Psalm 29; Isaiah 6:1-8; John 3:1-17
As Christians we say we believe in God who is three and simultaneously one. An impossible statement that nevertheless, we say points to truth. A God who is dynamic not static, in movement not staying still, continually pouring into and receiving into themselves. A God whose love and presence cannot be contained with one name or one face. A God of relationship.
Today is Holy Trinity Sunday, a day we celebrate a doctrine. It’s kind of weird. But How we talk about God matters. It is good to reflect back on what we’re doing all the time as church, and what it means.
These Scriptures for today point us in different directions for how we talk about God, but ultimately point back to relationship.
The passage from Isaiah, honestly sounds quite like science fiction. Winged creatures with 6 wings but only 2 that fly? I can’t quite even picture it. And shouting, loudly, as they either perch or fly – about how holy God is. When a word is repeated three times in Hebrew like that, it’s kind of like our superlative- like saying, God is the most holiest.
Holy- meaning, Set apart. God is wholly other- totally not like us.
But in the passage God is wearing a robe. Its hem fills the temple. Why does God need clothes?
We know God is completely different from us, but our frame of reference is what we know. So the largeness, the impressiveness the awesomeness of God is there in that understanding that in the huge temple, the hem of the robe takes up all the room- God is so much bigger, greater, than us.
Yet this immense, holy God needs help. Who can I send? Says the Lord.
Isaiah says, well I’m here, you could send me.
God asks for help. And does not order Isaiah around, in this story does not even say hey Isaiah I noticed you, it’s just, is there anybody who will answer? It’s a vulnerable kind of question, it’s indirect and wondering. But Isaiah does answer the divine plea to be a messenger, to carry what God has to say to the people.
God, the most set apart, holiest, huge and immense, chooses to work through relationship, through humans, and by doing so, becomes vulnerable. We know this will come to a whole new level in Jesus, but first also -I learned a new thing about what is going on in this psalm, Psalm 29, that I want to share, and that helps us also reflect on how we understand God, how we speak of God.
If you read psalm 29 carefully you can get hints of a great thunderstorm, which in this part of the country we don’t get very many but if you don’t know, sometimes a mighty thunder comes so close, is so loud, you can feel it from the inside. And God is breaking things in that storm. Mighty cedars. Hearing that there were fires in sequoia national park awhile back, and wondering how many of those majestic trees burned made me sad. It does not necessarily compute for us, if God is creator, why does the psalmist like, even rejoice in, how God can break the cedars? So here is what I learned, this is from Michael FitzPatrick on journey with Jesus . net
In the ancient near east, this general part of the world where the people of Israel would come to reside, Cedar trees were really important as a source of wealth. Anything you wanted to build or make that would be fancy, high quality, would be made from cedar, so bring a great price, right? The tribe-nations would brag about their cedar forests. They were also a metaphor for the strength of those tribe nations.
Then the metaphor extended to mean, the leaders, kings or other rulers, were the cedar trees, they were the symbolizing the strength of their whole community. It’s almost like they would say, well my cedar tree could beat up your cedar tree. Michael Fitzpatrick says the lines of this psalm are “a declaration that the human sources of power and wealth are mere kindling and splinters before the Advocate who acts on behalf” of the chosen people.
Think about it. usually nations like to speak of how great they are in comparison to others, our nation does this plenty. But these lines, while mentionting a couple of nations, don’t praise the human leaders of their own nation, but instead recognize only God has true power and the rest of us, all created beings, are all really equal. None of us is more of a cedar than anyone else.
So to say God breaks the cedars is to end any kind of power struggle among us humans. It means that no one is really any better or more worthy than anyone else. No king, no emperor, no president or mayor is anywhere close to the power of God, unlike the understanding of many other ancient cultures where that person was thought to have some measure of divinity. We are to all turn to the only true source of power and recognize this radical equality to stop playing those hurtful games.[there are ways that we continue to lift up some individuals as closer to the divine, in a subconscious way. A lot of popular art images lift up God as an old white man; some images of Jesus depict him as blond and blue-eyed. Historically for Jesus we know that’s impossible, while we don’t have any original images we know that in that time and place darker tones of hair, skin and eyes in some shades of brown would have been present in him. And while in many cultures today “old white man” can stand in for “power” we should always stretch our imagination because of passages like this one- our models of power are not God’s models of power. Like in Isaiah, God is totally different than us. And a reminder that in the Genesis story when God says, let’s make humans in our image: it takes at least 2 to get that started, male and female. The word for Spirit in Hebrew is feminine, and a few names for God in the Bible incorporate feminine understandings. So no, God is not a man, and tying masculine and God too close together can keep us from appreciating the full spectrum of who God is. Whenever we want to praise a mighty cedar- Psalm 29 reminds us God uses it for kindling.
But the same cedar-splintering God does other things with that same power. There is playfulness afoot with the descriptions of nations like young animals jumping around. And the end of the psalm calls out for this source of power to give strength to the people, to bless people with peace, shalom. The request to give strength and bless with peace, is based on trusting relationship.
And the depth of love, the depth of giving in that relationship is made clear in Jesus- this passage of John spells it out: God has become vulnerable to save, through relationship.
In the conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus talks about Being born anew. Our first human birth is impossible without relationship. Generally speaking and in the best cases a pregnancy comes about because of a loving relationship between two parents. But I’m mostly speaking of relationship of mother and fetus – it is a close physical relationship with the mother, occupying her body, receiving her shared nutrients, oxygen, hydration. No one has yet been born without a mother.
One thing I’ve learned from the internet is that being a mother means that there will forever be little scraps of DNA from my children drifting in my blood. They used to think there was a complete separation but now it’s known that there is back and forth in that nurturing relationship.
That comes before a birth. And before the re-birth Jesus speaks of, we need to be saturated, nourished, held within a new understanding of what God is about- and that is:
God so loved the world- that is the defining relationship. God’s love.
We know that because of how God gave the Son, which as believers in the Trinity we know meant a giving of God’s very self.
A vulnerability. A pouring out. To be in loving relationship with us.
That is behind our belief in the Trinity. God’s loving relationship spills over to us, is big enough to hold us. It is not a cold distant God who gave up on us a long time ago or a scolding cursing God lashing out in anger that we believe in.
We believe in God who is three in one.
Equal together, just like all people equal before God
Loving one another, just like we know the definition of our relationship with God is love
Giving and receiving reciprocally, caring nurturing reciprocally – somehow separate and not.
Not something to be totally understood, but received as holy mystery.
So, if what we come back to is mystery beyond words: why talk about God at all?
So that we can reject forms of speaking about God that create hierarches were some are better than others, worthier than others, and lead to harm instead of healing.
So that we can reject ways of speaking about God that make it about following all the rules, or conforming to an identity that is not real or authentic.
So that we can reject, over and over, all the ways we try to make God in OUR image – God is totally other, completely holy, even though God wants to be so close to us.
Yes, reject the idea that God is male. Yes reject the idea that Jesus or God is white. That would be a sever limiting of God when we know the diversity of all creation equally reflects God’s image.
So that our living out our faith never resorts to having power over other people, trying to control other people. But is a faith of mutual listening, mutual care.
So that our living out our faith never reduces to trying to make other people follow the rules, but has the higher aim of a life so full of love true transformation is engendered again and again.
So that our living out our faith never forces someone to adopt an identity that is not real or authentic, but sees and accepts each as they are, as we are all on our way to loving better and becoming more like Jesus.
But we can be renewed in authentic, loving relationship, knowing that our identity as loving community is born out of God who is loving community. That is why we still celebrate this doctrine of the Holy Trinity, why it is important, how it shapes us. May the God who stretches out in vulnerable relationship renew your spirit even as we cry holy, holy holy still today.