Holy Trinity Sunday
May 27, 2018
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This morning we have two stories that parallel each other, and each comes to the same conclusion. We have the story of Nicodemus, “a teacher of Israel,” who comes to Jesus ‘by night.” Then we have the story of the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, hard enough to explain that the church took more than 100 years to figure it out.
The story of Nicodemus gives us one of the most famous bible verses of all timein its context. This story illustrates for us several of the Gospel writer’s favorite literary devices. First, the person coming to meet Jesus has an idea of who he is, but it is just a glimpse of the reality of who Jesus is. So it is with Nicodemus: “We know you are at teacher come from God, for no one can do the signs you do apart from the presence of God.” But the back story of this Gospel is from it’s earliest part: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. You have barely scratched the surface, Nicodemus.
The other device is that Jesus goes straight past the logical answer to open another whole conversation: “You are right, Nicodemus, but no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above, (or born again).” John’s whole reason for writing his Gospel is to open people’s eyes to the reality of Jesus, God’s own self, living and breathing among us in our history. At the end of the 20thChapter, John writes, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, that are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” So Jesus wants Nicodemus to know that he’s on the right track, but that you have to be taught by the Spirit of God to really understand the answer to your question. There is knowledge that you cannot diagram or figure out with a pencil. “What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of Spirit is Spirit.” You have to come through faith, a different kind of experience than logic can give you. “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.” Jesus offers Nicodemus an image from his own Biblical history – Moses lifting up the bronze serpent in the desert. As people who were bitten by poisonous snakes were healed by looking up to the serpent Moses lifted up, so those who believe that Jesus is God’s way to life will live.
Because God did not want the world to die without having a way to understand God’s great love for people, says Jesus, God sent me, God’s Son, so that all may live. And the work of the Son, Jesus, is not to punish the world, but to save it. So, Nicodemus, this is the path, God has done it all, you don’t have to figure it out, you just have to trust that it’s true and experience it for yourself.
In our Holy Trinity story, the early years of the church – the ones after the New Testament ends – were among the most contentious in our history. What should be included in our Scripture? Is the Hebrew Bible any use anymore, or are the stories of Jesus all we need for faith? How about Jesus? Was he just a specially created person whom God chose to do the work of salvation for us, or was he truly God’s own self? How much of him was God and how much was human? If you scratched the surface of his skin would his God-ness shine out?
Among those controversies was how to reconcile YHWH, the one God of the Jews with a God which seemed to include a Son, Jesus, and the Advocate, Comforter, Paraklete, Jesus promised who was God’s own Spirit? One God or three Gods? So frightened of heresy, getting things wrong and sending innocent people astray and away from the truth, the Church called Councils of theologians to comb Scripture, and pencil out doctrines that would nail down what was right. I hate to think of theologians having fist fights, but it was almost that bad, and a lot was at stake, when three Greek church fathers offered an answer. Two Gregories and one Basil, respected theologians from the area in Turkey called Cappadocia suggested what became the key. Diagrams and penciled charts may not be able to explain to us how God could be all the three in one and one in three that the Biblical narrative describes, they said, but our experience tells us that God is truly present to us as Father/Creator, Son/Redeemer, Spirit/Enlightener and Sustainer. In order to know God, we simply have to believe God. We can only approach in faith.
And so we can celebrate God liturgically as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even if we cannot completely define how that works. It is simply a mystery we believe. In the same way, we can only accept by faith that God truly became human and lived among us and was fully God at the same time; the greatest mystery.
Since I was born into a church family, there has never been a time when I did not know Jesus. My only conversion experiences have been the deepening of my faith as it has met the deep questions and heresies of my own life. I was blessed to know from the beginning that I could trust the Word as it was taught to me, even though it didn’t always match what I knew by pencil logic. I have come to trust the pronouncement of the Angel Gabriel who tells Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”