“Whom shall I send”, asks God

Sermon preached by Rev Canon Lesley McCormack on Trinity Sunday, 27th May 2018 at
Ss Peter & Paul, and St Michael and All Angels

Isaiah 6:1-8; John 3:1-17
May I speak in the name of God, the one holy and undivided Trinity. Amen

When I was ordained priest, a nursing colleague at the hospital where I was at the time Assistant Chaplain gave to me a small icon – a copy of Rublev’s icon depicting the Trinity. It shows three figures seated round a small table and on the table there is what looks like a wine goblet – or is it a chalice perhaps? There is a comfortable ease between the figures, a sense of a strong and deep relationship. The figures lean inwards very slightly, heads inclined to one another forming a circle but as you gaze on the circle, you notice that there is a space – open, inviting us to draw closer, to gather round the table and share in that relationship of life giving love.

On Trinity Sunday it is too easy to be distracted by attempts to ‘explain’ the Trinity with our limited language and illustrations, and miss the invitation to experience the wonder and mystery of overflowing abundant life and love, miss the invitation to share in the dance. It is the dance of love flowing in and through Father, Son and Holy Spirit bringing into being all that was, all that is and all that will yet be.
This unity is a dynamic relationship of love, energy and beauty. The opening verses of both Genesis and John’s Gospel lead us to understand that creation was the work of the Trinity: The Spirit hovered over the waters; God speaks and light and life come into being; the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
And that is why Jesus could tell the disciples that he is in the Father and the Father in him, why he could say that the Holy Spirit abides with them and will be in them.

We glimpse the dynamic of that relationship of love, energy and beauty in the words of Isaiah. The scene of the vision is the Jerusalem Temple and Isaiah is worshipping. When Isaiah ‘sees’ the Lord it is as if he has looked through a window at how life should be lived; the vision is one of brilliance, radiance, too much for human eyes or imagination. The Seraphs sing of the holiness of God, words that we too will sing in a few moments from now; they sing too of the glory of God, not contained by the Temple but overflowing in abundance, pervading the whole earth. Isaiah is overwhelmed – so much so that he must hold his head in shame, aware of his own unworthiness. The prophet expects condemnation, but instead experiences loving forgiveness and God speaks; Isaiah is filled with a new strength and energy: ‘Whom will I send’ says the Lord, ‘and who will go for us?’ ‘Here I am’ says Isaiah; ‘Send me!’. The response to enter into that dance of love is a willingness to be sent out and share that gift of amazing, overflowing grace and love. What we share with Isaiah is the invitation to meet God’s glory in worship. The words of the Sanctus – ‘Holy, Holy, Holy Lord. God of power and might….’ are said and sung week by week not just to reminds us to the experience Isaiah once had, but to catch us up every time we say or sing at every Eucharist into the ceaseless worship that surrounds the presence of God.

Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Physically and metaphorically, he was in the dark, and Nicodemus is struggling to understand, struggling to make fit what he is seeing and hearing about this man, Jesus, and what his training as a Jewish Rabbi is telling him. At the moment there is a mismatch. Jesus response to Nicodemus, and to us, is that we must let go of our preconceived ideas, stop trying to contain God within our limited, narrow and imperfect understanding of time and space; rather we must reach out into the unfathomable reality of the totality of God’s love. For God does not love when we have met certain standards or requirements; God does not love because we obey certain rules or follow particular rituals; God does not love if we are born into a particular race, culture or sex. God just loves! – and trying to capture or measure that is like trying to control the wind that blows where it wills. And what is more, God will do anything, anything for the creation he loved into being, including coming himself, the Son, to die for it.

But Nicodemus is left baffled and bewildered and John doesn’t tell us immediately what effect this dialogue had upon this questioning curious Pharisee. But as John’s telling of the Good News gradually unfolds, all will become clearer. Gradually we come to recognise that the space in the circle remains open – always, waiting and inviting until the moment when we are ready and willing to participate in the life of God, sharing that love. For it is Nicodemus who, with Joseph of Arimathea, takes the body of Jesus down from the cross and bury it in the nearest tomb before sundown and the beginning of Passover. This time it is not dark, but broad daylight and the risks are enormous. Nicodemus risks condemnation, alienation and even death in response to the invitation to enter the dance of life and love. We can only wonder what it was that Nicodemus saw and experienced that ultimately drew him into that dance.

Open, abundant generosity of love, freely given without measure or judgement – that is the relationship that we are called to share – in our church, our personal relationships, in our community and with our brothers and sisters across the world. Just imagine what our world could be like if only we would truly share that abundant generosity of love with our neighbours and the peoples of our world. No longer would we treat people less fortunate than ourselves with contempt, withholding assistance that affords them dignity and a sense of hope and worth; No longer would we live in a country that builds a ‘hostile environment’; no longer would peoples who came to us at our invitation and have given so much to build and grow these lands be left without a home, unable to work, forcibly removed from the place they had always thought of as home; no longer would we turn our backs on people driven from their homelands by war or oppression; no more would countries build walls of division but rather bridges that unite. Our response to that Dance of Love, sharing that relationship of abundant generosity and love has the potential to completely transform and re-create our world, so that it more truly reflects the divine life for which we are all created.

Meanwhile, we are drawn in to that dynamic flow of wild abundant joy and self-giving love, forgiveness and compassion; and even as we are drawn in to that flow, that dance, we are launched, out into the world, to serve and share God’s life giving love with all.
“Whom shall I send”, asks God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the creative dance of life and love. Surely there can be but one answer!!! Amen