Trinity Sunday– 30 May 2021
Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” John 3:3
Hannah used to love spending time with her congregation, but she found the gospel message just plain weird. Her church did some Bible studies with her over the summer and she kept looking at them in astonishment. They would read about Jesus walking on water, rising from the dead, and ascending into heaven. “You really believe all this?” she would ask. Later she told them what they believed sounded crazy. Yet she kept telling herself, “They seem like sensible people who are able to hold down jobs.
Then one day a member of the community challenged her, “don’t wait until all your questions have been answered,” she said. “Just ask yourself whether you can trust Jesus.” Hannah went home and she describes how she was sitting on the floor in her front room when suddenly she knew it was all true. In that moment she became a Christian. What happened as she sat on her living room floor? The Holy Spirit came on her. There was no shining light or audible voice but the Holy Spirit came to give her faith in Jesus. This is what Jesus meant when in John chapter 3 verse 3 he says “I tell you the truth no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (Who in the World is the Holy Spirit? Tim Chester & Christopher de la Hoyde; The Good Book Company). The Pharisees thought Jesus meant a second physical birth, but he meant that no one can enter heaven unless they are born of the Spirit also. The Spirit seems like a pretty important aspect of our Christian faith to get a handle on.
I used to play the game of baseball when I was young, and I still enjoy following it. L.P. Jones, Pastor of Mount Washington Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, tells of a time when he felt nervous being on his baseball team: “As a young teenager I had the privilege of playing pitcher on our Pony League baseball team. I could throw reasonably hard and accurately, but often lacked confidence. When I arrived at the park near the beginning of one season, our coach handed me a ball and told me I was pitching against last year’s championship team. I evidently did not respond enthusiastically, because Coach looked at me and asked, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ What followed was not my proudest moment. I whined, ‘We lost to them three times last year. I’m not sure I’m good enough.’ Coach placed his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said: ‘You let me worry about them. You’re on my team and I want you to pitch.’ Then he told me to warm up and walked away” (New Proclamation, B.2.60). Perhaps you have told God that you are not good enough. You would have biblical precedence in the Bible, as Moses told God that he did not have the words to speak to Pharaoh, and as Gideon told God when God told him to deliver Israel; Gideon politely called God “Sir:” “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15). He did not have confidence in his own ability. But God would not take no for an answer, telling Gideon that God wanted him to pitch, and walking away. Gideon thought that Israel needed a stronger clan to defeat those who controlled the land, and he was discouraged. He doubted the Lord could be with Israel if they were not delivered from their enemies’ hands. Have you also doubted that the Lord is with us? Have you believed in your own power to call on God’s power to overcome whatever enemy we are facing – greed, doubt, fear, worry, viruses, terrorists, red tape – or have you waited for a stronger, more worthy someone to take that on? Have they ever come? With the power of the Holy Spirit, God gives us the opportunity to be powerful enough to take it on ourselves! God tells us that we are on God’s team! We lack confidence when we lean on our own power by itself, but when God tells us that God will be with us, our own power ceases to matter. Our own ability ceases to matter. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). We will not only be more cheerful when we realize that we are more powerful than our enemies, as weak as we are, but we will be better able to build up the body of Christ, which is the church. Not all of Gideon’s questions were answered, but in that moment, he knew that it was God who called him, and he trusted God. In that moment, God’s Spirit gave him the strength to do what he needed to do.
Like Gideon, Isaiah found himself in a troublesome time when he sensed God’s presence come to him in a vision. King Uzziah died in 742 BC after a reign of 52 years. He was one of the good kings, under whose rule Judah had prospered: “He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (2 Chr. 26:5). He conquered new territories, including the land of the Philistines and the city of Ashdod, fortified the walls of Jerusalem, and built a strong army. But because of his strength, he fell victim to pride (2 Chr. 26:16). He started believing in his own power rather than the power of God. When he went to the Temple of the Lord to make an offering, the priests stopped him because only the priests were to do such a thing. This caused him to become angry, “and when he became angry with the priests a leprousdisease broke out on his forehead,” and he recognized that God had struck him (2 Chr. 26:19-20). 2 Chronicles concludes his story: “King Uzziah was leprousto the day of his death, and being leprous lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the Lord. His son Jotham was in charge of the palace of the king, governing the people of the land” (2 Chr. 26:21). This is the context in which Isaiah was called. The people were living in a prosperous kingdom, and now grieving their leprous king.
Isaiah’s call story is as much a story about God’s holiness as it is about humility and forgiveness. First, Isaiah recognizes that God is so holy that he yields no comparison. We need this humility in the face of God, knowing that we rely on God. When we become more proud for who we are and what we have done than we are to be a child of God, (as King Uzziah did), we have fallen short. Second, Isaiah is cleansed of his guilt and sin so that he is prepared to follow God’s call. Finally, Isaiah is confident enough to answer God’s call, saying, “Here I am, send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). Would he have been confident if he had not been cleansed first? Perhaps he would have remained focused on how he considered himself lost and unclean, especially compared to the holiness of God (Isaiah 6:5). Yet, God cleanses us to prepare us for our mission. God gives us grace when we make mistakes. God tells us that we are clean and that therefore, we are able to know God and work with God. How can we not join in singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!” when we have witnessed this? Isaiah tells us, “My eyes have seen the glory!” (“My eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”) (Isaiah 6:5). Wherever we find ourselves today, God is giving us a fresh start. Isaiah was given one so that he could follow God’s call for him. L.P. Jones was given the grace of a coach telling him, “You don’t need to worry about that team. Let me worry about them. You just do the pitching.” Gideon was given fresh strength to follow God’s call when he did not believe he was up for the task. And Hannah felt a new faith come into her life one day when she was thinking about what she had learned about Jesus. Each has been given a fresh start because God tells them, “Just trust me, and let me worry about how strong the enemy is. If you trust me, you will have all the power that I give to you.” God tells us the same.
Trinity Sunday is the name of what we call the first Sunday after Pentecost; it is a day to celebrate the three persons of the Godhead, but most importantly to celebrate that the realization of the Holy Spirit has been added to our concept of God. Easter is over, Jesus has stopped appearing to the disciples, but he has promised an Advocate, which means that the presence and guidance of God is never truly leaving. Further, Jesus provided us a pathway to heaven by forgiving our sins – by dying for our sins – as long as we are also born of the Spirit. God is our Creator; we pray to God and God hears us. Jesus is our Redeemer; he was our teacher and he taught us the proper way to live. The Holy Spirit our Advocate, is the one who guides us into truth (John 16:13). To put it differently, God calls us as we are, as we fall in humility to God’s greatness. Jesus cleanses us and teaches us the way to go. The Holy Spirit moves us to do the work.
How does the telling of Isaiah’s call relate to the way that we worship? Isaiah saw the Lord’s holiness and listened to the seraphs sing about God’s holiness. We call ourselves to worship and seek God’s presence among us before we sing a song made to glorify God. Then, Isaiah realizes that he is not worthy to be in the presence of God, because he lives among unclean and lost people, but he recognizes that he is with God and God grants him forgiveness. Finally, we receive God’s call and are sent out, as Isaiah’s sin was blotted out. Yet, in Isaiah 6:8, we see that we must have an active part in responding to God. God does not say to Isaiah, “You will go.” He asks, “Who shall I send?” Isaiah responds, “Here I am, send me.” He had been cleansed so that he could feel worthy of God’s call, and he was given the confidence he needed because he knew that God was with him. The Spirit of the Lord went with Gideon (Judges 6:34). The Spirit of the Lord goes with us too. When we are not otherwise able to do something on our own, such as drive the Israelites’ enemies away from the land, we are able with God’s spirit. When Moses was unable to find the words to speak to Pharaoh, he did with God’s words.
Do you really believe all this? Perhaps it is easier not to need all the answers to the questions, but tell God that we trust God. This is our path to eternal life. There will always be unanswered questions. Yet, when we see God’s greatness, especially during the troubled times, when we confess that we are weak in our own strength and not worthy on our own, then when we accept God’s forgiveness and cleansing, we are ready for the movement of the Holy Spirit, moving us to follow God’s call. You are capable of doing something for God, by loving your neighbor, by welcoming someone to church, by singing of God’s holiness, and so much more. If confidence is what you need more of, let God give that to you. Be confident because God never left us; the Holy Spirit is our Advocate. We are born of the Spirit because we have said yes to Jesus. We are capable of defeating any enemy on this earth, from doubt, lack of confidence, worry, stress, and even Satan himself, all because we have the Lord on our side. The Lord calls us as part of our team; take the ball and pitch. When soldiers in the army lost their strength or their will to fight, they sung “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” When they felt God with them, they sung. They relied on God to get them through the most trying time of their lives, even to the point of death. Whatever our lot, we have the strength, we have the confidence, and we have the will to press on. Thanks be to God! Amen!
6:1 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.
6:2 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.
6:3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
6:4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
6:5 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!”
6:6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.
6:7 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.”
6:8 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!”
3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.
3:2 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.”
3:3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
3:4 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?”
3:5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.
3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
3:7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’
3:8 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.”
3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
3:11 “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.
3:12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
3:16 “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.
3:17 “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.