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Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Holy Trinity.
John 3:1-15, 16-21




The Feast of the Holy Trinity, 2012





The Hymn # 246     Holy, Holy, Holy                   3:35
The Confession of Sins
The Absolution
The Introit p. 16
The Gloria Patri
The Kyrie p. 17
The Gloria in Excelsis
The Salutation and Collect p. 19
The Epistle and Gradual       
The Gospel               
Glory be to Thee, O Lord!
Praise be to Thee, O Christ!
The Athanasian Creed             p. 53
The Sermon Hymn #236            Creator Spirit             1:9

God’s Gracious and Effective Word

The Communion Hymn # 308            Invited Lord    1:63
The Preface p. 24
The Sanctus p. 26
The Lord's Prayer p. 27
The Words of Institution
The Agnus Dei p. 28
The Nunc Dimittis p. 29
The Benediction p. 31
The Hymn #261   Lord Keep Us Steadfast                   1:93

KJV Romans 11:33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! 34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? 35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? 36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

KJV John 3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Pentecost Monday Gospel:

KJV John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

Symbol by Norma Boeckler

Trinity Prayer

O Lord God, heavenly Father: We poor sinners confess that in our flesh dwelleth no good thing, and that, left to ourselves, we die and perish in sin, since that which is born of the flesh is flesh and cannot see the kingdom of God. But we beseech Thee: Grant us Thy grace and mercy, and for the sake of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, send Thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, that being regenerate, we may firmly believe the forgiveness of sins, according to Thy promise in baptism; and that we may daily increase in brotherly love, and in other good works, until we at last obtain eternal salvation, through the same, Thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one true God, world without end. Amen.

God’s Gracious and Effective Word



KJV John 3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

The Gospels are concise, so each word counts. The opening to this Gospel gives us three main facts – This man is named Nicodemus, and he is one of the leaders of the Jews. All three facts are significant. “A certain man” would be a parable or a story. This is a person with a name, and we may assume, a man known to John’s audience. Because of his name, we can follow him in the Gospel, where he is significant after the death of Christ. As a ruler of the Jews, he is also important in becoming a believing within the Jewish leadership, having an opportunity to bear witness there. This was God’s plan, to bring His gracious Word to all people, including the opponents of His Son.

This lesson also teaches us how God works through the Word.

2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

Night is mentioned because the time of day matters. Night then was not like night now. Illumination at night came from the moon and stars, so he was traveling incognito. Nicodemus was starting to believe, but he was still afraid. That is true of all believers who are weak and timid in their faith at first, so they are also uncertain in their witness. When they have been tested and tossed about, they learn to confess the truth at all times, and not just when it seems safe and praiseworthy.

The night is also symbolic, because he could see enough to get to Jesus, but he traveled in darkness, seeking the illumination of the Word. He had the advantage of knowing God’s Word in the Scriptures, what we now call the Old Testament. He knew the Scriptures but not necessarily the application of the Word. That is true of many today, where they have some knowledge of the Scriptures, but lack a firm foundation.

Nicodemus came to Jesus out of respect and a thirst for real knowledge. This exchange shows why Jesus performed miracles with His teaching of the Word. No one could dismiss Him because they saw the power of God at work in Him. This was important for man, to see the miraculous works with the Word, to distinguish Jesus from the charlatans of the age.

There are many ways to fool people, but the miracles of Jesus (like the water turned into wine) were impossible to duplicate with tricks and witnessed by many people at once. No one charged Jesus with not being able to perform miracles. The problem was with the Word, which condemned everyone for unbelief in Him, converting those who listened attentively and remained faithful.

With Nicodemus we know that he remained faithful, because he was caring for the body of Jesus when others were running away or locked up in a room to be safe.



3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

The opening words are affirmation of the truth to follow. Jesus began with Amen rather than ending with Amen. In Greek class we liked the repetition, which we memorized and translated with no trouble. That is the genius of John’s Gospel – a profound message in simple words – so simple a seminary professor could understand them if he put away his Synodical Conference essays and books. They are not inspired. God’s Word is inspired. It is the canon, the measuring rod, the standard of truth.

Except a man be born from above (pun on again), he cannot see the Kingdom of God. The double negative is far more positive than a simple positive statement. The litotes (double negative) is used to show that there are no exceptions.

SP J. Kieschnick is famous for saying, “Jesus is the only way to heaven…unless there is another way God has not revealed.” That is an ambiguous statement which might imply there is only one way but really implies there are more ways. His communion with ELCA and Catholics indicated many ways.

John’s Gospel transfers Jesus’ relationship with the Father to us, using the same words. He is in the Father, and the Father is in Him, just as He is in us and we are in Him.

Jesus is sent from the Father, and the apostles are literally (apostolos) sent from Jesus.

We are also sent from Jesus because He and the Father sent the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles and the entire Christian Church. Whatever we do in His Name comes from the fact that we are sent by Him and moved by the Holy Spirit.

Born from above is a pun because its primary meaning is “from above,” the same word used for Jesus (and James – the Gift from above). Jesus is the One from above, and we must be born into that family by conversion by the Word.

The secondary meaning of the Greek word is “again,” so Nicodemus, not grasping what Jesus meant, grabbed at the secondary meaning.

4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?

Even small children know this response is far off, absurd. Jesus spoke at such a high level of spiritual wisdom that His own disciples had to grow into that wisdom. Someone making an inquiry could not grasp it either, even with many years of study (clouded by man’s testimony, false interpretations of the Word).

Although the exchange is absurd, it is equally memorable. I recall the first time I heard it and wondered about it. The absurd meaning makes us think of the real meaning. We know this is a great truth of the Word, because it is denied so often, with such skill and subtlety.

5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

This is one of many clear sacramental passages about Holy Baptism. The Spirit means the Word, and the Word means the Spirit – since the two are joined together. In the grammar of the sentence, it really means water/Spirit baptism, which we can also interpret as water/Word baptism. There are not two baptisms or three, but one (Ephesians – 7 ones passage).

The moderns like a baptism of the elite (cell group Pietism) and one of the Pentecostal elite (speaking in tongues). Anything but the Means of Grace will be popular with the masses.

Holy Baptism is Trinitarian, so we emphasize it this Sunday through this Gospel lesson. People are baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Baptism glorifies the power of the Word, because God always works through the Word and never apart from the Word.

Baptism is the implanted or grafted Word. Baptism means being part of the True Vine and bringing forth spiritual fruit, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus.


6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

That is so clear. Most of our concerns are carnal. Although God promises to take care of us, especially believers, we start our worries at the carnal level. At the most terrible crisis of his life, Abraham said, “God will provide.” God did provide.

To have spiritual fruit we must have the Word, specifically the Word of the Gospel. This culminates in the Little Gospel, John 3:16. If this Word is twisted or cast aside, it does not bear fruit – not because the Word is defective, but because it has been made defective, becoming man’s opinion rather than God’s Word.

That is why we should always start with a clear understanding of the most basic Biblical passages and not allow ourselves to be tricked into man’s tortured reasoning. I do not start with what Uncle Fritz says about John 3:16, but with the parallel passages in John, Paul, Isaiah, etc. If the commentaries agree with the Bible’s plain language, they are worth using to some extent. That never means starting with the commentary and moving backward to the Bible, to make God’s Word fit the commentary.

Authorities matter. With every essay graded for classes, every book studied for research, I start on the last page. What are the authorities used by this person? Some students are babies in research and use Wikipedia, About.com, and other pre-digested sources. Some ministers and professors do the same. If the sources avoid the best authors (Book of Concord, Luther, Chemnitz, Melanchthon) and extensively use recent authors, we know  how superficial the effort has been.

The purpose of almost all seminaries is to take candidates as far away from the Word as possible, to instill in them a loyalty to the institution, so Biblical studies are used to make excuses for everything. It is obvious in Roman Catholic abuse of the Bible, and almost as clear in the Synodical Conference, where so many grab Paul and John by the shoulders and tell them what they should have written in the first place. “No, Paul. You really meant that we are justified WITHOUT faith. You have not been clear, so we have a new translation that helps you with your communication problems. Yes, ALL are justified WITHOUT faith. That is so much more comforting.”

Give me the authorities and I can line up proof that Mary never sinned in her entire life (Immaculate Conception), that she was assumed into heaven (Dormition, then later the Assumption of Mary), that works are necessary for justification (fides formata), that the pope is infallible, that all people are forgiven and saved. Entire ranges of books are given over to prove things about Mary that were never in the Bible or the apostolic teaching. Authorities are important for what they say and what they do not say. That is why we have one clear standard – but also why the false teachers want false Bibles to blur that standard and confuse the masses.

Spiritual benefit will only come from the Spirit/Word. There are many faithful sources, but they must be faithful to the Scriptures, not to human organizations.

7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again [GJ - from above]. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth [GJ - wills], and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

This is a pun on the Holy Spirit, since the same word is used in Hebrew and Greek for the Spirit and for the wind. What the Word influences is akin to the wind, because the force is powerful and yet invisible. This force moved Nicodemus out of the darkness and into direct support of the crucified Messiah.

KJV John 7:50 Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) 51 Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth? 52 They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.

Notice that Nicodemus was accused as soon as he questioned the synodical leaders. “Are you also from Galilee?”

But Nicodemus remained faithful and helped in the burial of Jesus. He was no longer afraid, but still identified as the “one who came by night,” so we realize it is the same person each time.

KJV John 19:39 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. 40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.

Listening attentively to the Word blows us in God’s direction.

9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

Nicodemus was startled by the newness of the language Jesus spoke, so Jesus asked the leader how he could be a “master” and not know the basics of the Gospel, promised long before.




Lenski:
The first is a condition of reality, “if I told you …, and you do not believe.” It expresses what is a fact. The second is a condition of expectancy, “if I shall tell you …, how shall you believe?” Jesus expects and reckons with this future unbelief. Yet it would be a mistake to think that Jesus admits some justification for unbelief in the heavenly things; or, to put it in another way, that he would more readily excuse this unbelief. The “how” of Jesus is not measuring degrees of guilt, is not justifying or excusing unbelief, but is reckoning with the likelihood of faith with this or that content of the gospel from men who, like Nicodemus, meet already the earthly things of the gospel with their “how” of unbelief.
                Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN : Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, S. 248.

Jesus’ approach in His teaching is to attack lack of faith first and always. When His teaching evokes more doubting, Jesus addresses the lack of faith. This is the Biblical, Christian method, to teach the Word and start with faith in it. But many discard that and use their default attitude about works and carnal sin.

Many are stuck on “give up this sin and then believe,” which the honest realize is not possible. Someone sets up a barrier before them – do this work and then you are a believer.

Jesus says, “All sin is swallowed up and dismissed by faith in Me.” The forgiven can address the problem because there is spiritual strength in Gospel forgiveness, but none in law accusation.

A good summary to remember comes from Luther – No sin is so bad that Christ cannot forgive it. However, no work is so good that it can pay for a single, minor sin. This summary starts with justification by faith, apart from works. Those who reject justification by faith always smuggle in justification by works. Thus money and connections are portrayed as paying for sin, absolving sin, when nothing is more damaging to the soul of a person.

Luther met a drunk who said he paid in advance for his sin – with an indulgence. Isn’t it worse to say someone has paid in advance by being someone’s son or nephew, or by naming a building after himself (for a large sum of money donated)?

We have a shortened biography of Nicodemus here, but we know the rest of the story from his faith-fueled care for the body of Jesus. The contemporary explanation was – They were courageous, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.
The Bible teaches us – faith drove away their fears.

The conclusion of this lesson is cut off in the lectionary, but we can add the portion needed from Pentecost Tuesday.  



KJV John 3:13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

Here we see the continuing between the Old Testament and Moses, the New Testament and Jesus. That strange story of the brazen serpent raised up was preparation for the crucifixion of Christ. Everyone in Judaism knew that passage when Jesus was crucified before them.

This passage makes clear that a verse may not teach us that point which is under attack, but the attack is still anticipated and addressed in the context.

One of the pixelating false teachers decided that John 3:16 teaches his one and only dogma – UOJ. God loved the world – see? If He loved the world, then He absolved the world of sin and saved every single head-hunter, Nazi, and polytheist in the world. That has to follow from that love – right?

The context destroys that argument and UOJ – both fall into the ash-heap.

The ministry of Jesus is not to condemn the worl because it is already condemned by its unbelief. John 16:8 confirms this by saying the future work of the Holy Spirit will be to condemn the world for unbelief.

A simple to remember statement is taught by Jesus Himself:
  1. He who believes is not condemned.
  2. He who does not believe is already condemned.

18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

This statement rejects the notion that faith, any kind of faith in something, is saving. No – this means faith in the only-begotten Son of God.

This is comprehensive too. If you do not believe in complete and full forgiveness, then you do not utterly trust in Christ. The Gospel teaches us forgiveness and continues to build that trust, so we pay attention to the Word of God rather than our feelings.

The test of the Gospel’s truth is this – does it comfort us as weak sinners, give us hope in all trials, and give us the peace that passes all understanding?


Quotations

"If the question is put, 'Why did God ordain so many means of grace when one suffices to confer upon the sinner His grace and forgiveness?' we quote the reply of Luther who writes (Smalcald Articles, IV: 'The Gospel not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin, for God is superabundantly rich in His grace. First through the spoken Word, by which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world, which is the peculiar office of the Gospel. Secondly through Baptism. Thirdly through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourthly through the power of the keys and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, Matthew 18:20.'"
John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics, A Handbook of Doctrinal Theology, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934, p. 447.

"For now we are only half pure and holy, so that the Holy Ghost has ever [some reason why] to continue His work in us through the Word, and daily to dispense forgiveness, until we attain to that life where there will be no more forgiveness, but only perfectly pure and holy people, full of godliness and righteousness, removed and free from sin, death, and all evil, in a new, immortal, and glorified body."
The Large Catechism, The Creed, Article III, #58, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 693. Tappert, p. 418.        

Dr. Luther, Large Catechism: "Again: With this Word you can strengthen your conscience and say: If a hundred thousand devils, together with all fanatics, should rush forward, crying, How can bread and wine be the body and blood of Christ? I know that all spirits and scholars together are not as wise as is the Divine Majesty in His little finger. Now, here stands the Word of Christ: 'Take, eat; this is My body. Drink ye all of this'...Here we abide, and would like to see those who will constitute themselves His masters, and make it different from what He has spoken."
Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article VII, Lord's Supper, 22, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 979. Tappert, p. 573.      

"The objection that absolution is God's prerogative (Mark 2:7) is beside the mark, since the minister forgives sins not in his own name, but in God's name."
Th. Engelder, et. al., Popular Symbolics, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934, p. 113.  
 
  
"If we call Sacraments rites which have the command of God, and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to decide what are properly Sacraments...Therefore Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly Sacraments. For these rites have God's command and the promise of grace, which is peculiar to the New Testament. For when we are baptized, when we eat the Lord's body, when we are absolved, our hearts must be firmly assured that God truly forgives us for Christ's sake. And God, at the same time, by the Word and by the rite, moves hearts to believe and conceive faith, just as Paul says, Romans 10:17: 'Faith cometh by hearing.' But just as the Word enters the ear in order to strike our heart, so the rite itself strikes the eye, in order to move the heart. The effect of the Word and of the rite is the same..."
[Luther, Bab Captivity, 3 sacraments] Article XIII, Number/Use Sacraments, Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 309. Tappert, p. 211.  

"These are the last and mad times of a world grown old."
Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, trans., Fred Kramer, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971, I, p. 50.   

"Contrition is altogether necessary in those who truly and earnestly repent. For there can be no true repentance in those who, persuaded of their own holiness, dream that they are without sin, or who disregard, minimize, excuse, cloak, and defend their sins, despise or ridicule the divine threats, do not care about the wrath of God, are not moved by His judgment and displeasure, and therefore persevere and continue in sins against their conscience, delight in sins, and seek and seize occasions for sinning and for whatever they intentionally heap up without the fear of God--in them, I say, there can be no true repentance...."
Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, trans., Fred Kramer, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986, II, p. 581.     

"We have now sowed a little of the Word, and this the devil cannot stand, for he never sleeps; the worms and the beetles will come and infect it. Yet so it must be, Christ will prove His Word, and examine who have received it and who not. Therefore let us remain on the right road to the kingdom of Christ, and not go about with works and urge and force the works of the law, but only with the words of the Gospel which comfort the conscience: Be happy, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven."
 Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholaus Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, V, p. 201.      

"Regret, the little black dog of a belated repentance, does not stop barking and biting the conscience, even though you know your sins are forgiven."
 What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed., Ewald Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, III, p. 1214. Genesis 37:18-20. 

"But the sinners who confess their sins, and are repentant, who wish they had not so angered God, who find all their concern and sorrow in the fact that they have offended God and have not kept His Commandments and, therefore, pray for grace--these sinners shall find grace."
 What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed., Ewald Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, II, p. 694.          



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