I want to begin my sermon today with a quote about today being Trinity Sunday. It comes from Cláudio Carvalhaes, theologian at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He wrote, “Trinity Sunday is a heavy lift for preachers. While all other church festivals and holy days mark events, Trinity Sunday is all about an idea. An indefensible, unverifiable, seemingly inchoate idea that has animated the church for centuries.” A Sunday celebrating an idea; ideas really. A sermon on things that are beyond our comprehension. God is three. God is one. God is undivided. God appears everywhere. God is now. God has always been.
Then Isaiah, the witness of this vision, has his lips touched with a red hot coal, taking away all his guilt. This does prepare him for his calling as prophet and he responds “Here am I; send me!” A willing response from a man of unclean lips who has been brought by a vision to the very throne of God.
And we have Nicodemus. A rabbi, a Pharisee, a learned man. He came to Jesus in secret at night because he didn't want to be seen associating with this man who displayed wonderful power, brilliant ideas but who was certainly out of favor with the leaders in Jerusalem. Nicodemus, to his credit, went right to the source. But what he heard from the lips of Jesus was kind of weird too. Words about being born again, born from above... Nicodemus's question is logical, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Weird.
Jesus tells him, “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.” What does that have to do with being born again? He spoke of things of the Spirit; wind and breathe. This is actually one of the few passages where we can find the parts of the Trinity all included. The term Trinity is never used in the bible, it was developed as a theory years later to explain how God could be the Father of Jesus while Jesus was God on earth and that Jesus sent someone to continue his ministry. But this wasn't a physical person, it was a spirit that dwells within believers. Wow.
And as I considered how to make sense of all this, I decided I can't. Oh, I can say the right words and I can quote theologians. But let's be honest, there just is no way for us on earth to understand such a divine arrangement. I admit that I am like Nicodemus, as Jesus said, (with a slight change for my claim) “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not understand...(believe), how can you understand...(believe) if I tell you about heavenly things?” I admit it, I can't understand. And if you find someone who tells you they do, you may want to either run away as quickly as you can or bow and worship because if they do indeed understand, they must be God themselves.
So what do I do on this Trinity Sunday when I've already admitted I can't explain our readings? I'm gonna share some statements that I have confidence in their solidness in the face of the weirdness of today. A bit of background first. My memory has always been bad so when I run across an item that I think will be appropriate someday for a sermon I have to write it down immediately. I can't tell you how many times I hear a salient statement and before I find pencil and paper, I've forgotten it.... So I have a list of many items I did remember to write down and type into a list. And I want to just share some of them today, truths that I feel affirm things taught by Jesus that we can apply to our lives today.
“God is reliable but not predictable.” God's faithfulness is beyond doubt, but how that plays out in our lives is completely unpredictable. For some of us the faithfulness is seen in blessing upon blessing. For some, we need to dig deep to see God as we struggle with doubts, depression, sorrows and grief. But in our moments of clarity, we can know that God walks with us. God is reliable but unpredictable. We do not get to see what is next in our lives.
My next two are related I think. “Faith is not an escape from suffering but a means to endure.” and “Faith and doubt are not opposites. Faith and sight are opposites.” When unpredictable, unwanted events occur in our lives, we are given faith to endure. No matter how dark our world appears, as believers in Christ we always have that faith that says evil doesn't win, but God's grace defeats sin and death in the end. Faith doesn't remove the causes of suffering. We live in a fallen world and suffering will happen. But by faith we endure and can claim the promises of ultimate victory in Christ. And we don't always get to see that victory, and there are no absolute proofs of God's reality. But if there were, then faith would no longer be the means of grace that God designed it to be. Faith does not come through proof, but by trust. We may have doubts, but God's path is a path of faith without sight.
Here's one that doesn't fit but it's on my list: A couple was celebrating 50 years of marriage. The husband considered the pros and cons of his life, “When I was young, I was poor but slept with a beautiful 23 year old. Now I'm rich but I sleep with a 73 year old woman.” The wife told him, “You can get a 23 year old ... but I'll make sure you are poor again.” Random story I thought I might use some time.
We've all heard it said, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” I don't believe that. My next ones reads, “God may give us more than we can handle so we learn what is of God.” Sometimes life does give us more than we can handle and it is then that we learn to lean completely on Jesus. Cancer, Cerebral Palsy, dementia, depression, death; all these heavy burdens can be more than we can handle on our own. But Jesus bears the weight with us; he shares the yoke and shares the load. And these heavy burdens bring me to my last one for today: “Is everything God's will? If so, why would Jesus teach us to pray, 'Thy will be done?' It presumes that God's will is not done everywhere on earth.” I believe God's will is always ultimately accomplished, but that doesn't mean that every event on earth is done is God's will. God can work good even when evil seems to having its way. I can't help but think of Tom Townsend. Was it God's perfect will that he spend his life under the challenges of Cerebral Palsy? I don't think so. But was God able to work good out of his condition? Absolutely. As Tom accepted his physical issues, he refused to let it limit him. He accomplished so much in his life. As Tom drew on his faith in God and chose faith over denying God's goodness, God brought blessing upon blessing in Tom and Ruth's life together and in that way God's will was fulfilled.
These issues that bring us to doubt God's goodness, many of them don't fit into God's perfect will. But as Jesus told Nicodemus, “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.” Nicodemus gets it right. He walks away believing, without getting his question answered, “How can this be?” We don't get to find out this side of heaven how these things can be; the ways of God are beyond our understanding. As we learn to trust God, we also understand our responsibility to live wisely. We fasten our seat belts, we look both ways before crossing the street, we eat healthy and exercise, we do what we can to be safe. But the wind blows where it chooses, and some things in this world are out of our control. But nothing is beyond God's power to bring ultimate good even from our grief. God may allow something to happen that is more than we can handle, but God never leaves us to struggle alone.
Well, this has been a rambling, weird sermon. But sometimes God's Spirit leads where it will. And, like life, sometimes the randomness can be a kind of lesson in itself. As we consider the response of Isaiah--”Here am I, send me.” and the desire of Nicodemus to know more of Jesus, may we grow in faith and in responding with love. In their encounter, Jesus didn't give Nicodemus all the answers, but he challenged him to work his mind and body from theory to practice. That is the purpose of learning more of God, to put our faith into action. So we seek to know God better with the understanding that God is mystery, God is not fully knowable. But God so loved the world, so loved you and me, that he sent his only begotten son... not only to give us eternal life but so that we may know the truth that God is ultimately love. Jesus showed us the love of God the Father. And Jesus sent the Spirit to guide us in truth. On this Trinity Sunday, we acknowledge that we can't know everything about God but give thanks that what we do know is God's love. We give thanks and offer our response in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Hymn: Come Thou Almighty King: Jayne