|Scripture Reference||Notes||Additional file||Play|
|Isaiah 6:1-8; John 3:1-17||
The Rev. Dr. Seth
Scholars tell us that when early Christians developed the doctrine of the trinity, they found inspiration in the imagery of Isaiah "Holy, Holy, Holy … who will go for us?" "In the year that King Uzziah died…" the text begins. A seemingly innocuous dating … except that was the beginning of chaos, confusion for the ancient Israelites that ultimately led to defeat, destruction and captivity in exile – the experience Isaiah expresses through later chapters. Maybe that is a large part of inspiration for the trinity. You see, friends, it seems to me the questions we humans ask amid our joys and struggles come back in the end to a few basics: Who is God? Who am I? And how does God relate with me and our world; what is our place in it all?
According to John, as a Pharisee, Nicodemus was a faithful, devout pillar of faith in his congregation. And even he was still trying to figure it all out. Even he still longed to experience God beyond all he could explain. He was looking for signs of love, of God's presence and power with us, in us, through us to bring life in our world. Just maybe in Nicodemus we find a pattern, a person not so unlike us. Hear what God's Spirit may say.
(Read John 3:1-17)
Isaiah stepped off the school bus with his younger sister Nicki. They walked up the driveway talking and smiling. It's Friday. Done for the week … and only one more to go in the fifth grade for him, and second grade for his sister.
Mom greeted them with hugs at the door. Shoes came off. Backpacks dropped to the floor. As ever, Isaiah wanted a snack! The swish of slicing apples mingled with happy chatter about grades, lessons, and projects to finish. And some sadness—one of Nicki's friends got hurt at recess; Isaiah was concerned about behavior on the bus. After a few minutes his eyes lit up again with memory of art class. Smart mom—knowing art helps express emotion—jumped up, found paints, brushes, paper, old shirts, and set to work with them. Nicki's knuckles dappled with orange, red and yellow as a setting sun arced over water. Isaiah's pinky and thumb smudged with green and brown as trees took shape, barren amidst a dark or stormy night. And mom? Well, her imitation of life tended toward their house and family at work and fun in the yard outside.
After dinner, on the way home from soccer practice, Isaiah caught mom's eyes in the mirror, and asked: "How do we find God?" Stunned, distracted, mom slammed on the brakes as she realized yellow was turning to red. She went to church every week as a child. They'd been to worship a few times, but not part of a normal family routine, so why did he ask? "I heard friends talking about God," Isaiah explained, "and I just wondered where to look."
Maybe what struck her most is that she'd wondered the same thing if she stopped to ponder or admit it. Funny how children speak for us, give us insight, if we have ears to hear! As she looked in the rearview mirror she glimpsed a reflection of her own life, her heart. Isaiah stirred a longing in her, like searching for something you just had, set down someplace, and now for the life of you haven't a clue where. As the light turned green, she turned off a radio news show. "What do you hope to find?" she asked the face of curious innocence. A sense of hope, courage, peace, love she heard herself answer while trying to focus on his words—a sense of … well, meaning really of the world and life and our responsibility, our pleasure, our purpose in it all. All the evil … all the grace … How can these things be? By the time she pulled in the drive she decided to look into church—one a friend had told her about.
They walked in the sanctuary about 10:25. "Holy, Holy, Holy," the organ sang as Isaiah's eyes raised to scan the arches, high ceiling, and stained glass. Stunned, a bit disoriented, mouth open as if gulping in awe and beauty… like art, like something he might paint if he tried to picture a home for God or angels. About fifteen minutes later, Isaiah and Nicki went off to Sunday School with dozens of other kids. The teacher welcomed them and told the story of Nicodemus: "We know you are a teacher, Jesus …" Well, I don't know much yet, thought Isaiah, but I'd like to … and just maybe you, my teacher are/have the presence of God. Then he joined in songs for next Sunday, when children would help lead worship singing. "Jesus loves me, this I know." He picked up the tune easily. He liked to sing. "For the Bible tells me so. … I am weak but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me!"
Down in the sanctuary, mom listened to the preacher talk about the Trinity. Through all ages people have tried to make sense of how God could be both transcendent – that is, beyond limits of mundane things in this world; and immanent – that is, fully present in and through everyday realities. Creator—as in Genesis when God sets the sun to hover over the waters. Savior—as we so often depict in a various images of the cross. Sustainer—as in the Bible so often God comes amid stormy and barren circumstances to leaf out new life in our relationships and responsibilities.
For mom the trinity was part of faith said so often, just accepted. But truth be told, she didn't quite get it. More than scientific explanation or metaphysical proposition, said the preacher, it's like art painted with words, like words to "Holy, Holy, Holy" – "Saints casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea." Like poetry using symbolism to express divine beauty; to evoke emotion, devotion, inspiration beyond understanding. Ultimately God's love remains an eternal mystery that stirs in us humility and gratitude as we live and love—a sort of combination of "woe is me" and "wow!" Augustine imaged, God is Love the creator of life. God is the Lover, the one who loves in Jesus Christ to save or transform life. And God is the Loving, the Holy Spirit that continues to keep us loving and living. One of the images I appreciate most is [drawing on an easel] a simple Celtic knot formed without beginning or end; sharing a common core and three distinct loops, petals, or branches reaching out as if a part for people to connect with or grab onto.
As the preacher talked, mom snuck a glance at others listening intently. She glimpsed God in the people, in their lives and relationships even though they're strangers to her. Oh, she knew they had faults and imperfections like any human. Still she saw love in their smiles, and amid the lines of worry. She imagined how their lives had been changed, transformed, inspired to go a different direction, or how they longed for it anyway. And how her life could be, as well.
Isaiah and Nicki came back from Sunday School with other kids during the announcements about activities and work in the community that the church shared. After plates were passed, another short song and longer prayer, they rose again as a family following people next to them to come forward and share bread and juice. Maybe we're kind of like Nicodemus, Isaiah thought, coming to Jesus. "For God so loved the world," he remembered; and then pictured himself, his sister and parents, his friends and Nicki's hurt friend, even kids on the bus, the trees and animals. "Teaching people to live, to bless," the song echoed in his mind. "Love in word and in deed express" … to make Jesus vision our own, here and everywhere in the presence of God.
Thanks be to God. Amen.