Community of love
Trinity 2018 Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.
Trees and prophets have one thing in common; both are planted for the future. In the story of God and his people, we find many examples of the intricate preparation and planning that goes to the heart of individuals with highly diverse backgrounds and needs. God seeks them out and appears to encourage people with potential. Through the intimacy of a loving and nurturing relationship, including some challenges to deeply held views, God can achieve extraordinary outcomes.
The Old Testament reading is about Isaiah’s vision which was his commission to be God’s messenger to his people. Isaiah was given a difficult mission. He had to tell people who believed they were blessed by God, that instead, life was not going to be easy because of their disobedience. Isaiah’s lofty view of God gives us a sense of God’s greatness, mystery and power. Isaiah’s example of recognizing his sinfulness before God emphasises God’s holiness, as does the picture of the throne, the attending seraphs and the threefold holy they are calling. “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts. the whole earth is full of his glory” The name seraph is derived from a word which means to burnor burning one, and perhaps refers to their purity as God’s ministers and their fiery passion to do God’s work. The picture of the live coal of God’s forgiveness and purification shown to Isaiah, can remind us that we too are included in God’s love and concern. Isaiah, with great courage submitted himself entirely to God, saying: “Here am I, send me!” Can we also say to God “Here am I, Send me?
When we recognise how great our God is, and the extent of his forgiveness, can we understand that we also receive power to do and live the exciting life of fiery passion for God’s work?
The more clearly Isaiah saw God, the more aware Isaiah became of his own powerlessness and inadequacy to do anything of lasting value without God, However, he was willing to be God’s spokesman and the unforgettable vision he had of God sustained him for the next half century. The encounter with God permanently affected Isaiah’s character. He reflected the God he represented.
Psalm 29 speaks of God’s power in nature and the fact that God can be trusted to provide peace and the strength to help us weather the storms of life. St Paul reminds us that we can regard sin’s appeal as dead and lifeless, and, because of the power of the Spirit of God leading us, it is possible to ignore temptation when it comes. It is this same Spirit who leads us to adoption as Children of God. What did this adoption mean to the people of Rome?
In Roman culture, the adopted person lost all rights in his or her old family and gained all the rights of a legitimate child in the new family. The adopted person became a full heir to the new father’s estate. Paul used this description to explain to the Romans that when a person became a Christian they gain all the privileges and responsibilities of a child of God. One of the outstanding privileges is to be led by the Holy Spirit. We may not always feel close to God, but the Holy Spirit is our help and witness and the Spirit’s inward presence reminds us of who we are and encourages us with God’s love and peace. The Spirit reminds us that we are intimately known by God.
The portion of the Gospel of John read this morning is one of a number of conversations Jesus had which intimately lays bare the heart of the individual he is conversing with. The conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus is followed by one with the Samaritan woman, the Gentile official and the man at the pool of Bethesda. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the ruling religious council, the Sanhedrin. This group of leaders were intensely jealous of Jesus because he undermined their authority and challenged their views and were often criticised by Jesus for being hypocritical.
Nicodemus was searching and believed Jesus had some answers. A learned teacher himself, he came looking personally and later came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, he was who he said he was. Nicodemus did not know a lot about God. From the writings of the prophets he knew the whole earth would be ruled by God and that the kingdom of God would be restored on earth and it would incorporate God’s place. Jesus revealed to him that this was not for Jews only, but for all people on earth and that to be part of it a person must be born again. This was a revolutionary concept meaning that the kingdom was flexible and personal. And that the entrance requirements were to embrace the change that repentance would bring and to experience Spiritual re-birth. In the turn-around of Nicodemus’ life the love of the Trinitarian God was at work. Most Christians think of the Trinity as God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but they are one. Can we think more deeply about this? The word we sometimes translate as “person” (hypostasis in Greek) does not mean an individual at all but would be better understood as “a state of being.”
Every week since Easter and to Pentecost we have been hearing of the love which flows from the Son to the Father and from the Father to the Son and to us as children of God. As heirs to the kingdom of God, can we think of the relationship between God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—as a complex outpouring of love: from Father to Son, from Son to Spirit, from Spirit back to Father? This love is a total self- emptying love which can be thought of as a circle full of energy and power. This is the love which raised Jesus to life.
It is this love which Isaiah had for his people, it is this love that Paul had for the Romans, it is this love that Jesus had for Nicodemus, and it is this love that Jesus has for the Father and the Father for Jesus which raised him to eternal life. It is this love which God has for us.
When we are born again and follow the path of Christ we find that in essence the seraph has been before us with the hot coal and we find ourselves practicing a sanctified self-emptying love. Our selfish wants have no importance. This self-emptying love appears, in acts of compassion, acts of kindness and unconditional love towards others, both at the everyday level of our doing and with some alchemy of divine energy, in our being.
There is power in this sacred doing and being to transform the darkest situation which appears to have no saving grace into something inspiring and hopeful. It is like the planting of trees and prophets, it is an extraordinary outcome for the future and for the Kingdom of God. It is the wisdom, love and might of our Trinitarian God at work. Amen.