Sermon preached at St. Stephen's Church on Trinity Sunday: Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17
If you were looking for some neat explanation of the Trinity in the readings we just heard, it wasn’t there. Truth to tell, it isn’t anywhere in Scripture plainly, just hints and glimpses.
The hints and glimpses this morning are lively enough, however, to build a dynamic image. “Dynamic” is an important word here. When Christians think or speak about the Trinity it often seems like they are talking about an idea and a reality that is frozen: the unchangeable God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In reality, however, the very notion that God is internally relational is a dynamic image. To say that God is Trinity is to say that God is alive, dynamic. I want to describe this dynamic God this morning and speak about how we are called to mirror it in living out our call as a community of faith.
I find three images from the readings this morning that are helpful in describing this dynamic Trinity: The live coal, the suffering heir and the blowing wind.
The prophet Isaiah has an awesome vision of God—would that we all would be gifted with such a vision. It is of God’s pure majesty. His reaction is to feel his own incompleteness, how little he measures up, how sinful he is. God reacts by sending a seraph with a live coal to touch Isaiah’s lips and make him clean. God then asks “Whom shall I send?” and Isaiah eagerly says, “Here am I; send me!”
God is like the live coal, able to burn through whatever separates us from God, able to make us clean, make us worthy, make us holy in spite of ourselves. And this live coal also causes a fire within us, a fire for service, a desire to be sent to do God’s work. The one’s who have the fire of God in them are the ones with the burned lips.
Paul speaks about our adoption as children of God in wonderful words: “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption.” We are God’s children, one with Christ, joint heirs with him, he says. But these are suffering heirs. As children of God we are called to lay our lives on the line just like Jesus did. “No one has greater love than this,” Jesus said, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) The suffering heir God is the God who puts himself out there for us, takes the risk when the risk is called for, makes the sacrifice when the sacrifice is called for. And we, of course, are called to follow this God.
God is like the live coal. God is like the suffering heir. And God is like the blowing wind.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus, drawn to him, but at the same time cautious, symbolized by the fact that he comes under the cover of darkness. He is seeking. He wants to know more, see what this teacher has to say face to face.
What Jesus has to say to him may seem like a giant riddle, and Nicodemus does seem flummoxed by it. What is he getting at? But it is all quite simple.
Nicodemus you have to change. You have to offer your life to God. This is such a radical move that it is like being born all over again. And it is a risky move as well, because this God blows like the wind, wherever it wills. Sometimes you don’t know where it’s coming from, and you hardly ever know where it’s going; all you can do is go with the flow.
Live coal. Suffering heir. Blowing wind. If the images have anything in common it is they are all about being called and the risk of saying, “Here am I, send me!” Each one of these images calls us outside of ourselves, outside of our fears, outside of our comfort zones into the burning, sacrificial, uncontrollable will of God.
It’s enough to make you think twice about saying, “Yes.” But say it we do, every time we come to this Table as individuals and every time as a community we open the doors and let the stranger walk in. Every time we do these things we are saying yes to the burning, sacrificial, uncontrollable will of God.
This means that as a community of faith if we are doing our job, if we are following our call, being disciples, then we are pretty much constantly at risk, constantly being stretched, constantly being changed, constantly being formed and reformed into the dynamic image of God.
There can be nothing static about an individual believer or a body of believers, nothing unchangeable, no sacred cows. There can be only one constant, the pulse of the Eucharist at the heart of our life, the very life of Jesus who feeds us for this risky journey that we are constantly called to be on.
Your Vestry and the Two Saints Vestry met together last Thursday night and, after a lot of review of our relationship, decided to commit to another two years living in covenant with one another. I don’t suspect that is a very controversial move, it may seem much more like approving the status quo.
But it was clear as we were talking and the Holy Spirit was showing up in our conversation, that it is time for the relationship to go deeper, time for us to embrace more fully the original intent of the covenant—to strengthen and increase the ministry of the Episcopal Church on the west side of this city.
To do this we have to shed another layer of our natural parochialism and truly work together, trusting one another to dream together and “play in each other’s sand boxes.” Which is to say that it is time for more risk-taking.
It is risky, for instance, to talk about the prospect of doing more ministry when it seems like you are doing all you can. And yet, more is being thrust upon you with the influx of kids from the neighborhood who bring with them many needs, spiritual and otherwise.
The truth is that you cannot do it alone, so you must take the risk of inviting others in to do it with you. The problem is “others” have their own ideas and won’t always want to do things the “St. Stephen’s way.” Building these kinds of working relationships will change you.
It is always the truth, however, that we are in the position of Nicodemus. We are always in the place of allowing God to do a new thing in our life or not, a thing over which we do not have much control. That is the nature of the Christian life.
You, we, have to decide each and every day whether or not we are willing to trust God.
The bottom line as you go forward in this cooperative ministry covenant is that there is only so much that you can do alone, but there is so much we can do together.
The time is right. The presence of these children is laying before us a major opportunity for ministry in this neighborhood. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I believe it to be true. Let us join with the burning, sacrificial, uncontrollable will of God and seize the day together. God will provide for what God wants to be done.