Has it ever dawned on you that what you are about to say to someone may be the last words you ever get to speak to them? Does that change anything in what you say, or in how you say it?
Our text today, 2 Corinthians 13:11-14, is just that for the Apostle Paul. He doesn't know if or when he'll see his friends in Corinth again. And so, even though he's had to chastise them for all sorts of problems they had, this is what he closes with:
"Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."
This is the text for what the Church has taken to calling "Trinity Sunday," a Sunday devoted to studying how God describes himself as "Triune" - "Three (tri) in One (une)." Did you pick that up there? In verse 11, there is one God of love and peace, and yet the blessing is from the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. May the grace of Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Spirit be with you.
His last words to his friends are describing Unity in the Trinity. Notice how he describes the Unity of the Triune God, our Unity with the Triune God, and Unity from the Triune God.
First, look at that Trinitarian blessing we have here. Grace from the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace is that gift that isn't deserved, the good he has done for us and won for us and gives due in no part to what we've done. In fact, it's contrary to what we should have coming. Paul writes this to a group of believers he has just raked over the coals for bickering with one another, taking advantage of one another, listening to false teachers, griping against their pastor, and all sorts of other things, but then he leaves them with grace.
Praise God that he leaves us with that same message. Search your heart and lives and you'll be able to find those very same sins - bickering, putting self over others, not being in the word enough to recognize every strain of false teaching that comes up in your conversations, and for the last one, let's be honest, we imperfect pastors don't always make it easy to respect the office of the ministry all the time. But that doesn't release you from your responsibilities of prayer and support, or the guilt when you fail and have those complaining conversations.
And yet, Paul writes - Grace from Jesus - the one who loved me when I am unlovable... "and the love of God" - This is that "agape" love, the 1 Corinthians 13 love - the patient, kind, unconditional, undeserved, without-strings-attached love - the love a father feels for his child the moment that child is born - and he strives to remember every time that child sins. That's God's perfect love for us. And he remembers it.
And the fellowship - the oneness, the peace and harmony of a restored relationship with God and one another - that comes only because of and through that grace and love.
Think about that - how do you separate grace and love and fellowship? You don't. They all go together, don't they? They flow out of and through each other. Now think this through - Paul ties one of those to each of the persons of the Trinity - this three in one God. How do you separate the Trinity? How do you separate God? You don't. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit- truly one. As we look at his work the three persons seem to overlap, and yet they are separate. The Bible describes the Son begotten by the Father and the Spirit proceeding from the Father and Son, sent out by them, yet what does all that mean? It's human language trying to describe something only the divine can grasp.
This Trinity thing is just another example of what faith is. I don't believe it because I understand it, then I'd be trusting in my intellect. I believe it because God says it. That's the faith of a child, the faith necessary for salvation.
"This is who you say you are God, OK." Contrary to logic and reason we can confidently say, there is unity in the Triune God.
But a much bigger leap of faith is the second thing this text tells us, We have unity with the Triune God.
Check back next week to celebrate the fact that this God we can't even comprehend is the God that loves us.
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.