One Little Word

The Feast of the Holy Trinity (5/31/2015)

Lessons:Isaiah 6:1-8 Psalm 29 Romans 8:9-11 St. John 3:1-17

Prayer of the Day: Almighty Creator and ever-living God: we worship your glory, eternal Three-in-One, and we praise your power, majestic One-in-Three. Keep us steadfast in this faith, defend us in all adversity, and bring us at last into your presence, where you live in endless joy and love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

3:1 Now 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?” 10 Jesus 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. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that 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.

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St. John 3:1-17 New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

”The Mystery of the Holy, Eternal Trinity”

According to the Merriam-Webester online dictionary [www.merriam-webster.com], the first definition of mystery is “a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand.” In the Christian faith, there are a number of mysteries, or “truths that cannot be fully understood, but only be known by revelation.” One of them has to do with the nature of God. Specifically, the question is: how does one understand God who is described, in the Bible, both as the one true God, and as the God we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit?”

There is no specific answer to this in the Scriptures. The Biblical writers seem content to leave this aspect of God’s nature as a mystery for the faithful to embrace. But the early church wrestled with this question, and eventually made up a word that refers to their wrestling. The word is Trinity. It is composed of tri (“God as three”) and unity (“God as one). By some accounts Tertullian (155-230), an early leader in the church, was among the first to use this term in referring to the God of the Bible. His use of Trinity, and the church’s now long-held understanding of God’s nature, creates a paradox: How can God be both one and three?

The temptation, of course, is to solve the mystery — to resolve the paradox — between these two beliefs. You have heard it all before. God is like water: the same substance can be experienced as a liquid, a solid or a gas. God is like me: I can be experienced as a pastor, a father, or a husband. There are dozens of these attempts to make the Trinity easier to understand (most of which appear during the Children’s Message on the First Sunday after Pentecost). The truth is: none of them do justice to the deep mystery of God’s eternal nature.

If you find this difficult to comprehend, take comfort: you are in good company. During Jesus’ lifetime on earth there was a man named Nicodemus. He was a well-respected, theologically trained religious official in Jerusalem. He had spent a lifetime studying the ways of God, and seeking to live a faithful life. It seems that word about Jesus’ ministry had reached him, because late one night he makes his way, under cover of darkness, to where Jesus is. He shares his hunch that Jesus is indeed a teacher who comes from God. The healing, the teaching, the acts of compassion; clearly Nicodemus is more willing than most of his colleagues to believe that Jesus is the real thing. But when Jesus begins to teach him that faithfulness has less to do with living up to ancient expectations and more to do with the new beginnings God is trying to make in people’s lives, Nicodemus also finds it difficult to comprehend.

In a recent Denver lecture, Professor Walter Brueggemann argued that our God is not a God of certainty, but a God of fidelity. By implication, life in God’s presence has less to do with certainty and more to do with faithfulness. There are aspects of our faith that delight us and inspire us, even as they are impossible to fully understand. The holy, eternal, triune nature of God is an example of this. We may never fully understand it, but as we experience God in our lives as  a creating, saving and inspiring presence, we give thanks for the love and grace that is ours.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What Bible stories depict God as one? As three?
  2. What was Nicodemus having trouble understanding about faithfulness?
  3. How are Jesus’ words about the movement of the Spirit helpful?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What questions do I have about God’s nature?
  2. When have I experience the “mysterious presence” of God in my life?
  3. What might I do to stay open to the movement of the Holy Spirit?