The Adventurous Lectionary – Trinity Sunday – May 30, 2021
May 30 is the eve of Memorial Day in the United States. While pastors are not obligated to remember civil holidays or days celebrating mothers or fathers, it is always good for a preacher to know what time it is! On Memorial Day Weekend, I always make room for “America the Beautiful” and sometimes, if requested, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” not as a surrender to nationalism or American exceptionalism but a recognition that faith is always tied to time and place. Isaiah goes to the Jerusalem Temple in a time of upheaval, the great king has died. Paul is writing to a particular congregation, the church in Rome and not just any community of faith. Our times and places are the venues where God shows up and transforms our lives.
Still, we need to focus on the global as well as the local, the planet as well as the nation. Today’s readings invite us to experience the mystical presence of God, revealed in creation, our inner lives, and the call to mission. Progressive Christians typically don’t lift up the paranormal or mystical. We see such experiences as other-worldly, detracting from our need to respond to the messy social and political challenges of our time. Rooted in the earth, we are often skeptical of the transpersonal. Yet, historically, the great mystics have also been world-changers. Their spirituality led them to be both heavenly minded and earthly good. Moreover whenever I teach courses on mysticism and spirituality, I have found that members have had mystical and paranormal experiences, including encountering angels, deceased relatives, and the voice of God.
Isaiah’s mystical vision is one of the most powerful witnesses to humankind’s encounter with the divine, or better put, God’s breaking into human life in a life-transforming way. God is always present, moving gently and sometimes dramatically in our lives. Still, there are moments that change everything. Moments that take us beyond the normal and horizontal to a deeper naturalism in which the heavens declare God’s glory and the whole earth is filled with God’s presences. As I imagine Isaiah’s experience, I see the future prophet, on of Jerusalem’s elite and educated, attending a worship service. People are standing beside him, but in ways he can’t imagine, God speaks directly to him. No one may notice anything peculiar in Isaiah’s demeanor, but for Isaiah, God is real, present, and challenging him to a new vision. When he entered the Temple, Isaiah may just have wanted to find a little peace of mind in a time of political turmoil. Instead, he encounters the living God and discovers his life’s vocation.
Isaiah is overwhelmed before the God of the universe. In the spirit of Psalm 8’s confession that in the vastness of the universe, humans are so infinitesimal to deserve divine consideration, Isaiah protests his imperfection and unimportance in the scheme of things. Awareness of the distance between the infinite and the finite, regardless of our sense of God’s immanence, should provoke what Abraham Joshua Heschel describes as “radical amazement.” Anything less than amazement fails to do justice to the wondrous complexity and wisdom of the universe and its creator. “How great thou art” is Isaiah’s cry and our own when we experience the utter holiness and wonder of life.
Moreover, in the presence of the Holy, Isaiah is acutely aware of his personal fallibility and the social injustices he has taken for granted as normal.
Angels praise the Creator and Isaiah realizes that the whole earth is filled with God’s glory. Each cell or solar system provokes praise and wonder. Each moment is a theophany, each encounter an epiphany. Senses aware perhaps for the first time to the majesty of creation and the Creator, Isaiah experiences the world as God-filled. Isaiah’s ecstasy is short-lived: God challenges him to enter the maelstrom of political turmoil and national security. Mysticism leads to mission: God needs us. God needs people who will call the nation back to God – the God of social justice, economic equality, sound foreign policy, relational hospitality, and political civility. Who will speak for God? Who will be God’s companion in healing the world? “Here I am,” stammers Isaiah. Transformed and cleansed, Isaiah embraces a new vocation, to call the nation back to God’s ways.
We typically don’t expect paranormal experiences and mystical encounters at Sunday morning worship. Still, worship can be life-transforming. It can alter our senses and understanding of the world. Worship can lead us to significant new insights and the willingness to take on God’s mission in our time and place. We are invited to come to worship expecting the unexpected; we are called upon to be open to new vistas of understanding God and the world. (For more on earth-oriented mysticism, see Bruce Epperly, The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World, Upper Room, 2017, and Angels, Mysteries, and Miracles, Energion, 2017.)
Psalm 29 is a hymn to divine glory. God is beyond our imagination, energetically creating in all things. Thundering yet giving life. Praise and amazement at God’s wisdom and creativity is the only appropriate response. From praise and amazement comes a sense of stewardship for God’s wondrously diverse and amazing world.
The words of Romans 8:12-17 assert that God of infinite space and time is also infinitely personal. God is moving in our cells and our souls. God is speaking within us, inviting us to share in the mystic in the midst of time. God is calling us to holiness and wholeness, to freedom and creativity. God’s Spirit is our deepest reality and the Spirit’s movements enable us to call upon God and claim God’s freedom and courage in the living of each day. In Romans 8, we catch a glimpse of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in the process of formation and what we learn is that the three “persons” of the Trinity are one in character and intent. God comes to us in diverse ways, responding to our context and condition. God is, in God’s complexity, relational both within Godself and in terms of the world.
John 3:1-17 speaks of the fullness of God’s loving revelation in our lives and the world. God moves in our lives; the Spirit is free and unbounded, embracing all, and calling us beyond the heaviness of the past, both positive and negative, to new life. We can be born anew, regardless of age or experience. The God who calls us to new life cand God calls all creation to new life. God loves the world, cosmos, both non-human and human. God’s love is manifest in the life of Jesus, the Child, the Son, and the Beloved, who invites us to move from receptivity to acknowledgment and activity and partnership with God. God’s aim is wholeness and salvation for all creation. God is in the salvation business, not the business of condemnation. God’s aim is toward everlasting life in moment and forever.
In John 3, we experience another picture of the Trinity, all of whose “persons” are aimed at our salvation and healing. Cosmic yet intimate, orderly yet free, God’s love for the world – for us – is the foundation of our salvation today and our hope for the future.
Trinitarian in spirit, today’s scriptures reflect the wondrous presence of God in the world: majestic, yet loving; transcendent, yet immanent; mighty, yet graceful; defined by love, not unrestricted power; relational and needing our partnership to heal the world. The Infinite is the Intimate. The Eternal is the most relational, the Transcendent is the Most Moved Mover. (Charles Hartshorne) Flexible in doctrine and open to novelty, they speak to the wondrous loving diversity of a Cosmic Creator who loves the world and each creature intimately. The loving integrity of the Trinity serves as a model for our own creative and intimate quest for healing and justice, global in scope but always personal and contextual in nature.
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, and author of over sixty books, including WALKING WITH FRANCIS OF ASSISI: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM; MYSTICS IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY; PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS; GOD ONLINE: A MYSTIC’S GUIDE TO THE INTERNET; and THE JUBILEE YEARS: EMBRACING CLERGY RETIREMENT. He may be reached for talks, seminars, and consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org