Trinity Sunday, Year B
30 May 2021
I grew up in a world of much fear. I am not speaking of the cold war and nuclear war heads nearby. That was not really a topic around our dinner table. But I remember my grandmother’s warnings not to move into a commune. This was a bit of a refrain. I was twelve when she died and I had no clue what a commune was, except that it instilled fear in her.
My mother was afraid of big pharma and chemical companies. One she believed to be peddling lies, the others she believed to be destroying the planet. She was also afraid of foreigners. She wasn’t against them, she just thought they should stay home.
In the church brass band in which I played some people were afraid of people with left-leaning politics and the advice I was given was to stay away from them.
Some of this I recognized as an expression of fear, though while I argued most of the above, and some of this strenuously, I am not sure I would have been able to put it that way. If I had, I think that things would have been easier.
Personally I had little fear, which is pretty normal when you grow up and are about to set out to conquer the world, the only fear I had was that I was not lovable.
The fears of my mother and grandmother, and those of the folks in the brass band were mostly, though not exclusively fear of change and loss of control. That’s pretty normal for all of us and what I didn’t realize at the time was the enormous upheaval some of them had gone through during their lifetime. My grandmother was born in 1891 and had lived through two World Wars. No wonder they wanted things to be stable and remain the same. The conservatives even turned that into a political slogan: “No experiments!”
At the same time, wanting things to be one particular way requires a certain denial of reality, simply because people are different, have different ideas, gifts, and needs, besides the world changes all the time and as much we may wish we were in control, we are not.
I grew up with the term “guest worker”, describing those from abroad who were working in German factories. I never gave that expression much thought until I was older and I realized how illusory it would be to expect someone to leave after they had been in a place many years, had established themselves, and raised a family.
Years ago my mother-in-law told me about her first visit to England twenty years after she had left. She said that the England she visited was no longer the England she had left. I don’t think she was saying anything untoward her homeland, just that it wasn’t her home anymore.
I want to tell you about one more person. This is someone I met during my first summer job after high school and before university. I can’t remember his name but I remember that it came up to elections and it was his earnest desire that everyone in that department would vote for the same candidate.
The older I get the more I realize that even people who appear to be one-dimensional, are not-one dimensional. It would, of course, be easier to think and speak of them that way, but it simply would not be true.
I the case of this fellow, he obviously had a great need for harmony. But there was more to the story. He had some kind of mental disability or delay, and his mother had just died with whom he had lived his whole life, he was middle age, and now he suddenly found himself all alone. What he wanted was a new family.
The Holy Trinity is the opposite of one-dimensionality. The Holy Trinity is relationship, the non-hierarchical relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Holy Trinity is the origin of our diversity, variety, or heterogeneity as it is embodied in cultures, languages, gifts, orientations. God made us and as different as we are, we are created in God’s image. All of us.
In our reading from John we encounter language of light and darkness, spirit and flesh and one might think that those who follow Jesus are called to a one-dimensional life, choosing spirit over flesh and light over darkness.
And indeed, Jesus says to Nicodemus that flattery and admiration don’t mean anything, but that a life that is made new by God’s grace and thus is committed to following Jesus does. And so Jesus speaks of water and Spirit. He invites Nicodemus to be baptized and to become a follower, become a member of this Jesus community, and to stop being only an admirer. The mark of this community is that it chooses light over darkness for Jesus is the light of the world.
And yet, Jesus is not one-dimensional, God is not one-dimensional for as much as God asks us to follow, just as much does God love the world, the whole world, including those who will crucify him, and including those who wish the world were one-dimensional.
That means that discipleship consists also, and perhaps in its most radical form, in the love of those who are different, which includes those who are guided by fear (whatever they are afraid of), and those we would consider enemies. The love of God makes them more complex than we wish they were, because if they were as one-dimensional as we may see them, we could write them off, and yet they are created in God’s image, and are part of the world God loves.
It is the love of God makes them redeemable, like us.
Thanks be to God.