The call of God can make us intimately aware of our own sinfulness, creating a sense of shame and inadequacy that can paralyze our service. When Isaiah was whisked away to the throne room of God to receive his call, the greatness of the throne room and the heavenly hosts that attended it only increased his guilty paralysis. God remedies Isaiah’s sense of shame and inadequacy by touching Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal from the throne room’s altar fire. God tells Isaiah that his “guilt has departed and [his] sin is blotted out.” Having been justified (declared righteous) Isaiah is willing to proclaim God’s message to the people.
The message Isaiah brings to the people is a strange. God commands Isaiah to tell the people of their ignorance, and then to let them remain there. Because of their ignorance God will make their cities “lie in waste” and “send everyone far away.” The people will be like a large tree that has been felled with only a stump remaining. The message however ends on a positive note with God declaring, “The holy seed is it its stump.”
Isaiah receives his call in the context of worship. The text reads that the heavenly hosts attending the throne room were singing antiphonally, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The three fold repetition of the doxological “Holy” is likely the reason this reading is chosen for Trinity Sunday.
Many believe that Psalm 29 was originally a Canaanite hymn celebrating the might of the storm God Ba’al. The Psalm speaks often of the “voice of God” (six times to be exact) in reference to mighty thunder (a theophany often attributed to Ba’al). The thunderous voice of God is so strong that it breaks the “cedars of Lebanon”–the mightiest tree known to the Israelites. It is certainly possible the Israelites borrowed this psalm from their Canaanite neighbors and attributed the praise to YHWH as a way of showing YHWH’s superiority over the pantheon of pagan deities. This explains the psalm’s imperative to the “heavenly beings” to ascribe to YHWH glory. YHWH is exalted above all others.
Psalm 29 shows up many times in the lectionary’s three year cycle, most notably on the Sunday of the Baptism of Jesus, where the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove is present, and the Father makes his proclamation to the son “With you I am well pleased.” The echo of this trinitarian moment is felt in the psalm’s use on Trinity Sunday.
A lot of people are fond of describing themselves as”spiritual.” This is notoriously difficult to define since “spiritual” is a hard word to nail down. For those operating from a biblical tradition the self descriptive (and often self-glorifying) description of “spiritual” is also a little infuriating. Since when is “spiritual” an accomplishment to parade around like a talent for playing the piano, juggling bowling pins, or doing a back flip. Romans 8 reminds us that our “spirituality” is an outpoured gift from God. We are spiritual in as much as we have received the Spirit that now cries out on our behalf declaring that we are adopted children of God. At one time we were helpless orphans who could claim no parentage. God has come to each of us and offered us the kingdom. Our spirituality means that we are heirs to God’s kingdom, but not because we somehow mastered the metaphysical, or got in touch with an inner light. We are heirs as a grace-gift from God.
The reference to the Spirit who sanctifies us and to the our place as “co-heirs” with Christ receiving from the Father our due inheritance makes this an ideal text for Trinity Sunday.
The gospel of John is used during special seasons of the church calendar–so here we have its use on Trinity Sunday. Our lection contains the story of Nicodemus’s clandestine meeting with Jesus. Nicodemus offers flattery to Jesus by telling him that he must be from God to do the signs that he has done. Jesus responds by changing the subject entirely and asserting that “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born from above.” Nicodemus is confused and gives this skeptical response, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus goes on to explain that being born from above means to be born in water and Spirit. Jesus says that those born of flesh cannot see the kingdom, but only those born of water and Spirit. It is hard to say with certainty as to what Jesus means by “water and Spirit.” What we can say is that Jesus is offering a contrast between two different ways of coming to truth. Jesus is frustrated with Nicodemus that Nicodemus must keep asking him questions, even though Nicodemus is a teacher of Israel. He also chides Nicodemus by telling that if he does not believe the things Jesus says about earthly things then how can he believe the things Jesus says about heavenly things.
It is this earthly focus, and the inability to see past it and get to Spiritual truth, that Jesus is warring against. The pericope ends with, perhaps, the best known scripture in all of the Bible, “For 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). The references by the ‘Son’ to the ‘Spirit’ and of God (seemingly the father) sending the ‘Son’ again are cause for reflection as we celebrate Trinity Sunday.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider the community of God: Father, Son, and Spirit. Together, in a selfless perichoresis, they exist in relationship to the world, wanting to redeem the world and its inhabitants. Their cooperation and imagination provide us a glimpse at the utopian community we yearn for.