Scripture - Isaiah 6:1-8, John 3:1-17, Romans 8:12-17
Isaiah 6:1-8, New Revised Standard Version
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
5And I said: “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!” 6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
John 3:1-17, New Revised Standard Version3Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For 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. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Romans 8:12-17, The Message
12-14 So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!
15-17 This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.
Mother, Child, Womb.
Lover, Beloved, Love.
For generations, Christians have tried to articulate the myriad and mysterious ways they’ve experienced and encountered God. To be sure - Christians - along with our Jewish and Muslim siblings - assert that there is one God. And yet, in our faith, there is this doctrine of the Trinity (a word that appears nowhere in Scripture) as a way of coming to term with this One God in three persons that are all equally God and yet distinct. (In reality, this doctrine came about 350 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus). Portions of what I’m sharing this morning are attributed to Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg, who blogs over on patheos.com.
These three scripture passages are representative of the ways that folks in the Bible - as well as the early Christians - experienced Jesus.
In our Isaiah text, we see a God who is beyond us - a transcendent God - a holy God - a God that is completely other, unable to be fully known or comprehended. This is a God clothed in majesty and awe, a God to be worshiped and venerated, a God that makes us very aware of our limits and mortality.
In our Nicodemous text, we see a God who is with us. Even as God is beyond us, God is with us - present fully in the person of Jesus. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus - we (and the early Christians) see and experience a God that is with us in the flesh - teaching, eating, healing, walking, grieving, dying - in all these acts, we see and experience God enfleshed.
And finally in our Romans text - we see a God within us - present among us, working in our hearts and in our communities. Jesus was no longer physically present with them, and there would always be this understanding of God’s holiness and transcendence that is beyond them -- but they still felt this closeness - this empowering work among them and sensed God at work within them as if they were breathing - and here we have the Holy Spirit.
God beyond….God with...God within...Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and all one God with three distinct persons that exist and interact and relate with each other.
Now I don’t want to get too theologically heady and wander down the rabbit trail of why the early Christians needed the doctrine of the Trinity and all the theological arguments that cropped up, giving rise to creeds of various kinds and ideas that were ultimately denounced as heresies. We won’t go there today.
What I do want to explore is what the Trinity invites us into - because it’s difficult to understand or explain well or to consider what impact it has in day to day lives.
First, it invites us into mystery. There is something profoundly mysterious about the Trinity that defies our fully naming and understanding what it means. It points to how our human images and metaphors ultimately fall short in describing who God is - because in what universe does Father and Son and Holy Spirit - 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 -- 1 God? Each fully God and each fully distinct - and isn’t that a wonderfully beautiful mystery?
Secondly, it invites us into deep relationship.
There’s this passage from the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams - who writes this:
“Grace, for the Christian believer, is a transformation that depends in large part on knowing yourself to be seen in a certain way: as significant, as wanted. The whole story of creation, incarnation, and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ’s body tell us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God’s giving that God’s self makes in the life of the Trinity. We are created so that we may be caught up in this; so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God. The life of the Christian community has as its rationale - if not invariably its practical reality - the task of teaching us this: so soldering our relations that human beings may see themselves as desired, as occasion as of joy.”
Embedded in this idea - that God desires us as if we were God, that God loves us as God loves God - and the idea that Jesus invites us to love our neighbor in the same way we love ourselves - shows the way that we are all bound up together in this deep relational dance. In fact, this was another way early Christians interpreted the Trinity - through the word perichoresis - “to dance around” some of these early theologians believed that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit “dance around” each other, and in this dance we all find our place.
Contemporary author and theologian Len Sweet puts it this way: “The choreia or dance of God is the choreography of the cosmos, the interrelationship of Creator, creation, and life itself, the holy creativity of the All in All.” he continues, “The dancing metaphor of the holy Trinity is envisioned and embodied as a circle dance...The dance of the triune divine is moving, active, eternally both transcendent and immanent, and flowing together in a joyful and harmonious, rhythmic and resonant celebration of life.”
Imagine the dynamic love flowing through the persons of Trinity - and that God loves us in that very same way God loves God’s self...and in the way God loves us we are invited to love other human beings...in the same way we love ourselves.
Can you feel the rhythm and movement and mystery surrounding that idea?
I want to close with an excerpt from St. Patrick’s Breastplate - and as you hear these words, I invite you to consider the way you experience or name the Trinity - and what that means for you as you seek to embrace the mystery of God and immerse your whole being in that powerful, transcendent love of God which flows through us to love one another.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.