Our faith remains Trinitarian in nature even after Trinity Sunday. I found this old sermon while looking through my documents recently. May it be a reminder that we worship God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Content Advisory: Today is Trinity Sunday. Theologically it is important to wrestle through the particulars of the Trinity and how we can know God who is three-in-one and one-in-three. However, it is more essential that we come to know the Triune God and realize the invitation into his life, love and family. We experience this Triune God in worship, confession and commission. We will never fully understand the Trinity that is why we call it a mystery. We can understand our role in his family and how we are in relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all in relation with one another. If you were looking for a sermon on the philosophical particulars of the Trinity then I am sorry. But if, just if, you were hoping to live life with the Triune God, based on God, and for God then I hope this is meaningful to you. Good? Good.
We are currently in the middle of the jubilee jamboree. For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, we are celebrating the 60th year of Queen Elizabeth’s reign as monarch over England. It is difficult for us in America to grasp the regal nature of the monarchy. Some of us woke up at 2 in the morning over a year ago to witness Kate Middleton and William Wales wedding in Westminster Abbey. Royal families from all over the world poured in to watch the future King of England tie the knot. The Queen, William’s grandmother, was still the most important figure in the ceremony. As Will and Kate – yes, we are on a first name basis thank you very much – began to process of out the church the both stopped before the Queen and bowed and curtsied. Even in a pseudo-monarchy, the pomp and circumstance, the tradition and history, the regality and valor, of England’s royalty is not matched this world over. This entire year is a celebration of the Queen, and we are in the central weekend of that celebration.
When you are in the Queen’s audience you never show her your back, you do not speak unless spoken to, you bow and curtsy on your way in and out. We, in our democratic state, could not imagine paying tribute to someone like that. We have a hard time calling someone Mr. President rather than Obama and W. But the English mindset gives us a tiny, microscopic picture into our reading from Isaiah.
Move away, from Queen Elizabeth and Will and Kate, and enter ancient Israel with me. It is 740/39 BC, and it is the year that King Uzziah died. Uzziah had been reigning over Israel for 45 years. He had been so far from the Lord that he contracted leprosy in 750 and was isolated from his people; in fact he needed a regent to rule in his stead due to his ailment. If you are under 45 then your entire life would have been lived with Uzziah as King. You would have known no other. His death, regardless of his power, morality or support rating, would have shaken the very foundations of life as you knew it. Imagine if he said, “In the year that 9/11 happened, I saw the Lord…” Isaiah is cluing us into a monumental, history-making event.
Isaiah is transported to the very throne room of God. I don’t want you thinking about English royalty anymore. Nothing compares to the majestic reign and rule of Almighty God. Isaiah witnesses 6 winged flying angels worshipping God by singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of the armies. Heaven and earth are full of his glory.” Does that sound familiar? It should! When we sing the Sanctus before Eucharist we are not just joining our voices with angels and archangels, we are literally entering into the throne room of God and singing his praise with all who have gone before, in anticipation of all who will come after, and in the assured hope that we will do so with him forever. This is a scene without rival. The vast greatness of God saturates everything we read. God is so great that the train of his robe fills the space. Israel would not utter God’s name and so here the name God means he is so holy and so wholly other. Can you imagine standing in the throne room of the Creator of the Universe, watching his creatures worship him, seeing only his robe hem as he is so great?
Psalm 29 lends a hand by describing all that is under God’s authority and kingship. The subtle nuance of this Psalm is that the psalmist says that Baal and other ancient middle/near east deities were under YHWH’s reign. YHWH is so great, so vast, and so mighty that even the other gods of the realm are under him, subject to him. All of creation: the mighty winds, the mountains, the oceans, absolutely everything is subject to God and his voice. And what is the response of those over whom God reigns? They cry “Glory, glory.” Just like crying, “Holy, holy, holy.” He is King over the flood, over the people, over everything forever. Let’s pause for a moment and worship this great God:
Holy God. Holy and Mighty. Holy immortal one. Have mercy. Have mercy on us.
Back to Isaiah. Standing before the Infinite One, Isaiah knows immediately that he does not belong. He is standing in the presence of the God about whom it was said that no man could stand before and live. So in this moment of utter vulnerability, Isaiah cries out, “Woe to me!” Don’t you love it? I feel like we should cry that out more often, “Woe to me!” He continues with a personal and corporate confession of sin. “I am a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips.” Standing in the midst of the Holy One there is nothing to do but confess and worship. We confess because his presence makes us aware of our sinfulness and brokenness.
A seraph flies over to Isaiah and touches his lips with a burning coal. This never gets the attention it deserves. This isn’t some cute, symbolic imagery. No, this is painful stuff. Having touched the coal to Isaiah, the seraph says, “See, this has touched your lips [In case you forgot what was burning you], your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” The coal is purifying and absolving of sin. It’s important to note here that everything taking place in this Psalm is in response and reaction to the majesty of YHWH – Isaiah’s confession is in response to the worship of Almighty God and God’s response to this faithful obedience is to absolve Isaiah’s sins.
Before we talk more about confession, we must first discuss to whom it is that we confess.
If we get the picture in Isaiah 6 and Psalm 29 that God is wholly other, utterly transcendent, then we are also given a picture in John 3 and Romans 8 that God is immanent, that God is loving Abba and that we are his adopted children.
In John’s gospel we encounter a Pharisee. Nicodemus approaches Jesus in the darkness of night – a sign that he didn’t want to be seen by anyone. Nic comes to Jesus and starts talking as if he knows who Jesus is and what he is up to. Nicodemus comes with a sense of certainty and in a swift sentence we see Jesus making it all uncertain. We read that Jesus says we must be born again. This is true, the word used here means “again” but it also means “from above.” There is a double meaning here that we cannot capture in our translations, and it makes all the difference. Jesus is talking about being born from above, but all Nicodemus hears is that he must be physically born again. He thinks that he has to get back into his mother’s womb!
In Jesus’ responses to the questions Nicodemus poses about being “born from above,” we see that while understanding is important and something to be worked toward, what Christ desires most for us to grasp is the love of God: “the love that sent Christ into the world to show us the face of God; the love that claims us and calls us; the love that invites us to enter into relationship with the One who dwells in mystery yet seeks to know us in the midst of everyday life; the love that drenches us and draws us into new life.”
You see it is easy for us to skip over the first 15 verses of John 3 in order to get to the most famous verse in the Bible. But to do that would be to rip John 3.16 out of its context. This verse is about the love of God for the entire world in relation to being born again. Jesus’ concern in these verses is not outlining in step by step fashion what new birth looks like. No. His concern is to share with Nicodemus, and now all of us, the immeasurable, unquenchable, insurmountable, and unrelenting love of God. We are recipients of that love – or can be – and that reception invites into God’s holy family.
Adoption is the focus of Paul’s words in Romans 8.12-17. It is very important for us Gentiles to know and embrace the reality that through Jesus we have been adopted into God’s family. We are able to use the intimate name when we cry out to God because he is our King and our Abba. Through Christ we are adopted and made co-heirs. We don’t just inherit the kingdom, we are co-heirs of Christ. We know Jesus as our elder brother and because of this familial relationship we know Father and Holy Spirit. Paul makes it clear that we do nothing. We do not earn, gain or contribute to our salvation or inheritance. God in Christ has done this for us. Our Abba takes care of us.
It is to the Sovereign One, to Abba, Son and Holy Ghost, that we confess our sins. Isaiah, like many of Israel’s memorable men and women, confessed both individual and corporate sin. As we say this confession together, keep in mind the sins of your own heart, and the sins of our community. Be assured that God has absolved you of your sins and receive Pastor Kathleen’s words of absolution as a sure blessing. Just as we need to confess and make peace in order to come to the table, we also need to confess before we go into the world as ambassadors of Christ.
Let us confess our sins to the God who knows us through and through…Amen
So what? Why is the Trinity important?
First, in the Trinity we are invited into the life and love of God. This perfect, mutual, self-giving, and self-loving relationship has been going on since the beginning of time. Genesis 1:1-2 records all three members of the Trinity as present at creation, as does John 1. Over the past few weeks we have talked about the emptying of the Son unto the glory of the Father and the promised presence of God among his people in the Holy Spirit. We now have the complete picture – or at least as complete as we can get this side of God putting the world to rights – of the God whom we worship, we knows us through and through, and who calls us to be co-workers in his vineyard.
The Trinity is our launching pad into the longest season of the calendar. Ordinary time is a chance for us to look at the ministry of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s relationship with Israel.
Second, our worship is both profession and confession. In worship we profess our faith in the Triune God. Read over the words of Taylor and Ken’s song about the holy dance of the Trinity. The Greek word for this is perichoresis. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in such a intertwined and interwoven relationship that it looks most like a dance, a dance of love. This dance, this very relationship, is to be the object and subject of our worship. When we sing praises to God we must keep in mind that we are praising God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Psalm begins with the exhortation to ascribe to the Lord. We’ve talked about this before at Epiphany, that to ascribe to the Lord is to give worth. Our worship of “Glory, glory” and “Holy, holy, holy” is given unto the One God who is three. In worship we confess our sinfulness and finitude. Listen to this quote I found from someone reflecting on this week’s lectionary:
For some people God is recognized in the worn stone of the world’s great cathedrals, in the smooth patina of polished pews, in the great swell of a magnificent organ under the hands and feet of a master musician, or in the brilliantly-colored shafts of light refracted through intricately designed stained glass windows. In such a place, the word holy takes shape in a sensory swirl of awe and wonder. Other people may encounter God in the wonders of nature—a powerfully thundering waterfall, mighty redwoods reaching toward the heavens, or the ever expanding and velvety night sky twinkling and pulsing with innumerable stars. In both scenarios, the individual becomes keenly aware of his or her smallness and imperfection in the presence of the Creator of the Universe.
Before he who is everything, filled with wonder and amazement at his great vastness, we discover that we are sinful, broken and small.
Third, our commission is like that of Isaiah and John 3.16. Isaiah is now met with a commission. God says, “Who will go for me?” And Isaiah responds, “Here am I, send me.” He has been in the throne room of God’s worship, he has confessed his sins, and he has been purified and sanctified – literally set apart – all that is left is to be send out.
Our call is to be born again, from above. The significance is not in the particulars of the call but in the call itself and from whence it came. Jesus calls us. His call is to his Father. The call is to a loving relationship with Abba. In terms of the commission, the idea of being set apart and sent out, the call is to the world. Friends, please hear this: you have been set apart for a holy task. God has called each one of you by name, he knows you by name, and he has equipped, empowered and employed you for his purpose. Life with the Triune God, in this loving relationship is one that is always outward facing, other focused, and God glorifying.
On this Trinity Sunday may we once again find the amazement, wonderment, mystery and awe of the Triune God and his throne room. May we join into the holy dance with Father, Son and Holy Spirit with mutual love, self-emptying, and self-giving. May our worship both confess our sin and finiteness, and profess God’s great vastness, his transcendence, and his immanence. And may we heed God’s commissioning call to go into the world he loves with the love of God for one another.
Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.