Scripture Introductions

Trinity Sunday June 7. 2009 Scripture Introductions by Stewart Clarke
May I offer possible introductions [1] to the suggested Scripture readings for Sunday, June 7, Trinity [2] Sunday. (You will find peripheral bits in parentheses! And you may wish to just skip them. There is a certain self-indulgence in them. For example, I sometimes wish that we simply used some words from Hebrew, as Ruach [3], Shalom [4], Adonai [5], and Tanakh. [6] But that is my pipe dream. ) Beginning with Easter, our first reading has been from The Acts of the Apostles. Now we return to the custom of having the first reading from (Tanakh) the Older Testament, respecting our Jewish heritage. The first reading is dated carefully for us. King Uzziah has just died, so the date is 740 BC/BCE [8]. It is critical time. Uzziah had been just six years old when he came to the throne of Judah [9] after his father's assassination. His 52 year reign was peaceful and prosperous. Now it has come to an end. It was the end of an age, as we see the crashing end of an age of prosperity. In the crisis, Isaiah finds himself in the Temple and has a remarkable vision and call. (There is no indication that this is or is not his first call. We are reading, after all, from Chapter 6. BTW, we stop reading at v. 8, whereas v. 9 describes the challenge to which Isaiah is called, a thankless task. It is worth reading beyond v. 8! ) Let us listen to the powerful poetry of Isaiah of Jerusalem in: Isaiah 6:1-8 We may save our acclaim until after the Gospels, or acknowledge each reading, so we may say something like, "May the Spirit help us appreciate the experience of the prophet, and be open when God speaks to us, today."
The Psalm praises God for God's glory and might. "Lebanon" was known for its towering cedars; "Sirion" refers to the imposing Mount Hermon; the poet pictures them gambolling at the sound of God's voice! "Kadesh" was a key site for the Israelites in the wilderness under Moses. "Voice," sounds like another way of speaking of God's Spirit or wind. There is a note that the Psalm was for the dedication of the Temple, making it a very suitable parallel to Isaiah's vision. Let us..
Psalm 29 In our Epistle reading, we find Paul (again) wrestling with things of the flesh and things of the spirit, and the promise of being children of God. (If your translation speaks of "son-ship," and "Father," you may have a challenge in finding an inclusive and neat set of expressions. "Abba," of course, is intended to apply to a relationship and to God's love, quite apart from any sexist overtones.) May we question ore wonder the way or ways "flesh" and "spirit" apply to us, as God's children, since we are of both? Let's listen, as Paul explains in: Romans 8:12-17 May we hear Paul's assurance and be re-assured as God's children, sharing with Christ!
In the Gospel reading, we have Jesus talking with Nicodemus, perhaps representing the rich and powerful. How does one like him enter God's realm?[10] In another setting, Jesus advised his hearers to become like children, open and vulnerable. Here, he takes it one step further, inviting Nicodemus to become like a baby! [11] Nicodemus struggles with the challenge, as we may well struggle. It is an invitation to birth [12] "from above," with learning to walk, talk, and discover the world and faith in a completely new way, with surprising vulnerability and dependency - complete with the surprising upsets of learning anew, and, I would think, the incredible challenges of unlearning! Let us rise to honour and be open to the Good News for us in: (Or: Let us listen closely for the Good News for us in: John 3:1-17 May the Spirit help us understand the challenge, invitation, hope and promise implied in these words. It is appropriate to follow the readings with thanks and praise. You may prefer a traditional approach, like, "May we hear what the Spirit is saying to us and the Church."
  1. With thanks to MRR.
  2. I find Trinity the most intriguing and frustrating Sunday and concept.. On the one hand, it speaks of relationship and of our history of revelation. On the other hand, it seems to me that, year by year, I have tried to explain "Trinity" to my congregation, and not too successfully. I wonder if we should not rethink our presentation, if not the concept.. Trinity is or seems to be a denial of the Jewish basic and essential stance of the "Shema'" (YHWH our God, YHWH One) (Some translations get all tangled up because we feel compelled to use "is" even though Hebrew is not so compelled and does not use it. It is also an affront to the Muslim, for whom the One-ness of Allah is sacrosanct. We no longer live in "Christendom," and cannot just talk to ourselves as if no one else is listening. The One-ness of God is paramount for Moses and the prophets, and, surely, for Jesus! (If pressed, even slightly, I would have to admit that they were more henotheistic than entirely monotheistic, but, for me, that is another story.) MRR, who monitors my ramblings, told me of teaching the concept of the Trinity to teenage Sunday School girls at the age of 16 and having a Teachers' Guide that "made the helpful suggestion that one could think of it as three different views of the same person, and that no one was complete, nor indeed were the three. Thus you were seen as a son to your parents, as a father to your children, as a husband to Ev, as a brother to Bill, as a minister to your flock, as a colleague to your fellow ministers or to the hospital staff with whom you worked, etc. Some of them might contain elements in common, but any one alone gave an incomplete picture of the whole of Stew Clarke. I've used it frequently in my preaching on Trinity Sunday and find people find it as helpful as I did at age 16."
  3. Ruach means "breath," "wind," and/or "spirit." With out three words in English, we usually miss out on the possible meanings, as in Ezekiel prophesying to the wind, I assume, and "breath" coming into the dry bones!
  4. Shalom is usually translated, "Peace," but it is surely the Peace of God, which includes justice.
  5. "Adonai" is a respectful approach to the personal Name of the God of the Hebrews, "YHWH," which was considered too holy to pronounce. We traditionally use "The Lord," which translates "Adonai." "Lord" can upset because of its masculine associations. "Adonai" could avoid that.
  6. We used to refer to "Old Testament," but some have felt that this suggests that the earlier covenants are passé, preferring "Older Testament," or "Hebrew Scriptures." Another possibility is to borrow " Tanakh," which stands for Torah, Nevi'im we Kethuvim, the Law, the Prophets and the Writings, or the three-fold division of the Hebrew Scriptures.. A rearrangement of the order of the books allows a different emphasis, but binds us to the wisdom or emphasis of the original order.
  7. A pipe dream of mine is that we would think of One in Three, insisting that One God we learned about in Creation and history, then, in Jesus, whom we call Christ, and then in the Holy Spirit. Perhaps especially in today's multicultural and multi-faith world, it can too easily sound as if we worship three gods, which is highly offensive to Islam! I understand that "persona" meant the mask and role in Greek theatre, and it is not well translated as "person." The old expression of losing in translation seems reversed: we get much more than was intended!
  8. For years, we have referred to "BC" as Before Christ and "AD" as "Anno Domini," "in the year of our Lord." BCE, as "Before the Common Era" is commonly used today, and, for us, may be used in humility, and perhaps as a sign of penance for some of the arrogance shown by the Church in power, with "CE" as "Common Era," rather than "AD." Within the church, we may wish to retain the familiar "BC, AD," as an expression of our faith.
  9. I have found references suggesting that he was 6, or 16! If 16, he was already a man. If 6, he was the age of Uzziah at his enthronement!
  10. You will note that I think of it as a realization rather than an experience. "Born again" should be preached and acknowledged in our pulpits and not left to others to define. Nor am I convinced that this birthing is once-for-all. God may not be finished with us, and we may, again, be required to live in trust, to learn to walk again with its inherent stumbles, to learn to talk again with its inherent stutters, to learn to hear again and discover again how important that is for us in our vulnerability. RSC.
  11. There is more or less a parallel in John 1:13, but I know of no one else in Scripture to whom it is said, "you must be born again!"
  12. If mystery religions of the time of John's writing were offering ritual rebirth as a means of salvation, and sometimes re-enacting it ,the message in John may also be a challenge that the real hope is not in their ceremonies, but in Jesus, the Christ.
(Comments to Stew at