Sermon, Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2021


Trinity Sunday (RCL Cycle B)/30 May 2021

 Today is Trinity Sunday and it marks a transition from our past six months considering the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus the Christ to the long green season of Ordinary Time.  This six-month long season goes by several names – the Season after Pentecost, the Season after Trinity, as well as Ordinary Time.  This first Sunday is always given over to a consideration of the Holy Trinity – that core doctrine of the Christian faith.  It is a Sunday that will see preachers through-out the Church struggle to describe a mystery that will never be solved.  A majority of sermons preached today will skate on the edge of heresy, and more than a few will fall off into the abyss.

 Allow me from the outset state that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a mystery, and we will NEVER be able to wrap our minds around it.  I know that even after forty years of ordained ministry have been able to wrap my mind around it.

This Trinity Sunday I would like to invite us to think of the Holy Trinity as an on-going, eternal conversation between the Father as Creator, the Son as Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier.  This is a three-way conversation that invites us to first stand silent before the Holy and second to enter into that conversation as beloved children. Since human speech is inadequate to describe the mystery of the manifold aspects of the infinite God; one of the ways we get a glimpse of the glory and majesty of the Divine is through the visions of prophets and mystics, as seen in the call of the Prophet Isaiah.

Our first reading describes Isaiah’s call to prophetic ministry in terms of a vision of the Holy One in the Temple.  Isaiah sets the beginning of his ministry in “the year that King Uzziah died” (6:1), probably around 736 B. C. E. (Before the Common Era) His vision unites heaven and earth, as Isaiah describes the heavenly court where the Lord is enthroned in a vast temple attended by six-winged seraphs singing the familiar threefold hymn “Holy, holy, holy …” (v. 3) that anticipates praise of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As Isaiah views this splendor, he feels unworthy, declaring himself “a man of unclean lips” (v. 5) from a sinful nation. However, his sin is purged as his lips are cleansed by a live coal brought by a seraph from the heavenly altar (vv. 6-7). Thus, when he hears the Lord call for someone to send as the bearer of the Word, Isaiah answers, “Here am I; send me!” (v. 8).

This passage reflects the profound sense of awe and wonder at the glory of God, as well as the transforming power of God’s presence that enables a positive response to God’s call. Here we see that prophetic speech is not derived from human insight and intelligence but is a gift — indeed a demand — from God.

The Gospel reading gives us another example of Divine revelation and invitation to spiritual transformation through the story of Nicodemus, a truth-seeker and a leader of Israel’s religious establishment who recognizes a unique spiritual power in Jesus. But the circles in which Nicodemus moves do not consider Jesus respectable; thus, he comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness.

Nicodemus addresses Jesus as “Rabbi,” thereby honoring him with the title reserved for those learned in Torah and masterful in teaching (Jn. 3:2). Further signifying his respect, Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus has come from God, because of the signs and good works he performs.

Jesus then proceeds to tell Nicodemus what is most necessary for salvation: “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (v. 3). This is a transformation from the inside out, a reorientation of the self, not toward the world, but directly toward God.

However, Nicodemus cannot move beyond a literal understanding of the words of Jesus. When one has reached full maturity, the thought of a genuinely fresh start is as difficult to imagine as reentering the womb. But the rebirth of which Jesus speaks is a spiritual rather than a physical birth.

Jesus continues by saying that “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (v. 5). That is to say, everyone who would enter must be sealed with water upon profession of belief and repentance as required in John’s baptism. Fully renouncing the values that separate one from God is accomplished by receiving the Holy Spirit, whom John said Jesus would bring (Jn. 1:33).

Birth from above by the Spirit is a gift of faith that enables one to believe. Birth from flesh, the acceptance of personal identity on a purely earthly level, cannot bring anyone into this experience. “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (v. 6). Thus, spiritual transformation derives from Divine, not human, authority and power.

Jesus then compares the Spirit to the mystery of the wind: one can observe the effects of the wind, but no one can control it. In the same manner, the activity of the Holy Spirit is manifested in the transformed lives of those who accept the Spirit. Like the wind, God’s Spirit cannot be predicted or fit into any human categories (v. 8).

But Nicodemus still remains confused and cannot move beyond his literal understanding and into the world of the Spirit. When he asks, “How can these things be?” (v. 9), Jesus chides him by asking how one who is a “teacher of Israel” (v. 10) cannot comprehend what Jesus is telling him. If Nicodemus is not able to believe the evidence of “earthly things” Jesus has told him, how can he even begin to imagine “heavenly things” (v. 12)?

Jesus declares in verse 13 that he can speak of these heavenly things because, as the Son of Man — the link between heaven and earth — he is the one who has “descended from heaven” to bring eternal life. The “lifting up” in verse 14 refers to the crucifixion, but also recalls Moses setting a serpent on a pole so that those bitten by snakes could look up and be healed — a symbol of salvation (Num. 21:8-9).

The Johannine connection between belief in Christ and eternal life is fully stated in the familiar words of verse 16. Through the selfless giving of the Son, the way to eternal life is opened for those who believe in his name. We have the promise that the Son comes not to condemn the world, but to offer salvation for the whole world.

Thus, through this dialogue with Nicodemus we learn that God, as Father, offers us boundless love.

God the Son is the one who came down from heaven; through him we have eternal life.

And finally, God the Holy Spirit infuses our lives in mysterious and surprising ways.

Another way to illustrate this idea of the eternal conversation between the members of the Godhead is in the icon of the “Old Testament Trinity” painted by Andrei Rublev in Russia during the 15th century.  A copy is in your Order of Worship.  It is a depiction of the three angelic beings who visit Abraham in the Book of Genesis.  They are seated around a table.  The being on the right extends his hand toward an empty place at the table.  Notice the square on the table’s pedestal.  It is thought that the icon originally had a mirror placed there so that the one looking at the icon would see his/her reflection.  The extended hand seems to be an invitation to the one looking at the icon to take a seat at the table and join the conversation.

Theologian Miroslav Volf puts it this way

Because the Christian God is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communion. … Communion with this God is at once also communion with those others who have entrusted themselves in faith to the same God. [i]

On this Trinity Sunday, once again, we are invited into a divine conversation that will transform us and renew us.



Sermon, May 23, 2021 – Pentecost

Power to Change

Happy Easter!

Happy Birthday!

Today is Pentecost!  It has been fifty short days since we discovered the empty tomb and heard the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.  This is the day in which the whole Easter season comes to a climax.  The Holy Spirit descends like a rushing wind, and a new way of being begins for us.  For us, and the Christian community as a whole, Pentecost becomes a celebration of thanksgiving for the new life of the Church through God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the Jewish tradition, Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, was a spring agricultural celebration (cf Lev. 23:15-21; Dt. 16:9- 12). Pentecost is Greek for fiftieth, and the first spring crops were harvested fifty days after planting. However, by the time of Jesus, the festival was increasingly observed as a commemoration of the giving of Torah at Sinai. According to tradition, fifty days passed between the first Passover in Egypt and the arrival at Sinai, where Moss received the law. But for the Christian community, Pentecost would become a celebration of thanksgiving for the new life of the Church through God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.

From the beginning, the Spirit of God was associated with wind and breath. At creation, “a wind from God” (Gen. 1:2) hovered over the unformed matter that God had brought into being. This was also the breath that God breathed into humanity to make the Divine image come alive (Gen. 2:7).

Like the wind, the Spirit moves us in different ways, sending us to other places and nesting us into other ground. To experience Pentecost it is necessary to search for change and to allow ourselves to be changed. Changes mean new forms of consciousness, awareness, commitments, and agency. What is it in your life that needs to be changed? Like seeds, we must learn to let go and die so we can sprout into life! Be uprooted from ways of thinking and believing and be taken by the Spirit, flowing with God’s grace to more expansive and necessary ways of living our faith in our world today.

In this text, Jesus is offering his “so long” talk to his disciples. It is about time for Jesus to go, but he assures them they will not be alone. They will have each other and the presence of God through the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ swirling talk moves in various correlations while also showing how the Spirit will be manifested in them. Jesus is placing himself in the past while the Spirit is what comes next, continuing the work of God and/in Jesus.

The One who is coming will take care of us. While Jesus prays in John 17:6-19 for God to protect the disciples, here Jesus makes explicit that it is the Spirit who is going to protect them. This protection will come by advocating, testifying, speaking truth, glorifying, and “prov(ing) the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

The Spirit is the paraclete who will advocate for us and the earth. The Spirit will hear our pain, moaning, desperation, and utterances, and will bring it all to God in “proper language” (Romans 8:26). The Spirit will testify Jesus to us and hold on to the subversive memory of Jesus. When we then testify about God’s glory and justice in Jesus, it is the Spirit working on us. When the Spirit testifies in us, we feel the presence of God and can offer our testimonies on how God acts in us, manifests in the world, transforms people, and brings life where there was only death.

While the Spirit will build in us the glory of God and the memory of Jesus, the testifying of the Spirit will also speak truth to us when we go away from God, when we lose our ability to listen and feel the Spirit’s voice and presence. If the Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth, the truth that will set us free, then this is a process and truth that will challenge our ways of living.

When our worship to God is detached from justice and becomes a ritual by which nobody is changed, the prophets will carry the voice of God’s truth and remind us of our moving away from God and into our own need for a safe and cozy religiosity that doesn’t demand anything from us. When we shape the radical message of Jesus to the programs of our churches, to empty spiritualities and to living a life that trusts more in our bank account than in God, we have lost the presence of the Spirit. Sin, righteousness, and judgment will come. As Jesus said “sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” But what does that mean today?

For us, the sin of not believing in Jesus is not the lack of faith but rather, the sin of splitting belief and practice, word and action, walk and talk. When we are set on beliefs but our beliefs do not mean change of mind and heart, actions of justice, going after those suffering, and restituting what we have destroyed on earth, then our sin continues, clamorously alive behind our comfortable beliefs.

When Jesus talked about righteousness, he was saying: you will see me no more, but your attitudes and actions will be seen. That means that our lives will show if we live a life of righteousness or not. It has to do with what Jesus said in Matthew 7:16: “You will know them by their fruits.” What are our fruits? If we produce fruits of peace, justice, healing, transformation, and care, we will live a life of righteousness. But if we live a life whose center is only ourselves and our families, then we will be judged by the Spirit.

As for judgment, Jesus says: “because the ruler of this world has been condemned.”

The ruler of this world is the structure of death that spins round and round with spirits of sickness, destruction, poverty, brutality, violence, hunger, greed, consumerism, and so on. Patriarchy and capitalism are the structures from which the ruler of this world lives and enacts death. The ruler of this world is turning this life-giving world into a world of death and pain. This world is not the creation of God, the world God made, but rather the corruption of God’s world of life, the tilting of the world off balance. It is this off-balance world that is turning the whole earth off balance and we are now moving toward climate catastrophe. Curved into ourselves, our sins contribute to the ruler of this world, making us be concerned only with our own pain and demands for happiness, forgetting that every single action we do has ripple effects on others. Caring only for us, having health insurance just for a few, housing just for some will necessarily mean the exemption of health insurance and housing for many others.

The Church is empowered by the Holy Spirit to change the world around us – to bring the Reign of God into fulfillment.  We are called and empowered to continue Jesus’ work and ministry in this place and everywhere our lives take us.

Happy birthday! Amen.


Sermon, May 16, 2021

Now We Wait

Easter VII (RCL Cycle B)/16 May 2021

Happy Easter!

This week marks a shift in our life together as the Church.  This past Thursday we observed the Feast of the Ascension.  Jesus leaves final instructions and is taken up into heaven.  His final instructions are to wait in Jerusalem until the Father’s promise is fulfilled (Acts 1: 4).  So now we wait. 

In this ten-day period known as Ascensiontide a couple of significant things happen in the ancient community.  The community begins to coalesce around the apostles’ leadership.  The glue that holds them together is a life of common prayer centered on the Temple.  The second significant act is an extension of the first – the community elects a replacement for Judas in order to bring the number of apostles back to their original twelve.  So they elect Matthais and bring him into the “inner circle;” thus, establishing the precedence that will become what we now call “apostolic succession.”  Still, the community waits, and so do we.

This seventh Sunday of Easter reminds us that, just like the original Christian community, we, too, are living in between the promise of Jesus’ return to finally establish the reign of God and it’s fulfillment.  In today’s readings, the community that Christ has called into being prepares to carry on its mission in the world.

On the Seventh Sunday after Easter, the Gospel passage in all three lectionary years is taken from the High Priestly Prayer (Jn. 17:1-26) that Jesus shared with his closest disciples on the night before his death. Whereas the few prayers in the Synoptic Gospels are short and addressed to Abba, this is an extended meditative prayer that contains a number of themes central to the work of Christ in John’s Gospel. In the verses for today, Jesus prays for the protection and unity of his followers as they are faced with the reality of living in a hostile world when he is no longer with them.

As the reading begins, Jesus tells God the Father that he has fulfilled the Lord’s will for him by making God’s name “known to those whom you gave me from the world” (v. 6). They in turn have believed the words of Jesus that he was sent by the Father; thus Jesus has been glorified in them.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus had watched over the community of followers God had entrusted to him, and none of them came to harm (except Judas, the one “destined to be lost,” v. 12). But now that Jesus will no longer be present physically, Jesus prays for the Father to protect them. He asks that they be one, even as Jesus and the Father are one (v. 11b).

As he is returning to his Father, Jesus speaks to the disciples of the joy he has known in constant awareness of the Father’s presence — praying that his disciples may know this same joy for themselves. “ … I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves” (v. 13). The message that Jesus has brought to the world, only to face rejection, he gives to the disciples. It is now their mission and identity as well. And since it has been derived from Jesus and not the world, enmity from the world is inevitable (v. 14).

It would be easy for the disciples to separate themselves from the world; but that is not what Jesus prays for them. Because he loves the unredeemed world just as his Father loves it, those who are now the stewards of his message must remain in the world. Apart from their witness, there would be little hope for others. God, who has been with Jesus, will now also preserve the disciples from evil. “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one” (v. 15).

Jesus goes on to pray that they may be made holy by the truth of the Father’s message they have received (v. 17). Just as the Father sent the Son into the world with the ultimate truth, Jesus now sends the disciples out with the same truth. By his own sacrifice he is consecrating — “sanctifying” — himself even now (v. 19), as he is about to face arrest. His consecration in ultimate truth is essential to their consecration in that same truth.

Christ’s revelation of himself to the disciples is now complete. Even though they will fail badly within the next few hours as Jesus is arrested, their witness to the Gospel will survive. Christ’s prayer is an ongoing intercession as he prays that the disciples be made holy by the truth they have received from him, as they are sent out into the world to bear witness.

In his final hours, Jesus prayed for the protection, unity, sanctification, and joy of the disciples as he prepared to leave this world to go to the Father. The disciples for whom Jesus prayed are our representatives; thus, as the Lord prayed for them and sent them, so he prays and sends us today as well.

For now, however, we wait anticipating the gift of Holy Spirit as promised.

Happy Easter!