Gospel: John 3:1-17
1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He 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.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus 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?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The 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.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11“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. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16“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.
17“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.”
You will not find the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible. But what you will find are people’s experiences and relationships with a God who comes to us in three persons. Who shows up in a variety of ways, and plays a number of roles and does a number of jobs. Virtually nothing we can claim with human language about the Trinity is free of heresy, as the moment you start to try to nail it down you lose the mystery. So this day we commemorate and celebrate the doctrine of the Trinity as well as the way that the divine meets us and includes us in ways that take our breath away and fill us with wonder.
One of my favorite ways to talk about doctrine, especially the doctrine of the Trinity, comes from a blog post I read years ago. A pastor from Australia describes one of the many geological gems of the continent, a harsh yet beautiful, wild dangerous path, down a cliff to a gorge, one he wasn’t sure he wanted to risk. Years later he brought his children, and the path was different. Fenced in and carved out, with wooden supports laid up, safe enough for even the youngest to climb down.
He writes “And although the place was pretty, it was also domesticated. It could almost have been a garden exhibit built in a city park. This is doctrine. It fences in our experience of the Divine. It says, “This way is safe.” Stay within the boundaries and you will, literally, be upon the straight and narrow. But to remain within the doctrine of National Parks and Wildlife is to follow a wooden path through a holy place.” (https://www.onemansweb.org/theology/a-difficult-day-of-the-lord-mark-13-24-37/doctrine-for-the-rest-of-us-john-3-1-17.html)
To use human language for the divine, especially agreed upon, leveled out, well constructed language, is like that path into the beautiful wilderness. Its a well worn path useful for entering the mystery of the Trinity, but the path is not the mystery. Doctrine provides us with Boundaries and borders. Fortunately the Triune God has also thought that perhaps we need a little guidance when it came to following the mystery, so the divine showed up in human form and assured us that
Jesus is the way. The path. Following the incarnate God keeps us from straying into dangerous territory, making God into whatever our personal experience has revealed to us. Following the incarnate word of God who has given us the spirit allows us to have this personal experience, while being a part of a community.
Because Christian life is not just about one’s private relationship with God, but living together as beloved members of the same family. How we get along in community is part of how we have been made in the image of God. Respecting authority, like Jesus talks to God the Father, thought he himself is God. Knowing the spirits place, coming from the father and the son, rather than the other way around, does not give it a lesser place but a different role. Our life together also provides reassurance that we are not alone when we suffer. Just as believers are united with Christ in both joy and pain, so too are we called to support each other in all circumstances. Indeed, the Spirit also intercedes for us in our weakness (verses 26-27).
Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber preaches that God is not a “me” God, but a “we” God. When God declares at the beginning of Genesis, “let us make humankind in OUR image,” there is a acknowledgement that God is relationship, God’s very being is community. – God is intimacy, connection, and communion. And we are included. Adopted into the family, and given the Holy Spirit as a gift.
Another image from history that has always helped me to reflect on the trinity comes from the Greek word perichoresis. Peri, as in around the perimeter, and chorein to make way or give room for. Some scholars have interpreted this word as a dance, though its not directly related to the greek word for dance. At any rate, it to be in is motion, while making room for another. The persons of the Trinity are not static, but active persons, moving in ways that give deference to the other, make space for the other.
If you want to call it a dance, then certainly the Holy Spirit takes our hand and brings us into this movement. Living in community, as siblings in Christ, we are free to move about our world not concerned with our own importance, but giving deference to the needs of our neighbor. Making space for those around us to join in.
Our congregation in Millvale is the same, guided by doctrine, principles, and constitution – and yet, being aware of the majesty, and mystery of what happens among us and where the Spirit leads us. We follow well worn paths of prayer and liturgy and service, and yet the Trinity in all its wonder does not abide solely within that path. We follow Jesus as best we can as mere mortals, knowing that we stray from that path daily, and must daily offer confession to God and to our fellow siblings for the errors we have made. And as we move forward on that path, our hand is always extended, making space for others to join in.
Today we’ll sing the words of the angels during the sanctus as we proclaim Holy Holy Holy Lord, God of power and might, and acknowledge what we know to be true, that heaven and earth are full of God’s glory. And then we confess that this glory came to walk among us, as we repeat the ancient words used by the crowds that met Jesus entering Jerusalem “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” We are drawn into both those holy moments of the, and then directed to the present moment where we are fed with Jesus body and blood and brought together by the Holy Spirit, and sent out in to our present time to witness to these things, to continue the movement, the dance, and the life in Christ that ties us one to another as God’s beloved children.