Trinity Sunday – The End and the Beginning

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Revelation 4:1-11       St John 3:1-15

AFTER this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven:
and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet
talking with me; which said, Come up here,
and I will show you things which must be hereafter. 


These words from today’s lesson are from the Apostle John who was given a vision of heaven.  The Lesson begins, “After this,” meaning after what happened just before, but what sort of preparation did John have in his life before this?

John had spent his youth and early adult life fishing in the sea of Galilee with his brother James.  As a young man he was drawn by Jesus away from his home and profession as a fisherman to wander the holy land.  He became “the beloved disciple” of Jesus.  He witnessed Jesus’ cruel passion and death and became the first person ever to believe in his resurrection, when he saw the empty tomb.

On the Cross Jesus asked John to care for His mother.  Tradition holds that he did this in Ephesus until her departure from this world.  John would have come to know much of Mary’s unparalleled purity of heart and humility of spirit.  Tradition holds it that John began to preach the gospel, only around thirty years after the resurrection of Jesus, about the time that the Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome.

John’s preaching stirred up the political powers and he was exiled on the isle of Patmos.  Around this time tradition holds that he wrote his Gospel accounts of Jesus.

After all this, in a cave, in poverty, at a great age, probably in his 90’s, John looked “and behold, a door was opened in heaven.

And immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne: and he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardius stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.  And round about the throne were four and twenty seats; and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold: and out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices.

John goes on to describe a vision of heaven and the glory of God the Father enthroned that was given to him to share with the Church.  And we have heard it today – far away in time and place from where he experienced it.

What about us, “after this”, after our life here, what do we want, what do we hope for?    Do we have a strong desire to enter and see a vision of heaven?  Can we be like John?

Jesus says in today’s Gospel to Nicodemus, and he says it to each of us:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

 What does Jesus mean? “You must be born again” to see and to enter the kingdom of God?

Unaided by grace, left on our own, the condition of humanity in this world is, in the end, futile.  Our understanding is darkened, we cannot see heaven, and our wills are so feeble, that without grace we couldn’t choose to enter heaven even if we saw it.  Nicodemus recognized this in his reading of the Law and the Prophets and the Writings.  That is why he sought out a person to whom these same Scriptures point, that is why he sought out Jesus.

We can challenge this idea that it is futile on our own to try to see and enter the kingdom of God.  We can try to seek with all our heart and soul and mind and strength to see and to enter that kingdom by force.  And we all do in fact try, to the degree that we do not believe, or lack focus in our belief, but still desire.  Some people, maybe even some of us, have tried to break through with drugs or by stimulating the senses in all sorts of ways or by following vain ambition, but we are just thieves and robbers.  The vision is not sustainable and these ways only darken and dull our spiritual eyes and sense—we confuse the shadow (that momentary experience) for what our hearts truly seek.  Or we can give up even trying, instead, lowering our expectations until we share the vision of our animal friends and become a part of the cycle of nature without any transcendence, satisfied with so little.  Sadly, this is a growing number of people in the modern West.

But Jesus would have us look higher and hope for so much more – to have our souls refashioned into the image and likeness of God, made able to behold the beatific vision, to enjoy God and our loved ones forever.

Jesus promises that a stream of living water from heaven will be poured out on those who ask, beginning in the waters of baptism.  A person can enter the womb of our mother the Church and be born again of water and of the Spirit.  The Spirit is needed to illuminate our minds to perceive spiritual things and to enflame our hearts to desire heaven and give us the strength to enter in.

What Jesus says today with utter clarity should set our hearts on fire with a desire to offer Holy Baptism to whomever we meet who is not yet baptized.  It should be on our hearts: show me Lord when and where will I ask this person if they would like to be Baptised?  It is so easy for us to become complacent.  We grow up in a kind of moral relativism – all ways are equally good…  But in our society, fewer people are being baptized – the fields are ripe for the harvest!  We have a very large font here!

Jesus says, you must be born again to see and to enter God’s kingdom.  The Gift, the Holy Spirit, given in Holy Baptism makes this possible.


So how does Jesus fit in?  Jesus says this morning of himself, “No one has ascended into heaven except he that came down from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” (KJV) Jesus says he is walking in heaven and earth at the same time, and he came to show us the way to walk in both, with him.

Our general desire for happiness, needs focus.  Our general desire to find love, to find a true home and community, to live in a society that is just, needs focus.  Our general desire for meaning, for our lives to be fruitful and to come to a good conclusion, needs focus.  Our general belief in a benevolent God, our faith, needs direction.  Jesus tells us to place our trust in him, direct our attention to him, that he may be for us the sharp focus of our God given faith.

Jesus concludes today’s Gospel by saying,

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

He is reminding us that when the Israelites were delivered out of slavery in Egypt by the power of God, they became impatient and began to waver in their resolve in the wilderness on route to the Promised Land, to the life of heaven.  God gave the Israelites a sign, a bronze serpent, that had an effect.  If they looked on it, they would be healed of snake bites and would be recalled to their true home.  They only had to lift up their eyes and look on it.  It was a sign of God’s mercy and good will towards them and a means of healing.

Jesus is the archetype to which that earlier type, that earlier sign, that bronze serpent, pointed.  When we begin to trust in Jesus and are baptised with water and the Holy Spirit, we realize more and more that our lives are a pilgrimage through a kind of desert.  We are seeking a better country, a heavenly.  And we will without doubt still be bitten on the way by sin, tempted by the world, the flesh and the devil.  Jesus provides us the antidote to our wanderings off course in our earthly pilgrimage – and the Church’s liturgy keeps us looking upon Him.

This season of Trinity, which begins today and goes to the end of November, is all about ascending in heart and mind into the life of heaven. With faith in Jesus, and the gift of the Spirit, we will most surely see and enter the kingdom of heaven to see the Father face to face.

In the twenty four weeks of the Trinity season that follow today we will sit in different thrones, the appointed Gospels and Epistles, Sunday by Sunday, and think upon our Lord together.  We will be shown all the obstacles in our souls to seeing and more fully entering into the kingdom of God.  We will be shown all the crowns that Christ adorns our souls with, virtues to counter every vice, spiritual gifts, the seven lamps of fire – the spirits of God.  We will be shown them that we might recognize them in our own souls and acknowledge them as gifts and return them to the glory of the Father.  We will be shown in the Bible the fullness of the life of holiness and our incorporation into the life of the Triune God.  I hope you will be able to join us Sunday by Sunday in our journey together through Trinity season to the life of heaven.

This morning, let us now place before our eyes once again, Christ’s death on the Cross, in the Holy Communion.  This is final reality to which that other sign pointed.  Holy Communion is the instrument by which we are forgiven our sins, through which our hope in the life of heaven is restored, our vision is clarified, and love is renewed in us.  Through repentance and faith, we can gaze upon Christ lifted up and be lifted with Him to see and enter into the Kingdom of heaven, even now.

Amen +

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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2