Sermon for May 27

Old Testament Readings Isaiah 6:1-8 and Psalm 29

Epistle Reading: Romans 8:12-17

Gospel Reading: John 3:1-17

Sermon: “Ascribe”

Well, its Trinity Sunday again, a time set aside in the church year dedicated to praising our wondrous Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God, known in three persons. Yep, it’s the Sunday that tempts all preachers into one heresy or another when we try to explain the unexplainable in simplified terms. So which will it be this morning – Arianism? Modalism? Partialism? – no don’t worry, I’m not going drag you through an explanation of the particular errors of each one – I’m going to try to avoid such things altogether and attempt instead to offer the experiences drawn from scripture we and others have had with the God who made us, redeems us and sustains us. After all, when pressed, I have to make the same offer that John Wesley made when asked to explain the nature of God: “Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man”, he said, “and then I will show you a man that can comprehend God.”

We are going to begin by contrasting two men who had an encounter with God – Isaiah and Nicodemus. The first was a man who was being called as a prophet through a terrifying vision of God in the Temple in Jerusalem. The year is 740 BC, the year that the good King Uzziah died. King Uzziah himself provides a good background for Isaiah’s story. He was a mighty and prosperous king, the grandson of the good king Josiah. He was also devout and just, but in later years his pride grew, leading him to attempt to offer incense on the temple altar in place of and in spite of the warnings of the priests who tried to stop him. As a result, he was stricken with leprosy for the rest of his life and was thus banned from the temple.

It was in that same temple – that Isaiah came that day and was confronted with a vision of God. It was a awesome sight as Isaiah describes it: (Isaiah 6:1-5 NIV) [1] … I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. [2] Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. [3] And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy , holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” [4] At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. [5] “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

This expression of extreme unworthiness and eminent danger is the same as the people of Israel felt at the foot of Mount Sinai when the law was given. Moses recalls it this way in Deuteronomy 5:22-26 NIV

[22] These are the commandments the Lord proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me. [23] When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leaders of your tribes and your elders came to me. [24] And you said, “The Lord our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a person can live even if God speaks with them. [25] But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer. [26] For what mortal has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived?

Isaiah’s experience with God is perhaps rare these days. Far more common is that of Nicodemus. Now here is a modern guy that we can understand. He is self confident, perhaps even a bit proud, curious, formally religious, and utterly clueless about who God really is and also clueless about his own status before the God whom he failed to recognize. John tells us that Nicodemus was a Pharisee. That meant that he was a member of a group of men who tried diligently to keep the law of Moses as completely as possible. He was also a member of the Sanhedrin – the ruling council of elders who governed the religious affairs of Israel. He had heard of the miracles and signs that Jesus performed and of his authoritative teaching about God.

So, rather than dismissing Jesus out of hand as most of his fellow elders had, he seeks Jesus out – to have a friendly chat and find out more about who this fellow might be. Might he be a prophet? Someone like Isaiah for instance who genuinely spoke for God? Perhaps one like Elijah who also did many miracles by the power of God. Or – – perhaps, was he just a charlatan and a fraud as many in the council held. Never, Never in a million years did he suspect that night, that he had come into the presence of the creator of the Universe – God incarnate, God in Human flesh. Nicodemus begins courteously enough saying: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Note he said “if God were not with him” when the truth was that God was in fact mysteriously in Him – embodied right there before him. Nicodemus was asking where Jesus stood in relation to the Kingdom of God – Inside or outside” Little did he know that Jesus was the Kingdom of God.

Jesus begins to lead him that way when he tells him that. “No one can see the Kingdom unless they are “born again” – that is born spiritually. Nicodemus gives a very literal protest about being too old for a physical rebirth, then Jesus goes further than just seeing the Kingdom of God and speaks of entering it – by being born of Water and the Spirit. Water – which speaks not only of the amniotic fluids from which we were all born, but points to the spiritual things of Baptism and the cleansing from sin.

Nicodemus thought he was pretty clean already. Isaiah, however, realized to his terror that he was most certainly not. Not in relation to the holy presence of God that is. Even those Seraphim covered their faces and their feet as they cried “Holy, Holy Holy”. He knew viscerally of his sin – “Woe to me!” He cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty”, he said. So God provided a way for him – demonstrated by the burning coal from the heavenly altar that was brought to his lips. He was thus cleansed by God and his immediate response was to respond to the call of God, saying “ Here am I, send me!”

Nicodemus was a harder case. When confronted by his lack, he simply argued “How can this be?” Jesus then lays out who he is – simply for this teacher who did not know.

In one of the most treasured of all passages in the Bible, Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God: (John 3:12-17 NIV) [12] I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? [13] No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. [14] Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, [15] that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” [16] For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

So… what happened? Did Nicodemus understand? Did he get it? Did he fall down on his knees and proclaim as did Thomas on the first Easter morning “My Lord and my God”? We don’t know, but probably not. More likely, he went home, puzzled – deeply shaken, but still stubborn. But the Third person of the Trinity was at work – speaking to his heart, so that, later, when the Sanhedrin was plotting Jesus downfall, it was Nicodemus who spoke up saying (John 7:51 NIV) “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” You see, Nicodemus had already done that and the truth was gnawing at him. Later, it was Nicodemus and another believer of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea that asked Pilate for Jesus’ body from the cross. None of his own disciples dared to do that.

The Spirit is like that, showing up in the strangest places, working the will of God behind the scenes, changing hearts, teaching truth, warning from sin. Jesus had tried to clue Nicodemus early when he said (John 3:6-8 NIV)[6] Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. [7] You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ [8] The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit – Blessed Trinity. Its not an explanation, it an observation, a way of describing an indescribable God. The God who thunders in creations majesty as we heard in the Psalm and saw with Isaiah today. The God who took human form, who taught, who blessed and healed, who fed and forgave, who died and rose again – for us, and for our salvation. The one who taught us of the Father’s great love for us through his life of obedient, loving service. THe God who dwells in the heart of every on who confesses the Son as Lord and Savior. The God who guides and nurtures and teaches – all behind the scenes in a still, quiet voice. THe one who opens and points the way. That is the God we adore. That is the God to whom we Ascribe glory and strength, as the psalmist sings: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.”

That is who God is. The one who fills the universe. The one who meets us in our humanity, the one who abides with us and in us. Who are we? We are those forgiven – cleansed and called. Those who, sooner or later, can only cry out in gratitude and praise – Here am I, send me – send ME!