There’s a lot going on in these weeks so here’s a playlist to accompany the journey. The opening song is Prince performing “1+1+1 is 3” and I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the Trinity than to lose oneself in this great performance.Prince performing 1+1+1 is 3
Stephen Bond and I had a conversation on the scriptures assigned to Holy Trinity 2021, and my Holy Trinity Sunday sermon is below. The readings for this Sunday are Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29, Romans 8:12-17, and John 3:1-17.
Grace, mercy, and peace to all this day as we celebrate a mystery that earthbound spirits have been trying to describe since there have been words. Today is Holy Trinity Sunday. Though the 3-in-1 language of God’s essence shows up in places throughout our scriptures, the Church finally started describing this mystery as the Trinity a few hundred years after Jesus. And its placement in the church year after Pentecost is with some intention.
You may remember from last week’s readings that Jesus was foretelling of the Spirit’s arrival once Jesus returned to God. The gift of the Holy Spirit who brings unity in the midst of diversity is a main theme of Pentecost, but a secondary theme is that where the Spirit is there is also a real tension, even suffering. Maybe it’s because the presence of the Spirit is a reminder that there is more to this life than what our numbered days can hold and that we are less in control than any one of us wants to admit? Maybe it’s because this Spirit who knows no bounds and crosses all boundaries is fully willing and able to blow up our well boxed notions of God in favor of a boundless God who is ruthless in God’s pursuit of us?
Just maybe this sermon and most presentations on the Spirit dissolve into a series of unanswerable questions because this isn’t ultimately about any one of us. Last week I suggested that a conversation, more than a sermon, might be the best way to talk about the Spirit. The same is true for the Trinity. It’s the conversation that is key. The conversation between God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer, and we have a great conversational example in our Gospel reading.
Let’s look at the art of conversation that’s taking place in our scripture. The setting is night time. Nicodemus isn’t yet ready to show his support of Jesus in broad daylight, but that day will come because of this conversation. Still, notice the very first thing Nicodemus does. He diffuses the potential for discord. Even though some of Nic’s buddies were slandering Jesus in the public square by saying Jesus was from the devil, Nicodemus starts the conversation with a different declaration about Jesus.
He says, Jesus “you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Now imagine for a moment how any conversation you or I might have could better weather an eventual misunderstanding if we started out by saying something both complimentary and true about the other person?! Our conversations these days are so filled with gotcha’s and self aggrandizing. Nicodemus begins differently from his peers and is rewarded with a longer and deeper conversation that ultimately changes his whole life.
But this doesn’t mean that the conversation is easy. Almost immediately it seems that Nic and Jesus are on different levels. Nicodemus wants to address everything Jesus says as a statement of fact while Jesus is clearly speaking of truths that are better understood as poetry and metaphor. There’s a lot to unpack here, but just like last week I don’t think cramming this sermon with facts is going to get us any closer to the mystery that is the second person of the Trinity sitting down for a late night chat with the politically savvy Nicodemus.
What’s more important than any one thing that’s said is that the conversation is happening, and Jesus is a good conversation partner. God can handle whatever we throw God’s way, even our contempt, but this doesn’t mean God won’t point out our contempt for what it is. Jesus says to Nicodemus, “we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.” South Dakota “nice” isn’t part of this conversation as Jesus switches from the language of metaphor into calling out the very real contempt the religious leaders of his day have for God as they seek to box God in and press Jesus into a more acceptable form fit for their own purposes. How often do we do this ourselves?! How often do we show contempt for God by not receiving God’s own testimony both in Jesus and in one another?!
I don’t know where you are today in your conversation, but I want to encourage us all to keep the conversation going. We might be like Nicodemus, still hiding and eagerly coming to Jesus at night. We might be the woman at the well who fully accepts Jesus in the bright light of day. And it’s probably most true that on any given day any one of us might find ourselves somewhere between eagerly and needfully engaging in the conversation and just walking away in defiance.
Wherever you are today, I’ll end with this good word from Jesus. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus has come and is coming still to save the world, the whole world. The word used here for world is “kosmos”. Whether we receive Jesus words here as metaphor or fact, the truth of Jesus’ statement is that God intends to bring not just the world, but the cosmos, all of creation back to God. Thanks be to God who loves us all and meets us even in the dark of night. Amen.
Lastly, here’s the video assembly of my new office wall which features a print of the “Lakota Trinity” icon by John Giuliani.