Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sermon for Trinity Sunday (May 30, 2010)

Wordle: Untitled

“Ego Eimi: I AM” (John 8:48-59)

There was a country-western song out a few years ago in which the singer laments the fact that he can’t get a word in edgewise about himself with his significant other. In the chorus, he sings,

“I wanna talk about me…Wanna talk about I…Wanna talk about number one…Oh my me my…what I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see…I like talkin’ about you you you you usually…But occasionally…I wanna talk about me!” (I Wanna Talk About Me, Toby Keith, 2001)

In our conversations with others, you and I like talkin’ about you you you you usually. But more than occasionally, we want to talk about me, I, number one, oh my me my. People love to talk about themselves. If you ever want to get a conversation started, just ask someone a question about themself…their name, their children, their occupation, their hobbies. People are usually more than happy to answer those questions and expound upon them.

Now, for a Greek and Latin lesson. The word for “I” in both languages is “ego.” By nature, you and I are egocentric. We are normally centered on what I need, what I want, what I feel. Even for those of us who don’t like to talk all that much about ourselves, we still worry about what others think of us, how others perceive us. For some of us, this leads to feeling like we are in competition with everyone…who’s the best looking, who’s the most talented, who’s the smartest. We become defensive when others criticize us.

The Jewish leaders in today’s Gospel reading could be described as egocentric. They were convinced of their own righteousness. They felt that they were quite able to keep God’s Law. They prided themselves on being children of Abraham. They saw Jesus as one of their competitors. They were jealous that he was drawing people away from them and their spiritual leadership.

They thought they had God figured out. They wanted God on their terms. But then Jesus shows up and tells them that they don’t even know God. He tells them that they are, in fact, children of the devil. In return, they call him a demon-possessed Samaritan.

You and I often want God on our terms, too. When we run across a passage in the Bible that reveals something bad about ourselves, we try to ignore it and sweep it under the proverbial rug. When there is something in the Bible that we don’t understand, we do one of two things. We skip over it and don’t even attempt to grapple with it. Or we may try to make sense of it, and in so doing, we could very well make it say something that it doesn’t really say. That frequently happens when people try to make sense of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, that God is Three Persons in One God. That’s a big idea to wrap our little brains around. But it’s what the Bible teaches. When people try to make sense out of it, they end up inventing a new heresy…or simply reprising an old one.

When we want God on our egocentric terms, we become idolaters. It makes us idolaters because we’re not really believing in or worshipping God the way he wants to be known … the way he IS … and WHO he is. Moreover, we cease to live and love and serve others properly because our sinful egos are on the throne of our own lives rather than God. God wants us to know him on his terms and in the way he has revealed himself.

The Triune God has revealed himself in Christ Jesus. Jesus said to his opponents, “I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.” In John 5:23, Jesus said, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father.” If you deny Jesus and who he says he is, then you deny God the Father, as well. To quote another old song, “You can’t have one without the other.”

And who did Jesus say he is? Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Now, what is going on here? Is this bad grammar on Jesus’ part? Is it a bad translation of the original Greek? If Jesus was trying to get across the idea that he existed before Abraham, wouldn’t it make more sense if he had said, “before Abraham was, I was”? Or how about “I have been”? But Jesus was doing more than trying to get across the idea that he existed before Abraham. Remember our Greek and Latin lesson? “Ego” means “I.” Here Jesus adds another little Greek word and says, “Ego eimi.” That’s Greek for “I am.” Now think back to Moses and the episode with the burning bush. God told Moses to tell the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you.” In Hebrew, it’s “Yahweh.” With those two little words, “Ego eimi” … “I am” … Jesus was saying that he is Yahweh, he is God in the flesh, he eternally existed with the Father before anything was ever created. He is divine wisdom personified in our reading from Proverbs today, which says, “When he established the heavens, I was there … I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” (Prov. 8:27, 30-31) He is not a created being, but he is the One whom John describes at the beginning of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:1-3)

And make no mistake about it. The Jews understood exactly what Jesus was saying. They picked up stones in order to pummel him and kill him. This wasn’t because they were simply ticked off. Oh, sure, they were. But there’s more to it. In chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, they were going to try to stone him once again and said, “we are going to stone you…for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” (John 10:33) In fact, earlier St. John writes that when Jesus called “God his own Father” he was “making himself equal with God.” That’s why the Jewish leaders “were seeking all the more to kill him.” (John 5:18)

When Jesus said “Ego eimi” … “I am” … he didn’t do it in an egocentric fashion. Jesus Christ was the least egocentric man who ever lived. Although he was God, he set aside his rights as God when he was incarnate as a human being in the womb of the Virgin. His entire life was lived unselfishly for the benefit of others … for your benefit and mine. Jesus said, “I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it, and he is the Judge.” Christ’s glory was his death and resurrection. Our sins were judged in him when he died as our substitute at the cross.

Christ’s entire life, death, resurrection, and ascension reveals to us the self-giving nature of the Triune God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in a relationship of love from eternity. The Father loves the Son perfectly. The Son loves the Father perfectly. The Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son to share that love and God’s life with all creation … with you.

The Triune God was revealed at the baptism of Jesus. The Son stood in the water. The Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove. And the Father’s voice came from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” (Matt. 3:17) echoing the words from Proverbs 8, “I was daily his delight.” And in Holy Baptism, you become God’s beloved, true children of Abraham by faith in Jesus’ saving death. Your sins are forgiven, and God delights daily in you. In our closing hymn today, we will sing about it this way: “We share by water in His saving death. / Reborn, we share with Him an Easter life / As living members of a living Christ.” (LSB 603.2)

Easter life is eternal life. It is the promise of renewal now, resurrection on the Last Day, and rejoicing forever in God’s presence at the marriage feast of the Lamb. Jesus said, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” Jesus kept the Father’s word perfectly for us. He forgives us for not keeping the Father’s word. Now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we keep Christ’s word which calls us to trust in his work at the cross for forgiveness and salvation. We are saved by grace alone apart from the works of the Law. And we share in Christ’s Easter victory over death.

The way in which Jesus fully gave himself for us reveals for us the way in which the Holy Trinity gives himself to us and shares his divine life with us. Through faith in Christ, we receive a new nature by the Holy Spirit who leads us to give ourselves in service to others. He leads us away from being egocentric and towards being Christocentric … away from enthroning my “ego” and remembing that the great “Ego eimi” is on the throne. Let the heavenly host teach us about this, as we sing in the hymn: “Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee, casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea; Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee.” (LSB 507.2)

The country singer said, “I wanna talk about me.” I like what the late Robert Preus, former president of the Ft. Wayne seminary, once said: “I just like to talk about God.” Of course, we can still talk about ourselves to each other. That’s part of our duty as fellow Christians, listening to each other, bearing each other’s burdens, weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice, praying for each other, and so on. But our conversations as God’s baptized people will also be seasoned with words of comfort, hope, and peace which the Holy Trinity has given us in his Holy Word.


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