- Rev. Sarina Odden Meyer
We are continuing to follow the lectionary readings. Today is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is the theology that we use to describe God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Early Church was struggling to understand how God could be one God and at the same time relate to humans in many different ways. They struggled to understand how God could be one AND be all-powerful and mighty creator (Father), and appear to us in human form as Jesus (Son), and also move throughout the world and in our hearts as Spirit (Holy Spirit). Since they were very philosophical people, they used their philosophical tools to describe God as one God in three persons: one in three: the blessed Trinity. This is very helpful for us because it teaches us that God is all about relationship. God is not solitary, but God is one in three, the blessed Trinity.
According to Judith McDaniel in my commentary on John (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, Homiletical Perspective, Kindle: 13%), “The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us about the communal inner life of God: God the Father is with the Son who is with the Spirit who is with the Father, self-communicating, self-giving, self-receiving.” The essence of God is to be in relationship. Because the essence of who God is as Trinity is to be in relationship, this means that God is always seeking relationships with us. God is always seeking to deepen our relationship with God.
Our Scriptures this morning about the Trinity show us how God was deepening relationships with people at different times in history. We see that in the year that King Uzziah died, God reached out to Isaiah with a vision that changed the course of Isaiah’s life. We see in the Gospel of John that Nicodemus sought Jesus one night and the conversation they had transformed him. First I’d like to look at Isaiah, then at Nicodemus. And then I’d like to look at how God as Trinity might be reaching out to people in our culture today.
Looking first at our Isaiah passage, we see in verse 1 that in the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah had a vision of God that changed the course of his life. First he encounters God, then he is transformed and then he is sent out. In verses 2-4 of our Isaiah passage, Isaiah is overwhelmed with the majesty, the holiness, the awesomeness of God. Encountering God in that way brings Isaiah’s own unworthiness to the forefront of his mind. And he confesses in verse 5, “I am a man of unclean lips!” Then in verse 6, the seraph touches his lips with a burning coal. This coal is hot enough that the seraph has to use tongs to pick it up. This makes me think of the refiner’s fire.
God is always working to transform us so that we can bear fruit for the kingdom of God. But sometimes the transformation is difficult and painful, like sending us through a refiners fire. A refiners fire is used to heat metal until all the impurities can be removed. God does not ONLY want to forgive our sins; God wants to ALSO remove our sin so that we sin no more. When the seraph touches Isaiah’s lips with the coal, this is what God is doing, transforming him so that he is no longer a man of unclean lips. At the same time, Isaiah’s guilt is taken away and his sin is forgiven.
And finally, Isaiah is sent out. It is significant that Isaiah confesses at first to being a man of unclean lips. Then he experiences transformation and receives forgiveness. THEN God sends him out TO TALK. Isaiah is sent out to bring God’s transformation to the people who are also a people of unclean lips. How often this is the case for us. Often, God transforms us from sins in our lives and then sends us out to help others who struggle with the same sins. As Jesus said in Luke 5:32, God did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. God calls us, imperfect as we are. Our Trinitarian God seeks us out - us sinners - to transform us and send us out to transform the world.
Now I would like to move on to our John passage. Poor Nicodemus has such a bad reputation. He is often accused of being hypocritical or not a true believer. But what we see in Nicodemus throughout the Gospel of John are the marks of a courageous disciple. It is important to know that the Gospel of John was written after the Council at Jamnia. The Council of Jamnia “declared that anyone who believed in Jesus as the Messiah would be excluded from the synagogue” (Paul Hammer, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, Exegetical Perspective, Kindle 12%). It says in verse 1 of our John passage that Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews. In the historical context in which the Gospel of John was written, Nicodemus represents someone who was willing to step out in courage to seek Jesus out at great risk to himself. This conversation transformed him because in John 7:50-52, he defends Jesus in public. And then in John 19:39-40 he brings spices to bury Jesus with Joseph of Arimathea. Knowing this about Nicodemus, the great risk he took in seeking Jesus out that night and the great courage he showed in following Jesus, what happened in this nighttime encounter?
Nicodemus comes to Jesus thinking that he knows all about him. He starts in verse 2 saying, “Rabbi, we know…” this and this about you. Nicodemus is speaking for himself and the people in his community. They think they know who Jesus is. Jesus responds in verse 3 in the Greek by saying, “Amen, amen, but no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” This is classic Jesus. He responds to someone who thinks he knows all about Jesus by challenging Him to go deeper. Yes, Nicodemus has identified rightly in verse 2 that Jesus is from God and his signs demonstrate God’s presence with Him. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Now that you know this, now you can learn THIS.” It’s time for Nicodemus to go deeper in his understanding, and we see in this passage that he struggles with this. But Jesus is patient with him and it pays off because we see Nicodemus transform over the course of the Gospel of John.
How often this happens to us! Just when I think I know God, God shows me just how little I know. God is always reaching out to us, with patience, seeking to deepen our relationship with God and our knowledge of God. God is always patient to teach us something new. God is not content with what we know right now. God always wants to draw us deeper into relationship with God to help us to bear more fruit for the kingdom. God is reaching out to us, with patience, to teach us something new. Part of the Christian life is learning that we can always go deeper and part of faith is learning to trust God when God is teaching us something new.
Finally, I’d like to end by raising a question and a challenge for us. My last three sermons have focused on our role in God’s work to bring transformation to the world. God reaches out and transforms us and we are called to work with God to bring transformation to the world. How is the doctrine of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, coming up in our culture? Well, after Harry and Meghan’s wedding, one of Junia’s best friends, a seven-year-old girl asked, “Why are they always talking about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Where are the girls in all this?” She’s asking a good question. She’s seven so we know she’s not asking with a feminist agenda or because she wants to get rid of masculinity. No. She’s asking a simple question of equality. This is important for us to wrestle with because many, many people today do not go to church and are not used to the language that we use to talk about God. And when they hear us talk about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they want to know simply from an equality perspective, where are the girls in all this?
We use the traditional language of the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - in our liturgy, and that’s good. But we also need to know about other ways to talk about God, to describe God and the ways that God relates to us. Father and Son are wonderful masculine images for God. What are some feminine images for God in the Bible? God is described as a mother, specifically giving birth in Genesis (29:31, 30:22), Numbers (11:12), Deuteronomy (32:18), Psalms (139:13), Ecclesiastes (11:5), Isaiah (44:2, 44:24, 49:5[, 66:12-14]), and Jeremiah (1:5). God is also described as a midwife in Psalms (22:9, 71:6), Job (10:18), and Isaiah (66:9). This week a friend sent me a description of God as midwife that touched me deeply and I want to share it with you. The is from The She Is Project
The author is describing God’s presence with her, like a midwife, during the darkest and most difficult times in her life:
“God has always stayed close, putting pressure on my lower back, whispering truth to my inconsolable heart, hands covered in my blood, tears falling with my own. [God] hasn’t been in control of or responsible for my pain but always present, always welcoming the most possible good, the healing, the new.”
I was moved by this description of God because it clearly showed me how God is with me in the trials of my life, providing support through the suffering and through to new life. It also helped me see more clearly what it is like to walk alongside someone who is struggling, as I remembered Brett supporting me in the birthing room. One of the ways that we can grow deeper in our relationship with God is to learn of all the ways that God is revealed to us, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and ALSO as Mother and Midwife and many other images from the Bible.
As we celebrate the Trinity, let us remember that the essence of God is relationship. God is one in three, the blessed Trinity. Because God’s essence is relationship, God is always seeking us out to deepen God’s relationship with us. We saw with Isaiah that God seeks to transform us and send us out. We saw with Nicodemus that God is patient with us, helping us to go deeper in our knowledge of God. As we go out, let us be prepared to talk about our God in ways that will help others grow closer to God as well. Amen.