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“Sermons in Stained Glass: Redemption”
John 3:16-18


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Trinity Sunday—June 3, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Last Sunday we began a summer sermon series on the stained-glass windows of our church.  These windows have been carefully designed not only to be beautiful but also to be meaningful, to tell in pictures the Bible’s story of sin and salvation.

Today is Trinity Sunday, and the three largest windows at the front of our church represent the three Persons of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and yet to be installed someday is the window that will represent God the Holy Spirit.  These three windows also symbolize the primary work ascribed to each Person of the Trinity in Christian theology, creation, redemption, and sanctification.  Finally, these three windows portray in pictures the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed.

We began last week with the first window in this series, representing God the Father, his primary work of creation, and the first article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”  This window beautifully begins the Bible’s story of sin and salvation.  Our sinful rebellion against God is represented by Adam and Eve, just ready to take and eat the forbidden fruit.

Because of their fall into sin, we, along with all of humanity, “are by nature sinful and unclean.” As Genesis says a few chapters after humanity’s fall into sin, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that . . . from childhood every inclination of his heart is evil.”  In Psalm 51 David describes this stain of original sin that we all have on our souls, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

In Romans, Paul explains the consequences for us of Adam’s fall into sin: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”  The original sin we are all born with is the root cause of the actual sins that we all commit in our lives.  As Jesus says, “The evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. . .  for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”  Paul declares in Romans, “The wages of sin is death.”  Because of the original sin we are all born with, and the actual sins we all commit in our lives, we all deserve the punishment of eternal death and damnation.

But, this first window not only tells the sad story of our fall into sin, it also begins to tell wonderful Good News of salvation through God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  For, the sun at the bottom of the window, along with the graceful silhouette of a bird over it, symbolizes the final prophesy of the promised Savior, in the last few verses of the Old Testament: “But for you who revere my name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings.”

That’s where we pick up the story in central window of our sanctuary, above the altar, representing the second Person of the Trinity, his primary work of redemption, and the second article of the Apostles’ Creed: “And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.”  This window beautifully tells the Good News of God’s solution to the problem of sin.  As Jesus says in today’s Gospel Reading, in the most familiar and beloved verse of the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

These three windows are tied together by the striking red ribbon, which symbolizes the blood of Christ, shed for the forgiveness of sins, because that is the unifying theme running throughout the whole Bible.  But, the story of Jesus in our redemption window doesn’t actually begin where you think it would, with the red ribbon and his birth in the upper right corner.  The story this window tells about Jesus actually begins in the upper left corner, with the large star.

The Gospel of John uses the title “the Word” to refer to the eternal divine nature of Jesus, before he also took on a human nature and became man.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  That’s what the star in the upper left corner of this window symbolizes, Jesus’ divine nature which existed from eternity, before he “came down from heaven . . . and was made man.” 

This star representing Jesus’ divine nature before he became man is set apart from the red ribbon, because the ribbon is a timeline of the Bible, and that star represents something outside of time.  “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” Jesus says in Revelation, “the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. . . who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”  That’s why the star representing Jesus’ eternal divine nature before he became man is set apart from the red ribbon, because Jesus’ divine nature exists from eternity, as we confess in the Nicene Creed, “begotten of his Father before all worlds.”

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .  and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  Jesus’ divine nature existed outside of time, from everlasting to everlasting.  But, at a specific point in time he “came down from heaven . . . and was made man.”  He remained fully divine, but also took on a human nature.

“Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.”  At Christmas we celebrate Jesus’ “incarnation,” from the Latin word meaning, “to become flesh.”   Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary is beautifully portrayed by the picture of the holy family in the upper right panel.

In today’s Reading from the Book of Acts the Apostle Peter gives the first Christian sermon at the first Pentecost.  He proclaims, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you, by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.”  The second scene in our redemption window represents the ministry of Jesus with a picture of his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount.  And his hands are raised in blessing to signify the miraculous healings, and other “miracles, wonders, and signs” that he performed during his earthly ministry as Peter says.

“[He] suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.”  The next panel dramatically depicts the central teaching of the Christian faith, Jesus’ death upon the cross as a sacrifice for our sin, as Peter continues in today’s Reading from the Book of Acts, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”  In his conversation with Nicodemus in today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus himself predicts and explains the significance of his death upon the cross: “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” 

Paul writes in 1st Corinthians and Galatians, “We preach Christ crucified. . .  may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Because Jesus’ death upon the cross the central teaching of our Christian faith, it is customary for a cross to be the largest, most prominent piece of artwork and the central focus in Christian sanctuaries.  Our redemption window was designed to compliment the massive cross at the front of our sanctuary.  This cross is nearly 20 feet high and made and of oak and poplar.  You may have never noticed that it has five inserts made out of copper, designed to represent the five wounds of Christ, in his hands, feet, and side.

“The third day he rose again from the dead.”  The early Christians began worshipping on Sunday instead of Saturday to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday, and our worship every Sunday is a mini-Easter to remember and celebrate the Good News that Peter proclaims in today’s Reading from the Book of Acts, “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. . .  he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”

That’s what the empty tomb in the final scene of our redemption window portrays: “The third day he rose again from the dead.”  But, his resurrection isn’t just an ancient historical fact.  In Romans, Paul explains the enduring significance for you, today, of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”  Because of his sacrificial death and resurrection from the dead your sins are all forgiven, you are justified, made right with God.

“Because I live,” Jesus promised, “you also shall live.”  That empty tomb at the bottom of the window doesn’t just symbolize Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  It also symbolizes your hope of eternal life in Christ, that is your empty tomb.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned.”

Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  Because the Sacrament of Holy Communion is a proclamation of the Lord’s death, it is an old custom that the stained-glass window above the altar should prominently feature Christ’s death upon the cross.  As you receive the Sacrament, this window above our altar is a beautiful picture of what Communion is all about.  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you receive his body given for you and his blood shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

Our windows were designed and crafted by Bovard Studio of Fairfield, Iowa, the largest stained-glass firm in the United States. They have installed thousands of windows in hundreds of churches across the country, including many cathedrals and other large and famous churches. But, when you walk into their offices, prominently displayed in their reception area is a huge picture of this window. Mr. Bovard says he considers it to be the signature piece of their studio, the most interesting and unique window that they have ever created. It beautifully portrays in pictures the second Person of the Trinity, the second article of the Apostles’ Creed, and the Good News of our redemption.

Amen.

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