HOLY TRINITY SUNDAY
The first Sunday after Pentecost is the day we set aside to explore the concept of the Holy Trinity. This is a subject that is like peeling an onion. The more you peel, the stronger it becomes. Let’s peel off a few layers. Hopefully we’ll stop before there are any tears.
This takes place back in the middle 700’s BC in the kingdom of Judah. God’s people were behaving badly. Judah’s peace was being threatened by neighboring countries. King Uzziah died, and Ahaz takes the throne. Neither king had much regard for God or His prophets. This is the story of Isaiah’s call from God to be His spokesperson, His prophet to King Uzziah.
- Isaiah has a vision of God sitting high on his throne. His robe fills the temple. Six-winged seraphs are attending and guarding him, flying above. Seraph means “fiery ones”, by the way. Their six wings require explanation. Two, of course are for flying, and with two their cover their faces. Apparently, they also cannot gaze upon God’s face without perishing. With the last two, they cover their “feet”. In the Old Testament, the word “feet” is a polite way of saying the genitals. One example of this is found in Ruth 3. So, the seraphs were using their third pair of wings to be modest before God. (vv. 1-2)
- They sang praises to God as they flew. It was so moving, that the whole place shook, and was filled with smoke. Wow! (vv. 3-4)
- Did you ever feel like you were somewhere that you didn’t belong? This was Isaiah. He knew that he had no business being there (or so he thought). He knew that sinful beings did not belong in God’s presence. (v. 5)
- But something special happens. A seraph cauterizes Isaiah’s lips with a coal from the fire on the altar. “There you go. All clean now!” (My translation, v. 7)
- The Lord calls out for a helper; Isaiah raises his hand, and says “send me!” (v. 8)
Nowadays, it seems we are fixated on God’s friendly side. We sing songs about walking in a garden, alone, with our friend Jesus. In today’s second reading, we are even invited to call God the Father “Daddy”! In Isaiah’s reading, we get a glimpse of the other side. We see the awesome power and might of our God on His throne.
Luther’s Small Catechism contains basic questions and answers about the Christian faith. One section works through each of the Ten Commandments. A commandment is stated, and the question to each is raised: “What does this mean?” The answer always begins with “We should fear and love God that we…” We had to ask our pastor about this, when we were in our confirmation class. Why fear? He said that we should have an awesome respect for God’s mighty power. So, I suggest that while we enjoy singing about what a friend we have in Jesus, we also should remain aware of His might power.
Paul gives us an excellent illustration of our relationship with God, using a relationship that was very common in his time and place. This relationship no longer exists today, however, and it needs to be explained.
Slavery was a regular part of life in the Roman Empire. It is estimated that 30-40% of the population of Italy were slaves at this time. These slaves came from many different countries, and were not limited to one nationality or race. Slaves were bought and sold. A slave could not buy his freedom. When the master died, his heirs inherited the slaves, or they were sold off. The slaves had no legal rights.
Earlier in chapter 6, Paul explains that before Jesus came, we were slaves to sin. Sin was our master. Here in chapter 8, Paul builds upon that metaphor.
- This first verse is a little odd. Paul starts out talking about how we are debtors, but veers off to talk about living “according to the flesh”. By this he means living as we would if God were not present in our lives. But we live by the Spirit, putting to death the deeds of the body. If we do this, we will live our lives indebted to the Spirit for saving us. (vv.12-13)
- Now, Paul makes a startling announcement. He says that if we are “led by the Spirit”, we are children of God. What does that give us? It gives us everything. He uses the slavery metaphor as an illustration. If we fall back to our old master, and are slaves to sin, we gain nothing. But if we are led by the Spirit, we are adopted children of God. We are so loved by God that we may call Him “Abba”, which is an Aramaic word meaning “Daddy”. Not father, but the intimate family word daddy. (vv. 14-16)
- Since we are God’s children, Jesus is now our brother. Along with Jesus, we have full rights of inheritance to God’s kingdom.
If we look at this passage through the lens of the Holy Trinity, we see the whole team at work. Through the sacrifice of our (now) brother Jesus, we live our lives “in the Spirit”. This brings about our adoption as God’s children. As his children, we inherit the kingdom, and may call him Daddy!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Consider using the name “Daddy” in your prayers.
This is the familiar story of the after-dark meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus. Today, we will focus on what this lesson teaches us about the Holy Trinity.
There’s a lot of word play going on in this passage. Here’s a little Greek lesson, to aid in your understanding of this. The same word translated as “spirit” can also mean “wind”. The same Greek word for “again” can be used to mean “anew” or “from above (heaven)”.
- Nicodemus comes to Jesus after dark. We do not know the reason. But Nicodemus was an important Pharisee, and perhaps wanted to avoid the confrontation with his colleagues. We do not know. What we do know is that he sought Jesus out, and paid him a compliment. (vv. 1-3)
- Jesus, according to the narrative, gets to the meat of the matter—you must be born again to see the kingdom of God. Because of all the possible other meanings, Nicodemus has questions. (v. 4)
- Jesus makes it clear that he’s not talking about one’s body being reborn, but one’s spirit. He says that we must be born of water and the Spirit. He is saying that the Holy Spirit is an essential part of our spiritual rebirth. That we need the Spirit as much as we need the Son. (vv. 5-8)
- Verses 14-16 make the point that eternal life comes through belief in Jesus as the Son of God.
- Verse 17 tells us that it is the work of the Father through the Son that saves us from condemnation.
We know that Jesus died for our sins, and that he was sent by God the Father. But it is easy to overlook the role of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who is most active in our daily lives, providing understanding, motivation, opportunity, words, and the courage to be God’s helpers in the world around us. The whole Trinity is needed.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
How do you describe God in human terms, let alone a triune God? Is it even possible? I thought the book “The Shack” did a fairly good job of it. But the Father, Son, and Spirit were very separate. Only their thoughts were common. In the early church, it didn’t take long for various groups to describe the Triune God in peculiar ways. Creeds were written to provide a clear understanding on this complex topic. In 325 A.D., the Council of Nicaea crafted this very detailed creed, which is still used today. I’ve included it for you on the next page. If we could meet, it would be interesting for us to share our thoughts on this and the Holy Trinity in general.
The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.