It is Trinity Sunday! I know you’ve been waiting all liturgical year for this day. You have your analogies ready: water, ice, steam, ta da! The same, but three! Or you could cut open an apple: see the three parts? Skin, flesh, seeds, three in one! I can hear that member of the Committee on Ministry now, the one who cautioned me against modalism because I used, “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” in my faith statement, rather than Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I assured him I was not guilty of the heresy of modalism and therefore orthodox enough to be ordained. (Later that day I looked up “modalism” in my dictionary of theological terms. This was pre-Google. Whew! I really wasn’t a heretic!) In God’s time, I was introduced to that wonderful word, perichoresis, emphasizing the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Better than water, ice and steam, but not exactly helpful for this Sunday’s children’s sermon. Circumincession, anyone?
At the heart of the matter is mystery, a mystery that far greater theological minds than me have not fully resolved. So, what to do? Just break out the white stole and let that be enough of a nod to the day? Very few will take you to task for it. I’ve yet to have someone tell me that Trinity Sunday is their favorite day on the church calendar. Perhaps that is all the more reason to be explicit about the change back to white paraments. Announce boldly that it is Trinity Sunday and invite those gathered to listen for the Trinity in the day’s readings. It is always wise to stick close to the text, starting, following and finishing in Scripture will keep you away from really bad analogies… and maybe even heresy!
Let’s focus on one of today’s readings: John 1:1-17 (although I say go for it and read all the way through verse 21). Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, presumably wanting to know more. Jesus tells him that no one will see the kingdom of God, or enter it, without being born of water and Spirit. All three members of the Trinity are in the mix by verse 5. Keep reading and the relationship between the three comes into focus: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to save it, but only those born of the Spirit have eyes to see and ears to hear these heavenly things. All three persons are critical if we are to see the light and then testify to it. Remarkably, thankfully, God holds nothing back from us. Perhaps that abundant outpouring of God, for us and for our salvation, is the primary message to be proclaimed on Trinity Sunday.
This complete kenosis is certainly evident in the exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus. Jesus starts with talk of new birth – birth from above – and when Nicodemus can’t wrap his head around that Jesus says, “Well, think of it this way, you can hear the wind, see the effects of it, even if you can’t see it and you certainly can’t control it, you know it is real.” Being born of water and the Spirit is like that. Jesus keeps on, making the connection to the story of Moses and the serpent – surely a story with which a Pharisee would be familiar! However, Jesus is setting up the story with something even greater in mind: If that lifted up serpent saved, how much more will the Son of Man? But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He moves to the why of it all, that verse that has been called the gospel in miniature, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” This is a life or death matter and God will stop at nothing to save the world. The Triune God, distinct, but not divided, refuses to leave us in the dark, even if we show up in the middle of the night, confused and questioning.
Maybe that will preach. God the Father, source of all that is seen and unseen, Christ the Son, fully divine, fully human, Word of life made flesh, and God the Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate, sustainer, have opened the circle and invited us to their banquet. All that remains is to say yes to their invitation. RSPV “yes” and life will never be the same. It will be so new it is like being born again.
Could that preach? The Triune God invites us into relationship relentlessly. When have we said yes? And what life-giving difference has it made when we have? Kevin Vanhoozer writes, “Scripture is filled with examples of persons either accepting or blocking these divine offers. The most striking example is perhaps Mary’s response to the ‘offer’ of bearing the Son of God: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’ (Luke 1:38) — in other words, yes!” (“Faith Speaking Understanding,” page 193).
Pause and wonder for a minute about what happened next to Nicodemus. Did he say yes? We don’t know. We do know it would have changed his life radically if he did. Lifting up those stories in Scripture of “yes” responses to God’s invitation would be a powerful reminder of that truth. Think of Peter. How about Zacchaeus? The woman at the well in John 4? The blind man in chapter 9? Mary, Martha, Lazarus? The list goes on. If you are brave, sharing your journey from timid, night visitor of Jesus to brave, testifying believer would be moving, too. Sharing your life-giving stories of saying yes to the pursuing Triune God, or even admitting the times you’ve said no, might encourage your hearers to do the same and part of the point of this text is to see and hear, so we can go and tell the world what we’ve seen and heard.
So, leave the apple in the fridge and don’t try and explain the Trinity. It is, after all, a mystery. Instead testify about what it is like to dance with the Triune God and invite others to join you.
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