Trinity Sunday B
May 24, 2021
The Trinity Sunday B Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for John 3:1-17 from the Lectionary Gospel; Isaiah 6:1-8 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 29 from the Lectionary Psalms; and Romans 8:12-17 from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: Heidelberg Catechism: Q&A 23 (Lord’s Day 7)
Author: Scott Hoezee
I wonder what Nicodemus was thinking about when he walked home that night.
My guess is that it wasn’t the Doctrine of the Trinity! Yet this is the Year B passage assigned for Trinity Sunday. So what did he ponder? No clue. John doesn’t tell us. That’s ironic seeing as, according to John’s reportage at least, Nicodemus was the first human being on earth ever to hear what has gone on to become the most famous Bible verse in the world: John 3:16.
Today people parade John 3:16 around as though it were some kind of a magic formula, the mere sight of which printed on a bedsheet and displayed at a baseball game, affixed to a car via a bumper sticker, or posted on a front yard billboard will lead to some kind of conversion. And it may be that upon reading this most famous capsule summary of the gospel that any number of people have been moved closer to God on account of it.
But if anything like that happened for Nicodemus, we are not told. He simply disappears from the narrative after John 3:12 (he actually speaks last in verse 9 but verse 12 is the last time Jesus refers to Nicodemus in the second person). This is what has led to the conjecture that possibly the dialogue with Nicodemus ends prior to that famous 16th verse and so we should remove the quote marks from around verses 16-21 and accept these as John’s own musings on the meaning of what Jesus had said to Nicodemus.
That idea is probably not right but be that as it may, the fact that such a theory can be concocted at all is due to the odd fact of the disappearance of Nicodemus from this chapter. The last thing we hear him saying is, “How can this be?” which is not exactly a ringing indication that he ever came to grasp what Jesus was saying. A question asked out of sheer befuddlement is not exactly the way most of us would want to be remembered! But at this juncture in John, that’s the last thing we get from Nicodemus (and even though he will re-appear in John 20 at the burial of Jesus, he does not speak there and so this question, fraught with confusion, really is the last word recorded in the Bible from this teacher of Israel).
But let’s assume he heard everything Jesus said through verse 21 and let’s assume that he thanked Jesus for his time and then shuffled on back home through the darkened streets of pre-dawn Jerusalem. What on earth (or in heaven) could have been going through his mind? Did he realize that Jesus was referring to himself through all that talk about God’s Son? Did he have a clue that Jesus was pointing forward to the sacrificial death he would endure on the cross? Did he ever really “get it” when it came to that metaphor of being “born again” or did he find the image as silly as when Jesus first uttered it (and which, in turn, led Nicodemus to poke a little fun of Jesus’ rhetoric by trying to envision a fully grown senior citizen re-entering a woman’s uterus)?
We don’t know. What we do know is that if Nicodemus went home a saved man—and if his later appearance in John’s gospel at the burial of Jesus indicates that he had come to love Jesus—it was not because he had managed to figure it all out on his own. After all, if Jesus managed to make anything clear in these verses it was definitely the idea that salvation is not about what we know, what we do, what we manage to accomplish in our lives. Seeing the kingdom of God is a sheer miracle, a miracle that is actually far more stunning than what would be required actually to stuff a grown man back into his mother’s womb! That would just be a parlor trick.
The real spiritual re-birth of which Jesus spoke requires far more effort on God’s part. It requires a person to come to see the world in the upside-down terms Jesus always used when he talked about his kingdom. A person had to be re-born to the idea that humility and kindness are far more valuable than pride and brazen efforts to promote oneself, that the meek and lowly and quiet of the earth are of far more value than the bold and the lofty and the noisy of the earth.
Above all one had to come to the insight—and it is not an insight human logic could ever manufacture—that when God came to save this world, he did so by depositing a humble little baby into an animal’s feedbunk out on the edge of nowhere in this world. And if that idea was not startlingly radical enough, there was the other thing Jesus directly mentions in this passage; viz., salvation will come by paradoxically looking at an emblem of the very thing that terrifies us the most in this world: death. Just as the Israelites had to look at a bronze image of what ailed them to get healed, so all people would have to look at a bloody instrument of execution to find eternal life.
Christus Paradox is the title of a choral anthem and hymn that captures the both/and surprises of the incarnate Son of God. Within himself Jesus has all the majesty of the Triune God and all the humility of a lowly human being from a modest family. Christ is, as the hymn tantalizingly puts it, “the everlasting instant.” There is a whole lot of mind-blowing theology in that combination of everlastingness and a temporal instant but it is, in the end, no less mind-blowing than everything else Jesus had said in John 3. (You can watch/hear a nice setting of this by clicking here.)
And if on his way home old Nicodemus could grasp something of that paradox—and find in it the joy of his life—then it wasn’t because he was so smart as Israel’s teacher. It was because he had been born again of the Holy Spirit. And if that happened, then Nicodemus knew something else—he’d spend the rest of eternity savoring and marveling over the things Jesus said to him that dark night But he’d never tire of reflecting on all that. Not ever!
Neither has the church ever since.
In his commentary on the Gospel of John, Frederick Dale Bruner frames up the famous John 3:16 verse this way, highlighting the GREAT import of these words:
God = The greatest subject ever
So (much) = The greatest extent ever
Loved = The greatest affection ever
The world = The greatest object ever
That He gave his one and only Son = The greatest gift ever
So that every single individual whoever = The greatest opportunity ever
Who is entrusting oneself to him = The greatest commitment ever
Would never be destroyed = The greatest rescue ever
But would even now have a deep, lasting Life = The greatest promise ever
Creation itself sprang from a bubbling overflow of God’s love. Like a shaken-up bottle of champagne, so also God’s love within the Trinity was so effervescent, so richly pressured and full that sooner or later the cork had to explode out and when it did, a river of sparkling love gushed forth and sprayed everywhere. Creation is that overflow of love. God wanted to share the life and the love he already had so exquisitely among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Greek theologians of the Trinity in the early church liked to talk about what they termed “perichoresis,” which is a Greek word meaning in essence the interpenetrating dance of love shared by the three persons in the Godhead. Whereas in the Western tradition of the church we have tended to depict the Trinity as a triangle, the Eastern church has always preferred a circle. The Trinity is like an ever-moving circle of dance in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constantly and forever move in and through one another in perfect bliss, harmony, and self-forgetful joy. The three persons of God are so invested in one another, so interested in one another, so caring of one another that although three persons they form just one God. They’ve been serving each other from all eternity and finding holy joy in that loving co-service.
So it is no surprise that at some point those three persons decided that so great was this love, so focused was this love on the other, that they wanted an entire universe of others with whom to further share the love. God was under no compulsion to create anything. Yet it is just so like God to want to create, to want to share the love. God’s motivation to create the world is similar to what motivates us to invite as many friends as we can to the wedding of one of our children or to an anniversary celebration: we want to widen the circle of our own love and joy; we want to share the grand event with those who are close to us. Something very like that was what brought about creation in the first place: the love of God within the Trinity bubbled over in a desire to spread the joy around. “Let us create some more creatures so that we can then invite them to our holy party!”
Author: Stan Mast
Using this prophetic text for Trinity Sunday will take a bit of exegetical ingenuity. You will have to use strong New Testament glasses to find the Trinity here. But, on the other hand, this is a perfect text for the transition from the celebration of the Great Feasts of the church year to Ordinary Time, because it confronts us with the glory of the God who has done great things for us and it sets before us our calling in Ordinary Time.
As I write the first draft of this sermon starter, I am definitely in a time of transition. It is Inauguration Day in the United States. President Trump has just flown off to Mar-a-Lago and President Biden is about to be formally inaugurated as 46th President of the United States. Given the events of the last four years, this is definitely a transition of power and policy and style. Such times are filled with uncertainty. How will all this turn out? By the time I have written my final draft, we all have some amazing stories about how this has turned out, but I want to stay with my original question about transitional times. How will this all turn out?
That was the question when Isaiah received his vision. Whenever my classically trained Choir Director rolled out the anthem, “In the Year that King Uzziah died,” I rolled my eyes (surreptitiously, of course) and asked myself why. It seemed so irrelevant. But now I see why Isaiah added that little historical note—to tell us that God’s people were going through a time of transition and, thus, needed a word/picture from their unchanging God.
Uzziah had been a good king. In a long line of wicked and inept Kings, Uzziah had been righteous for a long time. But then, at the end, he profaned the temple by illicitly burning incense, as a result of which he caught leprosy. He died in shame. After him, things would mostly go downhill, as the Assyrian and Babylonian threats to the northeast would grow. Israel was almost gone and Judah felt the hot breath of her enemies on her neck. With Uzziah gone and the enemies as the gates, there were many questions about who would be there for God’s people.
It was a good time for God to show up. And God showed up, big time, in a way that almost undid Isaiah and that has inspired generations of believers. What awesome opening words, words that challenge the blanket assertion of John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God….” This was a rare vision of God that people in transition desperately needed. Uzziah’s throne was empty, but here is “the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.”
There is much debate about whether this is the heavenly temple after which the earthly temple was patterned. The former would make this a much larger vision, but the later seems more likely given the way the doorposts and thresholds trembled and shook. Either way, the idea is the same. The Lord’s throne looms above even the most splendid earthly thrones. And even the lowest hem of his robe completely filled the entirety of the Temple. No wonder Isaiah’s first response was “Woe to me! My eyes have seen the King, Yahweh Almighty.” The Lord is so majestic and mysterious that Isaiah is reduced to a quivering mass of finitude and guilt. The same should happen to us.
But the vision isn’t over yet. Hovering above Yahweh, the King Almighty, are these two seraphim, 6 winged creatures whose name means fiery, a theme that will be carried forward. Even these majestic heavenly beings have to cover their eyes and feet (private parts, suggest some scholars), because even such beings may not see the glory of God or appear before him indecent.
Though they cannot see the Lord, they know him intimately, so they know what to say in the presence of the Sovereign One. “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah and his fellow Israelites knew about holy places and holy people and holy ceremonies, all set aside, separated for a specific function. But God is not just holy, a little separate, a touch different, set aside for a specific function. God is thrice holy, wholly other, completely different, set aside from everything in creation. One scholar has pointed out that God’s holiness is the only attribute of God that is ever repeated three times like this. He is, quintessentially, The Holy One of Israel.
And yet, though he is high and exalted, immense and transcendent, he is also immanent and available. Indeed, the whole earth is full of his glory. He who sits above the heavens on his mighty throne, also dwells on the earth in all his glory—not just in the cloud that fills the Temple, not just on that quaking smoking mountain from which he gave his Law, but everywhere, all the time. No, we can’t see that glory all the time, but that’s because we mistake the glory of the creator for the glory of his creation, and then worship and serve the created rather than the creator (Romans 1:25). Thank God for pouring all his glory into the One and Only who has made the Father known (John 1:18).
At the sound of the voice of those heavenly beings, not only did the Temple shake to its foundations, but Isaiah was shaken to the core of his being. Earlier visions of God’s glory made people think that they would die. This one completely undid Isaiah. That’s why I like the old KJV translation. “I am undone.” The NIV, “I am ruined,” comes close, as does “I am lost.” Seeing God in all his sovereign glory reduced Isaiah to next to nothing. At the very least, it shut his mouth (the literal meaning of the Hebrew word here). And that is appropriate to what comes next.
Isaiah did not know what to say in the presence of such a God, except to confess his sinfulness. He does that by reference to his lips. That may have been in part because he was struck so dumb by God’s holiness. And it may have been in part because of the Jewish understanding that what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart where all wickedness dwells (Matthew 15:18).
At any rate, Isaiah’s vision leads to his confession, which may be the origin of the traditional liturgy in my Reformed tradition, where an opening song of praise is almost immediately followed by a confession of sin and an assurance of pardon and a doxology for the redeeming grace of God. The pardon in Isaiah 6 is particularly painful, involving a burning coal pressed to Isaiah’s lips, thus taking away his guilt and atoning for his sin. Perhaps that is a foreshadowing of the painful suffering of the Servant who will take away the sins of the world.
Atonement and absolution are followed by question and commission. Again, this is the pattern of the Christian life played out in one man. The God who is high and exalted has an earthly mission for his newly purified prophet. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’” Instantly, Isaiah says, “Here am I. Send me!” The twin experience of vision and redemption moves Isaiah to unthinking obedience. Would that it did for all of us! Perhaps it doesn’t because we are a bit worried where our mission will take us.
Isaiah very soon experienced second thoughts, when God explained his mission. The RCL leaves verses 9-14 out of our reading, undoubtedly because they are so troublesome. It sounds for all the world as though Isaiah’s mission is to preach in such a way that God’s people won’t repent and return to God. He is to preach them into judgment. To which Isaiah responds, “How long, O Lord?” That’s a good question, because Isaiah’s commission surely doesn’t fit with the Great Commission or, for that matter, the rest of Isaiah’s mission. So, God answers helpfully—until judgment is complete.
Here’s the larger reality. God had been patient for hundreds, even thousands of years. He has saved and guided, saved and corrected, saved and punished, saved and warned, saved and finally said, “That’s enough. I’m done. Here comes the punishment. No more waiting.” But Israel kept ignoring, even mocking, God as in Isaiah 5:19, “Let God hurry, let him hasten his work so we may see it. Let it approach, let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come so we may know it.”
That was the last straw for an infinitely patient God. And Isaiah was the one would preach until the judgment finally fell. Then he would turn to “comfort ye my people” (Chapter 40 which begins the Book of Comfort in Isaiah). Indeed, Isaiah 6 ends with a tiny note of hope for a new beginning once the judgment has brought Israel to some semblance of repentance—“so the holy seed will be the stump in the land (verse 13).?
So, asks the Christian preacher, what on earth am I to do with this blazing text? Why use it on Trinity Sunday, 2021? Well, you might use it as a subtle reminder that God was Triune long before he revealed his mysterious Selves. Older scholars saw hints of the Trinity in the “Holy, holy, holy,” each holy for a Person of the Trinity.
Those same scholars heard a dim echo of the creation story in verse 8, where God is both “I” and “Us.” Newer scholars think that the “us” is editorial or royal or even a reference to the heavenly council represented by the seraphim. But even as it is most unlikely that the Creator would refer to angels when he said, “Let us make man in our image,” so it is unlikely that the angels would have any say in sending Isaiah on his Messianic mission. Angels are the sent ones, not the senders. Thus, while we could never claim any clear revelation of the Trinity in Isaiah’s vision, we can at least say that, once we have on the spectacles of the New Testament, we can see hints of God’s complex mystery in this account.
More to the point, I think, is this whole idea of transition. As the world (or at least my country) makes a transition from one King to another, it is reassuring to know that there is a King on a higher throne, whose power is unlimited and whose character is wholly other than our earthly kings who always stumble and fail. And it is bracing to be reminded that this heavenly King is still looking for willing volunteers to carry his hard and gracious Word into a fallen world. The Triune God sends us out into Ordinary Time with the extraordinary message about what he has done to save sinners and remake their world, beginning with a stump and a holy seed and concluding with a cross and an empty tomb.
The angels’ announcement that “the whole earth is full of his glory” made me think of a book I read this summer, Countdown 1945, by Chris Wallace. It tells “the extraordinary story of the atomic bomb and the 116 days that changed the world.” Full of details about the political and military maneuvering around the development and deployment of that most terrible of weapons, I was particularly struck by the precautions surrounding the detonation of the first trial bomb.
The one thing everyone was cautioned about was looking directly at the blast and not using protective googles. If one looked directly at the explosion, one would be blind for life. Even with all those precautions, people were absolutely awestruck at the brilliance of the flash. No one who saw it ever forgot it.
Now imagine that kind of brilliance spread all over the earth, so that the whole earth was full of that glory. Now imagine the creator of atom and universe revealing his glory to the whole earth at once. We would be undone, ruined, lost, struck dumb. Thank God for sparing us and saving us by pouring all his glory into Jesus of Nazareth, so that we could see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (II Cor. 4:6).”
Author: Scott Hoezee
You can find an article with sermon ideas for Psalm 29 a total of 9 times in the Sermon Starter Archive here on CEP. That is because in all three Lectionary cycles of Years A, B, and C, Psalm 29 is always assigned for the first Sunday after Epiphany/Baptism of Christ and for Trinity Sunday. Curiously, I cannot quite figure out this poem’s connection to either Epiphany or Trinity, though since this psalm is an ode to a thunderstorm, the “appearance” of God’s majestic power may tie in better with Epiphany. And maybe similarly for this Trinity Sunday: the power of the Triune God is seen in powerful storms.
In any event, while I was growing up, my Mom has always had a fear of storms of any kind. We used to joke about the fact that if ever there was a Severe Thunderstorm Warning or a Tornado Watch, you would soon see Mom’s purse on the top step of the stairs leading to the basement in case we had to flee down there for safety. (I was never sure how having her purse would help but maybe she thought that if the house was flattened, she’d still have a credit card or something). In any event, this wariness of storms got instilled in me and I seem to have passed it along to my daughter.
My wife on the other hand revels in big storms. Nothing could thrill her like watching a big storm roll in over an Iowa prairie or coming off Lake Michigan. She is no more a fan of lightning strikes, felled trees onto a house, or other storm damage but short of that, a whopping storm is a spectator sport for my wife.
Psalm 29 is an ode to a thunderstorm. But this poem is not just that. The primary aim here is to move through the storm to the Lord of the storm, to the King of Creation, to the one, only true, sovereign God: Yahweh. As such, Psalm 29, for all its lyrical and poetic beauty, is actually a fairly feisty piece of polemic or argumentation.
This psalm throws down the gauntlet of challenge to some of the other religions of the Ancient Near East–religions that claimed that the forces of nature are gods and goddesses in their own right. Psalm 29 reveals the falseness of those idolatrous claims by saying that the God of Israel is the One who creates all those wonders. More, he’s the one who is greater than them all. So in a way you could read this psalm as a rebuke to those who worshiped the creation instead of the Creator.
As such, Psalm 29 walks a fine line. This is the only Old Testament text that so extensively identifies God directly with what people today might call “natural phenomena.” The thunder simply is the voice of God, the lightning just is the strike of God’s voice, the wind is the effective speech of God that is so stunning, it twists even the mightiest of oaks the way a child might mold Playdoh. This is indeed the treading of a fine line seeing as the Bible is always very careful to distinguish God the Creator from his creation.
But despite its close identification of God with the manifestations of a thunderstorm, Psalm 29 never crosses or blurs the boundary line between Creator and creation. Yahweh can be seen in, through, and by the thunderstorm, but he’s never just the same thing as the storm. The thunder, lightning, wind, and the very power of the storm are the effective presence of Yahweh in the same way that my voice through the loudspeakers in an auditorium reveals my presence among the congregation whenever I preach somewhere. But I am not just the same thing as the sound from the speaker. So also God is manifest in the storm without being the same thing as the storm.
Because in the end Yahweh is seen as seated in glory on his throne above it all. Though something of his glory and strength can be seen in the storm, all of that is at best but the faintest of hints as to his true grandeur. It is almost as though the psalmist points to the magnificence of the storm and then says, “If you think that’s something, you ought to consider the God who doesn’t even break a sweat in producing such wonders!!”
To keep the ultimate focus on God, this psalm begins and ends with pairs of verses that direct us to think about Yahweh. Verses 1 and 2 open the psalm with a call to render Yahweh alone glory. Then in conclusion verses 10 and 11 redirect us to the heavenly court of Yahweh, where he rules as the supreme King. The problem most people have is they fail to see this God in their everyday lives. And so the middle portion of this psalm, verses 3-9, serves as a kind of illustration. Verse 2 ends with a call to worship Yahweh “in the splendor of his holiness.” That sounds kind of abstract. What exactly is “the splendor of holiness”? Holiness seems to be an invisible quality. You can no more “see” holiness than you can see kindness. You can’t see kindness the same way that you can see blonde hair or a tree. Kindness needs to be embodied by someone for you to see it.
So if I tell you to praise Leanne for the splendor of her kindness, you may respond, “What do you mean? What kindness?” And true enough, just looking at a picture of Leanne won’t reveal kindness to you. So perhaps I would then say, “Well, look over there, for instance. Do you see how Leanne plays so tenderly with those children in the emergency housing shelter? That’s just one example of what she’s like all the time. She’s got kindness all sewn up, and so she deserves to be respected for the splendor of her kindness. That’s what I mean.” Some things need to be illustrated, lived out in concrete ways, if they are to be seen at all.
So also in Psalm 29: the psalmist says that an example of God’s splendid holiness is a thunderstorm. It’s not the only example, but it is one example that can be seen and appreciated. It’s a window through which to glimpse the one true, almighty God of Israel. So the psalmist takes us to the edge of the ocean as a storm approaches. Many of us know this kind of experience. Sound travels exceedingly well over open bodies of water. And so even on a clear day on a beach somewhere, you may suddenly hear a distant rumble. Soon it gets closer, and as you look out over the water, the horizon gets dark.
Often it is astonishing how quickly the conditions can change. A chill wind kicks up as the thunderstorm begins its pumping effort to move the warm surface air up and the colder air down. Then flashes of lightning become visible, the thunder gets louder. The waves kick up and start to wash over the pier. Hail begins to bounce off the beach like popcorn. Trees may fall, lightning may split the taller trees unlucky enough to become the equalizing point for the storm’s electrical currents. And if you’ve ever been dangerously close to a lightning strike, then you know that Psalm 29’s description of the ground shaking is no exaggeration.
It’s an awesome, often even a frightening, spectacle (again: I do the “frightening” part of storms and my wife keys in on the “awesome” part!). But the real punch of this middle portion of Psalm 29 is not the tumultuous waves, the high-voltage lightning strikes, or the split oaks. More powerful than all of that is the conclusion of verse 9 when all who are in Yahweh’s temple cry, “Glory!” It is an amazing feat of faith to be able to see a display like this one but even so not be distracted from the Creator God whose glory the storm reveals. The response of this psalmist to this powerful storm is not, “Wow!” or “Awesome!” or “Cool!” or even “Yikes! Let’s take shelter!” No, the response of the faithful is simply, “Glory to God in the highest! A sliver of God’s nature just got paraded before our eyes!”
In verse 11 we are told that Yahweh gives strength to his people and this, then, leads to peace. A psalm that shook the foundations of the earth, a psalm that rattled the panes of our stained glass windows, a psalm that split oaks and caused us to plug our ears and cover our eyes from the noise and brightness of it all–this very psalm ends in peace. But this is not just the calm after the storm. This is not a depiction of that moment when suddenly the sun peeks back out, and the only sound you can hear is the dripping of water from leaves.
No, the last Hebrew word of Psalm 29 is shalom. This is not “peace and quiet” but rather the peace that passes all understanding. This is the inner peace you get when you know that all is right with the world. This is the kind of peace that descends on your soul after a beautiful evening out with your family to celebrate a 50th anniversary–a peace that produces a deep sigh of satisfaction as you reflect on how much you love your children and grandchildren, how much they, blessedly enough, love you, and so how good it is to be alive in this particular moment. That’s shalom. That’s the sense that all is well.
Shalom is the sense that things are as they ought to be. In this case, it’s the sense that things between you and the Almighty One of the cosmos are all right. And how do you get this peace, this sense that everything is in plumb and in proper alignment? You get it, verse 11 says, because Yahweh gives strength to his people. And after all that we’ve seen in this psalm, that little line ought to deliver quite a few gigawatts of juice to your soul!
Because in this psalm the strength of God is what we’ve seen laying waste to forests, boiling up oceans, cracking the air with sound, frying the atmosphere with heat hotter than even the sun itself. And this, this is what gets hard-wired into your soul! It’s a wonder we don’t disintegrate like a lightning-struck oak! It’s a wonder we’re not fried! But that was the fundamental mystery of Israel’s existence in the Old Testament: God dwelled in the midst of her and yet she was not consumed.
As has so often been noted in history, everybody tends to worship somebody or something. Psalm 29, like the rest of Scripture, suggests that we look to the grandeur of creation for our first, primary source of awe-inspiring experiences. But on a deeper, vastly more profound level, Psalm 29 calls us to bring those experiences into conversation with the Bible’s revelation that God loves us enough to want to save us by turning his strength loose in our souls. And it is that revelation that wrings from us the cry “Glory!”
I noted earlier that if I had to choose one of the 150 psalms to accompany Trinity Sunday, Psalm 29 might not be the one I would hit on first. Still, Trinity Sunday is about the majesty but also the mystery of our One God in Three Persons. There is tremendous and awesome power there. The Trinity is not just an example of curious theological mathematics. It is a powerful mystery and a reminder of God’s grandeur.
So perhaps Psalm 29 reminds us that the Doctrine of the Trinity is not tame. It’s not just a tidy piece of theology. It points us to nothing less than a power so great, that all God’s people can ever really do is get together and cry “Glory!!”
Thunderstorms are an incredible meteorological phenomena. Even as you read this sermon starter, there are likely upwards of 2,000 thunderstorms going on across the earth. On average, each day 45,000 such storms occur. They are among the most powerful forces we know. In the simplest sense, but also in perhaps the most boring sense, a thunderstorm is little more than an atmosphere stabilizer. Acting like a giant heat machine, a thunderstorm forms when there is a lot of cold air sitting on top of a lot of warm air. In order to re-balance the atmosphere, a thunderstorm pumps the warm air upward and the cold air downward until the atmosphere evens out. Once that happens, the thunderstorm has achieved its stabilizing purpose and it dies out. In that sense thunderstorms exist only to destroy themselves.
But along the way these storms can and do produce some of this planet’s most stunning marvels because that shifting around of cold and warm air can produce incredible winds. Here and there an outflow produces a microburst that can puff down toward the ground at 100 mph–we’ve all seen those grim pictures of what such wind shear can do to airplanes. In addition to wind, thunderstorms also produce rain and even ice. The storm’s strong currents can supercool water particles to well below freezing, and if enough of this ice builds up, it falls to the ground as hail–though usually no larger than pebbles, some strong storms have produced so much ice that it falls in chunks as large as a grapefruit.
But there’s more: the forces within thunderstorm clouds are so great that particles of energy smash into one another with enough wallop to exchange electrical charges. So some particles get stripped of electrons while others add electrons, thus producing both positively charged particles and negatively charged particles. Typically the positive particles zoom to the top of the cloud and the negative ones sink to the bottom, creating a high-voltage chasm that equalizes itself through a fiery flash of lightning. Lasting only 30 microseconds, a bolt of lightning peaks out at 1,000,000,000,000 watts (one trillion) with a surface temperature of 20,000 degrees centigrade: that is three times hotter than the surface of the sun!
Author: Scott Hoezee
It should be no mystery why the Lectionary chose this passage as a Trinity Sunday text. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all nicely on display in these half-dozen verses. Of course, if you also chose the Romans 8 Lectionary text option for Pentecost last week, then you realize that for some reason the Lectionary is proceeding backwards through Romans 8 as these verses actually precede the ones for Pentecost. Again, however, the reason for this backing up is clear enough: these verses are among the key building blocks used by the Early Church when assembling the Doctrine of the Trinity. The whole passage is about God but we seem to be talking in triplicate.
This is also a glorious text for other reasons, not least is the lyric truths it conveys about our salvation. One of orthodoxy’s key tenets in Church History has been the idea that despite the fact that God consists of three Persons, they are always and forever working in perfect tandem. Of course they are never at odds with each other and of course no one person is ever unaware as to what the other two are doing. But it’s more than just this: they are in fact working together perfectly to achieve a common goal. What’s more, all three Persons are needed to achieve that goal.
It would not have been enough for the Son to have been made an incarnate human being. The will of the Father had to be behind that. The power of the Spirit had to be permeating all of Christ’s work and teachings. The power of Father and Spirit were needed to raise the Son from the dead as the ultimate stamp of approval on the sacrifice Jesus made and how it was that he—along with Father and Spirit—chose to take on the devil and also death itself (namely by dying himself).
And in this part of Romans 8 we find out the other exceptionally important task the Spirit performs: he assures each individual believer that he or she really is part of the divine family now. What Jesus talked about a lot when he was on earth is utterly true: we are invited to call the Almighty God of the galaxies “Abba,” Father. Daddy. And you need the Spirit of God to do that, to sear that truth onto your heart, because otherwise who in their right mind would ever dare to do such a thing? Who would approach this figure of shining and holy effulgent glory and say “Hello, Dad!”? You would not walk into the Oval Office and address the President so lightly and in such cozy language, much less the Lord of Hosts!
Unless you are invited to do so, of course. Unless in baptism you really have been given a whole new identity as a New Creation who now dwells “in Christ.” And that, Paul reminded his readers over and over in his epistles, is exactly who we are and where we live now. But don’t take Paul’s word for it—it is the living Spirit of the living God who witnesses inside of us that this is all true. “The Inner Testimony of the Holy Spirit” was a leading concept in the theology of John Calvin. “Testimonium Spiritus Sancti Internum” or “TSSI” as I used to abbreviate it and write it into the margin of Calvin’s commentaries and other books every time he referred to it, which means I have a lot of TSSI marginalia scribbles in those books! This is a key doctrine.
Yet despite that truth and that reality, we are not for now removed from all suffering. Indeed, in addition to inviting us to call God “Abba,” we are also made to share in Christ’s sufferings as well as in the suffering travails of this creation generally, which is what Paul will go on to talk about next starting in verse 18. But those pains are birth pangs because they cannot remove the hope that has been sown into the soil of this creation and now sown into also our very hearts by that indwelling Spirit of God.
I could be wrong but if I had to guess, I’d imagine that “Trinity Sunday” may be the most under-celebrated day on the liturgical calendar. It goes without saying that it cannot compete with Christmas or Easter. Even Ascension Day and Pentecost have a hard time generating anywhere near the liturgical wattage of those two big celebrations. Epiphany might get a little more attention since you can loop it back to the just-finished Christmas focus. And even “Christ the King” Sunday has more cache than “Trinity Sunday,” which sounds doctrinaire, dusty, academic and too complex by half.
Yet here in the center of the powerful 8th chapter of Romans is a lyric reminder of why God as Triune is anything but an ivory tower idea for professional theologians to ponder ad infinitum. Father, Son and Holy Spirit working in their perfect tandem for us and for our salvation is our very life, our very hope, our deep, deep joy. The Spirit capitalizes on all the resurrection momentum Christ generated and brings all that movement and energy straight into our hearts, assuring us of our adoption into no less than the family of God.
So preach that on Trinity Sunday. Preach the Triune God as the God who—precisely by being three and not only one—is definitively the God who is pro nobis, the “For Us God.” Preach the Good News that out of the hyper-abundant fullness of the Trinity, life overflows to this whole creation and to those who are in Christ eternal life flows and flows, too. Celebrating the oneness in threeness and the three who are one is at once a great and inscrutable mystery and the foundation of all joy.
And there’s nothing arcane, dusty, or academically stuffy about that glorious message!
Celebrating our adoption as full children of God reminds me of something Richard Lischer wrote in his book The End of Words in terms of stories we can never tire of telling or hearing—and the story about how we by the Spirit get to call God “Abba” should be one of those stories:
“When the adopted child repeatedly asks her parents to recount the events surrounding her adoption, the story must remain the same. And woe to the one who introduces omissions or changes in the sacred formula. “And then out of all the babies in the orphanage you chose me, right?” Could parents ever tire of telling that story? Would they ever dare substitute another for it? If telling God’s story strikes us as repetitious, that is because it is. It is repetitious the way the Eucharist is repetitious, the way a favorite melody or gestures of love are repetitious, the wa the mercies of God that come unbidden every day are repetitious . . . Such stories do not entertain, they do something fare better. They sustain. They do not inform, they form those who share and hear them for a life of faithfulness.”