Trinity Sunday — May 26, 2024

"Sometimes, we need to let the mystery be," writes Kyle Walker.

John 3:1-17
Year B

Some say once you’re gone you’re gone forever
Some say that they’re coming back
I think I’ll just let the mystery be”

-Iris Dement, “Let the Mystery Be”

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, and our gospel text is very fitting from John 3. I’d ask that we preachers resist the temptation to run to familiar verse 16 treating the whole passage as a theological explication on that verse. Instead, enter the whole story yourself. Allow Jesus and Nicodemus into your study or coffee shop or outdoor sanctuary where you do your best sermonizing.

Do you resonate with Nicodemus as he is perplexed over and over by Jesus and his metaphor? Or are you sensing the Spirit of which Jesus speaks flowing into your hard questions of life and filling in the gaps, almost buoying you to meet the challenges ahead?

Even after all this time of sitting with this passage through the years, I perhaps remain as perplexed as Nicodemus. Adults being born from their mothers seems a legitimate takeaway from Jesus’ lesson here. Yet, Jesus seems to call me to dig deeper than my intellect and wider than my assumptions and allow room for the Spirit to work. He seemingly asks me to make space for the improbable … like being born more than once from my mother’s womb!

The Gospel of John is full of these moments of misunderstanding that can only be remedied by the Spirit herself. And this is what makes this passage ideal to bridge into Trinity Sunday.

As a campus minister at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, I was invited for a season into a weekly conversation with a group of Turkish Muslim students. Our conversations revolved mostly about peace and how we of different faiths share similar narratives of love for God and our neighbor. I learned so much about my Christian faith by engaging in these conversations.

A different member of the group would be asked each week to share on a mutually agreed topic for the group. My topic? … the Trinity. No problem, I thought. I mean I had answered questions about the Trinity from my seminary professors, and I served on my presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry where I had the opportunity to ask candidates for ministry their understanding of the Trinity for six years! I was ready for this, right?

The next week I explained perichoreses, the divine dance, how God can be three in one, and the seismic meeting of the Council at Nicaea. The result? These Turkish students with great kindness said they would love it if I would come back the next week and try again! Ouch, ego shattered.

And so, I put aside my favorite theologians and Christian historians, and instead delve deeply into my spiritual journey with the Divine. I read images of the divine from various places until I stumbled on the image of a garden and remembered the outdoor sanctuary garden in New Harmony, Indiana, which felt like God’s clarifying presence to me.

This is the story I told the next week of my experience seeking to understand the Divine and knowing that as I sought to understand God, I could not separate my experience of Jesus and the Holy Spirit from that quest just as we cannot separate the different elements of a garden, the flowers, plants and architecture, from the inspiration of the whole garden itself. God, like this garden, is too vast to take in from one line of sight yet the distinctive aspects remain.

Something shifted in the conversation as I turned toward my experience of God and allowed the mystery of that experience to flood into my expression of the Trinity in my life. It wasn’t perfect and might not pass an examination on the floor of a presbytery, but it was accessible in its mystery to my new friends. Even better, I did not have to come back a third time to present!

Trinity Sunday and John 3 invite us to access the spiritual experience of our lives with God’s Spirit in all his/her/their manifestations. Sometimes, we need to let the mystery be.

Questions for reflection

  1. What images from your life represent God’s clarifying presence?
  2. What does it look like to live with mystery without slipping into ambivalence?

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