10 June 2001
Today, as I'm sure you know by now, is Trinity Sunday, the day on which we celebrate God in all his "Godness". If that is a word. We celebrate God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; God as Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, and so on. We celebrate God.
That being so, what struck me full force when I looked at these readings is that they are about God's caring for His people. They aren't about us serving God, they are about, if you like, God serving us. God is there, in the wilderness, making provision for the Children of Israel groaning in slavery under Pharaoh. Jesus, talking to Nicodemus, tells him - and us - what is needed if we are to be, ourselves, Children of God.
So, then, firstly let's look at Moses, meeting with God in the desert. We all know Moses' story - how he was born of Levite parents at a time when small boys were being done to death by Pharaoh; how his mother hid him in a cradle in the reeds; how he was discovered by Pharaoh's daughter and given back to his mother to wet-nurse; how he was adopted by Pharaoh's daughter and raised at the Palace; how, indeed, he then killed and Egyptian who was beating one of his own people, but then they cast him out, as they were afraid of him; and how he fled into the desert, met Jethro, a Midianite priest, and married his daughter Zipporah. And, as our reading starts, Moses was looking after Jethro's sheep.
But Moses seems to have had no idea of God at all. When God appears in the form of a burning bush, Moses has absolutely no idea what this is all about. He has to be told to take off his shoes to approach holy ground. And, despite his Hebrew upbringing, he obviously has absolutely no idea about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
To be fair, we have to remember that this is before the Law has been given; the Israelites have only their traditions to rely on, no written Law as they would have before the next generation. All the same, wouldn't you have thought that the Israelites would have passed on such knowledge as they had of God? After all, God had done great things for their ancestors.
But Moses has no idea Who God is at all! He has to ask, and God says to say that "I AM" has sent him. And, as I'm sure you know better than I do, that "I AM", in Hebrew, has implications of "I have been" and "I will be", and is far more eternal than it appears in English. It is the great Name of God that the Jews refused, and still do refuse, to transliterate, so we don't really know how it should be written, although we make brave attempts with Yahweh and Jehovah.
But the point is, all this is God's idea. It is God who has heard the cries of the Israelites in slavery, and who initiated their release via Moses. It is God who told them, at each and every step of the way, what should happen. It is God who chose Moses, a murderer, a fugitive from justice, to lead his people - and, indeed, you could perhaps say it was God who arranged for Moses to be Jewish, but brought up in Pharaoh's palace so that he would know how to behave in the highest circles.
Saving the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt was all God's idea!
As, indeed, was our salvation through Jesus. Our second reading, of course, was that lovely and well-known passage in John's Gospel, where Jesus explains to Nicodemus exactly what God's arrangement for our salvation are.
"You must be born anew", says Jesus, and when Nicodemus says "You what?" he goes on to explain how this is done: through the Holy Spirit.
The problem is, of course, that those of us with an Evangelical background are apt to think that this is all something we have to do. "You must be born again," says Jesus - and we, in our foolishness, fail to notice that this is something we must allow to happen to us, but assume that this is something we must do. But Jesus says that all that is necessary is to believe. "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." And it is through the Holy Spirit that we are to be born anew.
This whole thing of salvation was God's idea, not ours. Just as the Israelites, toiling away in slavery in Egypt, had no real idea about God, but still God heard their cries and did something about it. Being God's person is God's idea, not ours.
Which is just as well, really, when you come to think of it! After all, there seem to be two equal and opposite positions we take when it comes to who is and who isn't saved. No, three! There are those who are universalists, who say that everybody will be saved, willy-nilly. There are Calvinists, who say that God chooses who will and who won't be saved, and if you are not chosen, that's tough. And then there's the what, for want of a better word, I'll call the Evangelical position, which says that you choose for yourself whether to be saved or not.
The silly part is, you can argue fairly convincingly for all three positions from Scripture! At least, I can. I find arguments and verses supporting all three positions, so I'm sure that somehow, and don't ask me how, all three have aspects of the truth in them! What they call a mystery!
We don't like mystery, much - we'd rather have our arguments cut-and-dried. But then, if we could understand it, it wouldn't be God!
4. For Us, Today
But we have all known Jesus for a great many years now, probably for more years than we care to remember. I have to carefully not think about the fact that for me, it will be 30 years come October..... it makes me feel far to old - and I did have some kind of faith, even before then. And we can't live on something that God did for us thirty years ago, however life-changing it may have been.
If our being Christians is all God's idea - and whatever the mechanics of it, I think we can safely say that it is - then I am sure God's hand will be evident in our day-to-day lives. Hence the question that I asked Robert to ask those of you who were in Church this morning to think about: What has God done for you, what evidence have you of God's caring provision, over this last month?
Over to you.....
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