Episode 23

May 15, 2024


B223 Trinity Sunday

B223 Trinity Sunday
By the Well
B223 Trinity Sunday

May 15 2024 | 00:33:01


Show Notes

Monica and Fran discuss Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; John 3:1-17

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Speaker A: You're listening to by the well, a lectionary based podcast, preachers recorded on the land of the Wurundjeri people. Hello, everyone. I'm Fran Barber. [00:00:19] Speaker B: And I'm Monica Melanchthon. [00:00:21] Speaker A: Welcome to this week, which is Trinity Sunday, the week before ordinary time, which goes for many weeks. Monica and I will be focusing on. Focusing on Isaiah six one eight, psalm 29, and John three one to 17. And I may make a couple of comments about Romans if we have time. Okay, so beginning with Isaiah, Monica, it is, I think, if we're thinking Trinity Sunday, perhaps an odd choice of a reading, although I will note that there is a plural used for God in verse eight, which is perhaps a very loose reason why the reading might have been selected. But could you lay out what strikes you about this first part of chapter six? [00:01:09] Speaker B: Okay, before I do that, I will just give you a little bit of a background to this text. This is, of course, relating to Isaiah of Jerusalem. Let us be upfront and state that it is not about the Isaiah whose name heads the 66 chapters. This is the first 39 chapters of IsaIaH, is related to Isaiah of Jerusalem, who prophesied in the 8th century during the reign of Uzziah. And it was a time of, yes, political turmoil. Syria was sort of hanging around waiting for an opportune moment to invade the land. And the 8th century was also a time when monarchy was not functioning in the best of ways. There was a lot of poverty and corruption and abuse of power, etcetera, etcetera. And so you will notice that this particular chapter, which is traditionally called the call of IsaiaH, appears in chapter six. Usually the call would come first. Chapter one. Chapter one. But it doesn't. And so in chapters one to five, you hear some of the classical or characteristic names or identifications of God being introduced. God as the Holy one, God as the lord of hosts. So, in a way, somehow, the author is preparing us as readers to become familiar with this terminology. And then also you will find in chapter five, the song of the vineyard, narrating the abuse of how God has done well for this land of Israel. But Israel has not responded in the expected manner, and that is because of the fact that they have not taken the Torah seriously. Okay, so here, all of that serves as an introduction to this call in chapter six, where Isaiah enters the temple and experiences this magnificent and abundant glory of God. By the way, there's plenty of artwork out there. And if a preacher is wanting to take his sermon or her sermon a little further, look at some of that artwork and see how it speaks to you in relation to this text. And I think that the artwork mainly focuses on painting the glory of God, what that actually means. [00:03:46] Speaker A: Do you have a favorite? [00:03:49] Speaker B: Oof, I can't remember right now. [00:03:51] Speaker A: I feel like Rembrandt sketched something. Maybe I'm wrong. Anyway, he does. [00:03:56] Speaker B: Yeah, just a Google search will give you some. And so here you have in this text, Isaiah experiencing and seeing this vision of God sitting in all of God's glory. And a call narrative, at least as far as the prophets are concerned, often begins with this rather unusual, extraordinary, or out of the ordinary experience. And then the call. And he hears the seraphim singing to one another, holy, holy, holy is the Lord who called. And the house filled with. Sorry. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of God's glory. Yeah. So, and then Isaiah responds, and he says, I'm lost. I'm a man of unclean lips. And again, this is, again, a characteristic feature of the called narrative, where an individual would raise sudden doubts about his or her own capabilities or capacity for doing this. And then Isaiah is cleansed, right? So the seraph flies over to him, holds a live coal to his lips, and with a pair of tongs, and then he's declared clean. You know, your guilt is gone. So then the voice of the Lord comes to Isaiah, whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And Isaiah responds by saying Hideni in Hebrew, here I am. Send me. So the text is quite important. There are two things I think I would like to uplift for us this morning. First of all, you know, the issues of if. You know, Yahweh says, if you keep. Yeah. There is a sense in which Isaiah is afraid, because Isaiah is aware of what is happening in the world. And Isaiah here has committed himself to accept the call. And he doesn't know what it involves, how stubborn people will be. And if you read through the rest of the text, you will discover that there is a pretty damaging or discouraging scene where Yahweh says, people will be stubborn, people will not listen, people will not hear. And he says, for how long? And it is until cities lie waste without inhabitant and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate. There is no hope here. [00:06:32] Speaker A: No, I mean. I mean, I'm struck by the realism of that evocation, that description that you just made. And I'm. I mean, when I read this passage, familiar, obviously, but the woe is me, really struck me. It's true that in the biblical narratives, prophets tend to. I'm thinking of Jonah as well. But they all say, no, not me, not me. But there is something about the crisis that I hear through this particular passage that is really hits hard and the total disruption to our own plans or Isaiah's own plans in all senses of that. And the sometimes quite flippant way we use call language and how it's abused to. I mean, call language is abused either by people taking advantage of others because they're called to the role. We don't need to pay them properly, that kind of thing. But there is a romanticism too, that around call language that, you know, it's sort of. It's unquestionable, you know, if I say I'm call to something, well, you can't question whether or not I should be doing it, that sort of thing. So I think there's something very gritty and very important about that aspect of this passage. [00:07:58] Speaker B: Yeah. I think if we want to get away from the romanticization and if one takes the call seriously, one is also aware of one's own capacity. You know, am I really capable of doing what is expected of me? You know, what are my weaknesses? What are my strengths? There's a certain sense of, or process of discernment that we. You know, a word that we use also within the uniting church, you go through a period of discernment. And so similarly here, the. The one who is being called goes through that discernment and is unafraid to voice his incapacity or his doubts about himself or herself if it's a woman that is being called. And I think for me, that is very significant, the awareness of one's own capability. [00:08:47] Speaker A: And really. And that awareness, I think, too, in relation to the difficulty of the task, that is the reality that it will get worse. Or in. In the language of John's gospel, we'll get to like, the world is a place of hostility. So my. My reticence is to do with my own abilities, but also with the impossibility of the task as I see it, and danger to myself. [00:09:14] Speaker B: Yeah. [00:09:14] Speaker A: And my own sense of what I think freedom is. [00:09:17] Speaker B: Yeah. I mean, we live in a world where. Where, you know, people are afraid to voice the truth, or people are afraid to see the truth because. Because it's good news, there's bad news, there's good news, and we are afraid because of the repercussions, either personally or socially or ecclesiastically, whatever, to point out what the mistakes are in the world. And so the fact that he says, how can I critique the world? That I live in when I myself don't feel not right. Perfect. Perfect. And that is because maybe I haven't done it until now. [00:09:58] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:09:59] Speaker B: I haven't critiqued the structures and the systems that are contributing to the kinds of lives people find themselves. [00:10:07] Speaker A: I'm reminded, I was listening to a podcast series called the Whistleblowers recently, and I think it's probably not no good just googling that there's an australian one which does interview different people who, in modest ways, in comparison with Isaiah, perhaps, but nonetheless, it's really damaged their lives, some of them, because they've called out corruption, bad behaviour, and, you know, in the face of corporations and businesses and governments, incredibly courageous. Anyway, that's an avenue of savor. [00:10:43] Speaker B: Preacher might see what is also important is the location in which Isaiah undergoes or has this experience. You know, he is very definitely in the temple. He believes he is in the presence of God, and he can see God in all of God's glory, at least experiences God's glory may not necessarily see God, but God's glory. And it is in this confrontation with God, in that holy sanctuary, Isaiah becomes aware of who he is and therefore is able to say, I'm a man of unclean lips, which is a metaphor for the sinfulness of that can reside in an individual. So we all hide our secrets from one another. And so here, Isaiah, too, becomes aware of his own secrets, in a way, and gives expression. And as his guilt and his unworthiness is taken away, and Isaiah goes through a transformation. And now that he has experienced God's presence, he's hearing God's concrete question. I send, and who will go for us? Okay, so it's significant that his fear does not paralyze him. [00:12:06] Speaker A: No. [00:12:06] Speaker B: Yeah, yeah. And he walks forward in faith, and he says, okay, I'm here. Send me. [00:12:12] Speaker A: Have you got a linguistic reason why it says for us about. [00:12:16] Speaker B: Okay, well, the thing is, there's a lot of discussion about this. Some people would suggest that it is God speaking to God's counsel. Well, at the risk of being, maybe this might disturb some, but, you know, it's a vestige of a polytheistic belief that there are many gods. It could be that God has a counsel. And this notion of God's counsel you'll find in the book of job, and even in Genesis, chapter one, let us make, you know. So it's God's counsel. Of course, from a more christianized perspective, some will say it's other than trinity. God is incomplete. Yeah. [00:12:59] Speaker A: Clumsy. I'm not wanting to draw that. [00:13:01] Speaker B: No, no, not at all. Because we're talking about the Hebrew Bible where that notion doesn't exist. And so here it is, the heavenly council, and, you know, made up of angels and archangels, etcetera. [00:13:16] Speaker A: So shall we move on to psalm 29? [00:13:20] Speaker B: Yeah, and I think that. [00:13:22] Speaker A: Sorry. Okay, psalm 29. [00:13:25] Speaker B: Yeah. I think the connection that one can make between Isaiah and psalm 29 is the fact that that one can see an allusion to some sort of a community up in the heavens as well, maybe a council once again. And because the psalm, which is a hymn, begins with an imperative call on all the heavenly beings. Who are these heavenly beings ascribe to the Lord? O heavenly beings ascribe to the Lord glory, strength. Yeah. So therefore, like the seraphim or the seraph in Isaiah text, maybe something similar. [00:14:10] Speaker A: It's not an angel, is it? A seraph? Well, I've got six wings. [00:14:15] Speaker B: Yes, of course. Yeah, it is. Heavenly beings are also mentioned in psalm 82, psalm 148, and now in Isaiah six. And. Yeah, they are heavenly winged creatures, some would say angels, archangels. Yeah, something like that. Yeah. So the author of the psalm, and also the author of Isaiah six envisions, you know, this heaven council, and they are being called now to give glory to God. [00:14:47] Speaker A: And I think what I mean, and this psalm to me has just got an absolutely cosmic reach. I mean, you know, the glory of creation, the waters, the thunders, mighty waters, the cedars of Lebanon, the trees, the wild ox. I mean, it just evokes enormous wonder and transcendence, this psalm. And I think that's probably something. Well, it is something to emphasise any time, but in particular, Trinity Sunday, which is an occasion where preachers might feel the pressure to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. And as if one could, I mean, one, we can, you know, up to a point. But there's an element of wonder that, and mystery that is described by that, that we mustn't lose sight of. And there's something about the imagination in this psalm and in the Isaiah passage as well, that I feel is something that western minds in particular, we're losing the capacity to enter into those imaginary imaginations and enter into those passages because we want to flatten and explain everything, because we can explain an awful lot, but there's an awful lot about life. [00:16:08] Speaker B: That we can't affect, that we can't. [00:16:10] Speaker A: So there's something about this, that this psalm reminds us. [00:16:13] Speaker B: Yeah, I think, first of all, I'd like to call attention to the significance of the word glory. And, you know, it's an important word in this psalm. And what does glory mean? We use it fairly often in our hymns and in the reading of the psalms as well, and give glory to God. What does glory mean? It's acknowledging the hebrew word kabod, meaning abundance, majesty, power. And this is something of what Isaiah experienced also in the temple. And so it is super luxurious and splendor, magnificence, majesty. All of these words comprise, I think, the meaning of glory. And so how are we to ascribe glory? The heavenly beings or all of nature called to ascribe glory? How are we to do it? Through singing. That is what, you know, called to sing or shout the word glory, you know? And what is called for in verse one is executed in verse nine, when the entire congregation responds by saying glory. Yeah. The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl and strips the forest bear, and in his temple all say glory. [00:17:31] Speaker A: That's a real invitation, liturgically, to lose your inhibitions. And. Well, I mean, to me, actually, one of the more powerful musical experiences is when I'm singing in a language that's not my own, and I'm told what I'm told the meaning of what I'm singing. But there's something about singing in another language around that, to me, evokes glory, sometimes more than singing in my own. [00:17:59] Speaker B: Okay, that's interesting. Yeah. I mean, what is it that evokes the need to sing? Or what is it that, you know, that might provoke you to write a poem? You know, I'm imagining someone just over this last week, watching, standing on the edge of the ocean, perhaps in Mornington peninsula or somewhere in Tasmania, and experiencing the aurora. Unfortunately, I couldn't. [00:18:32] Speaker A: No, I didn't want them. But the pictures were extraordinary. [00:18:34] Speaker B: Extraordinary, yeah. And, you know, what does that evoke when you see something as spectacular as that? Just the pictures alone moved me. [00:18:43] Speaker A: Well, it's totally outside our experience, mostly that particular thing. And I think something that evokes silence in us is rare in our noisy world. So perhaps it's. That's partly a glory. I don't know. We're saying it evokes singing, and now I'm saying it invokes silence. There's something about both of those things. Yes. [00:19:05] Speaker B: Yeah. I mean, to actually sit in that moment and experience the wonder and the majesty of that beauty that is in front of you. So I think the psalmist has undergone something like that. I mean, the Bible is full of stories of how God reveals God self through acts of history. Here, what the psalm is emphasizing is that God reveals God's self through the wonder of nature. Okay. Through frightening as it might be, when, you know, when there's thunder and there is lightning, there is still something wonderful about it and spectacular about it, to be caught in a storm. And so, yeah. And that is an occasion for us to actually experience the majesty and the power and the abundance of good God and to sing or to acknowledge God's glory. [00:20:01] Speaker A: And thanks be to God for that. [00:20:02] Speaker B: Yes. [00:20:04] Speaker A: Let's move on to John 3117. So this is the encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus. One thing to keep note of, I think, with this passage is the artificiality of our subject headings in the Bible. So just at the end of chapter two, there's a couple of verses where it's talked about how there are people who will believe because of signs or they need to, and then others who don't, they use the word anthroposcopy. And in chapter three, although in the English, we don't see the word person written here, we've just got. Now, there was a Pharisee in the NRSV. What we have here is an anthropos who's been referred to in verse 23 in Nicodemus. Here is the example of someone not of no faith, but who is of a fairly superficial faith, sees wonders and signs. And what I think is happening here is being brought to a deeper type of faith that is being born from above, whatever that might mean. Glory, perhaps, just to refer to what we were talking about. So Nicodemus is a pharisee. He knows the law, and he's a learned man. He's a teacher. He comes by night. So we've probably because he doesn't want. Well, doesn't want others to know that he doesn't fully understand. He's hiding. [00:21:48] Speaker B: Yep. [00:21:49] Speaker A: Yep. I think this passage, I mean, I suppose I want to look at this passage through the fact that it's Trinity Sunday, and there's two mentions here of the kingdom of God. Now, John doesn't use the phrase kingdom of God very often. We read it in the synoptics a lot, and in Mark's gospel coming up, we'll see the kingdom of God described in parables. I'm just wondering about here with the notions of being born from above and the connections between Jesus and the father that come through John's gospel a lot. And we've just heard in the farewell discourse, how do we look at the kingdom through the lens of the Trinity, and so that the kingdom becomes not a place, but a relationship. And this is what's being described in language of being born from above? [00:22:52] Speaker B: Yeah, it's interesting that you use the phrase born from above because I think in the modern vernacular it's born again is another term or phrase that is often. Is often used. What that means is not always clear. I think in most people's mind they would probably be thinking of some kind of metaphysical transformation. You know, you were this, but now you are something else after being a form of conversion from something in the past to something different in the present and in the future. So there is a shift, you know, of in your. In yourself. [00:23:33] Speaker A: Yeah, yeah. And it's. And it's not here from unbelief to belief, because he does say, we know that you're a teacher. We know you've come from God. But the problem is, and I've seen you do these signs, but I still sort of don't get it. It's kind of the approach. So the being born again is coming to a deeper sense of what, of hij disease. [00:23:58] Speaker B: Yeah. Isaiah goes through a similar experience in Isaiah six. And so here you have an individual who is being called, and this born again is who needs to be born again. That means to start life again in a way, start afresh, to let go of all the things that you were aligned to before, which were perhaps not healthy or good or respectful or helpful for the community and for yourself. You let all of that go and you become something different. It might require being critical of systems, of doctrine, of ecclesiology, whatever. Everything in my mind, I think born again is being aware of the fact that now you are working towards the establishment of the reign of God. And that would require that you take risks, that you question things that are not, that do not seem to be fair or unjust. And the risk would involve even being martyred. [00:25:12] Speaker A: Yeah. And it's also to be attentive to the spirit or the wind who blows where it chooses, as we're described here. So another point I would want to make somehow in a sermon too, is that this spirit language and what we have here hasn't come our from nowhere. That when we talk about God as trinity, father, son, spirit, creator, Redeemer, sanctifier, all the conversations about language, what we're trying to capture is this is the same God, the father of Jesus Christ, who is the God of the Hebrews, and that. So that the spirit here in the wind, we can see in the hebrew scriptures. And that. So that there is profound continuity here. And what this is, this God is the father of Jesus Christ. And we are called into this relationship and invited, as Nicodemus is. [00:26:14] Speaker B: Yeah, yeah. And this requires this transformation which is being. Which is being. Which Nicodemus is being directed to undergo. You mentioned the Hebrew Bible and the blowing of the spirit. And even Israel had to go through the waters of baptism in a way, through the parting of the Reed Sea from slavery into a transformed, liberated community. And so the journey will be new. The journey will be fraught with difficulties, with obstacles. The. [00:26:59] Speaker A: Well, death here. [00:27:01] Speaker B: Yeah, yeah, all of that. And so, you know, to forge this identity, which is going to be a new identity, you would have to go through that. It's almost like Isaiah saying, until the cities lie waste and people are sent far away. So you have to go through those difficulties in order to experience this newness. [00:27:20] Speaker A: And I think that's captured here, particularly in verses, verse 13, about the lifting up, like 13 and 14, just as Moses was lifted up. The serpent story. So the thing that causes death is the thing that brings life. And we know that's obviously the cross here in the gospel. So, I mean, that's when one is. It's a long passage, this one. You will have to select one part of it. But, I mean, there's an awful lot in that verse. Eleven to 15. [00:27:53] Speaker B: Yeah. So, basically, Nicodemus here is being called to walk away from the power and privilege of his position, his social status, his leadership, and join a cause for justice and liberation, and therefore, to join hands with all the marginalized and the outcasts. So, therefore, here, what Jesus seems to be doing is pushing his audience, his followers, to understand that new life. Okay, is connected to the old. Yeah. It's not a complete separation. It emerges from the old, and God sends new life from above, you know, with new perspectives to interrupt our current beliefs and our habits. [00:28:48] Speaker A: It was helpful to me to connect this particular story with John 114, where you're born. It says you're born children of God and not of the man or the. And not of man, but of the will of God. So that's another way of talking about the born again or born from above, which is you are now children of God. That is, to whom you belong and the prior location and place of all your identity, which has all the implications that you have just named about being in the world and striving for peace and interconnectedness and justice for all. [00:29:28] Speaker B: Yeah, yeah. So, yeah. So, you know, all these three texts that we have discussed this morning, I think are really powerful texts. They have so much to offer in terms of how we respond to God. [00:29:45] Speaker A: Yeah, we're coming to the end now and we won't get to Romans, really, except I will say that the language of adoption in that passage really is another way of capturing what we've been talking about here, about new existence, being born again, having a different allegiance, having a whole different set of power structures. And compared to slavery, again, in that language there is profoundly freeing. It's a different sort of a slavery, but one that brings life and hope and not subjugation to powers over. So I think unless you have a final thing to say, Monica. [00:30:28] Speaker B: No, unfortunately, the Isaiah chapter text ends with verse eight. If you were to take it further, the text becomes much more understandable as to why, you know, Isaiah was afraid. But I think I really don't have much more to say other than to emphasize the fact that try the Isaiah text and wrestle with whatever it brings forth for you to reflect upon the call the glory of God. How do we live out our understanding of God? If you say God is holy, we as children of God, need to live lives that would exhibit our belief in God. So in other words, there's a correlation between our belief in God and how we live our lives. And if you believe God is holy, God is glorious, God is just, God is loving. Well, those. Those characteristics or qualities need to be part of who we are as well. [00:31:47] Speaker A: Which is echoing, if I might connect with the John 16 316, well known for God so loved the world, there is a loving approach of God that is the first initiative through which we then respond in the glory and the majesty, as you say. But it is a movement of love in God and with God and for God, for the world. [00:32:07] Speaker B: Yeah. And I think sometimes people might focus on the majesty and the glory of God as something out there, but then don't necessarily connect it to what is happening in the world today. And so that glory, that abundance, that majesty, that power that Isaiah experiences has come down, okay. And is calling each one of us to respond to it, to respond in the way that Isaiah has, you know, to, with all our frailties and weaknesses, to work towards a better society, a better world, a better church. [00:32:43] Speaker A: And that's a great place to end. [00:32:45] Speaker B: Ok. [00:32:48] Speaker A: By the well is brought to you by Pilgrim Theological College and the Uniting Church in Australia. It's produced by Adrian Jackson. [00:32:56] Speaker B: Thanks for listening.

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