Wembley Downs Uniting Church
Current Sermons
Getting into the Spirit (James Malcolm) 27.5.2018
Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

As you know, last week we did not join the other churches at the Anglican Church for the Pentecost service. There was a very good reason for just being together as a church, and our service was very special, but it did mean that we have not yet given our attention as a church to Pentecost and the coming of God`s Spirit.

Thanks to the internet I have learnt a new word - `pneumatology` (the study of the Holy Spirit) but you`ll be glad to hear that this morning I have no pneumatological aspirations. (In case you don`t get it, that`s a joke, because in the Bible the same word is used for Spirit and wind or breath, and aspirations can mean hopes or breaths. So, `I have no pneumatological aspirations.` Get it?)

Anyway, I don`t plan to go into Pentecost in any detail today, but today is Trinity Sunday, where we celebrate God as Father, Son and Spirit, and for Christians the understanding of that third element of the Trinity dates from Pentecost, when the disciples recognised the presence of God`s Spirit among them.

Of course, that`s not the first we hear of God`s Spirit in the Bible. Indeed, at the very beginning, in the Genesis story, the Spirit of God is there, brooding over creation. But there`s no mention of a Holy `duo`, it`s just another way of talking about a God that cannot be adequately described.

But in John`s story of Jesus` encounter with Nicodemus God`s Spirit takes on a unique role. `No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the spirit.` Nicodemus plays the straight man and asks how he can be born again and it is obvious that he is approaching the picture language of the nature of God in the wrong way.

John describes Nicodemus as `a Pharisee` and `a leader of the Jews` so it`s probably fair to say the writer intended the character of Nicodemus to represent the Pharisees` approach to Jesus. Jesus spoke all the time in pictures and parables and the Pharisees refused to understand, taking his words literally in an attempt to make Jesus look foolish. Instead they merely showed their own lack of understanding.

Nicodemus focused on the physical impossibility of being `born again` to avoid Jesus` real meaning that the change required to acknowledge the indwelling presence of God was as dramatic as being born again. That`s the point of the story. If we take that scary step and acknowledge God`s Spirit present within us it transforms us so much that it is as dramatic being born again. No wonder Nicodemus decided to not understand!

Turning to the reading from Romans, Paul tells us that `all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God`. This seems to me to speak clearly to the second person of the Trinity, Jesus. the Son of God.

This raises a minor complication. Malachai in chapter 3 verse 6 quotes God as saying, `I the Lord do not change`, but about 400 years later Jesus appears and is called Son of God and embraced into the Trinity. Has God somehow morphed from Father and Spirit to an expanded three-some? I don`t think so. Let me explain why.

All the Gospels give Jesus the title Son of God and so does Paul, but I don`t think we can set too much store on the word `the` in the phrase `the Son of God`. At that time Son of God was a title claimed by many rulers across the world from China to the Roman Emperor and the Pharaohs of Egypt, so there were many who claimed to be sons of God.

But Paul takes it a step further: `All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So here we are, this morning, at a small family gathering, all of us children of God. The really incredible part to that is that the title `Son of God` was seen as making Jesus special, but Paul says `No`. It is the indwelling Spirit of God that makes Jesus special and it can do the same for all of us. Logically that makes us all one with God and the Trinity becomes a vast multitude! But before you get too carried away with that I want to look more closely at our deficiencies and what God thinks of them.

Today`s readings follow the Revised Common Lectionary, but in an earlier version of the Lectionary back in 1974, the calling of Isaiah we heard this morning, `Lord, here am I, send me` is linked with the calling of Peter the fisherman to be a disciple in Luke chapter 5 and the dramatic calling of Paul, told by Luke in Acts 9 and in Paul`s own words in 1 Corinthians 15. In each case the one who is being called is first overwhelmed by a feeling of inadequacy. Isaiah, after seeing his vision of God in the temple cries `Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.` Peter says, `Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!` and Paul calls himself `unfit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God`. Despite their acknowledged deficiencies they were great servants of God.

`Unclean lips`, says Isaiah - God cleans them. `A sinful man`, says Peter - Jesus says, `I`ll make you a fisher of men.` `I persecuted the church`, says Paul, but he is forgiven and set free to be the first great missionary. The message for us is that a feeling of inadequacy is no excuse. When God calls you to be part of the team to bring heaven on earth God calls you now, as you are, with your perceived inadequacies. God asks, `Who will go for us?` and for each of us the only reply is `Here am I, send me!`

Let me finish with a quote from a sermon I found by Dr Delmer Chilton on a website called `The Lectionary Lab`. Dr Chilton puts it this way:

`So, rather than spend a lot of time on the philosophical understanding of the Trinity, I prefer to think a lot about the Trinity`s implications for the Christian life.

I like to meditate on the fact that God exists in community, in a family, a family of equals who share one calling and goal and life but exist within that community and family as unique individuals who are stronger together than they could ever be apart.

That helps me understand the notion of the church better, because if we`re made in the image of God and God needs community, then it makes sense that we need community too; a community that is called together to move in the same general direction, loving each other and serving the world.

And sometimes when I think about the Trinity, I think about how each of us have different spiritual personalities and how some of us respond to Abba, the Father, the Creator, and how others of us really relate to God in Christ, the Son. There are many others who are touched deeply by the Spirit.

It just fascinates me how the idea of the Trinity manages to touch all those spiritual bases and keep them all in balance.`

Our calling on Holy Trinity Sunday, is neither figuring out the Trinity nor explaining it. Our calling is to live the Holy Trinity in our lives and in the holy and loving community we call the church. AMEN


130 Calais Road, (crnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882

Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands,
Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands