Today in the Spirit: Trinity Sunday B

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The Church of England, from its beginning, established Trinity Sunday as a principal feast on the church calendar, the Sunday following Pentecost Sunday (Whitsunday), and before the Sundays that followed during the long “ordinary” (numbered) phase of Sundays After Pentecost (or After Trinity). The assigned readings for Trinity Sunday are different in each of the three years in the Sunday cycle. It is impossible to distinguish a distinct theme for each of the three sets of readings. However, the emphasis in the Year B selections is the intentionality of God in restoring the relationship between himself and his creation, with the redemption of humans as the focal point of the divine plan. This is clearly seen in the assigned Gospel reading from John 3:1-16 in which our Lord teaches on the way to eternal life through faith in him:

And 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 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:14-16)

The Exodus 3:1-6 narrative of God calling Moses to the burning bush is the assigned OT reading for this Sunday. (We get the extended version, including Moses’ dialogue with God on Sunday Lent 3C). The focus in this first part is YHWH’s initiative to draw Moses to himself, to both attract him and keep him safe, so that the chosen man might hear the God of Israel identify himself by name: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (3:6). For Trinity Sunday this year (and fittingly for Christ the King Sunday, Proper 29B), the appointed Psalm 93 centers on the majestic reign of YHWH which can never be superseded, not by the wits of man or the power of nature: Even compared with the powerful and unceasing waves of the sea, always considered an ominous threat to the survival of humankind, the LORD is mightier (5).

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On the theme of the intentionality of God to redeem a people for himself, the assigned NT reading from Romans 8:12-17 (also appointed at Pentecost, Proper 10A) contains Paul’s declaration that by the will of the Father, and through the ministry of the Son (see earlier Rom.8:9ff), The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (16). Hallelujah, what a gift to hold in our hearts! The Collect, as always, will describe even the “confession of a true faith” (in the Trinity) from the lips of people as “grace” from God. From that standpoint, the petition to God is one of preservation of that confession: “Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory.” 

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Take Your Sandals Off Your Feet (Exodus 3:1-6)

1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (1-6)

YHWH commands Moses, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (5). The terms holy ground and mountain of God in this narrative are references to what Mount Sinai would later become due to this event (“proleptic” is the term I learned in seminary), not to what it was before Moses arrived. Moses, with sandals on, would have no idea what he was walking into. So, what is the nature of God’s command to take his sandals off? Is it a rebuke to put him in his place? Or, is the God of Israel seeking to protect his servant Moses at this critical juncture in the history of the redemption of Israel?

Our God knows how unaccustomed we are to come up on the holy ground around us, so in his mercy, if we follow him, he provides the necessary guidelines. The Holy Spirit will give testimony in our hearts when we must wake up and when we need to take care. Just recently, I was praying by the riverside near our home. A young man approached, and I knew the Lord wanted me to speak with him. I knew in my heart that this was a delicate matter, so I prayed, “took off my sandals,” and approached with care. It turns out the young man was desperately looking for God in his life, and we prayed for him to renew the faith in Jesus he once had as a child but lost as a young adult. 

Those comforting words from the psalm, The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore (Ps. 121:8), refer not just to protection from harm in general, but, as it was for Moses, preservation to serve God’s plans for us. Today, Holy Spirit, taking encouragement from your treatment of Moses on Sinai and trusting in your lovingkindness, I walk more boldly in how you would have me serve you.  

Mightier (Psalm 93)

The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty;
    the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Your throne is established from of old;
    you are from everlasting.
The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
    the floods have lifted up their voice;
    the floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
    mightier than the waves of the sea,
    the Lord on high is mighty!
Your decrees are very trustworthy;
    holiness befits your house,
    O Lord, forevermore.

The psalms for Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday this year focus our attention as worshipers on the waters of the sea in different ways. Last week, you will remember that we were to imagine ourselves as human beings like ships on the sea, dwarfed by the manifold (many and varied) creatures living below us. This week, we contemplate our helplessness before the constant threat of the floods (the seas NIV). Last week, we wondered at the magnificence of creation spoken into existence by the Holy Spirit in creation. This week, we find confidence in God, who will establish his reign in the world against any and all opposition to his doing so.

Devotionally, we conclude that whether awed by or frightened in life by the sea, we are dearly loved by God and upheld by his hand. The world is never so big that God would neglect opening his hand to give us food at the proper time (Ps. 104:27), nor is the threat of enemies inundating us in a flood so strong as to overcome his mighty hand: Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!

Today, with the help of the Spirit interpreting the message of the seas in Scripture for us, we take comfort under the protection of your powerful reign.

Obligation–But It Is Not to the Flesh (Romans 8:12-17)

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For 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. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (12-17)

Or, Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it (12 NIV). It is striking that Paul, before he describes life in the Spirit, will clarify for the Roman Christians (and all of us) that they have no obligation to the flesh. Before we can take on the responsibility and rewards of life in the Spirit, the Apostle reasons that we must put aside any notion that living according to the flesh, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature (Eph. 2:3), is a given. By his ministry of the propitiation of our sin on the cross, we no longer claim, “I can’t help but do this wrong; I can do no other.”

Apparently, the spirit of seeking justification for immorality was as strong in Paul’s day as in our own. Paul’s teaching here demands that we openly renounce and thoroughly reject sinful behavior in our lives. We are no longer debtors to sin and the devil. It is not forced upon us and, as such, worthy of tolerance by ourselves and others. The power of sin has been broken on the cross, and for those in Christ Jesus, there is no condemnation (8:1). So, urges Paul, leave aside any attachments to your past life of sin, even that which you feel you could not control. The leash has been broken, so why should we linger any longer around the tree of degradation?

And why not? The prize of faith in Christ and life by his Spirit is so much more rewarding: adoption in heaven, access to a loving Father God, and fellow heirs with everything belonging to the Son. Today, Holy Spirit, surrendering to the persuasion of Paul’s writing, grant me the wisdom and insight to root out of me any trace of a mistaken obligation to my old nature.  

Born of the Spirit (John 3:1-16)

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ (1-7)

Born again? Honestly, I think we can sympathize with Nicodemus’ inability to grasp the meaning of our Lord’s statement at the outset of this conversation. This teacher of Israel may have possibly conceded that things can happen without permission as an infant, but how can a man be born when he is old (i.e., when one is mature and in control of their own life)? Among other things, Jesus desires Nicodemus to understand how much God is in control of everything, including the choice to give physical and spiritual life. So, earlier, in the prologue of this Gospel, we read: The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world (1:9). On this Trinity Sunday, we “acknowledge” (says the Collect) it is the Father, the Son and the Spirit who gives light and life.

Devotionally, we are on the road to a life of genuinely following God when we grasp as a matter of first principle that God is in control of everything. Our spiritual life in Christ through faith, like our physical life through childbirth, comes upon us from forces on the outside, by the will of another, a gift from God. From there, slowly but surely, by the leading of the Spirit, we conform to the mode of receiving from heaven–so much so that even our giving, though seemingly by our own volition, is nothing more than the fruit of first receiving. In The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin states the matter this way :

For what accords better and more aptly with faith than to acknowledge ourselves divested of all virtue that we may be clothed by God, devoid of all godlessness that we may be filled by Him, the slaves of sin that He may give us freedom, blind that He may enlighten, lame that He may cure, and feeble that He may sustain us; to strip ourselves of all ground of glorifying that He alone may shine forth glorious, and we be gloried in Him?

Today, by the Spirit, without whom we have nothing and know nothing, absorbing the truth from this remarkable passage from John’s Gospel, make us ever more comfortable with living life born of the Spirit.

Today in the Spirit

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Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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