A Sermon for Trinity Sunday, May 31, 2015
(Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17)
Isaiah’s is a grand vision of God.
‘High’. ‘Lofty’. God’s presence fills the temple. Surrounding are ‘seraphs’ caught worship: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory’. Their song shakes the threshold. Smoke rises.
It is a scene of adoration and wonder at the glory and otherness of God.
And the watching Isaiah knows he does not belong. In the presence of pure holiness, uncleanness is highlighted. The emerging prophet is paralysingly aware of his inadequacy: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’
So the seraph flies. Tongue and altar-coal are bought. The fiery touch brings forgiveness: ‘…your sin is blotted out’.
‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ echoes the voice of God. The prophet-to-be responds, ‘Here am I; send me!’
It is an account of holiness, guilt, forgiveness, call, mission, response. All the elements of the gospel message.
The experience of the young Isaiah may seem unique. It fills us with awe and wonder. It seems so otherworldly.
Perhaps our psalm can help bring it all down to earth.
After all this ancient song is not set in heaven. It opens with a bidding from earth. It is a raising of our voice to the one whose voice rings throughout creation. Hovering over the breaking sea, the immovable forrest, the fire. God in the gathering of nations and wild, uninhabited places. God is.
Is there somewhere – some situation or circumstance – where you question the reach of God and God’s presence? If so, make this lyric your own. Let it breathe into your spirit the recital of heaven. Hear again the repetitious celebration crediting the one who spoke creation into being with ongoing vocal acts of greatness and splendour:
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendour.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king for ever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!
This heaven-enthroned, cosmos-altering God, however, is not only seen in throne-room visions and demonstrations of mind-boggling strength. This same God is revealed in the humble life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
And Nicodemus, leader of the Jews, was blessed enough to see it.
Nicodemus is clear on two things: Jesus’ signs indicate his heavenly connection and being seen with him will court controversy.
So with the protection of night he seeks the audience of the most controversial religious figure of his time.
Nicodemus opens the conversation. A balancing act. Respectfully call him teacher. Acknowledge the miracles. Recognise the connection with God.
From here, however, Nicodemus loses control: ‘Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’’
It is a compliment. Jesus believes Nicodemus is one who ‘can see’. It may not yet be crystal-clear but it is real enough to move him from home to here.
In Jesus Nicodemus caught an unfocused fleeting glimpse of that throne room of God. He wants to see more.
But first Jesus wants him to recognise these open eyes as the gift of heaven.
Nicodemus stumbles over the claim to be ‘born from above’. After all this heaven-thinking he is now stuck with the earthly-image. He is hearing ‘born from above’ as the alternative: ‘born again’.
And so he asks about ‘mothers’ and ‘wombs’. Jesus’ refers to the ‘water’ of baptism and ‘spirit’. We wonder when they will hit the same page.
Jesus is interpreting the experience of Nicodemus. The spirit-wind blew him here. Nicodemus cannot explain it – yet tonight he found himself sneeking out to converse with one he considers heaven-sent.
He may not even know it, but he is here at the bidding of God’s wind!
Of course, this does not automatically translate into understanding. Yet Jesus entrusts this night-seeker with God’s plan: Jesus did descend from heaven; he will be lifted up; and trust will lead to never-ending life.
Our author pulls it together well: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’
The action and invitation of God, made possible through the person of Jesus, and the gentle wind of the Spirit.
Nicodemus, God’s Spirit led you to Jesus tonight to see the very plan of heaven’s king. The divine community searching for the lost. Let the gracious action of these hounds of heaven draw you home!
The same could be said of each of us: the divine community is looking for you!
Paul too speaks of this triune invitation to ‘life’. In Romans he reminds us that we, like the young Isaiah, are invited to put to death the deeds of death. The result: we live and are led by his holy and forgiving, eternal and dying, other and enfleshed, trinity.
In the action of this God-family we are renamed ‘God’s children’. We now come before the one worthy of all praise and honour with the familiar ‘Abba Father’ – Daddy, or Pappa, God.
At the initiation and bidding of the trinity you – whoever you are, whatever you have done – are invited to trustingly enter God’s family!
We are adopted by one who is over all and begin the journey of learning to participate in the suffering and glory of God. It is our quiet but faithful echo of Jesus’ journey from life to death to life.
We who, like Isaiah, were ‘lost’, are through trusting faith, friends of God. Ours too is a story of redemption and inclusion in the community and purpose of the One we call Trinity.
I pray that you – on this Trinity Sunday – can see anew the Father, Son, Spirit gently and consistently wooing you.