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Our Lord is so good, He grants us many blessings. We can see Him in the daily course of events, in our homes, our jobs, our lives. I pray that these words help you to grow in your faith and recognize His hand in even the most mundane circumstances.

The picture to the right is of a Celtic Chapel located in Cornwall England. This building is approximately 1700 years old, and contains a holy well known for its healing powers.

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A WORD FOR TODAY, May 22, 2024

Lectionary Scriptures for May 26, 2024, Holy Trinity Sunday: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; John 3:1-17

“I heard the Lord’s voice, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, “Here I am. Send me!’” Isaiah 5:6, WEB

Nicodemus asked, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and don’t understand these things?” I cringe when Jesus asks this question of Nicodemus. I teach the Bible to a group of adults at my church. I’ve taught workshops and classes, preached, and written Bible studies. I have been posting this devotional for nearly twenty-five years. After a lifetime of study, I should know and understand everything, right? Some of my friends think I do. However, there are times when I ask Jesus, “How can these things be?”

This is particularly true about the Trinity. I get it, really, I do. God is three in one and one in three. He is the Godhead, three persons or essences of the same One. He is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are dozens of possible analogies that get bandied about at this time of year trying to explain to our limited human minds this incredible and impossible concept. I read through the Athanasian Creed and try to grasp the seriousness of this doctrine, but I can’t come up with the words that will silence the critics and nonbelievers. How do you teach something that is completely beyond our grasp so that others will receive it with faith?

“How can this be?” “Are you a teacher and yet do not understand?”

No, Jesus, I don’t understand. Not fully. So much about what is happening in the world around me does not make sense.

We don’t know how Nicodemus heard about Jesus. He may have been lingering on the edges of the crowd, listening along with the rest. He may have been told stories by people in his household or overheard conversations in the market. Nicodemus was a teacher of the Jews; he knew what it meant to be faithful according to God’s Word, and Jesus’ teaching did not line up with His knowledge. He may have wanted better information so he could make a righteous decision about “the Jesus problem.” He must have had a glimmer of faith, but what he heard was confusing, it didn’t fit into his “box.”

According to John, Jesus had just cleared the temple and He was amazing the crowds with miracles, they were just beginning to believe in Him. He offended the leadership with talk of destroying and rebuilding the Temple of God; they didn’t realize He was talking about His body. They laughed at the thought of Jesus rebuilding a building that took their forefathers forty-six years to build. Jesus was quickly making enemies, and Nicodemus wasn’t sure what might happen to him if he showed interest in what Jesus was doing, but he wanted to know more.

Whether he heard the words from Jesus, or he had just heard the stories that were being told about him, Nicodemus needed to clear up the confusion in his mind. He went to Jesus because something he heard made him think. It made him want to study and learn and understand, but interest in Jesus was risky, so he went at night. Nicodemus sought out Jesus, and though the conversation didn’t make anything clearer, he continued to ponder. Nicodemus later argued for fair treatment for Jesus (John 7:50) and helped Joseph of Arimathea with the burial of Jesus’ body. We don’t know if he ever really understood, but he eventually became more open with his support of Jesus.

We are just days away from the last day of school. The children are anxious for the freedom of summer, but there is still work to do. Many teachers offer some sort of extra credit work, especially for those students who have struggled. Extra credit work is never required but all students are encouraged to participate. Many choose not to do the work. They feel it is a waste of time. They think their grades are good enough or that it won’t really make a difference. Why go to all that trouble? Extra credit work can have other purposes, though. It helps develop new discipline that can be useful in the future. Even a point can be the difference between passing and failing. Best of all, they might just learn something.

Those of us who are older and “wiser” know that it is good to take advantage of every opportunity to be better, so we force our children to do it, insisting that it isn’t “extra.” However, there comes a time when we need to let go. They need to decide on their own and suffer the consequences if they make a wrong choice. We don’t like to let go, but how will they ever learn if we don’t? Opportunity and independence mean that they might fail, but they might succeed. It is through failure and success that they learn.

God never forces us to do anything for His kingdom. He has freely given His grace and we have been transformed into the people of God. He calls us to respond in faith to the work He has begun with Jesus Christ, giving us the gifts and resources necessary to do so. But He doesn’t force us to respond.

Isaiah had a frightening vision: he was standing in the presence of the Holy One, Yahweh of Armies. Based on his religious understanding, Isaiah believed that no human could stand in the presence of God. He said he was a man of unclean lips, which mean he had a deep sense of his sinfulness. He said belonged to a people of unclean lips, acknowledging the sinfulness of God’s people. The mouth represented the sinful thoughts, words, and deeds of God’s people. Our mouths reveal the state of our hearts. Isaiah knew that he was a sinner and that the people of God were not worthy of anything He might give. He knew that he was doomed; but God comforted Isaiah by taking away the source of his fear when the angel burnt his mouth. Isaiah agreed to obey because he was grateful because he was cleansed and forgiven.

God did not make any demands; He simply asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah could have looked at his feet, hoed and hummed, and kept his now pain-filled lips shut. He could have walked away. But the mercy of God is overwhelming, and we are drawn into His heart. It is amazing that God would seek the help of lowly, sinful, human beings, but He does. He calls us to be actively involved in His work. He sends us into the world. He charges us with the task of telling the lost and dying about the grace of God. “Whom can I send?” Isaiah answered, “Here I am, send me!”

Will there be consequences if we ignore the call? We won’t be sent to the flaming gates of hell because we do not volunteer. We are tempted to say “No,” because we think it won’t make a difference. Can one day at a foodbank end hunger? Can one glass of water quench all thirst? We are simple people with unclean lips. How could my efforts bring any change to the world? We say “Yes” when we recognize that it is not our effort that brings reconciliation and transformation; God is Lord and when He calls, we can answer with the assurance that His work through our lives will always make a difference.

One of our biggest difficulties is that we just don’t think we are right for the job. The thing is: it is never about us, but always about God. He does the work. He provides the gifts. He grants the opportunities. He has blessed us to be a blessing. The things He has called us to do is like that extra credit work, and though there are no negative circumstances, we lose out on the benefits of serving God, especially the joy of glorifying God with our lives. If we think we are not good enough, we are right, however God makes us good.

Yahweh of the Armies, the Lord God Almighty, said to Isaiah, “Yes, you have unclean lips, but I can make you clean,” and then invited Isaiah into His work in the world. He does the same for us. Are we willing, like Isaiah, to answer, “Here I am, send me”? There is work to do in this world, and though our eternity in heaven is not dependent on our going where God sends us, we have been given an incredible gift that demands a response. Are you ready to go where He leads? It is hard to go when we do not understand.

There are many people who try to tell us what the Bible says and how we should live according to God’s Word. They insist that they have the answers to our problems and believe that we can fix it if we do what they say. We live in community and God has given us teachers to help us understand, but we need to remember that even the teachers can be confused. Nicodemus was a teacher, but he needed to learn more. I am uncomfortable when people say that I know everything because I really do not. I need to learn more. even after sixty years of life (most of those as a Christian), I don’t always know what to believe. That’s why, like Nicodemus, I seek knowledge and ponder what I’ve heard. We have an advantage because we live after Pentecost. Now when we hear things, we have the Spirit, along with the Church and the written Word, to help us see what is true and what is not. We can’t do it on our own. We need God’s help to understand.

There is little about Christianity that is more confusing than the Holy Trinity. What does it mean that He is three in one and one in three? What does it mean that there is a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet there is only one God? We can come up with dozens of different analogies to help us explain the doctrine, but those analogies always come up short. Something limits the validity of those human explanations of a divine reality. Take, for example, the analogy of water. Yes, water can be liquid, gas or solid when it is warm, hot, or frozen, but it cannot be liquid, gas and solid at the same time. It is alright that we can’t reduce the Trinity to simple human terms. If we could, God wouldn’t be God.

While knowledge is not a bad thing, and our connection with our God grows stronger as we seek and study and learn about Him, there are some things that must be accepted by faith. Unfortunately, too many are willing to reject Christ because they can’t accept doctrines like the Trinity which they find foolish and beyond proof. So, when confronted by doubts of concepts like that of the Trinity, how do we respond? Do we stand before God like Isaiah and raise our hands when He asks who will go? Do we sneak around at night hoping to find answers first? We have been given the power of the Holy Spirit, and only by His grace can we say “I believe,” living according to the spirit in faith and trust and hope no matter what circumstances we face. By His grace we can know that God is God even when we can’t fully understand what that means.

God is greater than our human brains can ever fully understand. It is ok that there are mysteries about God that we have to take on faith. After all, what is the point of worshipping something, or someone, that is less than or equal to ourselves? We were made in the image of God, but too many people want a god who is made in our image. Too many want to fix the world with human ideas and actions but forget that only God can make things right in the end. The Trinity reminds us to be humble enough to accept that we are limited in ways that God is never limited.

Nicodemus wanted answers. Thankfully most of those who come to me as a teacher bring me questions about which I can usually find answers. However, there are definitely things that I don’t completely understand. I struggle with some of parables and stories of sacrifice and war. Why are there so many curses in the Psalms? Did the miraculous things that happened in the Old and New Testament really happen? If God can stop the sun, then why can’t He cure my friend’s cancer? I don’t understand why the God who could send manna from heaven to feed a million people could only use the cross to make things right. Why couldn’t He choose another way. “Why did God...?” is a question I don’t think I’ll ever be able to answer with certainty. And perhaps I shouldn’t even try. I can’t possibly know the mind of God or His motivation, but I can trust that He knows what is good and right and true.

The hard part of doing God’s work in the world is that there will always be people asking the hard questions. They don’t understand and they want answers. When confronted by those questions, how do we respond? Do we sneak around at night hoping to find answers? Or do we volunteer to go wherever God is sending us? We can truly do this work because we have the Holy Spirit to help us. That same Spirit will put faith into the hearts of those who hear and receive His grace. We don’t have to have all the answers; we are called to simply go wherever God sends us and do whatever He is calling us to do. He does this with a promise: “I will be there with you.” Isn’t it amazing that the most beloved of scriptures (John 3:16) would come in the midst of such a confusing text? Nicodemus wanted to understand. He knew there was something about Jesus worth pursuing, and though he was frightened he sought answers. He did so at a time when the whole work of Jesus was not yet complete. He had not yet died or resurrected. He had not ascended to heaven or sent the Holy Spirit to help His disciples. He was just beginning to reveal Himself to the world and Nicodemus wanted to know more.

Jesus knew how to teach in a way that made people discover the truth. He guided the discussion with questions, asking the student to give input. Jesus’ lessons were difficult because they were so different than what was expected and known in that day, but He was willing to teach those willing to learn. I don’t think that we should fear this kind of conversation with our Lord, even if we are not confident in our answers because Jesus is looking for people of faith who seek the truth. We are always going to have questions; the things of God are too much for our limited human brains. The point of our life is not to find all the answers, or even to fully understand everything, but to believe, worship and pursue the God who loved us so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for us.

There will always be those who refuse to believe because they can’t understand. We will be rejected when we can’t explain the unexplainable. We wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” when we get rejected. We wonder what we could do differently. I know the feeling; I’ve been rejected, too. I once sent an article to a number of publications and received the standard rejection letter. Usually, the letter stated that the editor was thankful for the submission, but the magazine did not need any articles on that subject at the moment. It usually went on to invite me to submit something else at a later time, pointing me to a set of guidelines and a calendar of themes. No matter how polite and encouraging they were in those letters, I still took the rejection personally.

Too many discussions these days end up with disagreements that are taken too personally; people think that if you disagree with their point of view, then you are rejecting them. This does not leave any room for learning or growing. It also leads to heart feelings and broken relationships.

Nicodemus was willing to listen and learn. Instead of being upset by what Jesus said, Nicodemus asked how it would happen. It is difficult for us to know the tone of voice, or the intent of Nicodemus’ question. Was he confused by the idea of a second birth, or was he being sarcastic? His answer, “How can a man be born from his mother’s womb a second time?” It sounds mocking and yet in Nicodemus we see a glimmer of faith. Later in John, Nicodemus did things to help Jesus, actions of a man who had not rejected Him. Yet, we do not know if Nicodemus ever experienced that second birth. We don’t see him at all after the burial. He is counted among the saints, and there are those who say that he was martyred, possibly by the leaders who disagreed with him about giving Jesus a fair trial. Other than that, we know nothing.

Isn’t that how it is for most of us? Do your coworkers or neighbors know you are a Christian? Can they tell by your daily actions that you follow Jesus? Or do you follow Him at night, worship Him only Sunday morning, serve Him physically but not verbally? Are you afraid that someone will ask you questions you can’t answer because you don’t understand? We confess, like Isaiah, that our lips are unclean.

The silent Christian is no different than the secular volunteers in your neighborhood. Are your good works better than that of the guy who works for the lodge down the street or for the volunteer fire company? Does the world know that the reason you are sharing your resources, time and talent is because you love the Lord your God? You don’t have to be born of the Spirit to be kind and generous. But our kindness and generosity is self-serving if we don’t do it in a way that glorifies God. We might end up with nice certificates or even plaques, but if God’s name isn’t praised, then our work is useless. We hear all too often, “She was a good person; she is surely going to heaven.” There is no way for me to know, except that I know it isn’t goodness or service that gets us into God’s kingdom; faith in Christ is the only path to that kingdom.

This is a hard lesson; it is no wonder that Nicodemus was confused. It sounds impossible. We can’t be born again from our mother’s womb, but the idea of a spiritual rebirth is not tangible. How do we know? How can we be assured that God has changed us? How can we know that we have been born from above? Perhaps there is no way to know for certain; there is no proof in flesh and blood. That’s why we live in faith. We who have been given the power of the Holy Spirit can say “I believe” and live in faith and trust and hope no matter what circumstances we face, knowing that God is God even when we can’t fully understand what that means.

Human beings do not want to be confused or have their world turned upside down, and that’s exactly what the Gospel does. Our analogies that describe God in human terms can be easily dismissed because there are holes in the logic. And the other questions that are asked, about evil and suffering and hypocrisy, give plenty of reason to reject God’s Word and those who take it to the world. That’s what makes it hard. We don’t like to be rejected; we don’t want to be mocked for our faith. Concepts like the Holy Trinity or being born again don’t make it easy for us. We’d rather not suffer; we are afraid. Paul reminds us that when we join with Christ, we join Him in everything: His suffering and His glory. We need not be afraid, for God will use whatever we do in His name for His glory. Jesus never said life walking with Him would be easy. We’re sent to share a message people don’t want to hear. The Holy Trinity? It is ridiculous, even foolish, to those who do not believe. Yet, the God we worship is so much more than we can understand or even imagine.

The psalmist described God as powerful, majestic, strong, full of might. His voice breaks the cedars and makes the heart of the nations skip a beat. The voice of the Lord strikes like flashes of lightning and rattles the world. The Lord sits enthroned over history and over the future. He is King over everything past, present, and future. This same Lord has the power to bring down giants, to end nations, to turn the universe to dust. Yet, what does this Lord do? He gives strength to His people and blesses His people with peace. He can rattle all creation, but with that same voice He gives us the best news we can hear: we are loved.

The message for this Holy Trinity Sunday is that it is ok to believe in the mystery of God even though we will never fully understand it. We don’t have to explain it. We don’t have to have answers to all those unanswerable questions. We don't have to worry about Jesus asking us the question, “Are you a teacher and yet do not understand?” because we have faith that Jesus will do what He has promised to do even if we can’t wrap our brains around it all. Our quest for answers might lead us to creating a god that is lesser and within our reach than the God whose voice both thunders and blesses.

“How can these things be?” We might never really know, but that’s ok. God is greater than we can imagine, thank goodness. For a God that we can imagine could never accomplish the work that the Trinity has accomplished in time, in space, and in the hearts of all those who believe. We are not called to understand, but to believe and to take our faith into the world for the sake of those who need to hear the words of Jesus. God so loved the whole world that He sent His own Son to save it. This simple but powerful message is given to us to share not just in deeds but in the words that will save our neighbors so that they, too, will join us in singing God's praise for eternity.

If you would like to contact me, please use the following address, replacing the bracketed words with the symbol. Thank you for your continued interest, prayers and messages of encouragement.

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A WORD FOR TODAY, May 21, 2024

“Wisdom has built her house. She has carved out her seven pillars. She has prepared her meat. She has mixed her wine. She has also set her table. She has sent out her maidens. She cries from the highest places of the city: ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ As for him who is void of understanding, she says to him, ‘Come, eat some of my bread, Drink some of the wine which I have mixed! Leave your simple ways, and live. Walk in the way of understanding.’” Proverbs 9:1-6, WEB

Many Christians shy away from the words mystic or mystical. These words tend to give us an impression of some sort of new age practice or are identified with actions that many consider pagan. There are certainly many mystics that present faith from a perspective that is non-Christian at best, and some are anti-Christian. However, this does not mean we should throw away the word or practice as Christians. Faith in Christ does have a mystical facet.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the word “mystical” means, “having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence” or “involving or having the nature of an individual’s direct subjective communion with God or ultimate reality.” Interestingly, the example they give is “the mystical food of the sacrament.” The sacrament for Christians is, of course, the Eucharist: the Lord’s Supper, our thanksgiving meal. Another definition given for “mystical” is “mysterious” or “unintelligible.” While we can offer intelligible definitions of Communion, there will always be a mysterious or mystical aspect to the sacrament.

St. Bernard was a Cistercian monk around 1200 A.D. He was sent by the abbot of the monastery of Citeaux to found a new monastery in Clairvaux and he served as abbot there. He was known for his deeply spiritual life and for his devotional writings that are still read to this day. He was a Christian mystic, and he knew the value of believing the things of Christ that are both mysterious and unintelligible.

Bernard was a man of power and authority; he even settled a dispute in the church by choosing between rival popes. He convinced the secular governments to support his choice. He fought against heresy, most particularly known for his refutation against the heretics of Languedoc that were drawing many away from orthodox faith. In another case, Bernard was critical of Peter Abelard who preached modalism, which is an incomplete understanding of the trinity as understood by orthodox faith. Bernard's criticism of Peter was that his approach to faith was too rational and did not provide enough room for mystery.

I think there are times in our modern age when we are much too rational about our faith, ignoring or rejecting the mystical or mysterious aspects of God. This makes the scriptures that point toward the concept of the Trinity particularly difficult for us to accept. The cannibalistic image of eating Christ’s body and blood does not fit into our image of God. The idea of wisdom being something which the simple and foolish possess rather than the intellectual and powerful is beyond our comprehension.

The scriptures do not discount our brains; we are to seek God with our whole beings. Yet, this week we are reminded that there is a mystical, mysterious aspect of faith. This is not something we should ignore or reject because there are simply some aspects of our Christianity that are beyond our human understanding. That’s ok because God is far greater than we will ever be. Yet, in and through faith we see that understanding God is not only rational or logical; we need to believe in Christ even if we don’t always know what that means. Faith means embracing both the natural and supernatural truths found in the scriptures. As we believe both the mystical and earthly aspects of Christianity, we will experience the life that Trinity has worked for us now and for eternity.

The following links provide some specially chosen scripture that tell the stories of the Birth and Passion of our Lord as Saviour Jesus Christ, as well as a fictional perspective of the Crucifixion. Spend time in God's Word, read about His life and learn of the wonderful gifts He has for you. Know Jesus Christ and honour Him today. Thanks be to God.

The Birth of our Saviour

The Story of our Saviour's Passion

The Crucifixion, a fictional perspective

When researching, I use several versions of the bible, including the New International Version and English Standard Version. Due to copyright restrictions, I have not included quotes for the scriptures on some of the archives, but highly encourage you to open your own bibles to read the scripture passages for yourselves. Where scripture is quoted, it is usually the American Standard Version or World English Bible which belong to the public domain. Any other versions used in quotes are identified.

The devotion posted on Wednesday is based on the Lectionary texts used by millions of Christians each Sunday. The Lectionary consists of four texts: an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, a passage from one of the Epistles and a Gospel text and follows the church calendar. Archives for these writings are found at Midweek Oasis.

You are welcome to use these words to share the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. Please remember to give credit to the Author who has given you these gifts, and keep in remembrance the vessel which He used to bring them to you. We pray that this site may be a blessing to you and anyone with whom you've shared it. Peggy Hoppes