Sermon for May 30th

Old Testament Readings Isaiah 6:1-8

Epistle Reading: Romans 8:12-17

Gospel Reading: John 3:1-17

Sermon: “Encountering Mystery”

How do you experience God?…

Is it a feeling of awe and wonder? Does it come when you experience great joy or beauty? Do you experience God in particular places or with particular people? Perhaps it may be here with these dear friends, Does God suddenly intrude and burst on the scene or speak in that peculiar still small voice, deep in your heart. Does the thought of God inspire love and joy or disquiet, fear and trembling for mistakes we have made or uncertainties we face in life? At times, does an encounter with the truth of God move you to tears and call up emotions you do not understand… If you are like me, at various times and situations, all of the above.

God seeks us out and makes his presence known. God reveals the divine self differently to each at various times, but only in part for we cannot yet bear the totality of God’s presence – we would be unmade if it were to happen. God is nearer to us than our breath and yet a mystery beyond knowing. So we worship and seek to fulfill the call of God on our lives – waiting for that time when as Paul says we will know as we are known:(1 Corinthians 13:12-13 NLT) Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever-faith, hope, and love-and the greatest of these is love. And of course, God is Love.

Well, its Trinity Sunday, 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. Yes indeed, it’s the Sunday that tempts 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.”

I was challenged and inspired by how Steve Garnaas-Holmes put it in his blog “Unfolding Light” this week:

The Holy Trinity, as someone has said,

is not two men and a bird.

It isn’t a doctrine, it’s a mystery:

not a puzzle to be solved

but a wonder to beheld.

The Trinity is an icon you gaze at

free of the distracting hubris of understanding,

an image of God’s shape-shiftiness,

God’s three-dimensionality

(the three dimensions being Here, There, and Everywhere),

God as This and the Opposite of This

and None of the Above.

The Trinity is

the sound of three hands clapping.

There are not three separate people: there is One.

There are not billions of things in the universe:

there is One.

The Trinity is an image of God as loving community

(God is crazy about themselves)—

the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love flowing between,

the Three-In-One in which you are the fourth member.

The Holy Trinity is the gate of heaven

which is always closed,

preventing you from trying to figure out a way in,

so instead you just give up and fall in love.

I mean, look at them. How could you not?

We are offered a contrast this morning between two men’s encounter with God – Isaiah and Nicodemus. The first was a man who was being called as a prophet through a vision of God in the Temple in Jerusalem. It was a awesome vision 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.”

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.

At least, 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 right there in front of him.

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”? 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 still, 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!