Sunday, June 7, 2008

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

Yea, Jehovah sitteth as King for ever.

There are a few things about Christian faith that makes it hard for people to grasp or believe. Why did Jesus have to die? Why would a loving God allow evil? Why are there so many different types of Christians? Why are Christians such hypocrites? This message isn’t about answering those particular questions, but we recognize that there are certainly things that make non-believers reject or ignore the message of Jesus.

One of the most difficult doctrines—so hard that many people who claim to be Christian reject it—is the Trinity. 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 can not 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.

It is good to question our faith. Our connection with our God grows stronger as we seek and study and learn about Him, but in the end 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. But this message isn’t about those who reject God. God is God whether anyone believes in Him or not.

We are halfway through the Church year. So far we have seen the coming of the Messiah and looked forward to His return. We’ve seen the Light that shines for the entire world. We’ve been reminded of our frailty, humbled by our inability to be perfect. We’ve learned that we need a Savior and we’ve seen Him in action. We’ve walked with through the triumph and the fall. We’ve seen him betrayed and denied, abused and beaten, and hung on a cross. We have rejoiced with the disciples as they learned that Jesus did not stay dead, but was raised to new life for our sake. We’ve read the unbelievable stories of those first followers who were shocked and amazed at what happened, never quite understanding. But we also saw as Jesus patiently opened the scriptures so that they might be prepared for the work He was calling them to do. Last week we experienced the power of God with them as they were given the Holy Spirit to continue God’s work in this world. Now we stand on the edge of that work, and though we are not blind, we are never fully prepared for the task ahead of us. How can we do what it is God has called us to do? How can we continue the work that Christ began? After all, we are merely human.

The point of this week’s message is that we are merely human, but we are heirs to a kingdom ruled by the King. We don’t need any special abilities, for it is God’s 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 mother’s 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. We see that 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. He is worthy of our awe because He can reduce us to nothing. Yet, we stand in awe—not out of fear, but because we have been given a vision of His glory—we can glorify God with our praise and thanksgiving.

And we can glorify God by answering His call to go into the world to continue His work with our hands.

Imagine the scene: Isaiah finds himself standing in the presence of the Holy One. This must have been a frightening experience. Isaiah believed that no human could stand in the presence of God, and he was a man of unclean lips. He belonged to a people of unclean lips. The sin of God’s people was not limited to the words they spoke, but the words of our mouths indicate 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 he wasn’t doomed. God took care of the concern: the angel burnt off the source of Isaiah’s fear; He cleansed Isaiah’s mouth. God could have ordered Isaiah to do anything, anything at all, and Isaiah would have obeyed.

But God did not command Isaiah to do anything. He simply asked as if talking to anyone but Isaiah, “Who can I send?” 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 a lowly, sinful, human being. Yet, 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. “Who can I send?” Isaiah answers, “Here I am, send me.”

He gave Isaiah a choice. He brought Isaiah into His presence, cleansed him and then presented him an opportunity. It was not to be an opportunity for success. As a matter of fact, the message that he was to take to the people of Judah would be rejected by most people. The same is true of us. The message we take into the world will be rejected and we will be rejected along with Jesus because of it. It is foolishness, especially when we describe our God in terms that are impossible to understand. The Trinity is confusing to the most gifted theologians.

Nicodemus was not an idiot. As a matter of fact, he was a teacher and a leader in the community. He was trained and respected for his knowledge of the Law. Jesus was not being insulting when He said, “Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things?” He was probably frustrated knowing that even those who should understand could not grasp what he was saying.

We don’t know how Nicodemus came to hear the message Jesus was sharing. He may have been lingering on the edges of the crowd, listening along with the rest, although this possibility is questionable. He obviously was concerned about being seen with Jesus because he came at night. He was part of the leadership that was considering what needed to be done about Jesus. According to John, Jesus had just cleared the temple and He was amazing the crowds with miracles. The people were beginning to believe in Him. He had also 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 an interest in what Jesus was doing.

But Nicodemus heard something and 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. Something he heard made him think. He wanted to study and learn and understand. Even face to face, the words Jesus was speaking didn’t make sense. But Nicodemus took what he heard, that which made him seek out Jesus and that which Jesus told him directly, and 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 we do know that he became more open with his support of Jesus.

There are many people who try to tell us what the Bible says and how we should live according to God’s Word. We live in community and God has given us teachers to help us understand. But Nicodemus was a teacher and he needed to continue to learn. He didn’t know what to believe, so he sought knowledge and pondered what he heard. We have an advantage. We live after the crucifixion and resurrection, after Pentecost when God sent His Spirit to His people. 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.

Isaiah was not called to a life of prosperity and success. His first commission was going to end in failure. But failure might just be what God intends because it is part of a greater scheme. Prosperity and success does not guarantee justice. Sometimes God’s justice is found in suffering and pain. It was certainly found on the cross. Yet that is the opposite of what we expect or desire. How can an innocent man’s death bring justice? Because Christ paid the debt we would never be able to pay. He bridged the gap between the impure creatures and the Holy Creator. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Is this justice? Yes. It is in God’s eyes.

Jesus never said life walking with Him would be easy. We’re sent to share a message people don’t want to hear. It is ridiculous, even foolish. Human beings do not want 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 the Gospel message. That’s what makes it hard. We don’t like to be rejected. We want all to believe. We want to do the work God has sent us to do and when we fail we feel like we’ve failed God.

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. The justice of the cross brings us into a community—a community that is founded in a community: the Trinity. In Christ we approach the throne and though God can rattle all creation, we do not need to fear. Jesus has made us children of the Father, heirs with Him in the Kingdom of God. 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 are still confused by doctrines that make no human sense like the Trinity. But God is God.

So when confronted by something like 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? The Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost so that we can say “I believe,” and live according to the will and purpose of God, living 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.

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