pacific theater, which is how he ended up at the Battle of Okinawa, where through his actions, he saved the lives of 75 men and earned Medal of Honor, the first conscientious objector to ever earn that coveted award.
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not easy. You and I might never have to make the kinds of choices and decisions that Desmond Doss did, but I think that looking at this morning’s gospel text through the lens of Doss’ story might help us to understand what Jesus is telling his disciples about the cost and meaning of the mission in his name.
In this chapter from the Gospel of Matthew Jesus, in fact, has very pointed advice for his disciples, and his words help draw a picture of the cost of Christian mission and ministry. The picture isn’t all that pretty.  Jesus paints a picture of discipleship that is more than just a little off-putting.
The Gospel text we heard this morning is a continuation of what is referred to as the mission discourse, or “Sermon on Mission.” It was being delivered to a people who were persecuted, who were needing to make tough choices about what following Jesus means, who were experiencing opposition and divisions among families and friends, and the cost of being disciples.
Last week our gospel contained the words of Jesus that come just before these: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me…..  21Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22and you will be hated by all because of my name….”
As this Sermon continues today, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one own household.”
Between last week’s text and this week’s, the Sermon on Mission has moved from the sources of mission (Jesus’ compassion, praying disciples, spiritual gifts, and church fellowship) through Jesus’ travel instructions (travel light-Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff”), and now move on to the “trouble instructions” which basically, boil down to: “expect the worst”. Finally, we come to Jesus’ “trust” instructions - believe in me, acknowledge me

, and love me.
With all these instructions, Jesus seeks to bind the disciples to himself. He wants them to remember their bond with him, and to honor their relationship with Jesus and their identity as his disciples even and especially in the midst of the hardship and suffering they will surely face, as they serve this mission and ministry in his name.
“So, what does it mean to be a disciple of Christ?”
Bible commentator Frederick Dale Bruner puts it this way: “Jesus comes crashing into history, and then into our lives, and takes over, preempting our most instinctive loyalties, presuming on our deepest affections, usurping our natural ties, and asking (and so claiming) to be the most important person in our lives.”
Jesus knows that for the mission to be served well, the whole lives of his disciples must be marked by our relationship with him, by loyalty to him and that they be consistent with his own cross-shaped life, where the decisions we make, the interactions we have, and our every choice be made with God’s mission in the forefront of our actions.
Jesus knows well how difficult this journey will be and he isn’t pulling any punches. To follow Jesus is to cause the same kind of trouble Jesus caused, because Jesus’ way is countercultural. Absolute adherence to the ways and commands of Jesus are what Jesus demands from his disciples. Anything less brings destruction and chaos.
The thing is, Jesus knows that we like our comfortable little lives. We strive to make a “good life for ourselves” – for most of us, that kind of comfort and security is our ultimate goal and priority in life. Our lives include the relationships we have with family and friends. They include attaining and maintaining a certain status, perhaps living in the best neighborhood we can afford, to have the best things in our homes, to make the best connections in our community, all those things that go into making our lives pleasurable and secure. Given a choice we will choose the “easy way” of things.
And so, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Jesus isn’t advocating violence here. These words have been misinterpreted in that way over the centuries. Rather, the peace that Jesus is here to disrupt and even tear apart is the “peace” of the status quo – the “peace” of self-sufficiency; the “peace” that allows tyrants to oppress and persecute those with little power; the “peace” of keeping about our neat little lives safe and secure while scores of people face death, disease, hunger, abuses and persecution.
The sword of Jesus is meant to cleave us from our complacency, our blindness to the inequality happening all around us, or our adherence to earthly values, idols, even those relationships that keep us from being wholly centered on Jesus and on the mission he sets us forth to serve.
Jesus says to us, “You know what? If your life passion is to “make it” you will be lost. If security is what you are after, your search will only lead to your destruction.”
We hear those words and realize that really, truly, this Jesus is trouble.
So central is trouble to the Christian mission that Jesus says that his purpose in coming to earth was division. Jesus will bind disciples to himself in faith and then move them out into life to love people on the edge, but the historic consequences of faith and love have always been as much persecution as reconciliation. A few will believe the truth of Christ, but most will oppose it. Jesus shoots from the hip here. This is as true today as it was in Jesus’ time.
Jesus is not triumphalist about the future of Christian mission; he knows that his mission is a rugged minority movement, a tough, divisive affair, and he prefers to make this clear rather than to give false hope. “The gate is wide and the way pleasant that leads to destruction, and many people [a majority] go this route; but the gate is narrow and the way tough that leads to real life, and very few people find this way.”
            Yet in the midst of all this sobering news, there is gospel good news for us as well. In the midst of this passage Jesus tells us, “Do not be afraid.”  These words for us are both challenge and promise. God will always be with you. God does not leave us alone to face this battle, but with the kind of care and love that knows and counts each hair on our heads, the Lord God will strengthen, supply, and keep us in steadfast love. Jesus encourages his followers to step out into the light and tell the truth about their lives – a truth that is seen as healing, as life-giving, as witness to the goodness of God who cares for the little sparrow, the faithful soldier, the struggling, disciple, and all those who cling to Jesus and to his Way.
            Jesus tells us that in losing our life we will find it. Paul reminds us in baptism we died to sin, and we were buried with Jesus in death, that we might arise and walk in newness of life. As disciples of Christ, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, going without fear, knowing that though this new life, the life of discipleship might be costly, by his death and resurrection, Jesus has already made us alive to God, counted, treasured, accompanied and restored, for the sake of the kingdom of God.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Gut Feeling

Matthew 9:35-10:4
During the sermon on Holy Trinity Sunday last week, we heard through text and sermon about how God’s activity through the Holy Trinity is God’s living out the divine promise of “I’ve got you covered.” The Trinity’s ongoing presence and work as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit functions to show us who God is and how God operates throughout the universe. We acknowledge that though the Trinity is a mystery, and we don’t fully understand exactly how it is possible, it is through in Trinity that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has us uniquely covered – simultaneously creating, redeeming, and making us a holy people.
So, last week’s “I’ve got you covered” text and sermon addressed the how and what of God. This week’s gospel starts out by telling us the why of God. 
Today’s gospel text begins by telling us how Jesus went about the cities and villages – in other words, how he went to every type of people and every kind of community. Then, we come to verse 36 we read: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Here we have it – this is the why of God. God has compassion.
In and through Jesus, God responds to our suffering out of compassion. Jesus brings God’s comforting Word, teaches people who need to hear that Word about the true nature of God, and heals their sicknesses out of compassion. But the thing is, this word as we read it here, compassion, is truly a watered-down version of what the word written in Greek really means.
So, for instance, when you hear the word, “compassion,” what do you think of? What does it mean? <accept responses> To feel for? To take pity on? To want to help?
Good answers. It’s a good start. Yet if you look at the etymology of the English word, compassion, it goes a little further; ‘compassion’ comes from the Latin cum, meaning ‘with’ and passio, meaning ‘suffering’. So, when we have compassion, we are suffering with another person, or feeling their suffering.
To go a step further,  we have the Greek word actually written into this text; splanknizo, or, in this case, splanknizomai, since it is in verb form, means to “feel in the viscera.” In plain English the closest way I can put that is, ‘to feel in the gut’ – to feel to your very core – to have a gut-wrenching reaction to something - to feel it so deeply in your insides, that you literally feel something within you move.
God sees the helplessness of God’s creation and God acts out of compassion. God doesn’t simply feel badly for the people who are suffering, God acts because God feels our pain and is moved to the very core by the plight of humankind. God knows how harassed – how out of sorts, beleaguered, and overwhelmed we are - how much we suffer from depression, oppression, and suppression; that is what affects God, moves God so much that God sends Jesus Christ to us as the Word incarnate, to heal our pain and brokenness, and save us from our sin.
That is the truest meaning of the word translated here, and it reason for God’s action; it is the reason that Jesus reaches out and heals and cures the people he encounters on his journey through the cities and towns and villages; through the city streets and along the country lanes through which he passes. Jesus doesn’t simply feel badly for the people, pity them or judge them as pitiable, rather, Jesus sees their humanity, and he is moved to ease their pain.
But Jesus cannot do this work alone, because he knows that one day, he will leave this earthly plane and will need workers to carry on the work he has begun. He will need apostles who will likewise speak the Word, teach, and heal.
So, in a touch of irony, Jesus summons these early disciples, and instructs them to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.
Now, when I was in seminary, a very wise professor told us, “when you pray, be sure that you do not pray for something, for which you are not willing to be the answer.”
In the very next verse of our text today, Jesus calls twelve of these disciples and gives them the authority – read this as marching orders – to do the same as he has done. So, on the one hand, Jesus says, ‘pray for workers to help with the harvest’ – on the other hand he says, ‘now, you are to be first among those workers.’
Jesus calls his disciples – those who learn from him, not only to pray for the solution but to be part of the solution. And Jesus asks the same of us today, as community together with and for each other, and as harvest workers for the world around us. Jesus calls us to be moved to the very core of our being for the suffering ones – the harassed and helpless ones, the grieving and hurting ones, the hungry and homeless ones - and to respond; to reach out with compassion and heal those we encounter along our journey.
As the disciples go, they will proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven, and they will do this not for pay, nor for their own glory or benefit, but only for the sake the other, and the fullness of God’s kingdom.
I recently had a conversation with a woman who told me this story: she, along with her husband, had just joined a new church, but were not yet well known there, when an unbelievable tragedy befell their family. They were devastated, grieving, and suffering great pain and loss.
The incredible tragedy they had suffered was announced to the congregation in several forms of communication that went out, and members felt deeply sorry for anyone who would suffer such a loss, and they dutifully prayed for her family.
But what the woman told me was that not one person from that church called, sent a card, or reached out to her and her husband.
She and her husband had joined that church seeking to be part of a faith community. But perhaps because they weren’t all that well known yet, it seemed like the compassion of the members of the church was only skin-deep.
While prayer is very important, that family needed to know by the actions of their faith community that they were moved to the very core of their being by the pain and loss the family had suffered. Instead, the silence they experienced was deafening and only served to increase their pain; they felt betrayed and isolated by the community they thought would stand by them in their hour of need.
The result? The woman told me that though her faith in God was not shaken, her faith in the community of the church was shattered. They now felt it futile to belong to a church. What was the point? The community had failed them. The lesson for us all: our compassion needs to be more than skin-deep and it needs to be evident in our words and actions.
Whether the need comes from someone within the community itself or comes from one of our neighbors, Jesus calls us to know gut-wrenching compassion for those God places on our path and along our journey.
As a church, we’ve been doing a lot of talking about numbers. We talk about the numbers of people who come to worship. We talk about the numbers of people in the community around Easton whom we would like to bring into the body of Christ at Grace.
Jesus calls us to look past the numbers and see the people who are hurting, harassed and helpless. Jesus calls us to reach out to those in need of hearing the good news of God’s “I’ve got you covered” in a believable way – through our words and our actions. The best way to tell others about God is to show others about God, by modeling the love and compassion of God not only by what we say, but also by what we do.
The compassion of Jesus described in this text is a model for all of Christ’s disciples. Our text names those disciples whom Jesus sent out, even names some who failed him in some ways. Yet even in their failure, they have served the larger purposes of God.
In our baptism, we were each named as well. We were named children of God and workers in the new community to which we were joined, along with all the other laborers needed to serve the harvest of God.
The work is not easy. It is taxing. It is emotionally exhausting, it will not always be successful by our measures of success. But faithful service to God serves the larger purposes of God’s kingdom, to heal the hurts and feed the souls of those who most need to experience the love of God through the care and fellowship of the followers of Jesus.  It matters not whether we are able to discern “success” or not. We may never know the difference we have made in a person’s life – the reward is not ours to enjoy. But showing compassion through action in the name of Jesus Christ is our purpose in life and in this community for the ministry we share in God’s kingdom here on earth.  
Jesus sends us out in mission: to be the heart and guts of Christ for people. Jesus urges us to pray not only for our work but that more workers may join us, for the sake of the mission of God. Jesus models loving, compassionate caring that is more than skin-deep, but is demonstrated as well in faith through action.
Through the Holy Spirit, God grants us gifts of ministry for healing, and blesses us with the apostolic mission of the church. God grants us fellowship with all the workers who are sitting in the pews beside you here today, plus other workers who are sitting in pews in other churches hearing the good news of the compassion of Jesus and our commission to follow in his ways. This fellowship includes those who have yet to join us.
So today we go from “I’ve got you covered” to “Feeling it in the gut: the mission and ministry of Christ”. How does that work as a title for this message? It may not be very catchy, but it’s pointed. Christ’s love and presence are real, and he calls for ours to be, as well. May God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, grant that it may be so.

Caution - Unavoidable Urge to Move May Follow

So, this post is a little out of order. This is the sermon from Pentecost, June 4, 2017.
Pentecost 2017
            This week, I attended the 30th annual Delaware-Maryland Synod Assembly along with delegates from our church. In addition to the plenary sessions where between two and three hundred of our sisters and brothers in Christ from throughout the synod met, where we shared in bible study and heard from dynamic speakers and where the business of the church was conducted, we also gathered at least once each day for worship in the auditorium of the Convention Center in Ocean City.
As you can imagine in a facility like that, an effort was taken to set up a space conducive for worship. So, at the front of the auditorium, upon the large stage that took up most of the width of the room, a large altar was created from several tables drawn together. This altar was then covered with white tablecloths and bunting. Next to the altar stood a large banner with a matching, smaller piece of fabric draped over the white clothes covering the constructed altar, serving as the frontal, much like these red paraments here do today.
When we see these colors in use in the church, we are in fact celebrating the fire of the Holy Spirit of God alive and work in the church. Here in the Lutheran church the standard occasions when we pull out and put our red tend to be Pentecost Sunday, Reformation Sunday, and for ordinations and consecrations in the church. That’s pretty much it. Really? Really!
And yet, it is our understanding, as a church, that the Holy Spirit gives life to the church, inspires, blesses, and makes holy the work of the church. The Holy Spirit is responsible for giving us faith; grants a variety of gifts for the good of the church, like the ones listed in the passage from Corinthians today – gifts like wisdom, and knowledge, and healing, and prophecy, and discernment, and so on. Like I said, the Holy Spirit, in fact, gives LIFE to the church. And fortunately, God is color-blind, because God sends the Holy Spirit to abide with us constantly, and not just when we are wearing our red.
But as I sat in the final worship service of the synod assembly yesterday, it was these pieces of fabric that caught my attention and my imagination; Because, in keeping with the theme that underlies any such gathering of the church, and in light of the upcoming Pentecost Sunday, the silk-screened pieces of cloth that made up the banner and frontal were covered with images of huge flames – the interplay of large tongues of bright yellow, and shades of orange and red blended together conjuring a fiery scene.
As I gazed at these images of fire and flame, I thought about our relationship with fire, and how the image of flame is used to evoke our relationship with the Holy Spirit. Just look at our own paraments and banners and at the images upon the stole I wear today. What do you see? The red of fire, the shape of flame.
How many of us have ever been mesmerized, staring into the flames of a fire? Perhaps you’ve found yourself staring in a hypnotic trance at the flames in a fireplace, fire pit or even a bonfire. Flames draw us in – hopefully not too close, or your hypnotic trance may be rudely interrupted by the odor of singed hair or burning clothing.
Fire, of course, has been an essential element in the lives of human beings from the dawn of time. Once, in the history of the human race, we discovered how to make fire, the flames of fire were harnessed to provide light and heat, to cook food, to create tools, to clear land, to shape communications, and for so many other essential uses.
Place a flame under a pot of water and before long that water is moving, then bubbling, then boiling over. Flames under the frypan will have your meat or vegetables soon popping and sizzling nicely. Build a big fire in a cold room and before long, you’ll find yourself cozy and warm.
Fire contains what is a sometimes overwhelming power. It inspires both fear and awe. If you’ve ever experienced the uncontrollable, unquenchable hunger of a house, grass or forest fire, or suffered even a minor burn, you probably understand the fear part.
What does it mean, then, that a major symbol for the Holy Spirit is the image of flame and fire? What message does the text from the Acts of the Apostles today tell us about our relationship with this advocate, the Holy Spirit, who was promised by Jesus and who powerfully enters the place where the apostles were gathered on that Pentecost day? Why does Luke, the author of this text, include in the telling of this story of the early church the detail about tongues of fire not consuming, but dancing over the heads of the apostles, and finally, resting on them?
The story we have in our first reading today occurs on the fiftieth day of Easter – the fiftieth day after Jesus rose from the grave. In the intervening forty-nine days, Jesus has met many times with his fearful, hesitant, doubting disciples.
When they weren’t doubting Jesus, these vulnerable, very human disciples often doubted themselves – doubted that they were good enough – doubted that they had the right words or that people would listen to them if they told them about Jesus. They perhaps doubted that they could ever go out and do the ministry Jesus was sending them out to do. Perhaps they doubted they could withstand the danger.
No wonder we hear the calming, comforting words from a loving Jesus so many times during this final training period, “Peace be with you.”
Then, at the right time, Jesus sends these believers the Holy Spirit with flourish and pizzazz. Perhaps those licks of fire mesmerized the apostles at first, but not for long. Infused by the Holy Spirit, they are now sent out, burning with energy, desire, and a sudden new ability to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Just like that, God gives the Holy Spirit to the church on the occasion of her birth.
On that day, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was illustrated in part through the sudden ability of the disciples to speak to people from many  and different places, in the languages that spoke most clearly to their hearts. By speaking to so many people from so many places, the Holy Spirit invited diversity into the church from its inception.
The thing about fire is that it never stops moving. It can be neither contained, nor still. The other thing about fire as any student of science will tell you, is that it changes the substance and nature of the thing it affects: Water turns to steam, raw meat turns to edible food, structures in fruits and vegetables are altered changing their consistency and taste, in some cases making them more easily digestible. Wood turns to ash. And the fire of the apostles’ speech witness to the power of God to change the world through the diversity of the nations.
The thing about the this constantly stirring, moving, dancing Holy Spirit is that it, too, changes everything it touches. Jesus infuses the church by sending his Spirit to abide in, with and around his disciples, changing them forever.
The Spirit sends us out into the world to bring about the fiery change that Jesus calls us to in the ministry and mission
We are used to thinking about the Holy Spirit as the one who inspires heals, unites and guides us. We often speak of the Holy Spirit as the one who comforts. As your pastor I count on the Holy Spirit to guide not only my actions, but my words – so, when my preaching seems “off” – you can blame the Holy Spirit – maybe she was just too busy to inspire my preaching, or your hearing that week.
The thing is, that the Spirit is given to the church as this energizing, fiery, inspiring, constantly moving force for the gospel of Jesus Christ. While each of us is blessed with and by the Holy Spirit in our Baptism, this Holy Spirit is given not for our individual benefit, but for the sake of the world – God’s world – the place where we are sent out, from Baptismal font then nurtured and fed at the table, and sent out as the Spirit-driven firy breath of God’s justice, hope, healing, compassion, care, and love alive and active in the world; constantly moving, constantly agitating, constantly alive in faith in Jesus Christ.
God’s Holy Spirit, never idle in our lives is constantly moving us outward – like the disciples, no longer content to remain within the four walls of the upper room, nor even within the gates of Jerusalem, we shall not be content to remain within the four walls of this sanctuary.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a vital place for us, for it is here that we hear God’s Word read and the gospel good news proclaimed in community; it is here that we are reminded who God is and whose we are. It is in this place as we gather together in the name of Jesus Christ each week that we gather around the table, where we receive the body and blood of Our Lord, and where, blessed by the Holy Spirit we receive grace upon grace for our own dance of faith in mission and ministry for Jesus.
It is the Holy Spirit’s agitating that inspires us to care for God’s good creation, an important ministry now, perhaps more than ever before. It is the Holy Spirit’s bubbling energy that calls us to gather food each month to be delivered to the local food banks, and that this year alone has inspired us to give over $2400 dollars in coins, checks and cash to ELCA World Hunger alone. Thanks be to God!
It is at the Holy Spirit’s sending that members of Grace serve each month at the Talbot Interfaith Shelter, that Thanksgiving meals and Christmas projects are provided for the good of our neighbors right here in Easton; that several times each month lunches are provided for the homeless and for low income seniors in our area. The Holy Spirit inspires us and moves us to share this God-given building with two other groups -  an AA group and a newly formed Hispanic congregation each week, so that every single day of the week, through the blessings we have received, we are blessing others in the name of Christ.
On this Pentecost Sunday, as on every day as we invoke the name of God’s Holy Spirit in our prayers and in our daily walk, let’s remember the dancing, moving, invigorating nature of God’s Spirit. Let’s remember how God reaches down into our world and into our lives and inspires movement and dance, speech we never thought ourselves capable of, and grants us gifts and abilities for the purpose of God’s mission and ministry lived out each day for the sake of the God’s kingdom here on earth.
So inspired, let us join the dance of the trinity, the movement to share God’s truth and love in the world.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I’ve Got You Covered

Holy Trinity Sunday
Genesis 1:1-2, 4a; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

            I have a couple of riddles for you:
What did the rug say to the floor? “I’ve got you covered!”
What did George say to his friend Joe when the check for their meal arrived and Joe realized he didn’t have his wallet? “Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered!”
What did the police detective say to her partner before she advanced toward the suspect’s door? “I’ve got you covered.”
God’s message to us this day and always is, I’ve got you covered.  And on Trinity Sunday, we marvel in all the ways that our creating, redeeming, sanctifying God says to us, I’ve got you covered.
God has us covered through God’s creative activity where God creates the world around us in an ongoing dynamic and dramatic creation story. God’s creation includes every bird, bee, cloud, person, drop of water, mountain, sea, and so on.
God has us covered through the grace we receive, a free gift through the redeeming work of Jesus, our Lord and savior who continues to teach us through God’s Word, strengthen us through his body and blood as he comes to us in Holy Communion, and forgives our sins daily through the ongoing work of the cross.
And God has us covered through the Holy Spirit, the one who gathers us here together, who grants us faith and vision, and inspires and enlightens our path.
The concept of one God in three persons is a stumbling block for some, and a mystery for us all. We are human. We are finite beings, with limited understanding and imagination. Through all our coming and going, through all our activity, through our joy and our sorrow, God promises never to leave us alone. Instead, God’s loving refrain to us is, was, and always will be, “I’ve got you covered.”
Of course, as human beings, we struggle to understand or articulate who God is or how God functions. So, very early in the life of the church, our forefathers struggled to develop a common expression of what, based on the Scriptures and our own experience, we believe about the nature and function of God. The result of this work? Creeds that are still in use today. Through the creeds, these statements of faith, we confess what it is that we believe about the nature of God.
One of those is the Athanasian Creed, which some of you may remember. It was printed in our previous hymnal, the green one; it took up an entire page and a half. You won’t find it in the hymnal we currently use, since the Athanasian Creed has gone largely out of use in our churches. However, in some congregations it is still pulled out once every year - on this particular Sunday - and recited by the entire congregation, as an articulation of trinitarian belief.
Because I love you and see no need to punish you in that way, we’ll skip the Athanasian Creed today, except for this which comes directly from it: “Now this is the catholic faith: We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.”  
God in trinity…..Trinity in unity. As confusing as it is, those simple phrases contain the core of our faith – that our God comes to us as the glorious, mysterious three-in-one, and that through the Trinity, God says to us, “I’ve got you covered.”
So what is it that we believe about the three persons of the godhead? Each week when we come together we state our belief. On festival Sundays we use the more formal language and form of the Nicene Creed. But the more commonly known and recited Apostles’ creed is the one that we, together with Christians around the world, pray together week after week.
As the most common expression of faith, Martin Luther broke down the Apostles’ Creed for us in the Small Catechism, as a way to help families teach and learn what it is that we believe about God.
Recently, each family received a pocket-sized copy of Luther’s Small Catechism, which I’m sure you have with you, since you faithfully study it at every opportunity, right? Would please pull it out now, and we’ll take a look at the Apostle’s Creed together. What? You don’t have it? Ah!
Well, I’ve got you covered! In the back of each hymnal you will find the Small Catechism. If you’ll take out your hymnal and turn to page 1162 you will find the Apostles’ Creed. 
Luther breaks the creed down into three manageable articles, one devoted to each person of the Trinity. The first article is, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”
Seems simple enough. Together, let’s read what Luther has to say about what that means:
I believe that God created me with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties.
In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property – along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.
Wow – one simple sentence, but what it says about God is both more broad and complex than we might suspect at first.
The second article of the Apostles’ Creed reads: “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.”
Again, let’s read together how Martin Luther unpacked this statement: I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also a true human being, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has done all this in order that I may belong to him, live under him n his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true.
And finally, we have the third article, which describes the work of the Holy Spirit who, among other things, makes us holy: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
My friends, in the words of Martin Luther, “What does this mean?”
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day, the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.
These are the things we believe about who God is and how God works. Yet it is not even our belief here that matters, or the words we put together, but what God is doing that creates meaning and difference. All evidence points to the truth and makes it clear that through divine activity and care, God has us covered.
From the beginning of creation, through the exodus and the wilderness years, all through the history of our salvation to the sending of God’s own Son, Jesus, God has had us covered. As Jesus was preparing his disciples for life, mission and ministry following his resurrection, Jesus sends his disciples out, giving them authority to speak and work in his name, knowing that no matter what might befall them, “I’ve got you covered – always – to the end of the age.” And finally, through the Holy Spirit’s power and presence, God has us covered.
In our gospel text, Jesus gathers the disciples together and sends them out, blessing them and commanding that they bless and baptize others in the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In our Epistle reading, Paul aims to bring the Corinthians, those disagreeing, bickering, recalcitrant brothers and sisters of the early church into order, agreement, and peace – and invites them into knowing peace and unity by the sharing of a holy kiss. He reminds them that they, too, are church whose purpose it is to go out, in the name of Christ and with the blessing of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – God’s own “I’ve got you covered.”
Our texts today emphasize how, from the beginning of our existence and beyond, God has had it all covered, creating in great detail all that would be needed to sustain life and make it beautiful. Redeeming it through the love of Christ, who passes on the mission to share and spread the word of God’s glory, majesty and care – God’s own “I’ve got you covered.”
As we read these texts all together on this Trinity Sunday, we are reminded that God’s love is evident in all the comings and goings of our lives, and that the blessing within each of these texts is ours.
In love, God has provided for our every need through the creation of the world, the salvation of our sins, and God’s ongoing presence in our lives through the abiding presence and work of the Holy Spirit.
It is hard as human beings to fully grasp the concept of Trinity – one God, three persons, equal in majesty, co-equal in eternity – as the Athanasian Creed would remind us. The important thing to remember is that despite our struggles to believe, to understand or even, sometimes to confess, through the means of grace, God truly does have us covered, empowers us to gather and then to go, never alone, to share God’s story of love with those we encounter. Thanks be to God!