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The Holy Trinity
Pastor Anke Deibler
- Isaiah 6:1-8
- Psalm 29
- Romans 8:12-17
- John 3:1-17
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“In the year King Uzziah died.” Thus begins our reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah. We read right over this, taking it as a way to date the event only.
For Isaiah’s people, however, the year King Uzziah died was challenging. King Uzziah reigned over Judah for 52 years. He was an able, competent ruler. Under his leadership, Judah flourished. King Uzziah invested in better defense strategies and infrastructure, and had kept his nation safe and at peace. He invested in agricultural innovation and trade. Under his reign, Judah became as prosperous as it had not been since King Salomon.
For over half a century, the king had brought stability and security to his nation. And now he was dead. Now what? Who would come after him? What would the successor be like? What would this mean for the citizens? There was great uncertainty and fear among all the people of Judah.
It is in this time of transition that God grants Isaiah the awesome vision of seeing God sitting on a throne in the heavens, of cherubim and seraphim attending him, of smoke and fire and sheer awesomeness.
This is an amazing vision at any time. But to receive this glimpse of God’s glory and might during a scary time of uncertainty and transition, is even more powerful. God assures Isaiah that God is still God and will go with this chosen nation through the upheavals ahead. God’s presence and power and grace will be there for the people to hope in and lean on.
Wouldn’t it be nice to receive such a vision in our day and age? We can relate to worry and uncertainty, can’t we? Our nation is going through a transition, too: one party in the majority losing elections and the other party coming into power; black, white, and brown races renegotiating their relationships; world religions moving in next to one another and learning to get along; new tax laws and tariffs creating unknown financial realities for families and businesses; changing weather patterns; dissolving of old international political alliances and building of new ones; ever new threats to the privacy of our personal information; and so much more.
We can relate to the feelings of Isaiah and his contemporaries: What will happen next? Will we be alright?
A vision of God on the throne of heavenly glory and power would be a huge help. It would be reassuring and hope-inspiring. Alas, I have not received one yet. Has anyone here received one?
Yet God has revealed himself to us, too. It might not have been in such enormous, mind-blowing visions, but instead in countless smaller ones. God is constantly active in our lives to assure us of his presence, his grace, his love, and his power.
This is where the Holy Trinity is such a gift. The Holy Trinity is our name for the fact that God chose to reveal himself in three different forms: as God the Father, creator of the universe; as God the Son, who walked the earth and died and rose for the sake of our salvation; and as God the Holy Spirit who blesses us with faith and who calls, gathers, and sends the faithful for the sake of the world.
The teaching of the Holy Trinity is rather complicated. Try explaining the unity of God as one in three and three in one to someone else, especially an unbeliever, and you might get blank stares or doubtful looks in return. With all kinds of analogies we have tried to explain the trinity, but in the end all of these attempts are limited and frustrating.
I have a sister-in-law who belongs to the Greek-Orthodox Church. When I travelled to her home in Palestine for my nephew’s baptism, I had the chance to learn more about the way our orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ worship.
One thing they do really well is living into the mystery of God. They accept that God is mysterious and that we humans will never fully understand him. Rather than trying to explain God, they worship the mystery that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three in one and one in three.
We Westerners always want to explain, dissect, understand everything and if possible have a diagram for it. This diagram above is just one example for the many ways in which theologians have tried to lay out the truths about the Holy Trinity.
I wonder if we might not be better off by just accepting that God is beyond our human understanding. Maybe that would stop us from getting sidetracked with such theoretical questions and instead bless us with the experience of God, the awe of our heavenly Lord, who reveals himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Jesus seems to encourage this.
In today’s gospel story, Nicodemus comes to speak to Jesus. He comes with all kinds of questions and with the desire to understand who Jesus is. Nicodemus is a very learned man. He is a Pharisee, one of the men who devoted themselves to extensive study of scripture. He is a leader of the Jews, respected among his people. Jesus himself calls Nicodemus a teacher of Israel. Yes, Nicodemus is very smart and well educated.
His conversation with Jesus hits a snag right away. It happens because Nicodemus takes Jesus too literally. Jesus speaks of being born from above, and Nicodemus wonders how an old person could possibly be born a second time. His critically trained mind takes what Jesus says and dissects it intellectually.
Jesus, however, was speaking of spiritual things: Of the spirit’s movement, of divine love that allows people to enter the kingdom of God, of finding new life in the presence of God. Jesus invites Nicodemus into a new way of living as a child of God, but all Nicodemus can think of is the logistics of it.
If we let our logical minds rest for a bit and instead use our spiritual minds, we are free to discover the many different ways in which the Holy Trinity blesses us with revelations of its presence and power and love. We can detect countless little love messages from God, sometimes where we least expect them.
I came across a story this week that can illustrate this point for us. It is told by Laura Allen from Rochester, New York:
My grandparents were married for over half a century, and played their own special game from the time they had met each other. The goal of their game was to write the word “shmily” in a surprise place for the other to find. “Shmiley” stands for See How Much I Love You. They took turns leaving “shmily” around the house, and as soon as one of them discovered it, it was that person’s turn to hide it once more.
They dragged “shmily” with their fingers through the sugar container to await whoever was preparing the next meal. They smeared it in the dew on the windows overlooking the patio. “Shmily” was written in the steam on the mirror after a hot shower, where it would reappear bath after bath. At one point my grandmother unrolled an entire roll of toilet paper to leave “shmily” on the very last sheet.
There was no end to where “shmily” would pop up. Little notes with “shmily” scribbled on them were found on car seats or taped to the steering wheel. The notes were stuffed inside shoes and left under pillows. “Shmily” was written in the dust on the mantle and traced in the ashes of the fireplace. The mysterious word was a much a part of my grandparents’ house as the furniture.
Grandma and Grandpa held hands every chance they could. They finished each other’s sentences and shared the daily crossword puzzle. Before every meal they bowed heads and gave thanks, marveling at their blessings: a wonderful family, good fortune and each other.
But there was a dark cloud on my grandparent’s life: my grandmother had cancer. With the help of a cane and my grandfather’s steady hand, they still went to church every Sunday. But my grandmother grew weaker until she could not leave the house anymore. Then one day, Grandma died.
“Shmily”. It was scrawled in yellow on the pink ribbons of my grandmother’s funeral bouquet. As the crowd thinned and the last mourners turned to leave, my aunts, uncles, cousins and other family members gathered around Grandma one last time. I will never forget that moment. For I knew then that, although I couldn’t begin to fathom the depth of their love, I had been privileged to witness its unmatched beauty.
Thus far the story.
Love like that is a mystery. But Laura’s grandma and grandpa never tried to explain it. They just cherished it and were grateful for it. They rejoiced in the countless, surprising ways in which the other one expressed their love for them. They returned the love wholeheartedly. And they received it all as a blessing.
I would like to encourage us all to live in the love of God like that. Let’s not try to explain the Holy Trinity. Instead, let us rejoice in it and cherish it. And let us keep our eyes open for the love messages we receive from God.
We shared some of them this morning during God spotting.
What might some others be?
God the Father and Creator says “I love you” every time a new child is born, every time spring bloom amazes us with color and beauty, every time a rainbow graces the sky, every time a new species or star are discovered.
God the Son says “I love you” every time we receive a caring touch, every time a gospel word gives us guidance, every time we receive the bread and wine of holy communion, every time the forgiveness of our sins is pronounced, every time we look back and realize that someone carried us through times of trial.
God the Holy Spirit says “I love you” every time we have been blessed with healing, every time we laugh, every time we find hope in touch times, every time we experience that peace that passes all understanding, every time we were able to say the right words at the right time, every time we are led here to this caring congregation to worship God and rejoice in this fellowship.
God reveals himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not to test our minds with logic puzzles. God reveals himself in three persons so he has the widest range possible in which God can reach us, touch us, bless us.
As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God sends us love messages all the time. They reassure us that through all the transitions and upheavals in this nation, this world, and our personal lives, we are not alone, but an amazing, powerful, gracious, creative, saving God is with us. Thanks be to God. Amen.