Review of the Texts for this Week
I typically refer to this illustrative text anytime I am preaching on worship. It is such a powerful picture of what it means to direct one’s attention and heart to God. It has everything you would expect—a throne, smoke, heavenly sounds of praise, Seraph’s and their wings, and a hot coal in your mouth. Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room comes to him in the midst of what many commentators think was a dark time in Isaiah’s life, one created by the grief and loss of King Uzziah (yes, this depends on how you date this portion).
Isaiah’s vision was as convicting as it was breath-taking. How could he not realize his sinfulness and recount the sinfulness of his and his nation’s sin of hypocrisy; of using their words for and to God so carelessly? The conviction led to confession. The confession led to cleansing, one which God was quick to provide (“Then the Seraph . . .) The coal of cleansing (I seem to be alliterating, channeling my preaching professor I think) led to a call. God (the “us” here has always been a point of discussion and disagreement. I go with the “royal we” crowd on this one) called for a helper and Isaiah answered with his classic, “Here am I.”
There is so much here for the preacher to choose from for Sunday’s sermon. Rather than taking this as a proof text for this week’s Trinity Sunday, this can be an opportunity to talk about the components of whole-hearted worship, the proximity of God in the midst of grief, or the grace on the other end of true contrition. I can also see this as a possibility for congregants to hear—and then respond–to the call of God on their own lives.
This psalm is a great companion to the Isaiah text, calling on the congregation to “ascribe” praise to God. The psalmist must have had a similar experience or vision to that of Isaiah, as he gave expression to the sound and effect of God’s voice in the world as well as in the soul. Though God’s voice is powerful and full of flames, the psalmist knows the One behind it is capable and known for giving His people strength and blessing.
This is a great passage for this Sunday not only because of the Trinitarian references within it, but because of the comfort it provides. It must have provided great comfort to the orignal audience, those believers in Rome who were already enduring hardship and persecution for their faith. As their faith was challenged during such a time, they could know that they didn’t need anyone to verify their real identity. And they need not doubt it themselves. Rather, they could know with great assurance and confidence that they were children of God, the kind of Father they could address as “Daddy.” The Spirit would even bear witness within them that they were children of God. No amount of suffering could overpower the glory and inheritance theirs as co-heirs with Jesus.
What a great text to preach this Sunday for those who find themselves in the anguish of suffering or the uncertainty of tomorrow.
Nicodeumus’ visit to Jesus and the ensuing conversation provides almost too much of a pericope for a sermon. Most preachers I know tend to stay away from the predictable last two verses, lest they lose their hearers in the familiarity of these verses (although v. 17 usually gets neglected by v.16). The encounter Nicodemus has with Jesus deserves attention, though, because his life is so much like many today who tend to attend church week after week. He is the person who has been in worship every week, is ruthlessly devoted to the study of God’s words, and has a clear understanding about who gets in with God and who doesn’t. On the other hand, he also is someone spiritual seekers can identify with, as he seems to have become dissatisfied with the rules of religion and is seeking out a greater truth for life. John gives us the idea that his soul was stirred after hearing Jesus teach one day, or perhaps seeing him in action with a leper, tax collector, or the blind. He wanted to know more and sought out Jesus for a late-night Q and A.
There is, of course, plenty here for a sermon on the Trinity, as Jesus wanted Nicodemus to know about the wild nature of the Spirit, which was working in him even then.