The First Sunday after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, May 27, 2018
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
From the Prophet Isaiah, “… Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’” I speak to you in the Name of the Holy and Blessed Trinity; God in Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Ah Trinity Sunday. That day when Christians throughout the world try to make sense of what is a mathematical impossibility and yet, is one of the most important tenets of our faith: one, plus one, plus one equals not three, but one. Trinity Sunday calls us to realize that God has been revealed throughout scripture in three distinct ways, or persons as our hymns say. Our God is a Holy Trinity, three in one and one in three: not three gods, but one, eternal God. Have I lost you yet? No wonder the whole concept of God existing as a Holy Trinity is considered one of the greatest mysteries of Christian faith.
As I pondered this mystery in light of today’s scripture lessons, what emerged was a sermon that not only addresses our understanding of God as a Holy Trinity, but I think even more importantly, what difference this should make to us, in us, and for us today. You see, it is one thing to spout doctrine and dogma. It is quite another to apply it to contemporary issues and daily life.
Our scripture lessons this morning provide some insight into our understanding of God revealed as a Holy Trinity. In our Old Testament lesson, the Prophet Isaiah tells of his vision of the very throne room of God the Creator of all that is seen and unseen. It was an absolutely awesome sight. Winged creatures flying around, smoke from incense abounding, and voices thundering so loudly they shook the very thresholds of the building as they cried out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts.” The context or timing of this vision, Isaiah reveals, is the year that King Uzziah died - believed to have happened sometime around 735 BC. For 52 years, King Uzziah had ruled Israel with grace and fairness. He had kept their enemies, the Assyrians, at bay and brought stability to the nation at time when she desperately needed it. But, now, he is dead and gone. There is a void in the nation’s leadership and people are frightened because they are now in a time of transition. And history tells us that Israel didn’t always do transition well. People were worried about their future and the future of their children and grandchildren.
Isaiah’s vision reminds them that their God is Lord, or in the Hebrew, Sovereign, of all. Their God is the very same Lord, the same sovereign, described in Psalm 121 as “he who watches over Israel” and “neither slumbers nor sleeps.” Isaiah’s vision affirms that regardless of what is happening in their world, God is still on God’s throne. God is stillwatching over them. And more importantly, God is still calling them to action. Calling them to respond. Calling them to uphold and embody God’s commandments. Calling them to love God and neighbor, even love their own selves, and be the people God desires all people of faith to be.
Our New Testament reading describes the on-going work of God the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is the same Spirit that brooded over the waters and birthed the earth and all creation as described in the book of Genesis. And it is this same Holy Spirit, Paul says in his letter to the Romans, who constantly reminds us that by faith in Christ, we are children of God, heirs of God’s kingdom, called to live differently in this world: called to love God, love neighbor and yes, even our own selves by recognizing that we are all created in that same image of God, and that all life matters regardless of who or what one might be.
Our reading from John’s gospel retells the story of Nicodemus who is desperate to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, but he is not quite ready to become a disciple of this man whom, his fellow Pharisees described as a dangerous, radical upstart. Nicodemus is content to be a disciple from a distance. He asks Jesus, help me understand your teaching. How can a person be born again? Jesus reveals, just as Paul affirms in Romans, that what is Spirit is spirit and what is flesh is flesh. We are reborn not from an earthly womb, but rather, from above, reborn by faith. Jesus concludes his chat with Nick-at-night by reminding him of why he has come: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son … not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus affirms that the work of the Holy Trinity – this God revealed in three distinct and yet equal ways, has always been for the flourishing and goodness of creation. God comes not to destroy, but as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. God comes to redeem, restore and renew all that God created; redeem it, restore it, and sanctify it, in and through the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ: God the Son. Here ends the lesson on the Holy Trinity … Well almost!
As I said earlier, it is one thing to affirm one’s belief in the Holy Trinity. But this affirmation, this faith, is much more than a notch in our “ecclesiastical” belts – it is more than something we check off on our “I’m a good Christian” list.
Isaiah said, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’” God, the Lord, doesn’t issue commands to Isaiah. No. God invites Isaiah to be a part of God’s ongoing reconciliation and grace in this world. God asks us to grasp that faith in a Holy Trinity must make a difference in our lives and the lives of others. For with God, faith always requires action.
Several years ago, I was privileged to hear a sermon delivered by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The occasion was the graduation ceremony for Sewanee’s School of Theology Class of 2008. And his words changed the focus of my life and my understanding of ministry. Reflecting on this “whom shall I send, and who will go for us” quote from Isaiah, Archbishop Tutu said, “Yes, we do have an extraordinary God. This omnipotent one who created all there is without our help, forever waits and waits – waits for us to become God’s partners, God’s collaborators, to help God accomplish God’s purposes.” Without our collaboration and commitment – without our response, Tutu said, - God is content to wait. See, he added, “God wants to turn the various wildernesses of our world into glorious gardens” but not without us. As Pope Benedict XVI said, God can fix anything. But unless human hearts are changed so that we are actively engaged in making God’s work happen, such fixing will have no lasting impact on how humanity treats this earth, treats one another, or how we choose to live our lives.
This is the message of Isaiah and the transforming impact that faith in a Holy Trinity should make in our lives: God, the creator of all, asks, “Help me transform this world. Help me transform the hatreds – all the ‘isms’ and ‘phobias’ that plague and divide us - by speaking up when something is unjust or unfair. Help me transform poverty and disease by providing food and medical care for those in need. Help me clothe the naked and homeless by providing them with clothing and shelter. Help me transform this world so that there will be more compassion, more gentleness, more caring, more goodness, more laughter, more sharing. Help me. Help me!”
Beloved, God, the Holy Trinity, the creator of all that is and ever will be, is waiting for us to step out of the shadows like Nicodemus and grasp that we cannot be disciples from a distance. God is waiting for us to stand up, as Paul says in Romans, and take our rightful place as adopted children of God and be God’s transforming presence is this world.
Most of all, just as God asked Isaiah, God still asks this morning, “Who will go for us?” Who will help me transform this community of Valle Crucis? Who will help me transform this state, this nation, and the world?” so that one day all will know they belong in one family – a family created, redeemed, and sustained by God forever.This is the life-giving and life-changing experience that belief in the Holy Trinity should inspire hearts and minds to choose action. But in order for that faith to do so; for this belief to make any difference in us every day of our lives, we must first be willing enough and open enough to hear God’s plea, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Who will help me? And then, with every ounce of our being, stand up and proclaim, “Here … am … I: send me.”
May God – the Holy and glorious Trinity - grant us the grace so to do. Amen.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu. School of Theology Address. The University of the South, Sewanee, TN May 13, 2008.
Pope Benedict, XVI, Jesus of Nazareth.Doubleday, NY, 2007 p 34.
Ibid. My personal paraphrase of Abp Tutu’s remarks.