Sunday, June 3, 2012

Holy Trinity
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I; send me.

Zack has a wonderful job this summer working at camp, but his luck was not so great last year. He applied to many jobs, at fast food places and retail establishments. He even applied to the local tourist site that should have needed every able bodied young man they could get. Unfortunately, his summer schedule was full of some other events, including a trip to his college for orientation and a golf tournament. He wanted so much time off and the employers could hire people who would be available whenever needed, so they gave the jobs to the others applicants. It was very hard to be rejected over and over again; it is very easy to take it personally when employer after employer says ďNo.Ē

We wonder, ďWhatís wrong with me?Ē when we get rejected. We wonder what we could do differently. It is good to ask prospective employers the reason for the rejection so that you can be prepared for the next interview, but in todayís market it is as likely that there was just someone who was better suited for the position, and it may have nothing to do with qualifications. The guy with a car is more likely to get hired than the one who has to take a bus. The applicant who lives a block away is more likely to get to work on time than the one who lives a few miles away. These might seem like foolish reasons to choose one person over another, but employers are considering every aspect of the job when hiring. There is probably nothing wrong with the one rejected, it is just the other is a better choice for the position.

I know the feeling; Iíve been rejected, too. I once sent an article to a number of publications and received the standard rejection letter. Usually the letter states that the editor is thankful for the submission but the magazine does not need any articles on that subject at the moment. It usually goes on to invite the writer to submit something else at a later time, pointing the writer to a set of guidelines and a calendar of themes. No matter how polite and encouraging they are in that letter, however, I still took the rejection personally.

I remember when I was doing a lot of online ministry, in chat rooms and through mailing list discussions, many people took every disagreement as a personal rejection. If you didnít agree with their point of view, then you were rejecting them. This attitude does not leave a lot of room for learning or growing. It also led to a lot of hurt feelings.

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. Jesusí 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.

We do not know why Nicodemus happened to visit Jesus that night. It was late, and perhaps he did not want to be seen by the other Pharisees. It is also possible that Nicodemus was simply trying to find Jesus alone because he wanted to learn without interruption. Can you imagine this conversation in a crowded room? How many people would hear Jesusí words and take it personally? How many would think that Jesus is telling them that they are going to hell? Thatís what happens in those chat rooms and online discussion groups. Disagreement taken personally always leads to someone thinking the other is condemning them to hell.

Nicodemus was willing to listen and learn. Instead of being upset by the statement of Jesus, he asked how it would happen. It is difficult for us to know the tone of voice, or the intent of Nicodemusí question. Was he confused by the idea of a second birth, or was he being sarcastic? His answer, ďHow can a man be born from his mother's womb a second time?Ē It sounds mocking and yet in Nicodemus we see a glimmer of faith. Later in John, Nicodemus stands up for Jesus at His trial, and he attends to the body with Joseph of Arimathea. These are not the actions of a man who has rejected Jesus. Yet, we do not know if Nicodemus ever experienced that second birth. We donít see him at all after the burial. 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.

Isnít 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? Most of us would rather not wear our faith on our sleeve, not because we are afraid, but because we donít want to be intrusive. We donít want to appear as though we are rejecting someone because their faith is different than ours, so we quietly serve Christ.

How is the silent Christian any different than the secular volunteers in your neighborhood? Is your service any different than 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 donít have to be born of the Spirit to be kind and generous. But our kindness and generosity is self-serving if we donít do it in a way that glorifies God. We might end up with nice certificates or even plaques, but if Godís name isnít praised, then our work is useless. We hear all too often, ďShe was a good person; she is surely going to heaven.Ē There is no way for me to know, except that I know it isnít goodness or service that gets us into Godís 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 canít be born again from our motherís 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. Thatís why we live in faith.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for Isaiah? He had this incredible vision of God, who was sitting on a throne and surrounded by strange looking beings. The hem of the Lordís robe filled the temple. Isaiah was frightened, certain that witnessing the Lord meant certain death. There, in the presence of God, Isaiah knew that he and the entire world were unworthy to stand before God. ďWoe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts.Ē He felt totally inadequate, but God had a purpose for his life.

Perhaps this is the way Nicodemus felt when he approached Jesus at night. Perhaps he thought that there was no way he could serve God as he saw the disciples serving Jesus. Perhaps this is the way many people feel about their witness for Christ in the world. They feel unworthy to speak, thinking that their lips are unclean and not good enough to speak the Word into the world. It is much easier to do something good for our neighbor than to tell that neighbor that God loves and forgives them. God answered Isaiahís fears with a coal that singed his lips and took away his sin. For Nicodemus and us, the burning coal is the Holy Spirit who gives us new life. We know not by sight but by faith that we have been forgiven and transformed for His service. We have been joined with Christ, in His death and suffering, and thus in His glory.

Like Isaiah, we hear the question, ďWhom shall I send, and who will go for us?Ē God does not force us to be His voice in the world, but He invites us to do so. He does not make us puppets, but gives us the opportunity to serve Him. Isaiah could have said, ďIím out of here.Ē But he didnít. He responded to the invitation by God to go forth into the world to prophesy to the people. It was not an easy task. He was not going to be successful as we define success. As a matter of fact, if you continue reading on in Isaiah chapter six, youíll see that God expected failure. The message that he was to take to the people of Judah would be rejected by most people. God said, ďMake the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed.Ē

We tend to serve quietly because we do not want to be rejected. We donít want to be mocked for our faith, but we know that our faith demands that we serve God. So we do good deeds without speaking Godís word to our neighbors, hoping that God will make it clear to them that we do what we do in His name. Weíd rather not suffer; we are afraid. Paul reminds us, however, 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. Weíre sent to share a message people donít want to hear. It is ridiculous, even foolish. Take, for instance, the concept we consider on this special Sunday: the Holy Trinity. One in three, three in one. Is that one God or three Gods? Whatís the difference between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? How can they be the same and different? How can they be one and yet three? How can they be three and yet one?

The Trinity is one of the most difficult doctrines; it is so hard that many people who claim to be Christian reject it. On Sunday we celebrate the Holy Trinity. Three in one, one in three is beyond our ability to comprehend. 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 canít reduce the Trinity to simple human terms. If we could, God wouldnít be God.

Human beings do not want to be confused or have their world turned upside down, and thatís 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 Godís Word and those who take it to the world. Thatís what makes it hard. We donít like to be rejected.

But thatís why we live by faith. In Christ we are made heirs, children of God. We are brought before the throne and welcomed into His presence. We have a new relationship with God in Christ Jesus. This is possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. We might be rejected by the worldówe will be rejected by the worldóbut it doesnít matter because we are embraced by God and made part of His Kingdom.

In Christ we can approach the throne and though God can rattle all creation, we do not need to fear. We are still awed in His presence, for the Father deserves our trembling worship. He is still the Creator and ruler over all the earth. We may be confused by doctrines that make no human sense like the Trinity. But God is God.

We are merely human, but despite our imperfection God invites us into His presence and makes us part of His kingdom. We are merely human, but we are heirs to a kingdom ruled by the King. We donít need any special abilities, for it is Godís grace and His power that brings His promises to fulfillment. It is His Word that brings life and hope. The transformation of the world is not the task for mere humans. It can only be accomplished by God. So, this message is about the God who can do the miraculous, who can bring life to the dead and who can cause people to be reborn after they have been born from their motherís wombs.

The psalmist describes 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.

And we glorify God by answering His call to go into the world to share the Gospel message with those who are still hiding in the darkness, speaking the name of Jesus to all the world. We will be rejected. We will suffer. But we canít take it personally. They arenít rejecting us; they have hardened hearts. They have heavy ears and eyes that are closed. They canít see, hear or believe. They are rejecting God. But despite the possibility of rejection and suffering, we are joined with Christ in the bad and the good, so we can know that we will be joined with Him in His glory.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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