Sunday, May 27, 2018

Year B Trinity Sunday 2018 Three in One and One in Three

Year B Trinity Sunday, 27 May 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Three in One and One in Three” 

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 
 Isaiah 6:1-8 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. Seraphs 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. And one called to another and said:  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;  the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And 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!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The 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.” Then 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 There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He 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.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus 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?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The 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.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “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. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “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. 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.” 

He comes slinking in at night. Have the worries of the day kept him away? While busy, he is a man of authority and he can find the time if he wants something. I think he came by night to avoid notice. People came to him for answers, and here he is coming with nothing but questions.  

Imposter Syndrome is a psychological condition, where no matter how accomplished someone is, they have this nagging, bottom-of-the-stomach feeling that they are a fraud and will soon be found out. Psychologists say this is on the rise. But I am sure that it is as old as humanity. One of the keys of leadership is to know when to listen to and when to tune out those nagging whispers hidden deep down inside. 

Nicodemus was a leader, a Pharisee, and a member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council). When we say Pharisee now after two millennia of conditioning, we hear bad. But they were attempting to be righteous, in EVERYTHING they did. Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy, repeatedly, but he kept talking to them. Their beliefs had a lot in common, and I believe that is why Nicodemus came to him that night. Nicodemus, “he went to Jesus looking for answers to questions that bothered him so.” [Nods to Jimmy Buffett] 

My hope is that I am like Nicodemus. When I have questions, may I always be driven to Jesus, too. 

No matter how “schooled” Nicodemus was that night, he did not give up on Jesus. In the Gospel of John, chapter 7, when the Sanhedrin is ready to condemn him immediately he reminds them, “Hey, doesn’t our law say we have to have a trial first?” 

And even more moving, he helped Joseph of Arimathea prepare the body of Jesus and provided the spices for his corpse. Maybe he took the words to heart, “For Christ came not into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” John 3:17 

This passage contains a ubiquitous verse, John 3:16, but that is not why it is chosen for today. But in that famous verse and the surrounding passage, the language is very Trinitarian. Today is Trinity Sunday. Now normally we would force Celal to preach, because the clergy seem to always choose to be away or share the pulpit with the low man on the totem pole on Trinity Sunday. Anyone worth their salt knows not to touch the Trinity with a ten-foot pole. It is the third rail of Christian theology. 

Think about it. There are a lot of problems with even the idea of the Trinity.  
  • The word Trinity is never mentioned in the Bible. 
  • How can any being bifurcate oneself, much less trifurcate oneself? 
  • It is a metaphor, and the only way we can describe it is to use other metaphors. 
    • St. Patrick had his shamrock, one plant/three leaves 
    • Water’s forms: Ice, Water, and Steam 
    • People’s roles: Father, Husband, Brother or Mother, Wife, Sister 
No matter what we use it is inadequate. No matter what we say, the words are not enough. Back in my Baptist pastor days, I was getting ready to baptize someone, and literally, it was 10 minutes before the service when they said, “Oh, I do not want you to baptize me with any other words than ‘I baptize you in the name of Jesus.’” I said, nope, not gonna happen. When asked Why? I said, because Jesus said so. “Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” Matthew 18:19-20 I know she was trying to honor Jesus, but I think the best way to do that is to do what he said.  
So, there we are, there are a lot of problems with the Trinity. It makes no logical sense. That is why I claim it as a Mystery. I can give no words to it, other than from deep down, way down deep in my soul, it is right, and good, and true. Wiser and more sold out people than me have encouraged this metaphor, this handle for the intangible and inexplicable. God who made us, God who saved us, God with us. All God. All true. All coexistent. And they all point to the reality and the nature of each other. The more we are driven into the Spirit, the more I see the reality of Christ who points to the Father, and the Father points to the Son and the Spirit.  

This language limits us. It always does. 

In the passages from today alone, let us look at how God is described. 
  • Lord sitting on a throne in a robe. 
  • The LORD is repeatedly used in our Psalm for the day. And the ALL CAPS designates in English translations something unique. The Lord used in Isaiah is the Hebrew Adonai, which we translate literally as Lord. But whenever we see ALL CAPS in an modern English translation that designates the proper name from God Moses got at the burning bush, often wrongly translated as Jehovah, Yahweh is much closer, but a good Jewish person would never be so blasphemous as to say it, so tradition said to replace it with Adonai which is how we got to the ALL CAPS LORD. The tetragrammaton, the 4 letter word without vowels. 
  • Spirit (and remember that could also be Wind and Breath as I mentioned last week) 
  • Abba! Father! But even here, Father is not the best way to see this. It is more intimate than Father. Abba is the Aramaic word for Daddy. It is what a child says. Any man may be able to be a Father, but it takes a relationship built on trust and love for a Father to become a Daddy. 
  • Son of Man. Here once again, there is cultural baggage that we need to unpack. The Son of one is seen as the Essence, the Quintessential element of the Father. The Spittin’ Image is how we may speak of the image, but here it connotes the Character as well. This Messianic title taken from the Book of Daniel, the Son of Man is the Messiah, the Chosen or Anointed One of God. So, the Son of Man, the Quintessential Man, the Ultimate Man, the Pinochal of Humanity is the equivalent of the Son of God, All That Is The Best encapsulated in this one. And we give him a name, Jesus.  
We invite each other in our creeds to see God in these three ways: God the Holy Other (wholly other?) apart, separate, untouchable, unchangeable, distant. When God shows up in Scripture, these are called theophaniesTheophanies are when a form appears, and many believed that even viewing God was imminent death. When Moses was offered to see God pass by, he refused to look God in the face because he would surely die but God set him in the cleft of the rock and he sees the back of God in God’s passing. Isaiah declares, “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips, and come from a people of unclean lips.” But even here, God makes a way. He purges with a burning coal the irregularities of his tongue, and gives him the right to speak. And in the cleansing God asks, “Who will go for me?” and Isaiah immediately responds. “Here am I. Send me.” These words are still read on this Trinity Sunday, and at ordinations for that is that call of this God. 

The Imposter Syndrome I mentioned before could not be more true for those exploring a call. We have two from our midst discerning a call to the Clergy right now. Pray for them. God’s way will be clear for God is not a god of confusion. But that spirit that was true of Isaiah and still rings true: “I am unworthy. But if you will have me, I am yours.” That same Spirit called Isaiah, as it calls us, as it called Christ to be baptized and then into the Wilderness and then to Gethsemane and then on to Golgotha. Elijah’s still small voice that he heard whispers still. 

God the Ever Distant, God the Oh-So-Human, and God the Ever Present. This is why we need this metaphor of the Trinity. The Three in One, the One in Three as one of my favorite prayers puts it. (The Breastplate of St. Patrick link) 

It is ambiguous and confusing. It is contradictory and mysterious. And because of that I find it all the more true. Some relish ambiguity, others run from it and abhor it. But think on it, if we could ever define God it would cease being God. The God who can be named can be controlled. Remember the story of Jacob wrestling with God all night at the ford of the Jabbok? After wrestling all night, he asks the name of the one he is wrestling, and Jacob instead is given a new name, Israel, he who struggles or wrestles with God. Even Yahweh we have already mentioned is Ambiguous. I AM WHO I AM. But it is all the tenses of the verb “to be.” The God who Was, and Is, and Will Be.  

I love that the One we serve cannot be contained, or defined, or controlled. We have a faith that is bigger, and broader, bold enough for all time. And because of that, we serve a God who is not limited by the limits we apply to ourselves of anyone else. As Scripture repeatedly says, “With God, all things are possible.” And any meager metaphor limits this God who does the impossible. Thanks be to God. And when this God of the Impossible calls, may we respond as Isaiah did, “Here am I, send me.” Amen. 

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Blessings, Rock