Sermons  SSLR  Illustrations  Lenten Resources  News  Devos  Newsletter  Clergy.net  Churchmail  Children  Bulletins  Search


kirshalom.gif united-on.gif

Sermon & Lectionary Resources           Year A   Year B   Year C   Occasional   Seasonal


Join our FREE Illustrations Newsletter: Privacy Policy
Sermon and Reflections For Trinity Sunday - Year B
Isaiah 6:1-13; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
"Awakening The Young Lions"
Barry Robinson

From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada).   Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way".   Contact Barry at fernstone@fernstone.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A Pastoral Resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson

Trinity Sunday - Year B
Isaiah 6:1-13; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
'Awakening The Young Lions'

   For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you 
   have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba, Father!" it is that 
   very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and 
   if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ - if, in fact, 
   we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

In medieval Japan, it is said, there were clocks that told time by releasing smells: 
every two hours a different odor wafted through the air, so that on waking in the dark 
you could literally sense what time it was.

"What a strange idea!" most of us would say; because for us nighttime is mostly all the 
same.  In our blind-drawn rooms, we know or care little what time it is unless it is somehow 
related to our day-world duties.  We go to bed for oblivion, not for worry, to forget, not 
to confront.  Night is a time for catching up on sleep, recharging one's batteries for 
tomorrow, a time to avoid those avengers and pursuers of our dreams; and the health-care 
profession eagerly supplies us with drugs to keep those demons away.  But what if the 
Japanese were right?  What if it is important to know what time of night it is?

In the old world of the Mediterranean, that crowd of spirits we call worry, self-castigation,
anxiety, remorse, death terror and erotic longing were called the children of Nyx, the 
ancient Greek goddess of Night.  Awakening to the night meant opening a dark eye to the 
invisible world of cautions, insights and promptings that only seem to come to us at 
night, disturbing our sleep in order to be heard.  Maybe Nyx and her brood only come to us at 
night because that is the only time they can be heard over the din of our waking lives!  And 
what if character, what if attaining those qualities of a truly human life becomes available 
to us only when we awaken, not just in the night, but to the night?

                                            + 

It is that kind of awakening to which the apostle Paul is referring in this week's epistle 
to the Romans.

   ... for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put
   to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God
   are children of God.
 
In this season of Spirit, Paul turns our attention to that uniquely human response to the 
life and ministry of Jesus, sometimes referred to as "new birth".  Not to respond to what 
God had done in Christ would have been unthinkable for Paul.  The power that God unleashed 
into the world in Christ's resurrection - Spirit - was essentially a life-giving force 
empowering all who called upon it in the same way it empowered Jesus.

By recalling the Aramaic language of prayer Jesus used in Gethsemane, Paul is reminding us 
not just that we have been made members of Christ's own family but that we have become 
heirs of that same power that enabled Jesus to endure his own suffering and death.

   When we cry "Abba, Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit
   that we are children of God.

When faced with his own death, Jesus prayed in confidence as a true and obedient Son.  
Similarly, when we face our own moments of destiny, when we awaken to the night and those 
powers that call into question our very existence, it is God's and perhaps even Christ's, 
own Spirit who jointly confirms what our own spirit knows - that we are becoming genuinely 
human, as Christ was genuinely human.  It only happens when our courage is called forth.

The framers of the Lectionary understand this connection.  The transformation in us that 
Paul is talking about is demonstrated in that story from Isaiah.  Young Isaiah becomes 
transformed by the Spirit of God from a naive, religious observer into a fearless prophet.
Not only does Isaiah hear the challenge to proclaim a very unpopular message to a nation 
in religious and moral decay; he actually volunteers for the job!

   "Here am I; send me!" - Is. 6.9

However, it is this same transformation that causes such a knowledgeable man like Nicodemus 
so much perplexity.

   "How can these things be?"

he asks Jesus.  But it would be a mistake to conclude that Nicodemus hesitancy to believe 
Jesus had merely to do with an inability to understand.  It might well be that Nicodemus 
understood only too well what following Jesus would entail and that it was not intellectual 
doubt that froze him on the spot but gut-wrenching fear.

Being a child of God means one can no longer take the world at face value. One becomes at 
odds with those powers, attitudes, behaviours, principalities that set human beings against 
one another the same way Jesus was at odds with them throughout his life.  Fear becomes the 
enemy par excellence with which we must contend if we are serious about following Jesus; 
for it was fear against which Jesus preached primarily.  It was fear that pursued him.  It 
was fear that killed him; but it was fear that was conquered on the cross.  And the Spirit 
that God unleashed into the world on Easter is precisely that Spirit that enables us to 
conquer our own fears and to make our own radically human witness in the world.

   For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received 
   a spirit of adoption.

And whether or not it was Paul who wrote in the second letter to Timothy

   ...for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and
   of love and of self-discipline . . .

you will notice the extraordinary similarity of thought.  Apparently, early Christian 
people knew all about the all too human inclination to feel overwhelmed. 

It's true, isn't it?  There are always plenty of reasons for our inner defeats.  At the 
same time, both of these texts ruthlessly insist that what is understandable is also 
inexcusable.  We need not be defeated and we won't be if, instead of colluding with our 
fears, we have the courage of our conviction that God has more love for us than we will 
ever have hearts to receive.  And that's the choice - every day, almost every hour, and 
in almost every decision.  Will we collude with our fears that tell us to keep our heads 
down and our opinions to ourselves, or with our conviction that tells us that God loves 
us with an absolutely overwhelming love?

                                            + 

According to Physiologus (the traditional lore of animal psychology), lion cubs are 
stillborn.  They must be awakened into life by a roar.  That is why the lion has such a 
roar: to awaken the young lions asleep - just as they sleep in the human heart.

It is a good image for people like you and me, who live in the desert of modernity, 
a place where the heart seems to have no reaction to what it faces, thereby turning the 
variegated sensuous face of the world into monotony, sameness and oneness.  The good news 
is that the desert is not heartless.  It is where the lion lives; and if we want to find 
our heart again, if we want to re-experience what it means to be people of "power and of 
love and of self-discipline", we must go where heart seems to be least present.

Whether in or out of the church, we live in a world, you and I, where the lion cubs are 
stillborn.  Most of us, whether we be preachers or investment analysts, have grown 
accustomed to colluding with our fears.  We'll do anything to avoid rocking the corporate 
boat.  After all, our pension funds could be at stake! It is that passive, immobile 
compliant attitude before the glut of modern bureaucracy, the ugly urbanism, academic 
triviality and professional, religious soul-lessness that creates the desert in which we 
live.

Writes James Hillman,

   We fear that rage. We dare not roar. With Auschwitz behind us and the bomb over the 
   horizon, we let the little lions sleep in front of the television, the heart, stuffed 
   full of its own coagulated sulfur, now become a beast in a lair readying its attack, 
   the infarct.

The psychoanalytic profession has convinced us to subdue our rage, to "control our anger" 
and to "manage the conflict" because they think we can find a way beyond aggression.  But, 
what if the rise of the military-industrial complex, terrorism and domestic violence are 
symptoms, not just of aggression gone amuck, but of moral courage that has never found its 
voice?  What if the hope of a world filled with heart, soul depends upon young lions that 
are awakened to life?  Once in Galilee there was a lion who roared to life those who were 
yet stillborn; and they became sons and daughters of God, heirs of God and brothers and 
sisters of Christ.

                                            + 

Isaiah 6.1-13 - The place is the temple in the year that King Uzziah died. It is 
742 B.C. and the country is in mourning for a strong, successful but proud King (26.1-21). 
The young Isaiahhas a vision of the heavenly court and his first words are words of 
anguish, mirroring the accepted Old Testament attitude toward encounters with God: "Can 
one see Yahweh and live?"  Isaiah considers himself an unworthy man and part of a 
community that is unworthy of God's presence.  Isaiah overhears the call of God, which 
seems to be directed at a community - to anyone or everyone who might be willing to 
listen.  It is to this call that Isaiah responds.   But this story does not end here 
(verse 8). Those who listen and respond to the call to be a prophetic voice are often, 
like Isaiah called to deliver a harsh message (9-13).

1.   Compare Isaiah's call with that of other Old Testament figures (Exodus 3.1-4;17, 
Judges 6.11-24, Jeremiah 1.4-10, Ezekiel 1-3). What are the similarities?
2.   What happens to Isaiah between his first response to the vision and his decision to 
offer himself for duty?
3.   Why is the authority of such calls, like Isaiah's, often questioned by institutional 
religion?


Romans 8.12-17 - Although Paul does not operate with a clearly differentiated view 
of the Trinity as has been the case by later Christian theologians, today's text attests 
to the vitality of Paul's understanding of the Spirit.  There is a direct connection 
between the Spirit and the resurrection: the power unleashed by God in Christ's 
resurrection has been unleashed in this age.  This power is essentially life-giving and 
provides a clear alternative to what Paul means by walking "according to the flesh" (v. 12). 
The Spirit empowers us to respond in obedience to God as Jesus was obedient; but such 
"adoption" as children of God also entails suffering just as Jesus suffered.

1.   Against what internal, church attitudes could you imagine Paul aiming these
 words?
2.   In what ways is Paul's message a prophetic challenge to Christians today?


John 3.1-17 - It is a passage with two different textures, like two different fabrics. 
On the one hand Nicodemus represents an attitude that seeks sufficient proofs, historical 
and logical in order to arrive at a faith, which is safe and solid. On the other hand, 
Jesus insists on a life, given by God, which is uncontrollable and mysterious, like the 
whence and whither of the wind.  The word for "night" in Greek refers to a kind of time, not 
a point or duration of time; and in verse 7, the conversation is enlarged into a sermon 
addressed, not to Nicodemus, but to the plural "you".  In other words, we are dealing with 
a post-Easter sermon to the church.

1.   With which attitude - Nicodemus' or Jesus' - would you compare the longing for 
"spirituality" in today's church and surrounding culture?
2.   In what ways does "succeeding religiously" miss the point of Jesus message and 
ministry?
3.   What makes you hesitate to respond to the call of Jesus? What stirs you to life?


HYMN:  We have This Ministry  (Voices United 510)

Keeping the Faith in Babylon:
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
A publication of FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
All rights reserved.
FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0
Phone/Fax: (519) 592-4551
E-mail: fernstone@fernstone.org

copyright - Barry Robinson 2003
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2003
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


Further information on this ministry and the history of "Sermons & Sermon - Lectionary Resources" can be found at our Site FAQ.  This site is now associated with christianglobe.com

Spirit Networks
1045 King Crescent
Golden, British Columbia
V0A 1H2

SCRIPTURAL INDEX

sslr-sm