This was our message on Trinity Sunday. The scriptures used were: Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17 and Isaiah 6:1-8. The title was “How are we sent?” The message was really hit with the idea that we are to love each other as Jesus loves us. I added the picture on the fountain just for a visual, but the love in the message is hardly the romantic type you may think of when you see this picture.
Most of you know that my original profession was as a teacher. I went to school to be a physical education teacher, and ended up teaching English because, well because there weren’t any jobs for women PE teachers in the 1980’s at least not in rural South Dakota. When we moved back to this area, there also weren’t any schools with opening for an English teacher, so I began working at the newspaper in Pollock as an editor, which for that paper meant the main writer. I had never taken a journalism class, but I soon learned that writing for a newspaper meant putting together a story that answered the 5 W’s: Who, what, when, where, and why.
I had taught these 5 W’s and the inverted pyramid that goes with it in my creative writing class in Montpelier. I found it in a resource book that I had and I hoped that what I was giving the students wasn’t so far off base that they would fail when they went on to college. It seemed to work for me when I used the information during my 5 or 6 years I was with the Pioneer.
When I say inverted pyramid, I mean think of a triangle standing on its point. I had this neat paper with one drawn out. It was then divided into 5 sections. The assignment that I gave my students and that I followed in putting together stories was to fill up the first two spaces with the what and the who. What happened and who it happened to, were the most important parts of any story. Next the When and the Where each get a section, and at the bottom is the why.
Now if you are anything like me, an inquiring mind. I want to know more about the why, but really how many times do you know the truth of the why when putting together a news story that is current and up to date? Mostly you don’t. So you put together the other parts, and if the room dictates, you include your little bit of information on the why, and if there is no room, it is the part that you take out or shorten up, or if it is a front page story, it is the part that is continued on another page.
The one thing that I always wondered about in that 5 w’s pyramid thing was, what about the How? As I pondered that this week, I realized that the How of things might be included in the what or in the why depending on the way you look at things. One example: How did you get here this morning? I would include that in my What section describing the vehicle you drove or the route you took or maybe that you walked a certain distance and so on. Now if the question were: How did that backpack get left unattended in the college cafeteria? I would include it in the why. The motive behind that abandoned backpack might just be the heart of the story. Although in that case I am not sure the reporters ever figured it out. By the way, that did happen at a major college to a former student of mine a year or so after 9-11. He simply forgot where he set his backpack, and was looking for it for a few days, and (you are ahead of me again) students were evacuated, a bomb squad was called in, and the backpack was blown up, and when he saw it on TV, he realized his books and notes really were gone.
Let’s go back to the dilemma of How. Today’s message is titled: “How are we sent?” Our lessons today on Trinity Sunday remind us that we are sent to share the news about all three parts of God: God the Parent who cares for us, Jesus the Son who died for us and the advocate or Holy Spirit who guides us. We in the United Church of Christ are not real good at discussing the trinity. We tend to leave Holy Spirit out of the loop most of the time. We spend the majority of our focus on Jesus the Son and God as the Father.
Let’s start today with the part that is usually considered the final part of the Trinity, that dog gone Holy Spirit. It is that part that we UCCers sometimes sweep under cover and try not to think of much, the Spirit part. I read last night an interesting thing about how the unchurched talk about being Spiritual but not religious. I have some ideas about why some refuse to join an organized church, but those ideas are not necessarily very Christian attitudes either towards the unchurched or the churches they have encountered, so I will refrain from bringing them up at this time. Accepting the Holy Spirit is part of being Christian, and part of believing in God and Jesus. It is part of that renewal and rebirth that Jesus teaches. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that if we are born to the Spirit, we are able to be joint heirs with Christ. What a wonderful reassurance. Through our birth in spirit, we are given the opportunity to live with Christ forever. I will be happy to take him up on his offer, but what does that mean? How does that work?
I think we can find the answer with the middle part of the trinity, Jesus the Son as we read in the scripture in John. Even Nicodemus one of the 70 major Jewish leaders a member of the Sanhedrin in the time that Jesus walked the earth understood, or at least tried to understand the importance of Jesus’ teachings and the need to follow them. How he managed to follow him is unclear but the information we are given in scriptures. Some Bible scholars believe that he may have been a part of the outer group of disciples later on, but nothing is clear on it.
We only know for sure that Nicodemus was interested enough to come to Jesus, privately in the dark of night to ask some questions that were burning in him. Though he doesn’t straight up ask, “How can I be saved,” it was the very question he wanted answered. Jesus responds by telling him he must be born again, born anew, born of the Spirit. Jesus says, Nicodemus and everyone needs to be born not just of the flesh as we were when we entered the world, but born of the Spirit so that we are assured of a place with Christ when we leave this world. And the final part of that passage in John gives us the way to find that Spiritual birth when Jesus says: God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Jesus didn’t come with a sword to mow down the Godless or those seen as evil or perhaps even the people who have strayed away, He came as a living sacrifice so that we could find our way to redemption.
Some Christian zealots in past days, and even today believe that the world needs to be purged of those who don’t believe in Christianity. Savages of the past, terrorists of today, they need to be converted or destroyed before they destroy us. Well??? Jesus words in vs. 17: “God did NOT send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world through him might be saved.” (OK then or is it Oh really?)
Now for the God part of the Trinity: The passage we read in Isaiah today makes you stop and wonder which book you are reading from. Starting with the Seraphs with six wings flying around the throne to the imagery of the singing, Holy, Holy, Holy, it sounds much more like something from Revelation than from the Old Testament. The line, about the live coal, touching the lips to absolve sin really hit me. We all know about fire, and I bet most of us have lived in a home or worked in a place that was heated by coal at some point in our lives. If nothing else, we at the least understand the heat of the charcoal briquettes that are associated with some grills. Now imagine having to endure something as painful as a burn by a coal and on your lips no less. How many of us could do that, could endure that if that was the price of our sins. Fortunately for us, that is not the price. Jesus was the price.
The prophet in Isaiah after having his lips touched by the coal and his sins forgiven was able to answer God’s call of “who shall we send?” with a very simple, “Here am I, send me.” This line makes me think of the many times when you are at some event where there is a drawing for something, and I know we all anxiously sit and think, “pick me, pick me.” I have gotten to the point lately that I take note of what is being offered and every now and then I think, “not me, not for this one.” But mostly, I believe we are anxious to hear our name called. How willing are we to have our name called when God is drawing the name?
I think back to school days when sides were being chosen for a game. I remember what it was like to sit and wait for your name to be called. Although I worked at being athletic, I was not always so skilled in all areas, and there were always those times when teams were not necessarily picked for skill. Lots of times our teams were picked by friends, and sometimes it was hard to break into the “in” crowd. “Pick me, pick me” was not always within our control. And not many things were set up on a volunteer basis.
This story in Isaiah was not about the popular person. This was not about the “in” crowd. This vision of the prophet became a call to “doing” for God, and the person answered that call with a “here I am, send me.” This is the answer God expects from all of the people, from all of us. When Jesus called his disciples, it wasn’t with the idea that they would come if it was convenient or if they felt like it. He didn’t ask them expecting the “von veet” attitude. He expected the disciples to follow when he called, and he expects the same from us. He expects us to answer with the words we hear in Isaiah. “Here am I, send me.”
And then we come to the question of today’s message title, How are we sent? Over the past few months, I have been so concerned about trying to fit the message to what can we do as a church? What missions are we still capable of completing? What causes do we still support? We could all go on and on about what we don’t have what we don’t do that we did once upon a time. We could sit and brainstorm about what we can still do, what are the ways we might still be capable of sharing the message of Jesus in the community and beyond. But, the bottom line is we don’t do this for ourselves, and we don’t do this on our own strength and ability. We do whatever we do with the help of God. Mostly though, what we do is follow the commandment that Jesus left for his disciples: To love one another. If we truly and sincerely believe in Jesus as our Savior, we will follow his commandment to love, really love those around us. And that is the answer to our question. How are we sent? We are sent in love? We are sent to love those around us and those in the world. When we do that, when we carry that as our How, all those other 5 W’s don’t matter, or perhaps just come as they may. When we set out in love with God’s love and with the help of the Holy Spirit, nothing is impossible and we really can answer God’s call with, “Here am I, send me.” Amen!