Old Testament:Isaiah (6:1-8)
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And 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 King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The 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.” Then 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!”
The Response: Psalm 29
1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.
9 And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.
11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.
The Epistle: Romans (8:12-17)
So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—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. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For 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!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
The Gospel: John (3:1-17)
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He 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.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “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 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.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 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. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 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. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
In the early centuries of the church, when the various sacramentaries and missals from which our prayer book evolved were being collected together, all ordinations took place on Sundays, in particular on four specific Sundays evenly spaced throughout the year. This first Sunday after Pentecost was one of them. And since those Sundays used the ordination liturgy, there were no appointed “propers,” i.e. specified readings and prayers for use on those days.
By the Middle Ages, when some ordinations at least seem to have been moved to Saturdays, there still were no “propers” for those four Sundays. After all the prayers and litanies and all-night vigils leading up to the ordinations, plus the ordination ceremony itself, people probably figured there wouldn’t be many folks in church on Sunday anyway – kind of like holiday weekends. It was then that the custom arose in western Europe of celebrating a special Mass on this day, one in honor of the Trinity. That is how we got Trinity Sunday.
Trinity Sunday is an odd thing. The rest of the church year focuses on different events and teachings in the life and ministry of Jesus. This Sunday alone focuses on a doctrine, one developed over the centuries. It is one that, by its very nature, we will never really understand; and that can make it seem pretty much irrelevant to us as Christians. But the very fact that we have been baptized in the name of the Trinity should alert us to the fact that this doctrine has to do, not only with an incomprehensible God, but also with us and with the very practical and critical question of who we are because of what that God has made of us: who we are, having been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
John’s version of the gospel addresses the practice of Baptism and the Eucharist through narrative and teaching, as opposed to their more obvious treatment in the other gospels. And in those stories, like the one we heard today, he gives us important insights into these two great sacraments of the gospel. In the case of today’s story, John follows Jesus’ words about “being born of water and Spirit” with words about faith, and about living in and walking in faith and in truth. Baptism clearly is not a stand-alone event, but only the beginning of living out a life-long commitment to believe in and walk in the new life into which we are baptized.
That central aspect of the sacrament and of our baptismal commitment has been all too often ignored. Of course, it’s much easier that way. During the time that many of us grew up and went to Sunday School, baptism was treated as something that was pretty much just between the individual, usually an infant or a young child, and God. It was sort of an insurance policy. Parents were supposed to get their children baptized, just as they were supposed to get them their first inoculations. The Hepatitis B, DPT, Polio and other vaccines were to protect them from physical diseases, and their baptism from spiritual diseases. Seen it, done it, check. In that framework, parents were expected to get their children baptized even if they had no real intention of ever following-up with the actions that they were promising: raising the children in the church’s faith and life. Over the years, many of us never moved beyond that distorted image of the sacrament of rebirth.
In the rite of baptism, The Book of Common Prayer and the rites used in the other liturgical churches as well ask a solemn commitment on the part of the person being baptized or, in the case of an infant or child, of his or her parents, and of the entire congregation as well. They all vow, we all vow, before God and the church that we will raise and nurture this child in the practice of the Christian faith and life. We commit the child and recommit ourselves to living a life immersed in the Trinity: a life striving to live in, and to bring to its fullness, what Jesus called the kingdom of God. Without that commitment there should be no baptism, because that is what we promise in baptism. Baptizing a child whose parents have no intention of doing so would mean coming to the church and intentionally lying to God and to the church. And that is something that, I trust, we would never want to do.
I recently came across a story told by John Buchanan. He is the former editor of The Christian Century magazine. During his years in that position, he served in a Presbyterian church in Chicago. He tells of a baptism at which he once officiated at that church, a baptism of two-year-old boy. After the pouring of the water, he made the pronouncement found in the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, one that is essentially the same as the form that we use. He turned to the little boy and declared: “You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” And that two-year-old looked up at him and replied simply, “Uh-oh!”
Maybe we ought to add that response to the rite of baptism in our Prayer Book, for adults as well as for children. “You have just solemnly promised to God and to the church to follow and obey Jesus as your Lord.” “Uh-oh.” “You have solemnly promised to God and to the church to continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” “Uh-oh.” “You have solemnly promised before God and the church to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.” “Uh-oh.” “You have solemnly promised before God and the church that you will dedicate your life to striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.” “Uh-oh.” It could well be that that two-year-old boy was paying more attention to what baptism is all about than we do.
Baptism does not make us people who are loved by God. God has already made us and each and every other human being people who are loved by God. Instead, baptism incorporates us in a special way into the life of the Trinity. Baptism confirms our willingness and our decision to be made one with Jesus in giving our lives for the sake of the world and in working together with him and with all of our fellow Christians in transforming the world to be more what God intends it to be.
God so loved the world that he gave his only son. And God so loved the world that he gives to the world God’s other daughters and sons, including you and me, so that through us all people might come to know and make their own and share with others the infinite mercy and compassion and love that we find in the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.