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How can this be?

Isaiah is amazed when he experiences the awesome Lord. He is keenly aware of himself as a man of unclean lips but also claims his eyes have seen the Lord. In the experience of an encounter with the HOLY, what is our response? Do we see our humanity as reflecting the image of the Lord, or do we see the limitations of our being in contrast with the Divine Being?

Isaiah perceived the encounter as a call and his response was “here am I, send me”.  How many ordination services use this call narrative? In our tradition of setting aside clergy for the ordained ministry do we separate lay ministries as somehow inferior? That ought not be. All ministers are servants of the Lord. One of my mentors, The Rev. John Wilbur often referred to himself as tap dancing for Jesus, a humble servant of the Lord. While John saw his ministry as sacramental he also saw the ministry of every lay person as equally called and equipped for service. Some are given gifts to be teachers, some administrators, some prophets, but all are equipped by the same spirit according to Saint Paul.

What are your gifts? How is the spirit calling your name? Where are you sent? Are you as responsive as Isaiah? No doubt when that needling sense of persistent instruction reaches your brain you may find many reasons to resist as Nicodemus and Moses did. We read Isaiah as if the response was instantaneous but we don’t know what time interval lay between the perceived call and the response.

Responding to the divine is both amazing and disturbing. Looking closely at the account of the Pharisee Nicodemus, we see that first he is curious about what the Jesus character is up to in his neighborhood. Aware that holy acts are evidence of holy presence, he admits that the things Jesus does bear testimony to the divine presence. Jesus could have agreed and affirmed his insight but instead Jesus says something entirely enigmatic: “I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Why did Nicodemus stay engaged in the conversation? He could have just left and pondered this statement letting it go as we are often tempted to do when we encounter something or someone that causes us to question the meaning of the encounter.

In Socratic fashion the exchange continued with Nicodemus asking how an adult can be born referring to the literal meaning of the term. Jesus must be smiling as he answers: “no one can enter the kingdom of god without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the Spirit is spirit….so it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.”

Nicodemus: How can these things be?

How indeed can such things be? Do we accept as God’s own chosen called and sent, all who are born of water and spirit? Do we open wide our arms of acceptance to every baptized brother or sister? Do we perceive that the sign of the spirit on their foreheads and the words “marked as Christ’s own forever” really qualifies every one of them for the kingdom of God? How can such things be? We all know that some baptized people make decisions that are harmful and hurtful to others. We know that being baptized does not prohibit a person from abusing a spouse or child, from manipulating investments, taking bribes, or any number of other things that we know is counter to the divine spirit.

Can we deny our heritage received in baptism? Is the Baptists right to refer to backsliding as falling away from the faith? Or are we all sinners in need of redemption as Isaiah knew so well?  Or is it more the case that we see other’s sins clearer than our own?

 Jesus said to Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but 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.” I suspect it took years for Nicodemus to begin to make sense of this declaration. Do you believe this is true for you or for all?

Mother Teresa while visiting a seminary in Bangalore was asked if she was spoiling the poor people by giving them things free…was this compromising their dignity? Mother Teresa answered: “No one spoils as much as God. See the wonderful gifts you are freely given. All of you have no glasses and yet you all see. If God were to take money for your sight, what would happen? What would happen if God were to say, ‘If you work four hours, you will get sunshine for two hours?”  Mother Teresa paused a few minutes to let her words seek in and then said, “There are many congregations that spoil the rich; it is good to have one congregation in the name of the poor, to spoil the poor.” (In the Heart of the World, 57-58)

How can this be? How can we love like Mother Teresa, or understand the love Jesus described to Nicodemus? How do we encounter the HOLY? For Mother Teresa it is in the face of the poor, the lonely, the abandoned: in their faces she sees the LORD.

The concept of Trinity, Triune God, is difficult even for the theologians to articulate. How Father, Son, and Spirit are separate AND One is a mystery and a reasoned synthesis. The early church fathers faced the challenge of how to reconcile the experiences of the HOLY: some folks spoke of the Spirit, others experienced the Incarnate Word, Jesus, the Son as HOLY, others clung to the idea of only the Father was God. Disputes arose and the leaders of the church discussed the issue until a synthesis was born that would hold in unity the ONENESS of God: the concept of Trinity: 3 in 1. Today’s lection gives us an example of why the Trinity was a necessary doctrine for the church. Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up and his train filled the temple. Nicodemus saw that Jesus was doing the works of God and therefore was of God. Paul testified to the spirit of adoption crying Abba Father in response to the Spirit bearing witness to his spirit. We are adopted children, loved beyond our ability to understand. When we say in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit we are also saying HOLY HOLY HOLY is the LORD.

In summary, I share with you a message sent from the brothers at Saint John the Evangelist in Cambridge Mass: “The trinity is useful as a way of keeping silent before the mystery of God.”


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