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Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)
- Hymn CW 731 “Oh, How Good It Is”
- Hymn CW 481 st. 4 “Alleluia! Let Praises Ring”
- Jubilate Choir “Work While It Is Day”
- Hymn CW 483 “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty”
- Eighth Grade Class Hymn “Speak, O Lord”
- Hymn CW 928 “May the Grace of God Our Savior”
God’s Got This!
I tried a new homework assignment with students in our middle school catechism classes this year. 7th & 8th graders in our Salem school and 6th-8th graders in our evening class conducted an interview with an older Christian. They chose their questions from a list I gave them and came up with some questions on their own. I love the idea of connecting people between generations and getting young people to see life through older eyes. (And vice versa!) Amid stories of walking to church and singing old-time hymns, one of the interesting things I found as I looked at the responses was how consistently the Trinity was given as the single thing most difficult to understand about the Christian faith.
And I get that answer. How could I not? Scripture plainly tells us that there is only ONE God. Last week Pastor Enter in his children’s sermon shared the Hebrew verse so precious to the Jews but didn’t translate it for you all. He was quoting Deuteronomy 6:4. “Hear, O, Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” It’s the single most important verse in Judaism, and a central teaching of Christianity too. There is only one true God.
And yet, we see in Scripture that God refers to himself in the plural. And not just a royal plural, like a queen pompously declaring, “We are not amused.” But God speaking to himself, “Let us make man in our own image.” God instructing us to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We see three distinct beings at Jesus’ baptism and his transfiguration, yet each one separately is called God and does things only God can do.
If we try to figure it out logically we fall into heresy on one side or the other. We might say there is one God and that one God just kind of wears different masks as the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit. He’s one God but he shows up in different ways. But then each one himself isn’t distinct, are they? And Scripture tells us that the Father is NOT the Son and NOT the Holy Spirit. Heresy! OR we might say that the one God has three parts, like some machine that needs three sections to be complete. But then we’re saying that each person is less than fully God on his own. And Scripture tells us that they are each individually God. Is your head spinning yet? It should be. By God’s Word we’re forced to believe something that is beyond our ability to understand. We have one God, but he is three persons, each one God himself. No wonder the Athanasian Creed had to be so long!
This year, though, you may want to thank one of our graduating 8th graders. You see, usually a sermon on Trinity Sunday is about trying to understand what we can’t understand. And then ultimately just letting go of our sinful need to be in control and just trust that God’s got it. Today though, I get to preach on the verse they chose for their class graduation verse. And they picked a verse that couldn’t be easier to understand. They chose Psalm 91:2 but let me read the first two verses. “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” And so, instead of trying to discern the unknowable nature of God today, we get to celebrate the clear and obvious promises of God. And while God may be far beyond our comprehension, his love and protection are not. Wherever we go, whatever we face, God is our refuge and fortress. Or, as the kids like to say it: God’s Got This!
If you had a Bible along to look at you would see that Psalm 91 has no heading. No statement of who wrote it or what occasion. But it’s related content-wise with the psalm that comes before it. Both Psalm 90 and 91 refer to God as a dwelling and a refuge. Psalm 91 uses the ancient names of God as “the Most High” and “the Almighty.” That leads some commentators to see these psalms as coming from the same time in Israel’s history. Which is interesting, because Psalm 90 does give an author. It’s the only psalm attributed to Moses. And if anyone would understand the blessing of describing God as a place of shadow to rest, and a place of refuge and fortress it would be Moses. Over the last couple weeks I’ve done my share of complaining about the heat and humidity of our Minnesota summer’s start. I got my first sunburn and my farmer’s tan is well on its way. But the scorching sun that is an inconvenience to me was a way of life for Moses and his people. Remember Moses leading Israel for forty years through the desert? They knew what the beating sun felt like. They understood the blessing of rest in the shadows. So when the psalmist here describes God as that place of rest this is no small thing.
Think of the sources of spiritual heat and sunburn in our lives. There’s the regular stresses of life that everyone deals with: finances, relationships, health, school, work. But as Christians, there are whole other sources of pain directed at us too. The isolation of being the only one in our friend group to turn away from certain sins. The whispered jokes and the subtle (and not so subtle) looks we get when we choose piety over profit, service over self, or faith over fun. (“Fun” as the world sees it anyway.) It’s as if the devil, the world and all its sinful temptations are aiming million-watt spotlights at us trying to wither us in their heat. And it’s hard not to wilt a little bit. Just ask the Christian teen who stands up to her friends. The man of faith who says no to that night out at the bar. The woman of character who refuses to engage in the neighborhood gossip only to find herself at the center of the next round of rumor.
Moses knew where to turn for rest and shade, and where to direct his people as well. The first verse it’s stated as a general truth. “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” But in the second verse, the psalmist declares his faith. “I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” When the sun of opposition burned too brightly, Moses ran back to the Lord. He didn’t rely on his own strength. He didn’t gather up his own courage and wisdom. Instead of standing on his own, he laid down in God’s care.
Moses had seen this with his own eyes. God himself guided Israel in the desert when it was time to fold up their tents and move to the next place where they would camp. But God had provided rest too. He gave manna in the mornings. Water from the rock. God was constantly with his people in pillars of fire and clouds of smoke. Even more, Moses knew God was not just a place of rest but a strong refuge and fortress for his people. Trapped between an impassible sea and the army of Pharaoh Moses saw with his own eyes how God’s pillar of fire served as a wall of protection for his people. Moses saw God blow open a path through the sea with just a breath, allowing Israel to pass through untouched. Moses knew what God is for his people. Both a quiet rest and a mighty fortress. He knew that God’s got this.
I’m so glad that our young graduates know that too. That of all the verses in Scripture they could choose, they found this one. There’s no law here. No command. No decree. It doesn’t point at us, but rather at God. Just the comfort of resting in the shadow of a God who protects us daily with his watchful eye and ever-present angels. A God who promises right here that no harm will overtake us. No disaster will come near our tents. And while it may not seem like we are free from harm and disaster, that’s only from a worldly point of view. Who could even count the dangers his angels have protected us from? Who could describe the evils that haven’t come our way? Even in the greatest tragedy, God simply brings us home.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, by God’s grace, he has called us brought us to faith. He came to us through Word and baptism and made us his own, connecting us to our Savior who lived and died in our place. He’s pointed out our sins committed but also our sins forgiven. A Father’s plan. A Son’s perfect obedience. A Spirit’s gift of faith. And by that Trinity’s work we find ourselves safe in the family of God. Living now already in the house of the Most High and one day in our home in heaven itself.
So while we wander through this valley of the shadow of death, remember we do so in the loving shadow of the Most High God. Know that there is no enemy that can overtake you. Nothing in all of creation that can separate you from him. Whether you walk in pastures green, or travel on dark roads of despair, you still walk in God’s loving care. Like Moses, we too will say, “I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” God’s got this. All of it. Amen.