Lectionary Lab PREMIUM Edition for Trinity Sunday, Year B
May 30, 2021
Comments and Illustrations by John Fairless
The passage begins with an historical note: “In the year that King Uzziah died…” Uzziah was one of those mixed-blessing kind of kings in Israel. He was a faithful servant of God for a great deal of his 52-year reign — but, eventually, the power went to his head and he got — as my Grandmother used to say — “a little too big for his britches.” (Read Uzziah’s story in 2 Chronicles 26.)
He was struck with leprosy for defying God, and died pretty much alone in his own quarantine home. They even buried him in a separate cemetery, because, who knows? Maybe leprosy reaches beyond the grave!
My Bubba always reminds me to pay attention to the details in the text, as they are — practically without fail — there for a reason.
In this case, the noting of the year that Uzziah died indicates to me the fact that our eternal God — unbound by time and completely free to move about eternity — always acts, from our perspective, in time. God’s work is located rather precisely within the space-time continuum.
I list on our podcast for this week several other observations about this strange but glorious encounter the prophet has with fire dragons and the God Who Will Not Be Contained in any boxes of our defining.
The payoff for the Trinity Connection is, in my estimation, in the closing verse 8 — a verse that is often lifted out (of context, perhaps?) for “call sermons” and such.
God muses aloud, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” There you go — the “us” is our entrée to the Trinitarian expression(s) of God.
Besides the traditional Father-Son-Holy Spirit nomenclature, what other tripartite descriptions do we have to depict this essential (for Christians) nature of God?
Creator/Redeemer/Sustainer is one that comes to mind; here, in this passage, God is depicted as the “Banisher of Guilt” and the “Blotter of Sins.” One might add to that, God is also the “Sender of Saints” into the world with the good word that, even in our guilt and sin, we are recipients of God’s saving grace!
The psalm pairs well with the Isaiah passage, emphasizing the glory of God, particularly through God’s voice as an expression of God’s power.
If you’re looking for a fresh expression of this ancient text, I recommend the version by Maren Tirabassi (based upon the work of Robin Wall Kimmerer, in Braiding Sweetgrass) that begins with this delicious phrasing:
Braid a sweetgrass of praise to God,
O Squash, Algae, Goldenrod,
three glories and three strengths.
Make adobo-tasty God’s communion;
worship God in salt, garlic and peppercorns.
God’s voice is over the Ganges, Indus, and the Brahmaputra;
that healing may drown the crematory fires of India.
God kneels in the Yemeni streets calling, “Come and eat
–mandi, flat bread, masoub.”
God breaks the Tatmadaw, giving hope to Myanmar.
Hope is free speech in Chin State,
safety at home to Yangon division,
a skipping of joy in the smallest village.
God’s voice speaks words of precaution against three unholy flames
–wildfire, gunfire, incendiary speech.
God shakes the human wilderness of racism;
God shakes white privilege;
God shakes deadly prejudice in American policing.
God’s voice rises against violence in schools:
car bombings in Afghanistan,
kidnappings in Nigeria,
mass shootings in the United States.
May all in God’s house weep.
God sits, not on a throne, but in the lap of all creation,
longing for extinct creatures,
weeping over climate change,
kissing each holy frozen inch of Arctic, of Antarctica.
Threefold holiness, Community of love, may God bless all the earth with peace!
— from Worship Ways of the UCC
This snippet of Romans 8 is provided mainly for its mention in one passage of God as Father and Jesus as Christ, along with the testimony of the continuing work of the Spirit of God.
We flitted through John 3 a bit earlier on the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Here now, we have the background to the discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus, a ruler of the synagogue who has some important questions for the distaff rabbi.
Rather than a lengthy exposition of the gospel text on this Sunday, I think that the conversation serves to illustrate the mysterious nature of the Trinity that we are trying to express.
Jesus tries three (accidental number?) different analogies to help Nicodemus understand the spiritual renewal brought about by God’s Spirit: being born “from above;” birth by water and spirit; and the blowing of the wind.
What do these things have in common?
Certainly, none of these is under our control. What God does from God’s heaven is God’s prerogative; our natural birth (water and blood) is not something we did for ourselves; and the comment about controlling the wind is so obvious that, in its simplicity, we are likely to miss it.
You and I can try to improve on Jesus’ explanation to Nicodemus here, if we’d like. Lots of sermons have invoked the 3 forms of water (fire, ice, steam) or have used a can of “3-in-1” oil to try to bring it home.
Me: I kind of like thinking about the way the wind blows, saying, “God works a lot like that,” and leaving her be!
And just for fun… (a week late, but it tickled my funny bone nonetheless!)
Sermon by Delmer Chilton
When my parents were still living, I used to call home about once a week.
It was a “News from Lake Woebegone” sort of phone call – though in my case it was the “News from Slate Mountain.” I got an update on the latest spat at the church and how the weather and the crops were doing and finally the obituaries, which were always a bit confusing because I never really knew who was being talked about – neither who was dead nor who was mourning.
Daddy would say, “Well, I don’t reckon you heard about William McCorkle dying?” While I was smart enough not to point out to my father that a 75 year old man dying in Slate Mountain, North Carolina was unlikely to be big news in Nashville; I was not smart enough to refrain from admitting that I did not know who William McCorkle was. “Sure you do,” he would protest,
“He was your Great Aunt Vesta’s first boy by her second husband, Old Man Willard McCorkle. "She married him after your Great Uncle Grover Cleveland Chilton died.” Me: “I still have no clue Daddy.” My father: “He ran that little store up on Highway 52, almost into Virginia.” Me: “Oh yeah, I remember him. He would sell beer to me when I was still underage and in high school.” Daddy, “Well, he wasn’t a real Chilton, but anyway - he died. Funeral will be at the Holiness Church on Tuesday.”
The thing that always fascinated me about these conversations is that while the abstract, technical, connections were important to Daddy – “Great Aunt Vesta’s boy by her first marriage,” – they meant nothing to me. But, whenever he could identify an activity, something the person did, I would often remember who they were. Identity and activity are closely intertwined.
When trying to describe someone else, after we say they are tall or short; fat or thin; young or old; blonde, brunette, gray, or bald; what do we have left to say? We most often shift to talking about something they do: how they dress, how they talk, what they like to eat, the books they read, the hobbies they pursue, stories about funny things that happened while you were with them. All of this is about activity, about doing.
Today is Holy Trinity Sunday. Traditionally, Lutherans used the Athanasian Creed on this day.
It was on page 54 of the Lutheran Book of Worship. And on page 55. It’s really long. We left it out of our new book. And it has lines in it like this: Uncreated is the Father; uncreated is the Son, uncreated is the Spirit. The Father is infinite, the Son is infinite, the Holy Spirit is infinite.
Eternal is the Father, eternal is the Son, eternal is the Spirit; And yet there are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal; there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited.” and so forth and so on for two long pages.
This, to my ears, sounds a lot like “Your Great Aunt Vesta’s boy by her first husband Old Man Willard McCorkle before he died and she married your Great Uncle Grover Cleveland Chilton.”
All these abstractions about both God and William McCorkle may be true and technically accurate, but for most of us, they are not particularly revealing nor relevant to the way we live out our faith. What is important to most of us about the Trinity is the way it helps us understand and participate in the activity of God in the world.
Who God is and what God does in the world is revealed to us in the Living, active Word of Scripture and the way we learn there about how God acts to love the world and us. The three basic cycles of revelation in the Bible are:
1) - God as Creator and Parent, Provider and Liberator told to us in the Creation, Exodus and Promised Land stories.
2) - God as Redeemer shown to us in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. And
3) - God as Sanctifier, the one who makes us holy, bursting out in the stories in Acts as the church grows upward and outward.
We traditionally talk about these using the language of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But, both in the scripture and in our lives, it is not so easy to separate things. Genesis Chapter One talks about the Spirit of God moving on the waters and John’s Gospel in its first chapter makes a case for Jesus as the logos, the Word of God who speaks creation into being. Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, told to us in John, Chapter 3, talks about the Kingdom of God and being born of the Spirit and the Son of Man being lifted up – more mixing and matching of the activities of God in the world and in our lives.
Whatever else it may be, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is important to us as a short-hand way to remember the “many and various ways” God has revealed God’s self in the past, and as a guide to the possible ways God will continue to reveal the Divine Presence in the future. The trinity reminds us that our God is an active god, not content to sit back and see what happens.
Our God is a god who has been and will continue to be engaged in the lives and goings on of the world and God’s many beloved children. The Trinity reminds us of our calling to be actively engaged in carrying out God’s will and way, mission and ministry in the world.
We are invited to jump into the work of creation, caring for and bettering the earth, which God made and then placed into our hands for safe-keeping. We are invited to carry on with the task of redemption; taking Christ’s message of love and forgiveness, grace and renewal, to all people in all places. We are invited to live life in the Spirit, being ever more attentive to the intimate presence of God in our lives.
Amen and Amen.