The Holy Trinity
27 May 2018
Nicodemus was an interesting guy.
He was a pious man. He was a pharisee which meant about as much as that he believed in the scriptures and in worship. It is true that the gospels tell us that most pharisees were opposed to Jesus, but that does not mean that they weren’t serious about their faith.
Nicodemus seems to have been a little different from the rest of them, he shows up two more times (in John 7:50ff and John 19:39ff). Different in the sense that he did not write Jesus off but came to see him and does it really matter that he came at night because he was concerned about his reputation? He came, that’s what matters. Like we came this morning. Maybe we brought our own doubts and questions or don’t feel very pious at the moment, but we came and that’s what matters.
Nicodemus came because he had questions. But he begins with acknowledging that there is something about Jesus that sets Jesus apart. Now in the Gospel of John there are always misunderstandings, Jesus talks about one thing and people hear another. And in the very next verse Nicodemus wonders how one can be born again, a word that (in the Greek text) also means from above. But as someone who is concerned about the law and about understanding things properly, he does not think metaphorically and takes what Jesus says literally, which is why he does not understand. One could almost think that Nicodemus was a modern who had to fit everything into the confines of Newtonian science and if it does not fit, it can’t be true.
That’s sincere and honest, and you can’t blame him for that even though we notice that he does not seem to understand what’s happening and in whose presence he stands, only because he is trying so hard to make everything fit the world he knows.
We moderns do that all the time. I mean, how many people have you heard say that they can’t believe in God until God can be proven, or how many people have you heard defend every letter of the Bible because they read it like a science book or rule book, not a book about God and the world.
And so Nicodemus is really us, our fragmented world where if A is true, B must be false, and if B is true, A must be false. And that is why Nicodemus walks away that night, not understanding that this is not about rules, but about a story that is unfolding.
The story that is unfolding is the story of the Trinity. God sent God’s only Son out of love for the world so that the world would not be judged but saved. In the sending, the Spirit acted out the bond of love between the Father and the Son.
And so Nicodemus encounters not only Jesus but the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation for the world. Nicodemus encounters not laws, rules, or doctrine but a story. The unfolding story recruits people to become part of the story. And the story is not just about one aspect of it but about the whole: God loves the world so that God enters it in Jesus for the world to be saved. In the midst of chaos, mayhem, and fear, we are told that God wants to save the world and we become part of God’s saving activity by becoming part of the story.
So to take just one part, the birth of which Jesus speaks and get stuck on how it happens is like taking a note or two from a song we like. A note or two don’t even remotely resemble the song, just like a law or rule or doctrine do not resemble God.
That may be why we have a hard time with the Trinity. We want to dissect it, turn it this way and that in order to understand in abstraction what we can only understand as story, and that only as we enter it.
The Trinity tells the story of our creation and redemption and of our mission.
The convention of our Synod wrapped up today. We did our usual business: Elections, bylaw amendments, a serious discussion about the relationship between property and mission, brought about by the question of what to do with the property at UBC, and on Saturday afternoon we engaged in an exercise of design thinking. Design thinking is thinking in a world in which outcomes are not guaranteed. It is about listening, reflecting, responding, and testing. The church – but not only the church – inhabits a world in which outcomes are not always certain, therefore to engage in ministry requires the willingness to listen to our neighbours and to discern how God calls us to respond, always willing to fail and to try again (and learn from our failures).
Nicodemus came to Jesus at night not ready to enter the story. But Nicodemus returned in John 7 to speak for Jesus, and in John 19 to bury him. Nicodemus entered the story, even if not right away. We have entered the story by being the church. Being part of the story, or as hymn writer Richard Leach says, the Dance of the Trinity, means to participate in unfolding of the story, listening to our neighbour and to the world. Entering the story is more than a recitation of doctrines and truths that we know and confess just as Nicodemus did. Entering the story is about taking risks, for that is what God did and does.
That is the reason I am interested in what happens in our community, whether it is in regards to homelessness, the anti-discrimination policies in our schools, or integration and reconciliation. It’s about paying attention so the Holy Spirit may have a chance to direct us in ministry toward our neighbour. It’s never about just one piece but always about a story, never about one note but always about a song.
May we not only tell the story but be part of it, may we not only listen to a song but listen to our neighbour so that we may sing the song.