Sunday, May 27, 2018

God's work in us and through us

 (Trinity Sunday)

Isaiah 6:1-8
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

The insight of mystical theology is that one can have an experience of God in this life. However, the masters teach that it is a struggle to find God. We are flesh and blood living in a fallen world. The words flesh and world, therefore, are double meaning. Incarnation and creation are God, God's creation. They are also used negatively to indicate the rebellion against God and the barrier to communion with God. It is the latter, negative, sense which we encounter in Romans and the Gospel of John today.

Humans are not God's children in he sense that Jesus is. Paul says we are children of God by adoption. Adoption in Roman culture was a socio-political process to raise someone to a higher status. God adopts us to share in the divine status of Jesus--it is a work of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel, Jesus says that we are 'born from above' by the Holy Spirit to enter the kingdom. What we were--sinful flesh in the rebellious world--is changed by the life breath of God Himself.

One model of our experience of God is Nicodemus. The Fourth Gospel uses intentional language to portray this Jewish leader, and it is vital that we understand this story. We begin with the end of chapter 2, where we read: "When he[Jesus] was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed (pisteuo) in his name because they saw the signs that he was performing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust (pisteuo) himself to them, because he knew all and needed no one to tell him about humans (anthropos); because he knew was in humans (anthropos). Now listen to chapter 3... 

There was a human (anthropos) of the Pharisees named Nicodemus... and he said..."no one can do these signs that you do apart from God." He came at night, nux is the hour of darkness when no one can work and the time of betrayal. This is also our situation, we are in the dark, drawn to Jesus by His miracles, but our faith is not always an entrusting of our selves to Him. 

"God so loved he world that He sent His only Son; not to condemn the world but to saved it." God's intent and goal is to bring the rebellious world and flesh into union with Himself. This is why Jesus came. The problem is the darkness. In John 1 the author provides a summary of the Gospel which will help us here. Jesus is life and light, a light shining in darkness. The darkness cannot (katalambano The Greek means to comprehend, it also means to seize) overcome the light but neither does it understand the light. John 1 continues, those who believe in him, he gave power to become children of God, [not any human agency]...but of God. The same concept of God adopting us or being born from above.

Jesus came to share the life of God with us. Jesus came to make us what he is. The problem is that we are in a broken creation and we have broken minds and wounded hearts. The "world and flesh" cannot get Jesus. Like Nicodemus, we half understand, in part because we live in darkness and care more about signs than Jesus.

The experience of world and flesh are part of Isaiah's horror in seeing God. "Woe is me!" he exclaims. I am a sinner living in a nation of sinners. There is no discipline by which Isaiah can make himself presentable to God. Purification is a divine gift. But note what happens, a burning coal is placed on His (unclean) lips. The coal is a burning piece of wood. Typologically, wood is the cross and fire is the Holy Spirit. Like Isaiah, we are made clean by the cross/Jesus and fire/Holy Spirit. We are born from above. But Isaiah's experience is not for the experience of "being saved." The voice of God asks "Whom shall I send? who will go for us?" Salvation (theosis union with God) is for the sake of mission. We share in the mind of God His goal. We are now called to be Jesus to the world
As The Father sent Him, so He sends us. We are the body of Jesus in the world. We are on mission, he mission of Jesus. That is our purpose and that is our reason for being. 
As it is Trinity Sunday I want to share some insights into how the early church read Isaiah and found the Trinity there. This was part of my original homily but as is often the case the third draft is a new work completely. Even so, it is still of value to share, I hope:
Isaiah had an experience of God. It is one of many varieties, including Noah, Abraham, Moses, and many prophets. However, as Theodoret (5th C Antiochene) makes clear "Isaiah has revealed the Father's existence but not his essence (which cannot be seen). In other places God reveals himself in ways that also demonstrated no one has seen his essence...God is incorporeal, indivisible, simple, invisible and inaccessible."  So while in a real sense no one can see God; the passage says Isaiah saw God. The Hebrew verb "to see" (ra'ah) has a special connotation (1 Samuel 9:9 "what we now call a prophet was once called a 'Seer') and illustrates the prophetic substance of this narrative. God is high and lofty; the title "The Most High" appears over one hundred times in the Jewish Bible and reminds us of the limits of our human experience of God.

The Christian view of this short reading connects it the Trinity. The six winged attendees to God are called seraphim. Origen (3rd C) said that his Hebrew teacher told him that the two seraphim were Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Other church Fathers focus on triple--Holy, holy, holy--the earth is full of His glory. Ambrose says  "that even in a hymn you may understand the distinction of persons in the Trinity and the oneness of the Godhead." Likewise, Theodoret says that when they repeat "holy" three times...they are referring to the one essence of Deity. Further "their song praise[s] the eternal essence for having filled both heaven and the entire earth with his glory. This happened through the incarnation." Cyril of Alexandria and St. Jerome both state that this declares the Holy Trinity exists in one divine nature; and Cyril agrees that the incarnation of Jesus fills the earth with God's glory. Clearly, the ancient Fathers read with a heart of faith, so they find the Trinity in the Jewish Bible. We, too, can bring our faith to every day experiences and discern Trinity.

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