a sermon for the Trinity Sunday
Today is the one day of the year that the Church dedicates to a theological concept which, quite frankly, no one understands – the doctrine of the Trinity. All over the world, priests and pastors are standing up in front of their congregations, trying to explain something that is completely inexplicable – how God can be one God and three persons at the same time. Some of my congregation really didn’t think that I needed to spend too much time explaining some ancient church dogma. Instead, they suggested I should just read a children’s story….
(Note: This sermon is based on one by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Long, on Day1.org. You can find his (much better) sermon here.)
The other day, I was talking to Meesh Hays and Beth Hendrix about preaching on Trinity Sunday. It is the one day of the year that the Church dedicates to a theological concept which, quite frankly, no one understands – the doctrine of the Trinity. All over the world, priests and pastors are standing up in front of their congregations, trying to explain something that is completely inexplicable; how God can be one God and three persons at the same time. Now, as you might guess, Meesh and Beth really didn’t think that I needed to spend too much time explaining some ancient church dogma. Instead, they suggested I should just read a children’s story, like “Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH.”
For those of you who have even less idea who Mrs. Frisbee is, let me explain that she is a field mouse who lives in Farmer Fitzgibbon’s field. One day, she discovers that her home is about to be destroyed as the farmer plows his field. Terrified, she seeks the help of a bunch of rats, who live in a colony led by a rat named Nicodemus, who is extremely intelligent, learned, and wise. Nicodemus and the other rats help Mrs. Frisbee move her home, and she lives happily ever after.
Now I have to tell you that this story has absolutely nothing to do with the doctrine of the Trinity, except that today’s Gospel is also about a man named Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee (which is almost the same as a rat in the John’s Gospel.) Like the rat in the children’s story, Nicodemus was extremely intelligent, learned, and wise. In fact, he was a leader of the community. And he has heard about this amazing and wondrous man, Jesus, who goes around the countryside healing and teaching. Nicodemus wonders how it is that Jesus does these things, things that can only mean that Jesus is somehow living in the presence of God. And so he goes to see Jesus, at night, so that nobody else would see him, and he asks his question. “How can you do these things, apart from God?”
Nicodemus’ question reveals a problem a lot of us have in understanding God. Some of us think of God in human terms, like a great big Father (or Mother) in the sky, guiding our every move. Or maybe as a stern judge, sitting on a throne and passes judgement on everything we do. Others of us might think of God in more mechanical terms; as a divine watchmaker who created everything and set it all in motion, but then lets the world work on its own.
The problem these images of God is that they do not account for the Biblical witness, for the fact that Jesus could not have done what he did, unless he and the Father were one. And that through the Holy Spirit, God created the world, and gives us life and breath. This is why the Church teaches that God is not an individual being at all – not a single parent, or a judge, or a clock maker. Instead, the Church teaches that God is a community, a family, three who are constantly living and giving and taking from each other, a perfect community. And the thing that binds that perfect community together is perfect love.
Of course, Nicodemus doesn’t know this. All he knows is that this man, Jesus, appears to have a special relationship with God. He sees that God is alive in Jesus. And so he asks how he, too, might get God to come into his life. The answer is so shocking that Nicodemus doesn’t understand it. “You can’t get God to come into your life. That’s backwards. But God does invite you to come into God’s life.” In other words, God, who is the very definition of perfect love and perfect relationship, invites us to be reborn into the boundless love of the Trinity.
When Rindy and I were first married, we thought that we finally had become complete, two individuals joining together as a married couple. What could be better? But it didn’t take long before we each realized that she didn’t just marry me, she married my family as well. And I didn’t just marry her, I married her family also. Whenever a person gets married, they marry into an already-existing set of relationships.
The same was true of Nicodemus. Jesus invited him to join him in an already existing relationship, the relationship Christ has with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is as if he said, “You know, being part of God’s life isn’t all that hard. All you need to do is come be a part of me. God is as close to you as I am. And through me, you will become part of the life of God.”
Our relationship with God starts with an invitation, an invitation to know God through Jesus Christ. We are reborn into God’s life through the waters of baptism. We are baptized, not in the name of Christ alone, but in the name of a perfect loving relationship: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each independent. Each interdependent. All perfectly united as one. Through our baptisms, we are born into a new life of the perfect love that is God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We join in that love through Jesus Christ, the one who was sent by God not to condemn the world, but to bring us all into the fullness and richness of God’s own life.
Nicodemus came to Jesus that night trying to learn what he had to do in order that God might be alive in him. He left knowing that he had seen the face of God himself, in Jesus Christ, and with an invitation to join in God’s life through Christ. By our baptisms, we too have been invited to live in the life of God through our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a life of love, a life of abundance, a life for the ages.