ISAIAH 6:1-8. These few verses describe the call of Isaiah to his ministry of speaking for God to Israel during a critical period of its history in the late 8th century BC. Amid the smoke from the sacrifice on the altar in the temple, Isaiah had a vision of God attended by heavenly creatures. One of the heavenly beings touched his lips with a live coal symbolizing his freedom from sin and worthiness to proclaim God’s message to Israel. Then Isaiah heard the voice of God calling for someone to speak for God to God's sinful people; and he responds.
ROMANS 8:12-17. Paul claims that having the Spirit of the risen Christ is the key to Christian discipleship. The Spirit dwelling within us enables us to live as the people of God rather than as slaves to the value system of the world around us.
JOHN 3:1-17. Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, learns from Jesus how the Spirit makes us new spiritual persons through faith in the crucified and risen Christ. This comes about because God loves the world so much that God sent Jesus into the world to save us with this faith. This majestic passage is one of many in the New Testament witnessing to what subsequently became the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It describes the ministry of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit as God at work in the world. Some people look at verse 16 as the secret for obtaining eternal life beyond death. In this passage, however, John makes the point that God is as much concerned about how we live in this life now as with what happens to us afterwards. As the subsequent verses 18 to 21 explain, God's judgement occurs and eternal life begins when we believe who Jesus is and what his coming into the world really means.
Put together, our various readings point to the experience of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not only that but these various texts point up how the experience transforms our lives with real effect
For Reflection: God’s power and presence impacts our lives in many and various ways.. On Trinity Sunday, what is your favourite way of describing the Trinity?
This reading tells of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, shortly after the ascension of Jesus. Pentecost (from the Greek meaning ‘fiftieth day’) came 50 days after Passover, and is also called the ‘Feast of Weeks’ – an agricultural festival that came between Passover and Tabernacles (see Exodus 34.22; Deuteronomy 16.10). There is nothing new about receiving God’s Spirit, as we can see from the psalm: ‘When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground’ (Psalm 104.31), and Peter’s quotation from Joel: ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy’ (v.17). In Psalm 104, this outpouring includes both people and the earth, as also in Paul’s letter (Romans 8.22-23). It is not entirely clear who is included in the disciples’ shared experience, nor where it happens. It simply says that ‘they’ are together in a house. Luke’s imagery should not be taken too literally as there is a play on the word pneuma – it means breath and wind and spirit. Breathing is the sign of life, and receiving God’s Spirit makes us alive. So, a gust of wind (breath) is an appropriate image for the Holy Spirit. Fire represents the presence of God, just as it did for Moses at the burning bush (see Exodus 3).
John 15.26-27; 16.4b-15
How should we translate John’s paraklētos (v.26)? In the NRSV it is ‘Advocate.’ In other translations it can be Counsellor, Comforter, various longer expressions, or simply transliterated as ‘paraclete’. It is John’s word for the Holy Spirit, and literally it means someone who will plead your case in a law court – hence Advocate. For John, the ‘paraclete’ is the one who will speak up for us when we appear before God the Father. This Advocate is characterised as the Spirit of truth. It testifies about Jesus. It will prove the world (of unbelief) wrong about sin, and righteousness, and judgement. It will guide the disciples into truth. It will declare the things that are to come. And it will glorify Jesus. The biblical scholar Raymond Brown has shown that these functions of the Advocate are (almost entirely) the functions Jesus had in his own lifetime. As the Advocate cannot come until Jesus has gone away (v.7), it means that the Holy Spirit is to be understood as the continuation of Jesus’ presence on earth and in the church after Jesus has gone away. Here we have the beginning of the idea of the one God as a Trinity of persons.
Acts 1.15-17,21-26: After the ascension, the disciples are conscious that their number is one down. They need to make up the number and there are two candidates: Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. After praying, they cast lots and appoint Matthias. Casting lots is like throwing dice, which to us seems a strange way of discovering the will of God, though it was practised frequently in earlier Judaism by the priests.
1 John 5.9-13 : What does the author of 1 John mean by 'the testimony of God'? This passage explores two themes central to the Gospel of John: witness and life. There, Jesus' own deeds provide the Father's testimony to the Son (John 5.36). The Gospel is the evangelist's own witness, written so that its readers may have life (John 20.31). The purpose of the epistle is parallel: that its readers may know that they have eternal life. The Father's ultimate testimony to the Son was the resurrection; his testimony to the Church is the life that flows from contact with the risen Christ. The testimony of the apostles, evangelists and letter-writers of the Early Church has its source, its focus and its goal in that life.
John 17.6-19: At this point the focus of Jesus’ final words to his disciples changes as he addresses the Father on their behalf, rather than speaking to them directly. Some people refer to this as ‘the high-priestly prayer’. Jesus explains why his disciples are special. They are marked out, not because of any inherent qualities, but because he has made God’s name known to them. Jewish tradition has always been that the name of God reflects his deepest identity (and therefore should not be spoken). Here, Jesus summarises the content of his teaching in this way: it is all about God. To know God in this way makes people holy, separated from the evil of the world, as God is holy and separate.
Notes on the readings:
1 John 5.1-6
This reading reflects the Gospel in many ways with its emphasis on love and willing obedience. It sets it in the framework of belief in Jesus as the Messiah incarnate (v. 1), whose mission was affirmed by ‘water and blood’ (v. 6), almost certainly a reference to his baptism in the Jordan and his death on the cross. The mystery of the Incarnation remains the indispensable core of the Christian faith (John 1.1-14).
John 15 represents Jesus’ last words to his disciples. It is a free composition by the Gospel writer but encapsulates (as John sees it) Jesus’ teaching for the communities that would live on after he had gone. The teaching we have here is a rather more polished development of what we read in the letter by (probably) the same author. The Father has loved the Son, who has in turn loved the disciples, so they should love one another. For all the talk here and throughout the Gospel of keeping commandments, there is just one basic commandment: ‘that you love one another as I have loved you’. At its highest level, this can literally mean giving up your life for your friends. Jesus’ disciples are now friends (philoi) of each other and of Christ, and no longer slaves/servants (douloi).
John’s understanding of friendship is particularly challenging. Where and when might it challenge us?
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