a sermon for Trinity Sunday
The Rublev icon of the Trinity has a small rectangle on the table of the Holy Guests. Some scholars believe it once held a tiny mirror, which invited the viewer into community with the three persons of the Trinity.
The other day I talking to someone who had been adopted as an infant. And as we were talking, she shared with me the affection he feels not only for her mother and father, who adopted her, but for all her siblings and the rest of her family, cousins, aunts and uncles. All of these are people with whom she has no biological relationship, but who are part of an invitational family. Through adoption, she was invited into an existing family relationship that was no different from what it would have been had she been naturally born with them.
Adoption in our culture is an expression of love. Parents adopt a child for many reasons, of course – they may do it because they cannot have a child any other way, or they may do it because they want to provide a stable home for a child that doesn’t have one otherwise. But whatever the motivation, they always do it to share with that child the love they have within their existing family. But in ancient Rome, adoption was different. For the Romans, the institution of adoption was about property rights. It was established as a legal way to ensure that a family had a suitable heir, someone to carry on the family name and property. There may have already been other children in the family, but the head of the household had the right to choose who would carry on the family name and inherit the family property, and one way to do this was though adoption.
In today’s second reading, Paul makes this incredible claim:
You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
Think about that for a moment. Paul is a Roman citizen, speaking to a Roman audience. And he is saying that through the Holy Spirit, we have become adopted children of God the Father. And that through that adoption, God has chosen us to his heirs and not just heirs, but co-heirs with God’s own son, Jesus Christ.
But if adoption means joining a new family, what kind of family have we joined?
Today is Trinity Sunday, the day when we contemplate the nature of God. We believe that God is more than just a supreme being. We believe that God is a supreme being whose nature is perfect relationship. We understand God to be one being in 3 distinct persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – eternally united and completely independent at the same time.
God the Father, who we heard about in Isaiah, is wholly Other, so far greater that anything we can comprehend that all we can do is fall down in awe and worship saying “I am not worthy!” God the Son, who is God in human form, came to show us what a perfect personal relationship with God looks like. And God the Holy Spirit, who is constantly present within and among us, teaching, strengthening and bearing witness to God’s love. These three persons are God, dancing together in time and space and yet one being, bound together in perfect relationship. How this happens is a mystery – the only way we’ll ever understand it is to experience it.
This brings us to the story of Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a rabbi, like Jesus. And he tried to understand the amazing signs of healing and feeding that he had seen Jesus perform. He was well aware that Jesus couldn’t be doing these things unless God was somehow with him. So one night, he goes for a visit and asks, how he, too, might get God to come into his life. Jesus’ answer is so shocking that Nicodemus doesn’t understand it. “You can’t get God to come into your life. That’s backwards. God adopts you though water and the spirit to be part of God’s life.” God, who is the very definition of perfect love and perfect relationship, invites us to be reborn into the boundless love of the Holy Trinity.
You know, for years I have tried to understand the mystery of the Trinity. I’ve thought about ice, water and steam, or three leaf shamrocks, or some other analogy. I have read books and studied commentaries. And just like Nicodemus, I always ended up scratching my head.
But God is not a puzzle that we have to solve. God is a relationship that we are invited to experience. By our baptisms, we have been adopted into that relationship. We have been invited to live in the height, breadth and depth of the love of God. We have been reborn and adopted as God’s own children, with full rights and privileges to inherit the Kingdom of God, just as Jesus was. Through our baptisms, God has adopted us into a preexisting familial relationship – the relationship that we call the Trinity, the only perfect relationship that has ever existed, or will ever exist. This is the relationship that makes all the difference, the pre-existing relationship of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, eternally bound together in love.
What that means is that we are brothers and sisters of Christ himself. And like Christ, we have been bound into an insoluble relationship with God. As God’s adopted children, we have become co-heirs of the grace, the blessings, and the love of God. In other words, we are heirs of the kingdom of God.
Jesus came to show us what it means to live in relationship with the Father as a child of God. In the sending of Jesus Christ, God reaches out to us, and welcomes us to be full participants in God’s divine relationship. Through our baptisms, God has given us the means of grace, to experience the perfect relationship of the Trinity, even if we never understand it. We are brought into God’s pre-existing relationship – the Father and the Son and the Spirit eternally living, eternally loving, eternally life giving.
Jesus invited Nicodemus into a new life with the Father and the Holy Spirit, a new life in the kingdom of God. God has adopted us, too, so that we might have a new life that never would have been possible before. We are showered with love and invited into full participation in God’s adoptive family – heirs with Christ of God’s kingdom on earth. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus invites us all to participate in a family beyond our own families, to experience a love that goes beyond all love – the perfect love of the Holy Trinity of God.
You have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
Thanks be to God.