With a link in the sermon to the song written about my dad.
Prayer of the Day
Almighty Creator and ever-living God: we worship your glory, eternal Three-in-One, and we praise your power, majestic One-in-Three. Keep us steadfast in this faith, defend us in all adversity, and bring us at last into your presence, where you live in endless joy and love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of the Lord’s robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above the Lord; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of the glory of the LORD.”
4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the Sovereign, the LORD of hosts!”
6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Word of God, word of life.
Thanks be to God.
1Ascribe to the | LORD, you gods,
ascribe to the LORD glo- | ry and strength.
2Ascribe to the LORD the glory | due God’s name;
worship the LORD in the beau- | ty of holiness.
3The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; the God of | glory thunders;
the LORD is upon the | mighty waters.
4The voice of the LORD is a pow- | erful voice;
the voice of the LORD is a | voice of splendor.
5The voice of the LORD breaks the | cedar trees;
the LORD breaks the ce- | dars of Lebanon;
6the LORD makes Lebanon skip | like a calf,
and Mount Hermon like a | young wild ox.
7The voice | of the LORD
bursts forth in | lightning flashes.
8The voice of the LORD | shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilder- | ness of Kadesh.
9The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe and strips the | forests bare.
And in the temple of the LORD all are | crying, “Glory!”
10The LORD sits enthroned a- | bove the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king for- | evermore.
11O LORD, give strength | to your people;
give them, O LORD, the bless- | ings of peace.
12Brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—13for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with Christ so that we may also be glorified with Christ.
1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jewish people. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “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.’ 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the dominion of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the dominion of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The 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.” 9Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son-of-Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son-of-Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16“For God loved the world in this way, that God gave the Son, the only begotten one, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17“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.”
Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove
I feel extra pressure on Holy Trinity Sunday while serving a congregation with the same name, pressure to say something profound or beautiful about the Holy Trinity. But one of the gifts of the particular way we worship here at Trinity Lutheran is that not everything has to be done through the sermon. The prayers, the hymns, the scripture passages, and Holy Communion all help reveal who the Trinity is and what the Trinity does. That is good, because life circumstances drew me strongly to Nicodemus this week, in particular to his questions.
At my dad’s funeral at the end of December, we had the church in Arizona play a recording of a song written in honor of my dad about fifteen years ago. Dad was in the first group of elders in my hometown of Custer, South Dakota to be part of Elders’ Wisdom-Children’s Song. My dad spent a morning with a classroom of fifth grade students, telling them about his life, answering their questions. Then the children worked with a local musician and wrote a song about my dad. Dad’s song was titled “Questions I have asked on my way?” (Here is a LINK to the song).
Each verse begins with a question: Verse one: In this valley (the valley where I grew up west of Custer) where is God’s face? Verse two: How can we find equality? Verse three: Will the fighting ever end? Verse four: How can we all be together and belong? The questions collectively say a lot about my dad. But what always struck me is how those perceptive fifth graders picked up on my dad’s curiosity and humility. They had a World War II Veteran who loves sports and horses. But the thread the fifth grade students pulled was my dad’s big questions about life and community and God.
And it is these questions that tie us back to the main character in today’s gospel story—the Pharisee Nicodemus who comes to Jesus under the cover of night to ask his own questions. It is way too easy to mock the Pharisee Nicodemus for misunderstanding Jesus, thinking we have to somehow all crawl back up into our mother’s wombs. He sounds a bit silly in his misunderstanding. But I think we do well to admire this questioner who becomes a follower of Jesus. Yes, he comes by night so as not to be seen, but he will not be kept away. His curiosity about God, for reasons we never learn, has been heightened. He does not presume to have all the answers about faith. He seeks out Jesus and he will not be deterred from his questions.
How refreshing, what a tonic for the certainty about God and whose side God is on or what God’s will is, which seems so pervasive today. It seems so abundant whether you are reading the opinion section of the newspaper, listening to the radio, or reading an email from your aunt Elizabeth. Certainty about God abounds.
That is not how I was raised. I am comfortable standing here affirming that God is a God of love and healing. I am also confident declaring God’s preferential treatment for the poor and outcast. I love so many of the stories we read in scripture, and I equally love stories of people trying to follow Jesus. But certainty about the rest of God is harder to come by in my soul.
In part, that is because one other thing I have some confidence about is that faith is a journey, as tired as that metaphor may sound. To give at least a little time to the Trinity we are celebrating today, I will admit that there were times I found the Trinity intriguing, periods when I thought it was too confusing to bother with, later one of the best gifts of Christianity, and still later something best just to confess rather than ever explain. And there are many aspects of faith, of being a disciple, that have shifted and moved, and grown or shrunk in my nearly 45 years.
That is another thing I love about Nicodemus—his journey and transformation. John Chapter Three is certainly his most prominent scene in the gospel, but it is not his only appearance. Near the end of chapter seven, Nicodemus reminds his colleagues that, according to the law, they should not judge Jesus before giving him a trial. This gets him rebuked. Nicodemus makes his third and final appearance after Jesus’ crucifixion. He accompanies Joseph of Arimathea to collect, anoint, and bury the body of Jesus. With this action, Nicodemus declares his allegiance to one who had just been executed for a capital offense.
There are other disciples whose faith we get to see transform, but Nicodemus, who starts with so many questions, resonates with me during this season. First, he brings questions and is confused. He later invites others to slow down in their judgment. He finally risks publicly honoring the one just executed. Faith takes time.
This morning, I have hope both in Nicodemus’ beginnings as a disciple, along with his growth. It all takes time, and that appears to be just fine with God. This is perhaps where our greatest hope can be found—God’s faithfulness through this whole journey, and presumably through our journeys of faith as well.
It is okay to have questions. My dad always assured me that questions revealed that my faith was active and alive. It is okay to feel like you have taken a few steps forward and then a step back. Things might look clear to your friend but blurry to you. That does not mean your faith is less than.
I would say that being curious about our faith in God might lend itself to curiosity about the world God created. And that curiosity about one another and the natural world can lead to the empathy and compassion Jesus commands over and over. We have talked a great deal this past year about neighbor love, how that is the calling that unites everyone who follows Jesus. Just as questions and curiosity can reveal an alive faith, maybe questions and curiosity about the stranger can reveal neighbor love. That’s true, of course, only if the curiosity eventually leads to empathy, compassion, and action.
That work can feel daunting, even overwhelming. We do well to remember we are never along. The deepest hope for me comes in God’s faithfulness through all of the questions and blurriness. God continues to give mercy and healing. God is patient. And God’s love endures forever.
Today we celebrate the God who created the world, the God who liberated the Chosen People from slavery in Egypt. We celebrate the God who loved the world so much that he took on human form and was laid in a humble manger in Bethlehem. The reign of God Jesus preached and lived led to his death on the cross, but the tomb could not hold in this God of love and life. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit shows up this many years later in our worship and in our lives. God keeps creating, redeeming, and sustaining today.
The Triune God is on a journey too. That may feel unsettling, as if it takes away from God’s immanence. But I do not think so. God’s journey reveals only a deep transcendence, an ability to be in relationship with creation.
I am going to leave you with one of my favorite quotes about the Trinity, which I think sums up so much of Nicodemus’ journey and our own relationship with the Trinity. Here are some words from Jurgen Moltmann: “God is not only other-worldly but also this-worldly; he is not only God, but also man; he is not only rule, authority and law but the event of suffering, liberating love. Conversely, the death of the Son is not the ‘death of God’, but the beginning of that God event in which the life-giving spirit of love emerges from the death of the Son and the grief of the Father.”
Prayers of Intercession
Let us come before the triune God in prayer.
A brief silence.We pray, O God, for your holy church around the world. Revitalize and renew us, that we may be reborn once again through the waters of baptism and the blowing wind of your Spirit. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.
We give you thanks for your power revealed to us in creation; for cedar and oak trees, for rushing waters, for the echoes of thunder. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.
We pray for the nations and our leaders, that led by your Spirit, they work towards a world where all of your children enjoy peace. We pray especially for (nations currently experiencing war or turmoil may be named). Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.
We pray for healing for all those who suffer, especially victims and survivors of trauma or violence. Give respite to those living with PTSD or any other mental health concerns. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.
We pray for this worshiping community (congregation/community may be named), that the splendor of your majesty and the holiness of your mystery may be glorified through our worship and our relationships with one another. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.
Here other intercessions may be offered.We give you thanks, O God, for those who have died in the faith (especially). We remember also those whose lives have been lost due to the horrors of war. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.
We lift our prayers to you, O God, trusting in your abiding grace.Amen.