John 3:1-17, Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17
May 31, 2015
First Lutheran Church
EARTHLY THINGS AND HEAVENLY THINGS
We are all Christians here, most of us for all our lives. It is not news to any of you that we worship God as the Holy Trinity. One God in Three Persons is the ancient traditional language for that. Today is Trinity Sunday. when we are especially mindful of the mystery of how God reveals Godself to us as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. It is the one day of the church year when we order our worship according to a doctrine rather than according to a biblical event or revelation.
You will not find the word Trinity in the Bible, but the revelation of God in three distinct persons or three distinct manners of behavior is clearly in the Bible. Great church councils of the 2nd through 5th centuries debated what that means and how each revelation of God is part of the One True God. The ancient Platonic category of person in the psychological sense was quite useful in the 4th century when Greek was the language of Western scholarship, but frankly, it has become a modern stumbling block.
Have you ever tried to explain what Three-in-One, One-in-Three means to an unbeliever? I remember a lengthy conversation I had with a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New Mexico more than 30 years ago. They find it absurd to call God, particularly the Holy Spirit a ‘person’, for to them, the Spirit is a force of God’s power. These particular folks could not think beyond the literal meaning of person as a corporeal human being. Have you ever tried to explain the Trinity to a young believer, one who is not clear about what it means to be a Christian? I have used all the modern clichés that circulate among the preaching set—that that Trinity is like an egg, like a doorpost, like a ball. All of these metaphors are useful up to a point, but they still leave us wondering what in the world God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity actually means.
It is actually a good thing to accept that we cannot fully comprehend the deep mystery of the Trinity. But that does not mean that we know nothing of what it means. In the Gospel passage Jesus says, If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? In the three Scripture passages read today we find an example of the three persons of the Trinity, demonstrating how the Church discerned the truth of God as Trinity. That is a heavenly thing. All that we know of heavenly things comes to us through revelation. We cannot reason ourselves toward heavenly things. We know that God is Trinity because God chooses to reveal that to us.
But God also gives us earthly things to point us toward understanding heavenly things, examples of which are found in our readings today. We begin with Isaiah 6, this beautiful passage of God calling Isaiah to be his prophet. The description of YHWH, the Hebrew name for God, leaves us with impressions more than facts. God is on a throne, high and lofty, the hem of his robe filling the temple. This is a royal picture, of one far removed, more powerful, bigger than all of human life, of one who commands the seraphim, yet of one who cares deeply for the people on earth who have great need. This is a glimpse of God the Father, the Creator, the Lord of all life, the first person of the Trinity—too holy for us to begin to fathom, yet whose primary way of dealing with his creation is love. Through love, God makes a way for humankind to know him, to be touched by him, to worship him.
The passage in John is a picture of Jesus the Christ, the incarnation of God, , the Father’s providential love for all of creation. Sending prophets was crucial in forming Israel into a nation of covenantal people, but it is only God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, who reconciles fallen creation back to the Father. His conversation with Nicodemus about earthly and heavenly things touches on that truth. All people are born of flesh, that is are born into sin. It is the human condition to be separated from God. But Jesus brings a way for people to be born from above, or born of the Spirit, that is forgiven and restored to that which the Creator intended in the first place. Only Jesus the Son can effect that restoration because Jesus the Son is the love of God the Father who became one of us for that very purpose. In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus the Son is also the bridge between God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul talks about the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit a lot in chapter 8 of his letter to the Romans. He also speaks of the difference between flesh and spirit. He is not speaking dualism, as if human bodies are evil and divine Spirit is good. What Paul means is that all human beings are subject to death which ends human existence. But through the grace of God the Father, through faith in God the Son, through the power of God the Holy Spirit, eternal life is given so that human death is the passage into the Kingdom of God forever. And for those who choose the way of grace, faith and power, we discover that we are not only loved but that we are adopted heirs who inherit glory and eternal life along with our brother Jesus, God the Son.
How can we understand heavenly things if we do not first understand earthly things? What we need to understand about earthly things is that in the flesh we are born into sin and our bodies will eventually die. But the grace of the Father, faith in the saving works of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit assure us that earthly things is not the end of human life. If we choose to accept these gifts and live in the Spirit of grace and truth, then we begin to glimpse and perhaps even understand a little of the heavenly things which give us life beyond death, eternal life in the kingdom of God. to whom we give all glory.