15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ
Each of our readings has been chosen because it offers us an inkling of the God we come to call Holy Trinity. Isaiah no doubt didn’t have any intention of giving us an insight into a Triune God. He merely wanted to capture his experience of being in the presence of God. At that moment of God’s presence he knew himself no longer as a sinful man but a person empowered and commissioned to take God’s word to the people of God. Perhaps using the language of Paul and John we could say Isaiah was born from above, fully adopted as a child of God, an heir with Christ. I suspect that language wouldn’t have made sense to Isaiah at the time but what he did know was that he could put his hand up like a school boy and say, here am I send me. Hopefully by the end of our worship this Trinity Sunday we too will enthusiastically say here am I send me.
The psalmist certainly has no intention of giving us any notion of God being anything but one. The psalmist uses the name YHWH for God central to faith in Judea, the southern kingdom rather than the word Elohim in favour in the northern kingdom of Israel. But we don’t here the name as our translators only ever give us the phrase that the Judeans used instead of the name, the Lord. The psalmist and his community would not dare to say the name of God. The psalmist has an overwhelming sense of God’s power. God’s voice alone breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. It was presumable the same voice that uttered a word creating from darkness and chaos the wonder and beauty of the universe. And yet like Isaiah he concludes with “the Lord will give to his people the blessing of peace”. It suggests that like Isaiah even though he is overwhelmed by the power and majesty of God he senses a relationship that brings peace. The psalmist wouldn’t presume to say Abba, Father. But he has an inkling of a special relationship.
As we come to our two New Testament readings we begin to see new notions of God being woven together intimately. Paul of course had been schooled with the Pharisees and knew well the sense of sin Isaiah felt in the temple “woe is me” and he understood the psalmist’s fear at the sound of the voice of God. His earth shattering experience on the road to Damascus turned his world view on its head. For the first time of his life he knew the love and the grace of God. It is hard to fully appreciate the change from the Pharisee Saul sanding happily by as Stephen was stoned to death and Paul writing so eloquently of us as children of God in Christ Jesus. The image of adoption made a lot of sense to him as a Roman citizen. Once you were adopted into a Roman family you were an heir in that family. You could call the patriarch Pater, Abba, Father. Like Isaiah’s new found confidence, “here am I” and the Psalmist’s feeling of peace, Paul knew himself and us to be cherished heirs. The Spirit of God gives us the confidence to say Abba.
The evangelist John is writing some decades later. He uses the powerful image of the word made flesh. The voice of the Lord, doesn’t just shatter the trees and bring the wonderful universe into being it utters the word that becomes fully human such that we see the Glory of God in Christ. That word expresses God’s unfathomable love for the world.
We know John 3:16 so well that we forget the word world in John’s Gospel is this world that most often hates God. It is the world we know from the nightly news of violence and greed, of power and corruption. It is the world that loves darkness rather than light. And yet it is this world that God loves and speaks into the world so we see his glory. This loving God, whose word became flesh in our world came not to condemn this world but in order that the world might be saved through him. Once again we finish not as condemned sinners but empowered by a transcendent love that brings peace. John like Paul wants us to know the love of God that gives us a confidence; we can say Abba, Father.
Now when I started to write I wanted to give us some way to grapple with doctrine of Trinity. But I had in my mind, a quote from Karl Rahner, “Christians are, in their practical life mere monotheists.” [i] Richard Rohr who quotes Rahner goes on to say, all we ever say about God is metaphor. That is probably especially true when we speak about the trinity. Whether we speak of God in the Temple surrounded by cherubim and seraphim, or God whose voice whirls the deserts of Kadesh, or God like a father who adopts us, or God whose word becomes flesh or God as Trinity: nothing fully captures what we want to express.
Pastor Kenn Storck has written a great poem effectively warning against thinking we have a handle on God.
The Holy Trinity – Sunday – May 31, 2015[ii]
It is Holy Trinity Sunday.
Time to dust off the Dogmatics.
Speak of God as H-2-0:
water with three parts –
mist, liquid, ice.
Or a three leaf clover will do
to disclose the Three-In-One.
Why do we bother with
images, icons, projections of God
worthy to be shattered
by the mystery unsolved?
How dare we define the Divine,
Domesticate the Godhead?
Go ahead: Draw your pictures,
Color your triangles,
Speak of the Three-In-One,
And the One-In-Three.
Use the Athanasian Creed litmus test
Of Father / Son / Spirit.
But all the while do not trust
The limit of language,
The confinement of metaphor,
The simplicity of simile.
The Ancients knew
One could not be
In the presence of the living God
Moses beholds God’s backside,
Jeremiah – God’s fingers in his mouth,
Isaiah God’s robe and a hot coal.
The Christ confined in flesh,
Expand do not contract God
For God is the Great Iconoclast.
And we at last
Stand in the Divine Presence
In muted wonder.
With that flee in our ear lets stand in deed with Job, jaws dropping in muted wonder, but also share in the confidence of Isaiah, saying “here am I send me”. Know with the psalmist, the powerful God brings peace. And nestle with Paul into the loving arms of a gracious Father, say Abba, dad. Know deep in your hearts with John that God enters into the very place where we are, a world that loves darkness rather than light. Even in the darkness God’s spirit is turning our world upside down with redemptive love powerfully expressed by Jesus on the cross.
[i] Karl Rahner, The Trinity quoted by Richard Rohr in the Divine Dance SPCK 2016 page 26
And EFM notes 2018 page 220.
[ii] The Holy Trinity – Sunday – May 31, 2015, Pr Kenn Storck copyright@apoemasunday