Engaging the Word: Readings for 5/31/15 (First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday)

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By Barbara Klugh

Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rubiev (1360 - 1430). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rubiev (1360 – 1430). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29;  Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text.

Trinity Sunday: This Sunday celebrates the doctrine of the Trinity—the unity of the three Persons of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Journey into the Heart of God, Philip Pfatteicher says, “Trinity Sunday, although not a commemoration of an historical event, is a celebration of the experience of the God of the Bible  as the human mind has reflected on that experience. It is in a simple phrase, a celebration of the mystery of God.”

Isaiah 6:1-8: The first of the five Major Prophets, Isaiah began prophesying to the southern kingdom of Judah in 740 BC. His ministry lasted around 50 years during a very difficult period for Israel. The Book itself spans over a period of at least two centuries, divided into three parts: before the exile, during the exile, and after the return from exile.

Our reading this week is from the first part and describes Isaiah’s call into prophetic ministry. In the year King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw  a vision of God in the temple, uniting heaven and earth. Seraphim were standing guard beside God, and said,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of his glory.”

Prophet Isaiah, by Antonio Balestra (1666 - 1740). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Prophet Isaiah, by Antonio Balestra (1666 – 1740). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Smoke filled the house. Overwhelmed with the holiness of God, Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” But one of the seraphs touched his lips with a live coal taken from the altar, and assured him that his sins and guilt were removed. Then Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me!” With his lips cleansed, Isaiah is now ready to speak for God.

And what about us? As God’s servants, how do we respond to God’s call? This text helps us to understand that before we can serve God, we need to recognize and repent of our sinfulness, which will bring God’s mercy and forgiveness. We may not be prophets, but we of the church are called to bring Christ’s love to the world that desperately needs it.

Psalm 29: This rhythmic psalm works very well with the reading from Isaiah; it praises the great glory, power, strength, supremacy, and, especially, the thundering voice of the Lord in the storm. Many scholars think that this is a psalm adapted from a Canaanite psalm to Baal, the storm god.

Others, such as J.C. McCann, Jr., quoted in Psalms from The New Cambridge  Bible Commentary,  proposes that the it may be kind of anti-Baal polemic, “that the opening call to praise is addressed to ‘the deposed gods of the Canaanite pantheon.’” In other words, the psalm uses Canaanite imagery to show the supremacy of the one true God.

St. Paul, by Bernardo Daddi (1290 - 1350). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul, by Bernardo Daddi (1290 – 1350). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Romans 8:12-17: In this week’s lesson Paul teaches what it means to live in the Spirit rather than by the desires of the flesh—in other words, living as children of God instead of living self-centered lives. We have been set free from our old way of life, and the Spirit will help us to give up our old habits and live into this new reality.

When we were baptized, we were adopted into the family of God.  In Paul’s eyes, once we have been adopted into the family of God, our old life no longer has any rights over us. The past is cancelled and all debts are wiped out when we begin a new life with God, and we are joint heirs with Jesus Christ. The Spirit enables us to know and to call upon God as our Abba, just as Christ did. Whatever Christ inherits, we also inherit. If Christ had to suffer, we also inherit that suffering; but, as Christ was raised to life and glory, we also are partakers of that life and glory.

John 3:1-17: Recorded only in John, this week’s reading is the story of Jesus and Nicodemus.

Jesus and Nicodemus, by William Brassey Hole (1846 - 1917). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jesus and Nicodemus, by William Brassey Hole (1846 – 1917). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Although he is  a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, Nicodemus is a seeker and comes to Jesus “by night.” Unlike other questioners, he does not come to Jesus to trap him—he realizes that Jesus is “a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus is confused because he doesn’t understand that Jesus is talking about a spiritual rebirth, not a physical one. And this birth comes by God’s Spirit. Jesus likens the Spirit to the wind—it will blow where it blows and we can’t control the Spirit any more than we can control the wind. Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can these things be?”

Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Here Jesus is referring to the lifting up of the bronze serpent in the wilderness (Num 21:4-9). When people looked up, they were healed. Jesus will be lifted up on the cross, and those who believe that he is God’s son will be saved.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 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.”

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