Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
It’s Trinity Sunday again. Yay. My enthusiasm is boundless as I’m sure you can tell. But I think it’s somewhere in every minister’s job description. Once each year you will explain how God is the Trinity. And be concise please. So here we go again…
First things first. God is. This is so perfectly obvious that children get it. But explaining God, especially as the Trinity is diabolically hard. Because we have to use words. But what we really are talking about is experience. So this time let’s tell the trinity story using different words.
Long, long ago, before any memory had yet existed, the Unified Priority existed in the universe. The Unified Priority simply and perfectly was, for aeons upon aeons. Until it came to pass that the Unified Priority coalesced around an intention.
With infinitesimal slowness, the Unified Priority bent and curved and formed sinuous waves. The waves began to influence one another, flowing and dancing together. For a long time the Unified Priority enjoyed the movement…content and infinitely patient.
The waves continued to flow and dance until out of little more than nothing they began to bring forth. The Unified Priority cradled everything that came into being. For, after all, there was nothing coming forth that was not out of the intention and movement of the Unified Priority.
Once set in motion the dance formed patterns and rhythms with all that was coming forth. The Unified Priority encouraged everything, delighted with it all from the fizz of light within the velvety deep darkness, to the magnificent array of matter that emerged. And the Unified Priority graciously let all things be.
To this day the Unified Priority still bears intention, still moves, still cradles, still delights, and still graciously tends to the being of things. Human beings have called the Unified Priority by many names. In our language, culture, and faith, among the many names we use are: God. Father/First Parent/Creator, Son/Redeemer, and Holy Spirit/Sanctifier.
Does that clarify the Trinity? Probably not, right? Well, let’s just go with experience then. Truly, our experience of God as Trinity is all we have.
God is experienced in so many ways. Like Isaiah’s close encounter with God in a wildly unsettling time. The prophet described his vision, itself wild and settling, set in the majestic and impressively adorned Jerusalem Temple. Isaiah felt himself drawn into the presence of the Source of all that exists.
Isaiah felt he was doomed. Not surprising, considering what he encountered; the live coals on the altar, the smoke, and monumental shifting structures. Isaiah’s imperfection was glaringly obvious in comparison to God’s magnificence. Seeing no alternatives, and perhaps hoping for mercy he confessed his failure and impurity. Unexpectedly, he was forgiven all. He understood that this was a virtual experience, something reflective of reality and yet beyond it. It moved him deeply. And he felt a connection to God that he’d never known before. Next thing he knew, Isaiah was saying yes to God. Yes, I’m here. Yes, I belong to you, to the very core of my being. Yes, I will speak for you. What happened to Isaiah, what he saw that day, framed all the energy and effort of his life from that moment on.
But how do you put such a life-altering experience of God into words? Isaiah did his best to describe the enormity of God: a garment that filled the temple, otherworldly creatures announcing God’s pre-eminence. He variously called God “Adonai”, “Yahweh”, and “King of Hosts” suggesting that many names are necessary to convey God’s being and doing.
Paul’s words in the eighth chapter of Romans do a similar thing. It’s a splendid mashup of names attempting to accommodate God’s working diversity. God’s creative feminine Spirit is also Father – in formal address. At the same time God is Abba, the caring and comforting papa, whose children we are, along with Christ.
Paul gets wordy, but here’s what he’s trying to say – God desires, above all, relationship. That’s why the Spirit does what the Spirit does. That’s why the Son does what the Son does. It’s all about helping us remember that we belong to God, we are God’s intention, we are born of God.
Still lost in the weeds? It’s understandable. You’re right in there with Nicodemus, from the gospel today. He was an educated, highly trained expert in religious law – a Pharisee who came to Jesus with a few questions. He came by night which is often interpreted as his concern about damage to his reputation if he were seen with Jesus. But it’s just as likely that it was a subtle comment about Nicodemus’s inability to really see God in Jesus Christ.
Nicodemus began with flattery “Rabbi, we know that you are teacher who has come from God…” Perhaps he expected that Jesus would acknowledge his higher status as a Pharisee. Then they’d have a conversation about God, where Nicodemus would demonstrate his fine knowledge. As, of course, it was his business to root out and condemn false teachers of God.
But Jesus didn’t go there. He offered an observation. “I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” And Nicodemus said, wait, what? Then Jesus said, I want to help you know God and heaven but the doctrine and truth statements you cling to get in the way of true understanding and relationship.
As a teacher of Israel, Nicodemus had all the means at his disposal to know God by experience.
He knew the stories of transformative encounters with God from such spiritual luminaries as Isaiah. However he had preferred knowledge about God over relationship with God. But God is able to restore those broken ties. The Spirit can guide you, said Jesus to Nicodemus.
Nicodemus, poor soul still didn’t get it that day. But he did build a relationship with Jesus. Later he showed up to take the broken body of his friend Jesus from the cross. No doubt the words of Jesus echoed in his ears all the remaining days of his life, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Saved. To find the space within the Infinite Priority that is always there for us.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.