Trinity Sunday: My (valiant) attempt…


12/6/22
Trinity Sunday

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

Today we are remembering Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost and we are meant to celebrate the Christian doctrine of the Trinity – God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. The three-person Godhead. Celebrating foundational Christian doctrine might not sound all that exciting, but it is!
It is good, I think, to remind ourselves about the essence of our Christian faith after the events and activities of Lent, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. The church year now opens up and rolls along until Advent as the big festivals are now complete.

Most Priests shiver at the thought of a Trinity Sunday sermon. We try to take holidays, pass the preaching on to a visitor or a Curate. Clergy Facebook groups are filled with angsty posts about the Trinity sermons. I was at the Oxford Diocese Clergy Conference this past week and even Bishop Steven hinted at outsourcing his Trinity Sunday sermon to his chaplain.
So where does that leave me?!

The Church has marked Trinity Sunday since the mid 800’s. So it is not new. It was instituted to speak against the heresies of the early church as they worked out how to understand the concept of one God in three elements. Three does in fact equal one!

Reference to the Trinity is woven through our services, every time I or we say ‘in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; the entire Christian story is retold in the Eucharist prayer before Communion, we repeat it each week in the Creeds. Central to the Christian faith that God is Father, Son and Spirit. It is difficult to understand and at some point needs to be believed as part of the mystery of God. But don’t simply jump to that conclusion as tempting as it is!

I picked up a new book at the clergy conference, ‘Why Being Yourself is a Bad Idea and other counter cultural notions’ by Graham Tomlin (the current Bishop of Kensington). He starts with a rather punchy history of the Christian faith…
Many people are still struggling today; even the most honest of Christians will admit to doubts and questions.

In our Gospel reading this week, Jesus tells his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. Read and understand this sentence with the utmost kindness and patience from Jesus. He knows what we do and do not understand. The Spirit was sent to guide us slowly, in forbearance to come to understand the deeper truth of all that Jesus said. This is a safe place to start. God never burdens us with more than we can understand nor does He push us into belief or faith. The Spirit was sent to guide us as long as we are wanting to be led in seeking the truth.

Pope Francis, “The Holy Spirit will never tell you that on your journey everything is going just fine. He will never tell you this, because it isn’t true. No, he corrects you; he makes you weep for your sins; he pushes you to change, to fight against your lies and deceptions, even when that calls for hard work, interior struggle and sacrifice… The Holy Spirit, correcting you along the way, never leaves you lying on the ground: He takes you by the hand, comforts you and constantly encourages you.”

In the work of the Trinity, we see that God is fluid, dynamic, never sitting still. Many people, young and old, believe and live like God is some distant and dusty old Man sitting on a cloud or living in a box or in a church building. There is something comforting in the idea that God is sitting still, containable but yet desperating boring. God is on the move, always surprising and wanting us to join in with what he is doing. Unity is at the heart of the Trinity, but unity does not mean rigidity. Many Christians get it so wrong with holding on to ideas that God is mean or distant or it is just about the rules or even worse – irrelevant to life in this time and season.

God is diverse and thankfully not limited to our imaginations. We are all created in the image of God yet express ourselves differently. It follows then that God’s nature is diverse too. Jesus is the beloved Son, born of Mary and sent to us in human form. He consistently points to the Father who sent him to be with us. We see that the Holy Spirit was sent to journey with us, move with us every day and in every way.

Finally, we see that God is communal. We were made for relationships, for community. We were not hatched from eggs, like separate entities. We were born into families (for better or for worse), hopefully we have made friends along the way, got married or not, had children or not and have found community along the way and built relationships.

I read many sets of banns this morning for the upcoming weddings. Now imagine for a moment that after your marriage service, you went off on your separate ways. (find some examples). You would still be married but you would never know the fullness of your marriage relationship while apart. If you want a full relationship with your spouse, then you need to be together, live in community with each other. The same goes for God, if you want a full relationship then you need to live together with him, He needs to be invited in. God also comes with roommates, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is a full and glorious house.

How lovely was it last weekend to attend Jubilee parties or lunches? For those that did, did you feel any different by being surrounded by community again? My prayer is that the coming together of last weekend will have a lasting and positive effect on communities large and small and that connections made new or reestablished will be maintained.

St Paul wrote his letter to the Romans before he ever visited so he laid out the basic elements of Christian teaching. Paul had a dramatic encounter with Jesus after the resurrection and was blinded for a time. Through his blindness he came to see the Risen Jesus and was forever changed. He is writing to the Christians in Rome to tell them they have everything they need in the grace and love of God through the Holy Spirit. Endure, Paul says, go the distance, it is worth it. Often endurance means we need to forgo the right of convenience, the right to give up when it gets too much.

At the centre of this endurance is love. God is love. At the heart of the Trinity is love; deep, unflinching, unfaltering, life-long and life-giving love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that is extended to us. Do not worry about what you cannot bear right now. Work at understanding that you are simply loved by God as you are. The Trinity tells us that there is more love and life to come, we are part of a bigger story. We are children of the Trinity, always invited and deeply loved. The power of the Trinity will change our lives, lead and guide us to become the people we were created to be, guide us to unity and community. May our lives reflect the beauty and truth of the Trinity.

Trinity Sunday: Nighttime with Nicodemus

Trinity Sunday! The celebration of the complex and beautiful and messy doctrine central to the Christian faith. It is exciting!

Trinity Window

30/05/21
Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6:1-8
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

Today we are remembering Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost and we are meant to celebrate the Christian doctrine of the Trinity – God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. The three-person Godhead. Celebrating foundational Christian doctrine might not sound all that exciting, but it is!

It is good, I think, to remind ourselves about the essence of our Christian faith after the events and activities of Lent, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. Phew – the church year now opens up and rolls along until Advent as the big festivals are now complete.

Most Priests shiver at the thought of a Trinity Sunday sermon. We try to take holidays, pass the preaching on to a visitor or a curate. Clergy Facebook groups are filled with angsty posts about Trinity sermons!

So where does that leave me?

Well with Nicodemus. My attempt this morning is to look at how Nicodemus came to understand more about God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit through his conversation with Jesus that dark night in Jerusalem.
Who is this guy? Nicodemus was a Pharisee, one of the Jewish leaders. He is a big deal in the Jewish circles of Jerusalem; Nicodemus has been well educated in the faith and is a smart man.

Like most religious people, Nicodemus believes, to some extent, that God is love. But he believes that God’s love is measured and sensible, and follows a set of rules. I think that many Christians today still follow this thinking.

They have reasoned that God’s love is reserved for really ‘good’ people, those who are nice or do good things or turn up to church on Sundays. This is true and untrue as God’s love is for everyone despite our perceived and actual goodness and badness.

Nicodemus is confused about Jesus and where he fits; Jesus is not playing by the conventional Jewish rules that Nicodemus and his fellow Pharisees are expecting. This could be why Nicodemus pays him a visit – to get Jesus to fill in the proper forms, tick the right boxes.

His confusion is given away in the detail about coming to see Jesus at night. Darkness or night in John’s Gospel represents confusion or a lack of understanding.

A second reason for going at night means that Nicodemus was concerned about being seen with Jesus. He wasn’t willing to risk his reputation or position as a leader in the Sanhedrin for Him.

But credit to Nicodemus for even going in the first place, his colleagues couldn’t or wouldn’t. Nicodemus’ attraction to Jesus has led him to take action which is leading further into the love of God.

Nicodemus starts by telling Jesus that he, and others, know that there is something special about Jesus – only someone with a special relationship with God could do the things Jesus was doing. He is basically saying ‘I’m someone who can recognize what God is doing – and you, Jesus, are doing a pretty good job’.

Jesus’ reply seems to mystify Nicodemus. I’m not sure what your response is when you hear the words ‘born again’. What do you say when someone asks you ‘are you born again’? Jesus wants Nicodemus to tear up the checklists and understand that God’s activity cannot be ordered.

Nicodemus is picturing a physical re-birth which makes for some interesting mental images around re-entering his mother’s womb. This is not what Jesus means – he is referring to spiritual rebirth in which someone who already possesses life at the physical level comes to birth at a spiritual level.

Spiritual rebirth is about discovering life in all its fullness, which comes only through being born again, or from above. Spiritual rebirth has to come from God. To see his kingdom we need to be born both of water (physically) and spirit (from above).

Jesus then makes the crucial link between his own forthcoming death and the full benefits of the gospel. This comes through the deliverance of believers from death through the gift of eternal life which will become possible through his death.

This eternal life is a new quality of life, made only possible through the love of God, which is shown in the astonishing fact that he loves the world so much that his only Son should die for it.

John 3:16 – This very familiar verse. It is the first one I remember learning as a child. When I think of verses – it often comes to mind first as it is so ingrained. But do I really know what it means – the massive significance that gets lost or overlooked with over-familiarization.

John 3:16 sets out what it means to be a Christian; it sums up the essence of what Christianity is.

What is that?

An invitation to join God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit in the unfathomable richness of God’s love. To join in their being and doing. This is the invitation that Jesus extended to Nicodemus that night and continues to extend to us today.

Jane Williams writes ‘God does not love when we have met requirements, or when we have changed enough to be lovable, or when we were lucky enough to born in one race or sex. God just loves. And trying to measure the love of God is like trying to control the wind. God will do anything for this world he loves, including coming himself, the Son, to die for it. To understand this, in Jesus’ words, born again, to start the world again, learning to walk and speak and think and grow in a world where the love of God is the breath we breathe, so that our every response to the world around us is informed by that love.’

I think that Nicodemus made a start that night in understanding what this love of God is really about – even if he doesn’t quite yet understand. After this midnight meeting with Jesus, Nicodemus goes away changed.

How do we know? He appears on two more occasions in John’s Gospel. First in Ch 7 – Jesus has gone back to Jerusalem for a festival and has really irked the Pharisees and temple priests – remember that Nicodemus is one of them. They send the temple police to arrest Jesus and they don’t. Nicodemus steps into the fray to protect Jesus by reminding the other Pharisees about a point of law that they have easily overlooked about giving a person a hearing before judging them.

Think for a second here – would Nicodemus risk everything – his whole life – in that moment if he didn’t believe who Jesus was? If he didn’t want more of what Jesus was offering? I think Nicodemus had way too much to lose if it was untrue.

The final appearance of Nicodemus is after the crucifixion. Joseph of Arimathea has asked Pilate for Jesus’ body. Nicodemus is the one who brings them myrrh and aloes for the preparation of the body. They – Joseph and Nicodemus take the body, wrap it with the spices in linen cloth according to burial custom and they lay him in the tomb.

Why would he do that if he didn’t believe it? Again – risk everything. You also need to really love someone to care for their body after death. A few years of Macmillan Nursing helped teach me this – only those who are most intimately acquainted with a person – the ones who really love them will be with their body after death.

Nicodemus was extended an invitation into the deepest relationship that we can be offered – a relationship with God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. The belief that God is Trinity is the foundation for the belief that God is also love. I wonder when Nicodemus accepted the invitation? At what point? These are questions for another day. But he accepted the invitation.

His next actions – defending Jesus in front of his peers at great personal expense and then anointing Jesus’ dead body can only speak to love. A love that is born again, a start-the-world-over kind of love.

Maybe I have skated around the Trinity and trying to explain the doctrine of Father, Son and Spirit being the three in one. Start with the Three and see that it is the deepest nature of One. In the Trinity we discover God’s character, personality, priorities and God’s reality. I can point you in the direction of large theological volumes if that is helpful. When we see the deepest nature of the One – as Nicodemus did – we are invited to join in the relationship of the Trinity, we are invited to the table to share love and life together. This is worth celebrating.