(First Sunday after Pentecost – Trinity Sunday)

(Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; John 3;1-7)


In the year that King Uzziah died…

Sometimes we will hear a song, a melody, maybe sometimes even just a phrase, a collection of words strung together…and it so captures our mind that we cannot get it out of our head…

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting high and lifted up, and his train filled the Temple…

But what does it mean? What is happening? Is it enough to say that it captures our mind, we can’t get it out of our head, yet what does it mean?

Usually in these quandaries I consult my commentary. Particularly when I’m scheduled to speak on these particular words in the coming few days -like soon, like this morning.

Not much help. It’s not clear who Isaiah was or whether the same one person wrote all the words we attribute to Isaiah. Then very much by accident – or Providence – I picked up one of those books on my “to be read” shelf. It is “Word on Fire” by Roman Catholic bishop Robert Barron (1).– its first chapter is titled “The Awful Holiness of God” – and is about our reading from Isaiah.

In its Barron sees Isaiah in the Jewish Temple – Solomon’s Temple – in the Holy of Holies. He is alone. He is performing the high priestly functions on the Day of Atonement. Suddenly he sees the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim – Angels – cry out “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory!” And such was the sound of those angels, the timbers supporting the temple shook, and the house was filled with smoke. Awe-filled indeed is the Holiness of God!

As Barron puts it:

“An experience of God always changes us: it never fails to shake the foundations on which we stand and rattle the walls that we trust will protect us. The true God when he breaks into our lives, drives us out of our complacency, reconfigures us, knocks us to the ground. He is … – a whirlwind, an earthquake, a conquering army, a thief in the night.”

 Our Epistle reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. In the little section we have this morning Paul divides the whole world into two groups. We do this all the time; all of the world is divided into Razorback fans – and those who are not. Paul begins by dividing first those who are of the flesh. These are those who say we are of material matter – flesh – and nothing more. That would describe a good number of people today. So, when Paul adds “you will die” such believers in a material world could only agree with Paul. If you believe that we are nothing more than material matter then when we die, we are dead as a doornail and that’s the end of that. But we are also spirit – small “s.” Then Paul adds if you live according to the Spirit – this Spirit is capitalized – Paul means the Holy Spirit – and if you live by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body – you put to death death itself. Where have we heard that before? Further Paul says if we have received this Spirit, we have been adopted. Adopted by God.

So that as adopted child of God we can say to God, we can speak to God, we can pray to God saying “Abba, Father” the familiar form of Father that we would use in an intimate family setting as we address our own physical Father. Our own Dad. And if we are so adopted, we become a brother to the One we know as the Son of God.

Someone might say, “Whoa, you’re moving a little fast! Slow down!”

How about a picture?

How about a picture of the Trinity? How about a picture of the Holy Trinity? As it happens we have one. It is on the cover of our service booklet – Rublev’s ‘The Holy Trinity’ – a Russian icon from around 1411.

Those of you watching I invite to find “Rublev’s The Holy Trinity’ on the internet, maybe Wikipedia.

Rublev took a mysterious story from the 18th chapter of Genesis. Abraham is sitting at the entrance of his tent “in the heat of the day.” He sees three men. He extends hospitality to them. Over the centuries some in the church have thought this was a prefiguring of the trinity including Rublev. A Russian monk he prepared this icon as tribute to St. Sergius. Henri Nouwen in his short devotional book, “Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons” (2) says, “…Rublev painted this icon not only to share the fruits of his own meditation on the mystery of the Holy Trinity but also to offer his fellow monks a way to keep their hearts centered in God while living in the middle of political unrest.” Maybe we could use something to keep our hearts centered in God in the midst of the unrest in which we currently live.

Art, the beauty and truth of art sometimes can better speak to things than just words.

I have a friend who is going through some situations. Sometimes he calls me. Usually it’s in the evening, maybe once every couple of weeks or so.

He watches our services on the internet. I know because he called me out when I played hooky one recent Sunday morning.

One of the things he also does is watch a program on the internet called “The Chosen.” It’s very important to him. He tells me he reads his Bible yet it is obvious that this video series is also a Bible for him.

So, a couple of days ago I got on YouTube and watched the segment of “The Chosen “ that dramatizes our Gospel reading this morning.

It is night. An older man, Nicodemis, comes to speak to Jesus. They are sitting at a table on a roof-top overlooking the countryside.  And I hear the words – plus some – that we have heard this morning.

The older man says to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

“Very truly, I tell you no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Nicodemis: “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”


Jesus answers, “Very truly, I tell you no one can see 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. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

“No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. In the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in “The Chosen” dramatization the reference from the 21st chapter of Numbers is explained – and it is clear that the reference to Jesus will be the crucified Son of God on the cross.

It is about at this point in the dramatization that Nicodemus realizes with every fiber of his body that this One speaking to him is indeed the Messiah, is indeed the One who has been promised, the One who is indeed the Son of God – and is someone who deeply cares for him, who loves him.

Nicodemus falls literally to his knees in front of Jesus.

And in a gesture of infinite love, kindness – Jesus reaches and touches the arms of the old man and pulls him to his feet.

We have talked about the Father. We have talked about Isaiah’s encounter with God in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. No one remains unchanged with an encounter with God. And when we hear God speak “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”, we pray our response will be, “Here am I, send me.:

We have talked about the Spirit when we listened to a portion of Paul’s letter to the Romans. We pray that we are led by the Spirit to receive adoption as the very children of God.

We have talked about the reading from the Gospel of John where “a leader of Jews,” Nicodemus comes to talk to Jesus late at night. And in that discussion, we included a mention of a short segment from “The Chosen:” which closes with Nicodemus falling to his knees in front of Jesus. Jesus reaches and brings Nicodemus to his feet in a gesture of infinite love. Love that He showed for Nicodemus on that night and which He has for each one of us, today, right now.

God loves the world this way:

“… God so loves the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”







Richard Robertson


  • (1) “Word on Fire” Robert Barron  The Crossroad Publishing Co. 2008
  • (2) “Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons” Henri J.M. Nouwen, Ave Maria Press, 2004