Readings & Reflection for TRINITY SUNDAY -- May 30, 2021
Let the whole earth be joyful in you, O God, We greet you with gladness and celebrate your presence with us,
For we know that you are creating us; you are alive in us, and we belong to you.
You are weaving us into a marvelous tapestry, a people of diverse threads and colors.
We enter your gates, a motley procession, with heartfelt thanksgiving and joy.
We dance with delight and bless one another in the Spirit of your love.
For you are gracious, and compassionate, faithful through all generations.
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.
One called to another saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."
The doorposts 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!"
Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the LORD spins the oak trees, and strips the forest bare; in his temple all say, "Glory!"
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!
So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not live by our human nature alone-- for if you do, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the sinful deeds of our human nature, you will live.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.
When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Now 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.
From the beauty and brokenness of this your world, O God, we turn to you. Send your Spirit into our hearts again today, that we might be lifted into your presence, that we might know you more, that you might fill us with your grace.
Bring healing to our world, we ask. Use each one of us who offers you our very self, that we might serve you in loving others, and reflect your light and love and wholeness every moment.
We bless you, God of mystery and grace, and thank you for showing us more of who you are through Jesus, our Lord.
One of the challenges Christian life poses in the world is the concept of God as “three persons.” While it is natural to puzzle about things that seem logically beyond our understanding, it strikes me that this particular aspect of our faith rests not on speculation, but on human experience. Yes, I am saying that “the doctrine of the Trinity” is not so much a theoretical concept, as it is an expression of the lived experience of people who grew close to Jesus, and became convinced that God was present in him uniquely, unlike any other human. Through Jesus, his followers came to use his words to address God as “Father”. It was also through Jesus that Christians came to believe in “God the Holy Spirit”. Believing God was “Three in One” was the only possible way the early followers of Jesus could make sense of what was happening to them.
I’m sure many people would simply shrug their shoulders if asked what they think about God as “Trinity” ~ perhaps just another element of our religion that you have to “accept and believe”, whether you understand it or not. I suppose that was my attitude at one point also. But today I feel almost startled afresh at the strange thought that God can be One, yet in Three Persons. It is impossible to imagine that a church committee somewhere could arrive at such a bizarre proposal!
Yet could the strange mystery of this central Christian belief offer us comfort and encouragement, instead of mystification and eye-rolling? My answer is yes. God is far more mysterious than our attempts to “pigeon-hole” him could ever master. A God who is above and around us (Father), leading us from within history (Son), and nearer to us than our breath or heartbeat (Spirit), is a God who surrounds us. Yet instead of feeling overwhelmed or threatened, could we experience God’s 3-fold presence as comfort?
What more could we see as we consider this “doctrine of the Trinity”? When Jesus began to call a few people to follow him in the Galilee region, those who responded did so because he seemed to know more, to have spiritual power, and to offer them a kind of affirmation unlike anything they had experienced from any other leader. Over time, as we see from the gospel stories, the disciples grew both in wonder towards Jesus, and also in respect. Following him, listening to his public teaching, seeing the “signs” (or miracles) which happened through him, and recognizing the challenge he posed to the “traditional” religious authorities, only deepened the sense of attachment the disciples had for their “rabbi Jesus.” Gradually, they came to believe that Jesus was closer to the God he called “Abba ~ Father” than any relationship they had had with their own earthly fathers. And they were surely fascinated by the way he conveyed a sense of excitement about what he called “the Kingdom of God” ~ the experience of God’s active presence in the lives of people, and in the world around.
For those who followed Jesus in those early days, not only was he personally fascinating, but it was clear that Jesus offered a close personal link to the God of Israel similar to what a beloved son would have with his devoted father. Jesus opens his closeness to the Father to include us. Of course there were many times when the disciples were absolutely unable to comprehend what Jesus was talking about ~ or times when they felt so challenged by his words and actions that they simply fell silent, in awe. But the ongoing interest and care for each of them that Jesus demonstrated created a delicious sense of intimacy not only with him, but with the God to whom Jesus was so close.
It is not surprising that the disciples grew to think of Jesus in relation to “God the Father” as two who were very close. They must have begun simply accepting that Jesus identified himself with “the Holy One” more than with any human! It was in response to the disciples’ questions about how to pray that Jesus taught them to say “Our Father, who art in heaven....” thereby confirming not only that Jesus’ relationship with God was like a beloved son with his father, but that Jesus was welcoming the disciples, and through them all who would follow Jesus, into the close loving relationship he had with “The Father”.
When events in Jerusalem began to spin wildly out of control, with Jesus being arrested and held by Roman soldiers at the request of the Jewish leaders, the disciples must have felt that their life with Jesus was being blown up. Yet after the trauma which followed, within only a few weeks, not only did they strongly affirm that Jesus had been raised from the dead by the God he called “Abba-Father”, but the Risen Jesus also told them to wait until “the power of the Spirit of God had come upon them.” Jesus is the link for us both to the Father and the Spirit. In other words, following Jesus, seeing him killed and then raised from death not only convinced the disciples that he was “more than merely human” himself, but that they should follow his guidance in affirming that their relationship with “God” the Father was strengthened through Jesus. And it was Jesus who further expanded their experience of “the Divine” through their astonished experience of being “filled with the Holy Spirit” on the day of Pentecost.
Can you see the way in which this “doctrine of the Trinity” is more a description of the actual experience of the disciples, rather than a theoretical concept created in the overheated minds of people brainstorming in the back rooms of a library? Identifying Jesus as “Holy” came about because he showed them himself in convincing ways after his death; through Jesus his followers grew confident thinking of him as “God the Son” in relation to “God the Father” and “God the Spirit.”
It was not abstract metaphysical speculation that led to belief in the Holy Trinity ~ No! It was tangible earthy experience - of guidance and comfort and awe and glorious excited praise in the presence of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What I am trying to describe is the transformation which happened in the thinking and believing of the disciples through the eventful weeks leading up to and then following Jesus’ death, resurrection, appearances, and Ascension, followed by the explosion of spiritual power at Pentecost.
It strikes me that across a time span of only 8 or 10 weeks, the disciples were confronted by their own experience of the divine through Jesus, with his encouragement to call God “Father” like he did, and to await the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ name. To say it another way, believing in the “Holy Trinity” is acknowledging that God is above us, around us and intimately near to us, in ways that feel like an embrace, not a threat.
When we say “Holy holy holy” in response to this experience of God the “three in one”, we are confessing both the awe we feel at the reality of God who is beyond our full comprehension, even as we are opening our hearts in humble, joyful worship. That “Trinity Sunday” happens the week after Pentecost is an expression of the deep wisdom of the Christian church. Only after Jesus’ resurrection and the events of Pentecost would the full insight of God’s mysterious “threeness” feel like a powerful key opening a very significant lock.
No doubt we will always perceive God as “clothed in mystery”. But God’s self-revelation through Jesus and the Holy Spirit opens our hearts to affirm with conviction the sentiment at work in the words of the Apostles’ Creed: “ I believe in God, the Father almighty... I believe in Jesus Christ our Lord.... I believe in the Holy Spirit... “
When in your life have you felt especially close to God? When you pray, do you feel more comfortable using particular names for God? Can you allow yourself to relax into God’s care and keeping ~ especially given that God is both known to us through Jesus, and also quite beyond our complete understanding?
With the ancient words of Isaiah (above) we lend our voices to the cosmic choir affirming the mysterious and gracious reality beneath our feet, above our heads, and in our hearts, in the God we know as the Father of our Lord Jesus, who sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts to guide us into all truth:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."
Prayer ( from Bruce Prewer)
“Three Person’d God, you are greater than curiosity can explore, deeper than mind can plumb, and more beautiful than dreams can create. Yet you are closer than breathing and more intimate than our secret thoughts.
May we who worship you, never lose sight of your light, and never lose touch with your grace.
May your gracious Trinity-mystery keep us ever discontented with shallow religion, and draw us towards that glorious fullness which you offer to all who long for the wholeness which is found only in you.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.