Phew! Well, talk about “heavy hitter” scriptures! First, we hear from Isaiah about his vision that called him to be a prophet. Next, we hear a passage from the gospel according to John that contains probably one of the most quoted/well-known verses in all of the bible- John 3:16- “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”. These scriptures come to us on Trinity Sunday- another heavy hitter.
As you can see in the write up in your bulletin, “Trinity Sunday is the Sunday after Pentecost where we are invited to encounter God as Three in One. The use of God as three in one connects the church today with the historic church, born in the struggle of Christians throughout generations to express their beliefs about God in God’s Very Being” (Mysterious Encounter: Service Prayers for Trinity Sunday” written by the Rev. Dr. Bertrice Wood). The doctrine of the Trinity puts forth that there are three separate but connected beings that make God. Traditionally, they are named as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In more contemporary settings, the Trinity is referred to Creator, Christ and Spirit.
We do not have time to unpack the entire doctrine in one hour this morning, but one thing I want you to think about and consider in your heart is the connection between the three persons of the Trinity.
God, mother and father to us all,
Christ, our teacher and brother and
Holy Spirit, the force that connects all of it.
One of my mentors while I was a seminarian and student pastor helped me wrestle with the notion of the Trinity by focusing on the relationship or connection between the three persons of the Godhead. She said to me, our faith is a relational faith, the persons of the Trinity all relate to one another; God sets things in motion, Jesus walks with us on our journey and the Spirit enables our actions. They are all connected to one another, just as we are connected to each other and the whole world.
Our faith is a relational faith- a faith that calls us to be connected to the whole world.
In the scripture from the gospel according to John, we hear Jesus having a conversation with Nicodemus, a Rabbi, teacher, Jewish elder. Nicodemus has come to see Jesus in the dark of night and he really does not understand what Jesus is talking about. Jesus is speaking of being born of the Spirit and sent out by the Spirit. “How can this be?” “How can anyone be born after growing old?” Nicodemus continues to question and Jesus continues to try to teach him.
We then hear that verse, John 3:16, the verse that “[Martin] Luther called this verse ‘the gospel in a nutshell’ and it has served that way for so many of our people, signaling God’s profound love for us and indicating the depths to which God would go to convey that love. [However, this verse] has [also] served as a wedge between those who believe and are saved and those who do not… and as some conclude, must therefore perish and not have eternal life” (http://www.davidlose.net/2017/03/lent-2-a-just-one-more-verse/).
This is where our modern focus on just that one verse has fallen short of what Jesus was teaching. When we look at the following verse, John 3:17 it says “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.” It is important to note that “the Greek word translated as “save” or “saved” in John 3:17 is sozo, which means save in the sense of rescue, heal, and make whole” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3673).
The scripture verse that has been used to separate Christians from people of other faiths and of no faith has clearly been taken out of context when we see the verse that follows; a verse that is focused on sharing God’s love with the whole world, not condemning the world. A verse focused on the healing of the world.
So, on this Trinity Sunday, on this day when we are talking about our relational faith and how we are all connected, how does this broader, deeper understanding of scripture fit in?
I would venture to say that the scripture this morning is calling us to look at our connections with the wider world. Cosmos, is the Greek word used in the gospel. Cosmos is an expansive word for the world- it really calls us to examine where we see God working in the world- how we are connected, related to each other.
The prophet Isaiah gives us a glimpse, in his vision of call, of how expansive and truly awe-some God is. In his vision, just the lower half of God’s robes fill the temple, the earth shook and angels flew about him. This was quite a vision!
God calls Isaiah to a ministry of sharing with the world words that they will not always want to hear. Isaiah is called to speak the truth to God’s people. “God sends the prophet into an uncertain…unstable situation. The verses that come after verse 8 raise even more interesting issues. God specifically tells Isaiah that his preaching and ministry will not “work,” in the sense of positive response. The people will not listen” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3666).
And yet, Isaiah goes. He says, “Here I am, send me.”
Just as being a prophet for Isaiah was not easy, we know that following Jesus, that being a disciple, was never meant to be easy. Jesus has told us time and time again that following him will lead to ridicule and persecution. While some of us have been spared this reality, some of us have felt that first hand.
However, we also know from other stories in the Bible that God’s love is expansive, wide, far reaching. “God loves a Samaritan woman. God loves a man paralyzed his entire life. God loves a man blind from birth. God loves Jesus’ friend dead in the tomb for four days. God loves Peter who will deny his discipleship” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4835).
“God loves the world. That’s the whole world. And while that world was pretty big in John’s day—including Roman soldiers, pagans, Pharisees, people who went to the temple regularly and those who weren’t allowed in the temple, lepers and other “unclean” folk—today our world is even bigger.
Today we can turn on the television, [look at our computer or phone], read the newspaper and find stories with people in them from all over God’s world and we know that God loves them…
Syrian refugees resettling in our cities
Latino immigrants in our schools
people of faith in other religions or no religion
people of different races, ethnicities and abilities
Speakers of other languages
Openly LGBTQ persons
God loves the world. The whole world. So much that God gave. God gave everything” (https://melissabanesevier.wordpress.com/2017/03/06/the-world/).
Friends, if we were to fill in that sentence for ourselves- what would that look like?
Tara loves the world. The whole world. So much that Tara gave. Tara gave ???
Pilgrim Church loves the world. The whole world, So much that Pilgrim Church gave…..
What will we give?
How will we connect with others so that they will know God loves them? all of them?! How will we relate to others so that the world begins to heal?
In this week’s scripture passages, we find a bold declaration that God loves us… and that God loves the whole world. We also find an affirmation that we are all called to extend that love to everyone we encounter.
May it be so. Amen.