Trinity Sunday 2021

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What does God look like to you?

In our Old Testament reading this morning, Isaiah is in the temple of Jerusalem where he has a vision of the veil between heaven and earth opening up and immediately above the temple sits the throne of God.  This was a common belief at this time that heaven was located straight up beyond the stars and there was a mystical connection between the heavenly throne room and the Holy of Holies in the temple at Jerusalem.

Isaiah sees God as a holy king.  He is sitting up high above all the other creatures of heaven and the hem of his robe spilled down to earth and fills the temple below where Isaiah sits in prayer.   The tassels on the outer garment worn by Jewish men were reminders to obey the laws of God and they were also symbols of the authority of the one wearing the garment.  Perhaps in Isaiah’s vision the hem of God’s robe spills out of heaven and into the temple carrying with it the Torah and God’s authority. 

There are six winged creatures, called seraphim by Isaiah, which are using two sets of their wings to cover themselves, presumably from the overpowering glory of God and flying around with the remaining set singing “Holy, Holy, Holy…”  These are not pretty little angels.  The other places we see seraphim in the Bible the word is translated as fiery serpents. While in the desert, the Israelites experienced a plague of fiery serpents, seraphim, they believed to be sent by God because of their disobedience. They bit the people and many of them died.  Moses was commanded to make an image of this serpent and lift it up on a staff that all that looked upon it might be healed. It is this incident that Jesus used in today’s reading to illustrate his crucifixion to Nicodemus.  It is a difficult comparison to comprehend other than that those who look upon the crucified Christ and believe are saved from eternal death. Isaiah’s seraphim are winged versions of the creatures that bit the Israelites in the desert.  Think more along the lines of dragons.  Even these fierce and deadly creatures sing praises to God.

In God’s presence, Isaiah first fears his impending doom because recognizes his sinfulness and knows he is in the presence of the King, the one with the authority to judge and punish him.   He refers to his sin as having an unclean mouth.  Jesus reminds us that sin often comes out of the heart through the mouth.   Isaiah is cleansed of his sin by a burning coal from the altar, at which time; Isaiah is able to hear the voice of God calling to him. “Whom shall I send?”  Sin can often close our ears and our hearts so that we hear only our own voice.  When we repent of our sins, we are able to see and hear God’s presence in our midst.  Isaiah’s response to God is “Here I am Lord.” Isaiah’s vision of God calls us to awe, to penitence, and service, but God did not order Isaiah he invited him, and Isaiah said, Yes, Lord, Send me.  God invites each of us, but we must accept the invitation.

We have been given another image of God through Jesus Christ. The Evangelist John says that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17) As we study the scriptures and pray we begin to know Jesus.  We begin to see the God that loves us, wants only the best for us, and was willing to go as far as dying on a cross to show us how much he loved us.

At Pentecost we have a third glimpse at the God whom we worship as we see the Holy Spirit at work taking people beyond their mortal capabilities so that the Kingdom of God might grow.

Getting a grasp on God is a hard thing.  Nicodemus had trouble understanding.  Jesus was talking to him about the transformation the world was experiencing by his presence.  Nicodemus was taking everything Jesus said quite literally and trying to imagine how an old man can become an infant again.  Jesus was using earthly illustrations to try to explain heavenly things.  When we believe in Jesus, and a closer translation might be to place our trust in or have confidence in Jesus as our Savior, we are able to let go of the burdens of this life and it is like we have been born anew into the Kingdom of Heaven and we are filled with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus describes the Spirit as being like the wind.  This was a very ancient way of describing the Spirit.  Jesus tells us that the Spirit blows where it will. It cannot be seen, but the Spirit’s presence is felt.  It is like that in our lives, when we become filled with the Holy Spirit, we do not look different, but we can feel the presence of God acting on our behalf, guiding us and guarding us whenever we say, “Here I am Lord.”  God, in the person of Jesus, is different from the vision of God that Isaiah had and yet the same.   The same holds true for the Holy Spirit.

God warned Moses and the Israelites not to make for themselves graven images.  God cannot be confined to our imagination and we must be careful not to try to make God fit into our box, but there are times when we need to be able to say what we do and don’t believe about God.  The Apostles and Nicene Creeds are visions of God that help us articulate what we believe about God and about Jesus.  

There are no clear scriptural references to a Holy Trinity, though there are many allusions to the three persons of the Trinity that caused the early church fathers to believe that what they were describing was as close to their understanding of God as revealed in scriptures as we would ever get.  One of the foundational scriptures of the Jewish faith is the Shema.  “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our god; the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). The word we translate as Lord was the name given to Moses that is considered so holy it is never pronounced. All our words fall short because they either describe an action of God such as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, or they describe our relationship with God and his authority: King of Kings, Lord of Lords.  I can never know anyone of you completely.  I know some of you better than others, but my knowledge of you is limited to my experience of your actions and my knowledge of the things you do.  So it is with us and God.

Sometimes it is necessary to be able to tell others as much as we can about who we believe God is. It was important to the early church fathers that there was no misunderstanding.  We are not polytheist. We believe in only one God.  Yet we experience this God as three distinct persons in relationship with each other: God the creator and Father; Jesus the Christ, the incarnation of the Word of God in man, resurrected to new life, and our redeemer; and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the breath of God, the one who sustains us.  

It was also important to the early church fathers that we had a clear understanding of who Jesus was because of the impact to our salvation.  There could be no misunderstanding that Jesus was fully God.  If Jesus was less than fully God, he would not be able to offer us salvation.  It was equally important that it be understood that Jesus was fully man. If Jesus was just God pretending to be a man, which was often the story behind many of the Greek and Roman myths, how could we trust that we would also participate in the Resurrection and how could Jesus redeem us.   Jesus was both fully God and fully man.  How can that be?  It is part of the mystery of God.

 We all have our visions of God, based upon our personal experience and the theological instruction we have had.  It is important to try to know God.  Your closest friends are usually those you know the best, and they know the best and worst about you. So should our relationship with God be.  We get to know God by reading the scriptures, by looking for the ways the Holy Spirit is acting in our own lives, and by sharing our experiences of God with others.  Cling tightly to God, but hold your visions of God gently in your hand.  God is bigger than any of our visions.

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