‘Grace, Love, Fellowship’, Trinity Sunday, June 7th 2020
2 Corinthians 13:11-end Also Matthew 28:v16-end…
Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Easter Season has ended – a season where we have celebrated the work and victory of this glorious God in three persons, blessed trinity.
Swiss Theologian Karl Barth said “Trinity is the Christian name for God.” Paul’s words are the only Trinitarian benediction in all of his letters. It is a prayer many of us know very well – since we have been meeting online, we end each of our services by praying this prayer together.
Thinking of the words he uses.
In this prayer, it is striking. The Grace of the Lord Jesus, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Characteristics of the Trinity described? Grace? Love? Fellowship? For some not the words they would associate with God. Growing up, probably distant, or uninterested I may have used. But already – to say to your friends, let me give you three words to describe God – grace, rather than judgement, love – instead of fear or distant – fellowship, perhaps in this era, fellowship of the ring – a tight knit close committed group … God committed through thick of thin.
These words are attached to each member of the Trinity. The order Paul uses, reflects our Christian experience…
Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ Grace meaning ‘we get what we don’t deserve’. There is the grace shown in the message of reconciliation between us and God – as Paul wrote earlier: ‘God made Christ who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Christ, we might become the righteousness of God.’
Again, later in the same letter: ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake, he became poor, so that you through his poverty, might become rich.’ It has been said, that an acronym for Grace has been described as : God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. We are rich, we have received and know the grace of our Lord Jesus.
This is such a great gift. He says in Romans 6:23. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ‘Gift of God in Christ Jesus’
In an earlier part of his letter, this gift is a treasure within each of us (2 Cor 4) – we see ourselves as jars of clay – ordinary, weak – yet within we hold a treasure.
A film you may have seen is Saving Private Ryan. It is a film set during WWII during the D Day landings. It is the story of a group of American soldiers sent deep into enemy occupied land to find one soldier, a paratrooper, called Private James Ryan. Why, because his other three brothers have been killed earlier in battles and the Army want him to be sent home, so his mother does not lose a fourth son. So this group of experienced soldiers are sent to rescue him. They find him in a town; already many men of this rescue group are dead. The town where Ryan is, is important. There is a huge battle with German troops. At the end of the film, Ryan is standing by the wounded dying Captain, the captain beckons him closer. He whispers, ‘James, earn this, earn it.’ 50 years later, James Ryan is standing by this captain’s grave in France, and he asks his wife, “Tell me I’ve led a good life, tell me I’m a good man.” Earn it. He had to earn the sacrifices of those men who died for him. He’s been haunted by those words.
Christianity doesn’t say, earn it; it says receive this offer of a gift. The last words of the captain, “earn this”. The last words of Jesus, in John’s Gospel, when he is dying on the cross were ‘It is finished.’ These are the words for us to remember over the years of our life.
On the cross Jesus says ‘tetelesti – it means it is complete. Words you might say if you have been doing a jigsaw for ages and ages, and now done! You’ve done your homework, or assignments, of finished your treatments or physio! So, while James Ryan, was haunted by those words from a dying captain; we are to filled with joy from the words of a dying Jesus. Grace – we receive things we don’t deserve.
Grace – God’s free gift of Jesus. But we feel suspicious about free gifts don’t we? We think there is a catch…Nicky Gumbel tells this story – in his own words.’
Pippa and I were out for a walk in St James’s Park with my daughter and son-in-law, and it was raining. We popped into the café to get some coffee. And my son-in-law Myles ordered a café latte, and there was a bit of a mix-up and he got two café lattes by mistake. And he said, ‘No, no, I don’t want this one.’ And they said, ‘Well, no, no, you can have that one for free.’ So he offered it to us. We didn’t want it. He said, ‘Okay, I’m going to go and offer it to someone in the park.’
Off he went to the park. And no one wanted to take it. And the park was busy. He was going round the park offering. And the more people backed away, the more it looked suspicious, because people could see that everyone was backing away, and I think they thought it was some programme; that we were filming him. So he just could not give it away. Eventually he walked alongside someone for 400 yards, chatting to them, making friends with them, and eventually persuaded them to take it – by which time it was cold! But the point is, nobody wanted a free gift.”
It is a free gift – the grace of Jesus. Free but very costly – the death of Jesus Christ on a cross. For us to receive, it takes two things – repentance, to say we are sorry and admit we have been living and going the wrong way, and to believe – to all who believed in his name – in who he is and what he did.
Grace of Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God.
And because of this grace. we come to know the Love of God. Before I became a Christian in 1993, I may well have said, ‘God is love’, but you know, only after I embraced the grace of the Lord Jesus did I truly start to come to know the love of God – I feel I know only – on my good days – a drop or two of our God’s incredible love, there is a whole waterfall to discover for each of us! When we come to Christ we then understand deeply the cross – it declares atonement for our sin, victory over the flesh, the world, the devil, but also the cross proclaims the love of God. As Jesus declares – “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). God loved us before the creation of the world. He redeemed us for no other reason, than he loved us; he loved us and he took action – he took the initiative to save the ones he loved.
You know – as parents – you remember the day your children were born. Maybe you remember your feelings. For some it may have been terror or anxiety. But for many it was an overwhelming sense of love. You love him or her. And in the nights and days that follow, when you are so tired, you hear them cry, you get up again…you pick them up…you nuture them, you love them. Now if God loves us more than that, than that is a huge amount of love…
John says: 12 Yet to all who did receive him – Jesus – to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)
We are children of God. It is amazing, that God loves us more than any parent loves a child. To think about that if you are a parent, or if through your parents or what you have seen in the lives of other parents.
We see it in friendship. Think of those close friends, of how much you love them, of what you would do for them. Jesus calls us, his followers, friends. God loves us more than we love our friends. If you have a good marriage, or you have seen or see a good model of marriage, we see how much they love one another – and we can think, WOW even God loves me more than that…
In the children’s bible Jesus Storybook Bible, after the Fall of humanity, the writer writes, after Adam and Eve have to leave the Garden: “You see no matter what, in spite of everything, God would love with a Never-Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love…’ This incredible never stopping never giving up unbreaking always and forever love – for us before we knew God, shown in the cross of Jesus and will be with us til the end of the age, and beyond!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God,
Fellowship of the Holy Spirit
And because of the grace of the Lord Jesus, we not only know the love of God, but also we experience the fellowship of the Spirit.
The word for fellowship – is Koinonia.It was used in the secular world. You would use it in the secular word, to do with a business partnership. You shake your hands, you have an agreement, you have a koinoia. You share resources with each other. The word was used with a project in mind – an aim. In business, it was the agreement. You’d also used within a family. Those who are studying Discipleship Explored, know it is used in Philippians. Paul uses it – the church is in partnership, in fellowship, with him, there is a sense of family, there is giving and receiving of resources.. In Philippi, the aim – the project – was the gospel.
The Spirit creates this among the believers. There is a fellowship between all believers – a unity – in those whom the Spirit of God dwells. As we experience fellowship with God through Christ, this brings us into fellowship with other believers. I remember in the past years I was struck how I’d meet these men and women in missions, from all over Europe, different part of the globe. And you know, yes in mind we were united by our common knowledge and acceptance of the grace of our Lord Jesus, we could speak of the love of God, but also deep down, we knew we were family – we were somehow experiencing that fellowship of the Spirit.
This partnership – this koinoia – this fellowship with the Spirit – assures us in our present and future. The fellowship – partnership – with our own spirits – to not only call him Father, but to know we are loved, to our God’s love for us into our hearts. The working of the Spirit – the project – The aim – that we become increasingly in the Lord’s likeness – and he is at work with this aim, daily. The Spirit enables us to participate in the life, power, and gifts he offers, in all the benefits of that grace and salvation achieved for us. No one need be excluded, all can participate. We are assure of our future – he is a seal, a desposit guaranteeing the future; guaranteeing someday, we will leave this earthly tent, as Paul calls it, and will be clothed with a heavenly dwelling.
So our Christian experience. We come to Christ, we encounter God and then receive his Spirit…
Why would Paul end a letter, in such a beautiful yet unique way – usually he ends in ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you’ why would he pray this for them – is it only to remind them of these facts, a nice theological summary to remember easily. I’d suggest more. When we consider the entire letter, it is Paul’s most pastoral most personal letter as he wrestles with, challenges, defends his authority and cares for this congregation… What is he up to?
2 Cor 13:11 – he writes: ‘Strive for full restoration’. It can be translated ‘put into order’. He also says two verses earlier –
‘we are glad whenever we are weak, but you are strong, and our prayer is that you may be fully restored.’ (v9).
Restored / put into order. In the Greek, the same verb is used of James and John when they are ‘mending’ their nets, in Mark 1:19. Another way to translate this is ‘our prayer is that you may be mended’.
You see Paul, as he has wrote, his concern has been about the ‘mending’ of Christian individuals and this troubled Christian community. And by ending in this Trinitarian prayer he reminds the church – that church, this church, those Christians, you – their ‘mending’ does not lie with themselves but through the grace of Christ, the love of God and the Spirit’s fellowship. There were issues of aggressiveness, jealously, and bitterness. Some are turning from grace to other theories of being righteous. Others are caught in different forms of sin.
Knowing the grace of the Lord Jesus, removes aggressiveness shown for example in harsh judgementalism – towards other believers – we remember that we are sinners saved by grace. At times people may have excuses for their sins, we do not. We all continue to fail and continue to need transformation further into the likeness of Christ. Grace was given because they needed it. And it reminds them, there is no other way to be right with God.
The love of God dispels jealously, for we are all equally loved, people may have different gifts, be more mature, or have greater experience or skill or even have more energy for God’s work, yet we are all loved equally.
And bitterness. Bitterness divides a Christian community. The Spirit makes the love of God and grace of Christ real in the life of each believer and in the believing community, and deepens the unity among believers.
Through the fellowship of the Spirit, the grace of Christ and the love of God is made real and a troubled church and trouble individuals become mended. It is not by Paul they will be healed, it is through ‘Trinity the Christian name of God’ that mending comes, through Father, Son and Spirit.
But mending begins with our core relationship with God. There are many people who watch these services – perhaps, you have watched us and you would honestly say, you don’t know the grace of our Lord Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of his Spirit. This is where all Christian life begins.
To finish I’d like to pray a prayer – you may want to echo this in your heart… It’s a prayer saying sorry for the past, thanking Jesus for his grace, for what he’s done on the cross for you, and inviting him to come into your life by his Spirit. Just echo this in the silence of your heart.
Lord Jesus Christ, thank you that you love me so much.
I now turn away from everything that I know is wrong – all the bad stuff.
Thank you that you died so that I could be forgiven.
I put my trust in you and in what you did on the cross.
And now I open the door of my heart, and I invite you to come into my life by your Spirit to be with me forever. Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen.