Readings: Isaiah 40:12-17, 27-end; 2 Corinthians 13: 11-end; Matthew 28:16-20.
The OT passage this morning is the beginning of the oracles of that great prophet we call Deutero (or Second) Isaiah. The Book in the OT we know as Isaiah actually was written over several centuries by three, possibly four, different prophets. Their oracles were combined by an editor into one book. So we do not really know the name of the person whose prophecies we are reading. We do know that Second Isaiah was writing to the Exiles in Babylon, and here, in this powerful passage, he is laying out the basis of faith for a believer i.e., the absolute power of the God who created all that is created, the Lord our God.
If someone were to ask who can achieve the impossible, the answer is: He who created the world before whom the idols and false Gods are nothing. The Spirit of the Lord is the prime mover in creation, as we see from the first verses of the in the Bible, the Book of Genesis. But he was not just the Creator, he was also the Counsellor who directs the course of history. The nations include the great and powerful, including Lebanon, whose mighty forests of cedar were world famous. Now, sadly, they have almost disappeared. These nations are symbolic of human power and pride. In fact they are all emptiness and nothingness in comparison with the only true reality, the ultimate reality, which we find in God. The problem was that the Exiles, with the event of the exile itself, and with the passage of time with no sign of rescue or change in their situation, were coming to believe that God had forgotten them.
The prophet’s answer is to make the first recorded connection of creation and eternity in respect of God. Thus, Yahweh is both Creator, in time, and also the Timeless God. That is, he is Lord of both the universe and of time. Which is more than claiming that he is eternal: it is proclaiming him as Lord of the Ages ? that he is active in history, active through all eternity. He is thus the source of strength and renewal for those who wait upon him. Age will not be a determinant, all may rise up like eagles with renewed strength, they shall be saved.
The idea of the Trinity is not spelt out anywhere in the OT, but there are instances, as in this passage, where it is suggested. We see here also a strong sense of community and of corporate responsibility, as the people of God. The same sense of community should be seen as characteristic of the Christian Church. Here, that is our responsibility. This sense of membership one with another can be seen in the Epistle also. S. Paul shows a deep sense of responsibility for the community at Corinth. There is no sense of resentment even against the people there who have opposed him. His greetings and farewells are addressed to everyone. There is no place in the Church for ongoing ill-will or division. However, he makes it clear that there is still some way to go in the healing process. After the farewell, the first imperative translates as mend your ways. The verb in the Greek has the sense of repairing that which is broken, of making progress to a complete whole. And indeed, Christian living is a becoming, a progression towards perfection. None of us is perfect yet, but we are coming closer as long as we are on the road and not turning aside.
There was still a long way to go at Corinth before that church would be a fully integrated community: too many factions were pulling in different directions. In the Church there has to be an effort and intention on the part of all to find a way forward together. The second imperative is a call from S. Paul for the Corinthians to concentrate on what he has said to them. The first letter contains much of his teaching. He warned of the danger of factionalism (chap. 1); and of the fruitless pursuit of human wisdom, he warns against the toleration of open immorality within the church community (chap. 5); he defended his own teaching and his own authority (chap. 9); he taught on the subject of spiritual gifts and of their use in and for the Church; he gave us that sublime treatise on love in chapter 13, and much else in addition. If our church communities were to live by the spirit of his precepts which closely echo the person and teaching of Jesus, then there would be no divisions, we would be making real progress towards perfection.
The pleas to agree with one another and to live in peace are the logical outcomes of practicing what he preached. The result will be that the God of love and peace will be with you. The effect of division is to drive out God. Only as we come together in the Church, being of one mind, is God able to make his presence known. Human rivalry and resentment, so involves the ego that God is excluded. The holy kiss is a sign of our love and commitment to one another. The kiss was widely used in the ancient world as a sign of membership within a group, and could signify a wide range of relation-ships. It still does in much of the world, including Hungary. There is evidence that the kiss was a part of the Eucharistic liturgy from the earliest times.
Cyril of Jerusalem is reputed to have said: Think not that this kiss (i.e., the liturgical ‘kiss of peace’) ranks with that given in public by common friends. It is not such: this kiss blends souls with one another, and solicits for them entire forgiveness. Therefore, this kiss is the sign that our souls are mingled together and have banished all remembrance of wrong. The kiss therefore is reconciliation, and for this reason is holy. The Kiss is what we now call the ‘Peace’. So try to think of Cyril’s words as we shake hands or whatever this morning. The Peace is not simply a greeting. The sense of holy reconciliation should be present. The grace in the last verse is the grace which comes from our Lord Jesus Christ, the love that comes from God, and inspires a similar love in believers; the sense of partnership which comes from sharing God’s Spirit within the Church. The form is that of benediction, and the emphasis is on grace, love and partnership.
There is no direct reference to God as Trinity, yet it is from such passages, and from the experience of our early brethren of the way God acted in their lives, that the doctrine of the Trinity arose. Good dogma comes out of experience ? it is not imposed by Church councils ? they simply reflect the reality of the experience of the Church. So, the doctrine of the Trinity, which we celebrate today is an expression of human experience of God. We hold God to be the Creator. God has revealed himself in power and majesty; he is Almighty. At the same time he is merciful and loving. He has communicated this to his people from OT times onward by the activity of his Spirit in the minds of those who believe and are open to revelation. Most clearly and tangibly, Jesus has revealed God in his human life, which at the same time was divine.
The Trinity helps us keep a balance in our view of God: balance which is often lost when people clutch hold of various enthusiasms for a particular type of revelation. It is into God in his totality that we are baptized, as the Gospel reminds us. The Gospel passage is the concluding verses of the Gospel of Matthew. They are there to help make the transition from the earthly ministry of Jesus to that of the Church. The Church is to carry on the work of Jesus ? it is Jesus to the world in its day. We are Jesus in the world today. Obedience plays a large part in this reading. The disciples go to Jerusalem in obedience; discipleship itself implies obedience. We read of the disciples of Jesus, forgetting that today we are his disciples. They in turn are to make disciples … by way of baptism, and teach obedience to those baptized. It is significant that moral obedience is the primary requirement for the baptized. This whole Gospel places a strong emphasis on ethics. It is to this Gospel alone that we owe the powerful moral teaching enshrined in the so-called Sermon on the Mount.
That was teaching given to disciples for discipleship. It means renunciation of worldly ambition for its own sake and the denial of self and self-centred ways of acting. It demands the bearing of the cross; the following of Christ; the willingness to be a servant to all; and a commitment to living in obedience to the will of our Father God. This Gospel passage leaves us in no doubt about the writer’s view on the divinity of Jesus. He is given all authority in heaven and on earth. Such authority is God’s alone. We are reminded that it is through Jesus and his teaching that we know what to believe and how to live. It is the Spirit promised by Jesus that is poured out on us at our baptism, and which gives us understanding of God through the revelation of Jesus. It is the Spirit which leads us into a contemporary application of his teaching. As Jesus spoke of worshipping his Father, so we worship God’s totality according as we have received the revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
St Margaret’s Budapest
Rev’d Canon Denis Moss
edited by Simon Harding