Trinity Sunday, a day full of promise, oneness and newness in God.
Grappling with new ideas is hard and can make us uncomfortable. We’ve all responded negatively when someone has told us something with which we instinctively disagree and then reject because it doesn’t fit our current worldview, beliefs or practices.
I remember listening into a tutorial when I was doing my Ph.D, and having an argument with the other students and lecturer about the constructs of capitalism and the fact it was a relatively recent human-made construct and could, therefore, be changed. The blank looks and prompt return to the need for constant growth and consumption to make neo-capitalism work today, reminded me how hard it is for all of us on occasion, to think outside the box.
Perhaps you’ve sat through a discussion on sexual abuse and domestic violence with a man who is giving you an opinion on the subject, or you’ve listened to an experience of patriarchy from a woman you don’t really like, or you’ve heard a description of racism from someone who is not white, or listened to a discussion on climate change led by a young person; and in the midst of the debate being met with vehement disagreement, blank faces, incomprehension and tension.
This was in my mind as I thought about Nicodemus, his courage in coming to see Jesus to ask difficult questions and not understanding the replies. I am struck by how often faith starts in the dark, without light, just as did Nicodemus’s encounter with Jesus (John 3:2). I am reminded how faith does not depend on certainty and understanding; it seems to me these are the fruit of faith, not its precondition.
Nicodemus keeps asking, how can real newness be possible? (John 3:1-17) How can a new and different future emerge in our world today? It is a question exhausting the energy of lonely people in despair, families struggling and breaking down, the demands of unending consumption and for peoples living under constant oppression. Those who endure without an end in sight, wonder with Nicodemus how anything can be truly new?
Jesus assumes Nicodemus, a highly reputable temple leader would be well versed in ‘new beginnings’ as Jesus reminds him of the Israelites in the wilderness with Moses, where each of humanity’s broken promises were always followed by forgiveness and new beginnings, new birth with God.
While being born again to Jesus is regularly reduced to a once-in-a-lifetime personal experience for the individual and is often seen as a way of deciding who’s in or out of their kingdom, being born again does hold the promise of radical renewal for individuals and whole communities being born freshly into God’s kingdom each and every day.
Jesus reminds us, with all the testimony and witnessing about life by others, we consistently find it hard to believe rebirth is possible from within our real world. It takes courage to change, this world’s demands and the burden of anticipated, expected change drains our energy for risk and sacrifice. This world instead feeds apathy and despair. We don’t hear the good news; we only feel the weariness and rejection.
Ongoing disbelief comes at high a cost. It leaves those who do not trust Jesus’ testimony still living in the ‘real’ world where new life from God is always seen as impossible and ludicrous.
For many, the world ‘belief’ has come to mean accepting certain statements about God as true before anything else and these statements are used as reasons for rejecting God, a defence against any consideration of newness.
However, our understanding of God the Trinity is shaped to some extent by our capacity to find words to explain what we mean. The Lateran Council of 1215 helpfully declared a concept known as the Incomprehensibility of God, acknowledging what we say about God can never be the whole truth. We are left in awe and with mystery as our words fail us.
The belief we hold about God as Trinity, described variously as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or more inclusively as Creator, Word and Holy Spirit, or Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier are intricate, beautiful in their depth and capacity to hold in tension our human understanding of the awesomeness of God, as we try to find words to explain the unexplainable mystery of God.
In the past, descriptions were hierarchical as people saw God, then the Son and then the Spirit, each emanating from God in descending order; or, God sending the Son with the right hand and the Spirit with the left, both mechanistic images and making it hard to imagine God as three in one. However, Scripture does not have stories of sending or proceeding and rather they describe an intertwined, constantly moving relationship within a Godly community in love. A dance of intimacy, fire, stillness and abiding, as God’s love in all its mystery overflows outwards as creation and embraces all God’s creatures, including us.
The different words to describe God as Trinity bring to life and into the forefront of our hearts and minds the intensity of the Wisdom literature and sayings from the Old Testament, her liveliness, beauty and care for all creation as we call her Holy Spirit. She is unnameable, untameable, indefinable, ever elusive, always alive and loving in God.
Wisdom captures our understanding of God as Creator breathing life into the whole cosmos, being before and after time. She is the alive, eternal bond between us and God, Creator and Son as Word, woven into the fabric of our being. She is the Holy Spirit, God’s love brought alive, loved and loving, being beloved and beloved into being, breathed by God into our lives and inviting us into kingdom living. She is precious and rare in our sight. We welcomed and celebrated the gifting of the Holy Spirit by God’s Word last Sunday at Pentecost.
As we think about the Trinity, we begin to recognise every single aspect of our being, like all creation around us, is wholly precious in God’s sight. Jesus speaks to his disciples and Nicodemus of the Holy Spirit being like the wind, blowing where she chooses, you hear the wind and experience it, but my goodness, you don’t know where its come from or where its going, you simply see and experience it, going with the wind as God blows God’s Spirit, and we hold on for love of God.
God’s love for us defies belief in many ways. God’s Word was made flesh, incarnate as God’s only Son, who died for us and rose again to save us and to bring us back into unity with God through the loving gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit breathes newness of life for all who love God as we live into God’s kingdom, born again of water and fire, whether coming as a fierce wind from the desert or the gentle breeze from the foreshore.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn (or judge) the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17.
I am made bold by the statement of God’s love for the whole world. It might indeed, be thought as foolishness to believe in this mystery in faith and trust as we turn from the darkness towards the light.
We recognise all we do is risky. Perhaps we need, like Alice through the Looking Glass, to imagine six really impossible things before breakfast. Then indeed the belief in God as Creator, Jesus, Word made flesh as Son who lived and died and rose again for us and the Holy Spirit as three in one and one in three, in God’s unending dance of love in eternal life, is worth taking a risk to believe. We need not be frightened by complicated words and ideas; or put off by those around us who don’t wish to grasp the light.
Our courage in contemplating this new radical idea of God’s love, God’s kingdom and eternal life truly being present in our lives if we choose it, individually and as community each and every day, means we are constantly invited by Jesus out of the darkness.
And if we accept God’s radical call to be in communion with God and each other, it means every aspect of our lives will change out of love, our relationships, our politics, our family life, our theology, our table fellowship, our work and our habits. If our purpose is to love, everything is different. May your new life be joyful.
The Lord be with you.