May 27, 2018

A Godly Play Primer On The Trinity – May 27, 2018

Passage: Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17 & John 3:1-17

Bible Text: Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17 & John 3:1-17 | Preacher: The Rev. Dr. James R. Wheeler

In Godly play we give children a visual theological foundation that underlies a story, such as how we baptize. The beginning of the story is God who is Father, (lay down 3 intersecting white circles) Son and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. The three scripture lessons we have read today give us the same foundation, Isaiah’s vision, Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus, Paul’s picture of life in the Spirit. Today on Trinity Sunday we heard the foundation of all our feasts in the Christian Year that our God is three yet one.

Once a man worshipping God in the Temple had a vision of this Creator God. His throne was high and uplifted. It was vast. Just the hem of his robe filled the temple. And the whole earth was lit up by his radiance. God was so holy that even the 6-winged angels who attended him and carried his throne didn’t dare to look at him. So, with 2 of their wings they shielded their eyes, with 2 of their wings they shielded the Holy One from view and with 2 of their wings they flew. The angels called to one another “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts…” The sound of their call was like thunder, shaking the foundation of the Temple and the vast hall of the Temple filled with clouds of incense. “Woe is me,” the man cried; “I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.” And he fell on his face in terror. God, the Holy One of Israel.

There once was a man who did such remarkable things and said such wonderful things that one night a member of the council of the elders came by night to check him out. Nicodemus said, “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.” The Teacher told him that no one could see the Kingdom of God or enter it, unless they were born anew. Nicodemus didn’t understand. Jesus explained that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life. (Light Christ candle) God, the Redeemer.          

The wind goes where it will. You hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with the Spirit. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. That is why the Spirit is symbolized in a dove who rides on the winds wings. The Spirit teaches us that we are no longer slaves to fear, slaves to our past, slaves to our failures, slaves to all the things we have done wrong in our lives. The Spirit teaches us that we are now God’s children – that God gives us a new name, a new identity, a new beginning. By the Spirit we learn to call the holy, untouchable, unknowable God, Abba, Father. The Spirit makes the broken, lost and unworthy ones into God’s beloved sons and daughters. God, the Sustainer.

In three different ways – or persons – the one God reaches out to the lost and hurting children of God’s own creation. The Holy one of Israel: high and lofty, unknowable, unsearchable, terrifying and vast, beyond all human knowing. Was not Isaiah right to fall down and cry out, “woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell amongst a people of unclean lips?   The vision God gave him was overwhelming and terrifying. “Mysterium Tremendum” the great 20th century philosopher of religion, Rudolf Otto, called the experience of the numinous or holy. It is beyond us, terrifying yet fascinating. Like Moses before the burning bush, we tremble in fear at such an encounter. Yet at the same time the encounter with the Holy holds a strange fascination and draws us in. Isaiah was acutely aware of his sinful and unclean lips. And yet God drew him in and sent an angel to purify his unclean lips with a burning coal. (place tong in circle) “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah heard in his vision. Terrified yet fascinated, Isaiah murmured, “here am I, send me.” God the all-powerful.

Nicodemus witnessed the amazing signs that Jesus did (his miraculous healings, his words of power), but he didn’t understand Jesus’ purpose. He wanted to be part of this powerful prophet’s circle of influence, but he failed to realize that what he really needed was the new life Jesus was bringing. Unless he – Nicodemus – was born anew (born as it were from God on high) he couldn’t enter God’s Kingdom. Only the one who came down from heaven and yet lived like Nicodemus on earth could show him the true heavenly things. And only when he – Jesus – would be lifted high on a tree to die, would Nicodemus and the world see that the death Jesus would die for all of us, was an invitation to bring us through his death into new birth and new life. (Put cross on white underlay) We don’t hear from Nicodemus again until the end of John’s Gospel, when he and Joseph of Arimathea give Jesus a proper burial. The proud council member, who came to Jesus by night, now knew him as his Savior.

We can’t see God, or quantify or measure God or put God on a scale. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, the wind blows where it will. So, the Holy Spirit blows among us in ways we can’t predict, don’t control and usually don’t expect. (Share how Chrism smells but can’t be seen and put on Holy Spirit underlay) And yet, in prayer and silence we dwell in God’s presence. In worship we sense God’s nearness. In service of others we have a sense of having served not just someone in need but the living God. In repentance from our many sins and wrongs we have a sense of forgiveness and being made new. In obedience and faithfulness to God’s love we have a sense of participating in a power that is beyond us, yet near as our next breath. We didn’t create that sense of God’s love or presence or power. It comes from a place beyond us. And yet that divine power is always seeking to connect us to God’s self, God’s love, God’s joy, to a belonging as God’s own beloved children. The Holy Spirit is working in us, among us, unseen but present, often unrecognized, yet sustaining us and uniting us in God’s love as God’s own.

God: Father, Son, Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; Infinite Power of the universe, Savior and Comforter. The 3-fold God as described in our 3 scripture lessons today) underlies (lays the foundation) for all the stories that follow. Do you see how these three circles intersect? I wonder how each circle can be distinct, yet fully connected? I wonder how they work together? I wonder why this three-fold God cares for you and me so much?

I wonder, which person of the Trinity you like best? I wonder if we could do without one of the persons of God if we’d have all of God? I wonder which one of these three stories about connecting with God connects most deeply with you? In Godly Play we encourage the children to share their answers to the questions, but we never impose a right or correct answer to the open ended questions we raise. Let me leave you today with that same sense of wondering about the nature of our God.

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