The Gospel - John 3:1-17
There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For 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 the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
One of the first and best pieces of advice I received, after I had been at Seminary for a while, was: "never try to explain a Holy Mystery." There are some things that we as human beings just cannot fully comprehend. We are limited in our ability to communicate with one other when it comes to the things of God. We often find ourselves faced with what we have to accept as a "Holy Mystery."
For me, I can reconcile my limited comprehension by accepting the fact that if I could explain God, then he wouldn't be God. You know, there have to be things about God that are beyond our finite comprehension right? That is one of the hallmarks of God. God is infinite we are finite.
The Trinity is certainly one of those things for me. I can use phrases like the three in one, one in three. Co-equal in being and presence. But when it gets down to trying to explain how that all works and what it actually means, well I just have to admit that just I can't do it.
Down through the ages many people have sought to describe or design representations of the Trinity. We can see a couple of those in our Sermon slides for this morning. The first one is attributed to a Russian iconographer/painter Andrei Rublev from the 15th century. This icon which has become known as "The Trinity" is also called "The Hospitality of Abraham." The painting was originally understood to depict the visit of the angels to Abraham. Through time it has been re-interpreted to represent the completeness and unity of the Trinity.
The painting is full of symbolism and at the time of Rublev, the Holy Trinity was the embodiment of spiritual unity, peace, harmony, mutual love, and humility. The next slide is a different attempt at an interpretation of the Trinity. This one is known as The Triquetra. This symbol is believed to have Irish roots - thus a Celtic symbol - although some scholars believe it may be older than that. Like all older symbols, it has a mixed heritage. Some scholars would even say it was a pagan symbol adopted by Christians and reinterpreted for their own purposes. It is an interlinked symbol with no beginning or end. It is a symbolic representation of the interconnectedness of the Trinity. Where one embodiment of the Trinity - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit - begins and another one ends is interminable.
When it comes to verbal interpretations of the Trinity, one that I lean towards is "the oneness." It has an older worldly or spiritually otherworldly sense about it. It is a kind of symbolic, poetic language that draws me to think beyond my normal modern linear way of thinking. It makes me try to get a sense of a spiritual dimension that I don't talk about every day. "The oneness of God." "The oneness of the Trinity." These are not terms I use in my everyday conversation or in my common speech.
My hope is, that in talking about all of these various symbolisms and interpretations, I am going to be able to encourage you to seek the Lord for insight and wisdom about your understanding of the Trinity. Perhaps you may want to begin a study of how you understand the Trinity. That you might develop a deeper understanding of how the Trinity is evident in your life?
For now, I would encourage you to look at the Nicene Creed when you get home today. Perhaps you might find in the words of the Creed a way to express your beliefs. At least, it might give you a chance to identify the work and roles of the members of the Holy Trinity.
Some questions you might want to ask as you read through the Creed are:
What is laid out for us in the Nicene Creed?
What can we understand and explain to others from what is set out there?
Reading and studying the Nicene Creed could be your spiritual practice for this week. Let us take some time this week to engage with the Nicene Creed, after all, the founders of the faith went to a lot of effort for our edification.
I don't claim to be a great theological thinker or a polished exponent of the theological truths that of the Creeds. As I have already said I find it a challenge to put into words the finer points of theology about the Trinity. I have found that most of the time I seek to find a pragmatic application of Scripture. A way to understand, for myself and others, how to apply what Scripture calls my attention to.
So, as I consider the Trinity, as I think about phrases like: "the three in one, one in three, co-equal in being and presence, the completeness and unity of the Trinity, the embodiment of spiritual unity, peace, harmony, mutual love, and humility, the symbolic representation of the interconnectedness of the Trinity, where one embodiment of the Trinity - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit - begins and another one ends is interminable" I find myself wanting to apply those concepts to some aspect of my life.
What difference does it make that there is perfect unity in the Trinity? What difference does it make in my life that I can talk about the oneness of the Trinity? What difference does it make that there is so much emphasis on the unity in the Trinity?
Well, one aspect of that is that it offers me an example of how Christians or those who claim the Christian faith should live in unity as well.
One of the challenges of understanding the Trinity is that we as human beings tend to see and understand life in terms of hierarchy. Someone always has to be in charge and someone always needs to be willing to be subservient.
One of the worst examples of the results of that kind of thinking is people who live in abusive situations. The person who is subservient loses their identity, they lose their personhood and their individuality. That person is lost in the relationship. All that they are and all that they might be is overtaken by how they relate to the other person.
There are plenty of examples of those kinds of relationships in the society around us. Unfortunately, there have also been examples of that kind of relationship in the church as well.
I know some people who are no longer willing to consider Christianity because of the examples they have seen and heard of abusive hierarchical relationships in churches. I know of some people who are afraid of what might happen to them if they decide to become part of a church community.
Sadly I also know of people who are currently in churches who are afraid that they will lose identity, they will lose their personhood, and their individuality. That they will become lost if they enter into a deeper relationship with a church community.
In the Trinity, we see the epitome of unity and oneness. The members of the Trinity are fully themselves in the union they have with one another. None of them is afraid of being lost because they are in the relationship they are with one another.
In healthy and supportive Christian communities each individual's personhood is enhanced and they are empowered to be fully the person they are supposed to be. I believe that one of the greatest gifts of Christianity is the discovery of who we were truly created to be. Coming into a relationship with Christ, coming into the community of God enables us to discover the wonder of who we truly are.
Suddenly we have this wonderful resource to draw from. We can see and understand how to relate to one another because we have the example of the Trinity: "the three in one, one in three, co-equal in being and presence, the completeness and unity of the Trinity, the embodiment of spiritual unity, peace, harmony, mutual love, and humility, the symbolic representation of the interconnectedness of the Trinity, where there is one embodiment of the Trinity - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit - begins and another one ends is interminable"
As we seek to be a healthy and life-giving community here at Christ Church may we never forget to draw on the Trinity as our resource and our example.
May we go from this place today knowing that do truly go in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.