Pastor Barbara Thrall
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Blessings of this beautiful, wet (?) spring day to you, a day the church calls Trinity Sunday. Last Sunday on Pentecost we gave special recognition to the Holy Spirit, and today we hold up the Trinity, the one-in-three/ three-in-one of God as this concept has come down to us. Not named in the Bible as such, the Trinity is a way of folding the truth and presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit into the life of God. A mystery, yes, and also a gift.
For after all, our faith is at root a gift. Scores of centuries ago our Jewish ancestors looked around their world, at the pagan religions surrounding them on every side, and they were given the revelation of a foundational idea. That idea, revealed to Abraham, was the concept of One God, one God who ruled over everything – the sun and the moon and stars; lightening, earth, rivers, oceans; the mountains, animals and human beings. One God, with one name, Yahweh, who revealed God’s-self to Abraham and Sarah, to Noah and his family, to Moses and the people of Israel, to the prophets, to Mary and Joseph, to the disciples. This was the One they would worship exclusively, though as they and we have found out, this is not always as easy as it sounds.
One God, not such a revolutionary idea to the western mind, is it? Actually, we are kind of used to this concept. So here comes Trinity Sunday, when the notion of One God with various facets comes into sharper focus and reveals a great deal about this God we worship and serve.
One writer who has some insight into this Trinitarian way of thinking is the Rev. Kathy Black, a professor of homiletics and a Methodist minister. Kathy tells the story of her nephew, Jeremy, and a learning he had that puts this multiplicity of God’s self into perspective. Little Jeremy’s father is from Mexico and his mother is of European-American descent. His mom is also a teacher of the deaf community and offers her lessons in sign language. When Jeremy was about 3 and a ½ he understood that everything in his world had three names. A name in English, a name in Spanish and a name in sign language. Jeremy would go to the park with his parents and want to know the three names for all that he was encountering – tree, rock, swings, clouds, dog, baby….and so on. One day when he was about 4 years old his parents took him to a Korean dinner at Auntie Kathy’s seminary. Jeremy fit right in, playing with the other children and after a while he came in from outside and said, “The kids are speaking Spanish but I don’t understand what they are saying.” Auntie Kathy explained, “No, they are speaking Korean. It’s a different language other than Spanish or English or sign language.” Kathy writes that she could see Jeremy’s young mind turning this over. Suddenly his eyes got very big and he clapped his hands to his cheeks and shouted, “Not FOUR!!??” His outburst was both a statement and a question.
It had dawned on Jeremy that his world was bigger and more complicated than he thought. He was coming to know that there are four words for everything instead of three. And then his Auntie tried to explain to him that there are lots and lots of different names for things, depending on where you are, and who is speaking. Kathy Black wrote, “Jeremy is only 5 now, and already he has a larger grasp of the world than I did at his age.” And maybe Jeremy had the beginning of a larger grasp of the reality of the Holy Trinity.
For us in the church, we’ve accustomed ourselves to three names for God – God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And then we add God as Mother, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier; Pain-Bearer, Earth-Sustainer, the Carpenter from Nazareth, the Rock of our Salvation; the Breath of God – and these are only names in English. Yes, God is bigger than our minds can fathom, greater than our language can contain, larger than anything we can formulate theologically or otherwise, and so we need at least a trinity of persons to even begin to conceive of this One God who rules over us and everything we see, know, feel and experience.
That multiplicity of God came calling long ago when a Pharisee named Nicodemus heard about Jesus, the itinerant carpenter and preacher from Nazareth. I have a lot of sympathy for Nicodemus. He was really trying. He had a longing for God, the one God of his ancestors. He was a scholar within Judaism, a student of the law, someone who was very pious and dedicated to his faith. Now here came this character, Jesus, and Nicodemus wanted to know more about what made him tick, what gave Jesus his authority and his power to do good and make a difference, to get people excited about faith and about God. So Nicodemus went to see Jesus but at night, because he was not ready to admit his interest and to have his friends and colleagues know that he suspected something special was happening in and through this person, Jesus. When the two men got together they talked, and Jesus brought up the concept of being born again, born from above. Nicodemus, we can tell, didn’t quite understand what Jesus was talking about, but stuck around anyway, so much so that later, when Jesus was taken down from the cross, Nicodemus was the one helping Joseph to place Jesus in the tomb.
Yes, Nicodemus was longing for God and was starting to think that maybe the One God he had loved and known, studied and served, this God might be up to something new in this person of Jesus. And then it occurred to him that through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, God might be up to something new in each of us, as we are born again in God’s life. Nicodemus may have balked because the concept of being born again is kind of strange, and frankly, impossible physically. He needed to hear what Jesus was saying about starting completely over, about giving your life to God and letting God remake you into a new person, someone dedicated to God’s everlasting revelation of God’s self in new and challenging ways and people, Jesus being the first example. When we are born again (any maybe more than once for some of us) we start new, with new eyes and clean slates and all of it, as the little boy Jeremy at the party discovered, becomes a revelation, a learning, a discovery. Four names for everything in the world? This is only the beginning, when we take on new life in God. Being born again means living in a new way, seeing the world in a new way, trusting in the Spirit to lead us into all possibilities.
For me, and perhaps for you, the prospect of new possibilities has a tremendous appeal right now. Maybe you join me in being more than a little tired of hearing about COVID and restrictions; roll-outs and numbers; masks and social distancing. We so long to get back to the life we knew and to be with the people we yearn to see and hug. That is already starting to happen, and at the same time we know that living through this past year has meant something, something important. I think we don’t just want to get back to the way things were, but to have something good come of this pandemic time, to have it generate a new awareness of what is important and meaningful.
God in the creator and sustainer, Christ in the resurrected Jesus, the Holy Spirit in the power of God in this life, have been with us, guarding and guiding along the way. They have been accompanying us through the struggle of COVID and of the awakening in America of our systemic racial problems, before and since the death of George Floyd a year ago. They have been informing us as we grapple with our place in the world and how we can use the power we have been given as the United States to work for the good of all, not just our own people. They have been with us since the tornado of ten years ago, that blew through this area and left so many unsettled by the raw force of nature and our part in the climate change that is being felt by so many. The rebuilding that has gone on over these years, the birthing of an awareness of the need for basic changes in the way we hold each other as fellow human beings, the possibilities that surround us right now in this church for new life springing from sadness and loss, the opening of our hearts to God’s work and will in our lives – these things are all generated by the One God we know in Trinity of persons, and all that this multiplicity embodies.
So let us be enlivened by the power of this One God who manifests God’s self in three, four, countless ways for those who believe. In our being born again, in our allowing ourselves the vulnerability to be born again, the Holy Trinity takes on flesh and blood and lives in us. May we give thanks to the God who has created, redeemed and is sanctifying us, each and every day of our lives. May the gift of the Holy Trinity and all the myriad ways God is evident, surprise, delight, nurture and transform us, all our days. Amen.